For a 2000 level Philosophy course, I was expecting a class for students who are still somewhat beginner in their knowledge / background of philosophy. This is not the case. This class is not structured in a way that allows students to easily succeed. Weekly writing assignments are heavy in analysis and require you to do all of the reading to get a decent score (sometimes hundreds of pages). The same is true of the three take-home exams. My TA graded all of my assignments harshly, even though I put in a lot of work... On Canvas I could see the class average for each assignment was around 7/10. On the plus side- The class material is really interesting and Kyle is a great lecturer. If you are interested and experienced in Philosophy, I would recommend this course. Just not for beginners and not for anyone looking for a chill class.
Very poor teacher. I think people like him solely because he's funny. Classes are disorganized and have no relationship to the readings we do. He offers minimal guidance on how to write a philosophy paper and no guidance on what's on the tests. You get tested on everything he says in class, NOT what's in the reading, so the best strategy is to NOT do the readings but instead write down everything he says and memorize it in time for the final. Also write a rough draft of your essays in time to have them reviewed by the TAs before they're due. If you can choose between Adam Blazej and Jake McNulty as TAs I recommend Adam because he's an easier essay grader and he gives out study guides for the midterms (however these study guides don't include EVERYTHING that will appear on the midterm.) I only attended Jake's recitation and he's a much better teacher than Prof Morrison, though. Grade received: A-
Professor Morrison is smart, funny (in a silly way), approachable, great at explaining, and passionate. This class is very doable if you take the couple of hours each week to read/understand the readings and go to lecture and TA session. The class was structured really well. -Aquinas/Anslem -Descartes/Elizabeth correspondence -Spinoza -Leibniz -Anne Conway -John Locke -Berkeley -Hume -Kant
I highly recommend this course/professor/TA. First: the professor. Morrison is one of the nicest, smartest professors I have had so far at Columbia. He's very approachable, and if you have any questions at all you can meet with him in his office hours. He makes lots of endearing jokes (which aren't always funny. but that's why they're awesome). Also, he's so enthusiastic about everything! He really loves what he's doing, especially when we get to Spinoza (which is his favorite). next: the TAs. I had Mark as a TA and he is FANTASTIC. his discussion sections were really interesting. He's so smart and explains even the toughest concepts in a way that everyone will understand. He's a very very fair grader- he wants you to do well! Meet with him in office hours to go over the paper topics and fine tune your arguments.Also the day he lectured the class confirmed that he will make an amazing professor one day. and finally: the class. It wasn't an easy A class. You can definitely do it, but if you go to lecture/don't read or read/don't go to lecture you'll have to work a lot harder to get that A. Trust me, trust me, it's worth it to do both. The material is interesting, and the lectures are enjoyable. It's a good way to get introduced to philosophy, or John is a great professor to have when you are finishing up your philosophy major requirements.
Nick is amazing. First, he is not only extremely smart, but also very clear at explaining concepts. Oftentimes, Professor Morrison was not very clear in lecture/not very prepared for lecture and I was very happy that Nick reiterated what took 20 mins to explain into a 5 minute gist. Also, Nick is responsive to emails and meetings. Go over essays with him before you submit it. I don't know if it is writing a philosophy essay or his writing style, but he often picks out very detailed things that are missed, but you think should be obvious. That said, his grading on essays may be a tad harsh, but as long as you talk to him and heed his feedback, you'll be okay.
Christia Mercer is one of the best teachers I have had at Columbia. She is truly brilliant, and her classes are not only clear but also fun, which is something remarkable when you are studying philosophers like Descartes and Kant. I always looked forward to her lectures. In response to an earlier review, which complained that Professor Mercerâ€™s classes do not contain enough historical information, I say that studying the history of philosophy is different from studying history. The history of philosophy has to do with the evolution of human thought, not with historical details about individual philosophers. Professor Mercer focuses on a the central questionâ€”What is there really? The reason we study questions like this one, is that in order to understand and write about philosophy, we must know what other philosophers have said, and how they said it. For example, we have to know what Cartesian dualism is in other to engage in a meaningful discussion about the mind/body problem. It is not just that the opinions of these philosophers are relevant today, but also that we need to know what has been said by others in order to formulate our own opinions. I too was once frustrated by having to study the arguments of outdated thinkers, but I now understand why we do it. Furthermore, Professor Mercer actually provided a good amount of historical context for the philosophers she introducedâ€”much more than in my previous history of philosophy course. In addition, Professor Mercer enriched the class by including female philosophers, who often go overlooked in this type of course. Her class was taught at the right level, and her lectures were stimulating and entertaining. She explained the topics thoroughly and with care, spending extra time on the more difficult arguments. She also had amazing PowerPoint slides and, almost every class, had something extra like a puppet, a painting related to the subject matter, a comical text, etc. I highly recommend her class. It is well organized, well taught, and a lot of fun. P.S. I am also a philosophy major.
I'm guessing that the previous reviewer didn't take History of Philosophy I, because the first course with Katja Vogt was the same way - we studied the metaphysics of philosophers from Pre-Socratic through to Augustine, so personally, I didn't find this course weird or existentially crisis-inducing. Maybe the previous reviewer had a hard TA, but I pulled an A despite my horrible Spinoza paper. With that said, I do have a few comments about Professor Mercer. For every philosopher we would cover, it's really either her way or the high way. If you can't agree with her interpretation (or her "standing by her man" as she'd call it - and trust me they are very strong/extreme opinions) then your opinions will be disregarded. And for the several lectures we would spend on a certain philosopher, she would only go over a few points about that philosopher's metaphysics, just in like 12 different ways. It makes studying for the exams easier because when you reread your notes and sort of reorganize them, you realize you have, say, a page-tops for Descartes despite the 7 pages of scribbling you did during the 2 weeks we spent on him. She also sometimes doesn't answer questions quite straight-forwardly. I often resorted to my TA to ask questions instead because her answers never seemed to help me all that much. Another note was that she would almost never remember when class finishes, so 80% of the time, she never really finished what she had wanted to say. Lecture notes or something that could be posted on courseworks so we have a guideline of what to expect + if we run out of time, we know what we'd have to catch up on would have been helpful. But that may just be me speaking from my experience with other professors who did something of this nature. I can see how this would have been dissatisfying for philosophy majors - I'm one too and I took this to fulfill the requirement - but if you actually go to class, take notes and pay attention to what she's saying (because you'll immediately pick up on what she thinks is "cool" i.e. will be a big part of the exams) then you should be fine.
I've had Mark as my TA for two semesters now, and I really hope that I have him again for a philosophy class next semester! He's honestly a really devoted, awesome TA - and this is only his second semester as one! I can say for both classes that he was really accessible and approachable, and, like the previous reviewer said, almost always added more office hours - especially around the midterm or exams. And if you couldn't make his hours for certain weeks he was more than happy to make an appointment with you. His feedback on papers have always been really helpful, and he never seemed to mind answering even the silliest of questions, and seemed to genuinely care about the students understanding the material!
If this review can dissuade one person from taking this course, then the time it takes to write this will be time well spent. Full disclosure, the grade for the final has not yet been submitted, but up till now I have a B+ in this course and as far as I can tell, a great deal of the class is doing significantly worse than this. I only put this first in order to state clearly that I'm not someone that got a terrible grade and then sought revenge by posting a negative review on Mea Culpa. Professor Mercer is a true scholar of philosophy.There can be no doubt about that. But the point I want to put forward is that the subject material covered in this class is almost totally irrelevant for anyone that doesn't hold a deep, abiding interest in antiquated metaphysical systems. Based on the title of this class, I had assumed that I would be taking a history of philosophy class, meaning the reconstruction of historical events that help to put the course of later developments in philosophical thought into a better context. I was thus quite surprised that the semester more resembled the following: a new philosopher every week, of whom we were expected to memorize the intricacies of their particular views on metaphysics. What's the problem with this? Simply that the majority of these people held views that are silly if not outright laughable within the context of modern scientific thought. Why is that a problem? Well, learning the ins and outs of Leibniz's ludicrous views on causation or memorizing Kant's now discredited thoughts on the analytic/synthetic propositional distinction just holds little relevance for the contemporary undergraduate. Real history of course does not. The moments when Professor Mercer actually delved into the historical currents of the time and what impact they might have had on the philosopher in question were among some of the most interesting moments of the class. But these moments were sadly few and far between. So, my warning is essentially as follows: this is not a course concerning the events that influenced historically important philosophical thinkers. This is a course concerning what those thinkers thought about metaphysics. What this has to do with anything beyond a narrow niche of historical study I don't know. As an undergraduate philosophy major even I know that many of the points made by these historical figures have no standing within the contemporary philosophical body of knowledge. They influenced but were superseded which is it should be if philosophy is actually a science. And my final point is this: if philosophy is a science (and this premise is assumed because why would it be a major offering at a prestigious research facility if it were not?) then this class either needs to be re-configured and moved to the history department or be simply done away with. As it stands it is not philosophy (as there is no mention of the contemporary body of philosophical knowledge) and it is not history (as there was almost no effort to provide information on the actual relevant and contextual history that influenced and was influenced by these thinkers.) So what is it then? A waste of time. Spare yourself the existential crisis I experienced from time wasted on rote memorization of utterly irrelevant concepts.
Ariadna is great! She wasn't officially my TA but she let me come to her office hours anyway because sometimes I couldn't make it when my own had hours. She was always very well-prepared, having went over all the assigning reading carefully to make sure she could explain whatever I had questions about. She even responded promptly when I emailed her questions a few times before a paper was due or exam time, which really helped me out. She went over a draft of my fourth paper, the longest of the four papers that was 20% of the class grade, and gave me a lot of comments to help with revision before I had to turn it in. Although she didn't grade my papers since she wasn't officially my TA, I'm sure her paper comments for her actual students must have been equally helpful. If you're ever in a class where she is one of the TAs, I definitely recommend requesting her!
Mark is a fantastic TA. I'd never had a philosophy class before, so (surprise, surprise) my first paper sucked. I didn't realize that beforehand, of course. I have always been good at writing the creative writing / English class types essays, so I was surprised when I got a C+ on my first History of Philosophy paper. Okay, surprised.. maybe a little angry. But when I stormed into Mark's office hours ready to defend the honor of my paper, it turned out that he was very understanding and glad to take the time to explain how a philosopher paper is supposed to be written. And I did take a lot of his time. He offered extra office hours just about every other week (extra meaning 4 hours total - more than I've ever seen offered by a professor of TA before), and though I was in there often he never minded. He was also really good at explaining the material, which was not always clear from the class lectures (and usually the papers topics weren't covered in class). All in all, he's probably the best TA I've had so far!
I am in complete agreement with everything the previous reviewer said regarding Prof. Mercer, who is a wonderful and engaging lecturer who made this a fantastic and interesting class. But the comments about the TAs could not be more wrong. I can't say for sure whether any one of them gave worse grades than the others. Prof. Mercer seemed very concerned about grading standards (she did say usually no more than 1/3 of the class gets an A or A-), so I would assume she would be comparing their averages to keep it consistent. But personally I found Daniel to be a VERY difficult grader, and his comments, while not exactly unkind, were certainly blunt. I'll be honest and admit I never went to his office hours. Maybe it's unfair to judge by appearances, but he seems completely unapproachable. Have you ever had a graduate student TA who actually wears a jacket and tie to most every class? Me neither. So I went to Mark and Ariadna's office hours instead, a couple times for each of them, and found both to be extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to help even though I wasn't in their section. If I would have thought about it ahead of time, I would have switched over at the beginning of the semester. I think I would definitely have come out with better grades if I'd had either of them.
I cannot begin to sing professor Mercer's praises high enough. She is incredibly passionate about the material. She can take things as dry as Aquinas' principals of nature and transform them into living, breathing (often hilarious) real-life examples. She makes you appreciate philosophy as a logical, meaningful, and sometimes beautiful way to think about the world. I too often hear, "what's the point of taking philosophy courses, it's just pure sophistry!" Take a class with Christia Mercer and she will change your mind. If she doesn't then don't take any more philosophy classes because nothing in the major will be as exciting as having her explain Descartes' Meditations of how crazy Leibniz is! Her lecture style is not traditional. You feel like you are either sitting by the fireside chatting about big ideas or you are on some great roller coaster. The class mandates your undivided attention if you want to keep up with Mercer. People find her tangents and repeated pauses for questions to be really frustrating. I understand their concerns. If you want a straight out of the book explanation of the history of philosophy from Aquinas to Kant then you may want to take this class during a year when Mercer isn't teaching it, but if you are willing to commit yourself to the course, then you will get a lot out of it. The final aspect of any class is, as always, the grade. Mercer herself admits that her class is really hard. I find this to be untrue. The TA's grade everything and while some just want to get through their TA requirement and thus spend very little time critiquing your work, others will tear you apart. The TA's will probably change but, if they don't, stay away from Mark and try to take Daniel.
I do not recommend this class for people who are not philosophy majors. There is a TON of reading for each class, which she spends all of class going over so you do not really have to do it. However, the material is not interesting and her lectures are quite boring. The papers and exams are graded harshly by the ta's.
I guess I'm in the minority of CULPA reviewers, but I didn't think Kitcher was too great (why did I take 3 courses with her then? I don't have a short answer to that). The good parts: She's an easy grader. Just turn in average papers of adequate length and you'll get your A minus. The bad: All texts covered are interpreted through the lens of the philosophy of science. Science is GOD (she'd hate me writing that, since she absolutely despises religion of every form and lets you know it at least a couple of times each lecture. She's ALWAYS making fun of Leibniz, for example. I'm not religious, but I find people who are so vehemently opposed to the religious mindset to be more deluded than even religious fundamentalists - but that's just me). And like most people in awe of science, she has an idea of almost inevitable progress in all things, including philosophical thought. The latest stuff is almost always the best. Well, that may not be a bad aspect of a professor for everybody, but it was for me. What else is bad? She seems to get lots of things wrong - or at least dumbs them down to the point where the author's point is completely obscured. She'll find fault with every position she teaches (don't worry, she's not so critical in grading student papers and will let stupid arguments pass if you write enough pages). I didn't find her very good at answering student questions, either. The really good professors can think on their feet and quickly tell which questions are stupid and which are worthy of consideration. Kitcher can't do this. Often, in response to a question she does not understand, she just restates what she said in lecture a minute ago, hoping the student will politely nod and go away. Other times, she'll concede a huge point that's completely devastating to the text she's teaching, only to come back next class to explain why the crticism did not apply (there were a couple of examples of this from Kant, but I've forgotten them - but someone who really knew her Kant would have been able to right away see the problem the student was pointing to and explain why Kant wasn't making that mistake). I've gotten the impression, after taking all these classes with her, that Kitcher does not have a great a grasp of the texts she teaches. She has her set lectures and she'll guide you through the main points of the text, but she doesn't have the thorough command that a really great professor has. I'd give her a B plus.
This class and Mercer are AMAZING! I missed one lecture due to an intense week and realized a) how much i missed her wonderfully entertaining/informative/organized lectures and b) how much more lucid the reading was when accompanied by her explanations (which made it crystal clear as to which nuances of the texts we should pay attention and how to interpret them). My only regret is not also taking Philosophy and Feminism (despite the fact that I find other subject matters in the philosophy department infinitely more interesting) this semester, as she is going away next year. I never once fell asleep, despite a 9 am right before her lecture, I thought the grading was extremely fair (perhaps a bit easy), comments on the exams and papers were very helpful (especially in directing how to study/write on subsequent topics/examinations). I never once went to office hours, asked maybe 2 in-class questions, never had outside contact with her, and ended up with a very good grade--clearly, the "favorites" comments are very misled, if not simply bitter. It is important to be familiar with the reading, if not during the course then at least before the exams, and to write very clearly (if not too simply) on papers. I enjoyed the class immensely and hope that she comes back to the Philosophy department in 2006-2007 teaching numerous other courses so I can have her as a professor again. As for the course material, it's based in metaphysics and epistemology (as aforementioned in others' reviews), which was not only a great choice for narrowing down topics in view of the time period covered, but also interesting and very useful as an intro philosophy class (which it is considered to be). In all, I recommend that aspiring philosophy majors, or even just students interested in the subject, seriously consider taking this course.
For the first couple days of this class I hated Mercer--she seemed arrogant, cold, and not much of a teacher. Right off the bat she told us that it was very hard to get an A in her class, that she would not be impressed by people, usually men she said, who try to "do philosophy" in front of the whole class, and she admonished us not to plagiarize or try to buy papers on the internet. So being a male and one who values education and would never have thought to buy a paper on the internet I was somewhat offended. If I'd stopped going to the class after that I'm sure I would have the same negative view of Mercer that some reviewers have expressed. But the fact is Mercer is a pretty good prof. I'm not sure if her initial harshness is a product of her personality or an intentional device to get students to respect her, but either way she does warm up a lot as the semester goes on. She's actually a bit of a comedian--well, ok, more than a bit--and this can sometimes be annoying, but at other times she'll really get the class to crack up. She's also much more approachable then she seems. I never went to office hours, but the few times I went to ask a question after class she was very receptive and not at all scary. She also gave pretty good review sessions that you should definitely go to--she doesn't tell you exactly what's on the test but she'll give you some clues as to what to reread and what issues to think about. I thought she did a good job of outlining the key ideas in a way that made the texts more comprehensible. Her lectures usually got me excited to read the texts, and definitely helped me understand them--plus I never once came close to falling asleep in class, which is more than I can say for some profs at this school. As to the comment that she focuses on minutia, I completely disagree. If anything I would have liked a bit more detail on certain philosophers, (yes, the Descartes circular argument thing is a bit confusing, but that was the only idea in the whole course that felt less than essential. also you were never required to write about it--I didn't). As far as the accusations of sexism, I saw no evidence of this except for that one comment the first day. Maybe twice during the semester she mentioned that women philosophers had had a hard time getting heard, and she had us read Anne Conway instead of Locke. Big deal. I actually avoided the class last year because of these accusations, but they are hugely exaggerated. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd read the reviews on this site and made that comment just to mess with us--she's definitely a bit mischievous. Anyway, it's no reason to avoid the class. And as far playing favorites goes, if it's true I never saw it and I definitely wasn't one of them, but I worked hard and ended up with a precious A. This class is definitely worth taking.
I think the polarity of these reviews is very interesting. Personally, I found Mercer to be a very educated, gifted instructor. I felt like she made clear many points in the more difficult texts like Aquinas and Kant which I would not have comprehended otherwise. Sparknotes, after all, can only take you so far. I also felt like the tests were fair. I mean, come on, you read the texts, you go to the lectures, you learn their specific views and that's it. Oh, you didn't understand the circular problem in Descartes the first or second time? Well, read that &*^% again until you do. A lot of these reviewers seem like they need to GROW UP and remember that we are in college now. Anyway, as far as Mercer's presentation goes, maybe she threw around a lot of chalk to get her points across, but at the very least it woke me up.
I agree with the reviewer on the first page on all respects, although I have to emphasize on the focus on minutiae, which besides being boring is agonizing and hazardous to one's grades. "grading inconsistency" is not to be trifled with.... if you get the 'other' TA like I do. After inquiring about Descartes' circular logic problem on the midterm, I was depressed to discover how trivial the emphasis of the basis of right and wrong actually was: somehow i had 2/35 points taken off because I didn't include the argument for God, which is almost superfluous to the logic being circular. In conclusion, it's not a hard course, just a bad one.
Mercer is as bright as any professor in the outstanding philosophy dept, and perhaps the very best I've had in terms of teaching ability. Her lectures are crystal clear and impeccably organized, always beginning with a review of the last lecture and the overall context in which you should be prepared to take in the next one. Important points are thoroughly explained and (necessarily) repeated to iron out their complexities. Her grading is fair - the TA's grade based on the guidelines she puts forth when she discusses a paper/exam. She genuinely cares about teaching undergraduates in a way that many of the dept's fine professors seem to neglect as a result of their celebrity-like status in the philosophy world. She shares this status and it is reflected in the confidence with which she delivers the material. Some may misinterpret this confidence, but it is definitely warranted in my opinion.
It is worth taking a class with Professor Mercer. She is funny, smart and irreverent; she knows her material and she is fearless in the classroom. Her class can be a lot of fun, but she will make everybody work for it. The LitHum class I took with her was by far my best experience with the Core. More than any other class I took at Columbia it affected the way I read books to this day. MercerÂ’s approach to philosophy is different from what you will encounter with most of the other Professors in the department. As far as I know, there is nobody else in whose class you will find that philosophical insight is second to (or at least on an equal footing with) historical study. While it is true that most of us philosophy majors did not choose our major with that sort of thing in mind, Mercer makes her approach interesting and engaging. In part, she knows a tremendous amount and finds it so interesting herself, and, in part, because she will offer you an argument (if you are willing to listen) about why what she does is as important to the discipline as straight-up philosophical debate. Mainly though, she makes it work because she is spectacular in the classroom. Her lectures are informative and certainly held my attention, but I think she is one of the best when it comes to leading a discussion. She gets people to say interesting things, and it is not just the usual suspects saying the usual, predictable stuff. She gets all kinds of students involved because people feel compelled to participate. Professor Mercer takes a genuine interest in her students. She wonÂ’t coddle you, and donÂ’t expect too much sympathy if you feel talking without having much say, but she will listen if you are sincere. She will also argue with you if she disagrees. I found Prof. Mercer helpful as a departmental advisor (especially in comparison to what I heard about other departmental advisors). She made the program flexible and seemed to be concerned that I get the most out of my course of study.
Just to respond quickly to the ridiculous polarity of these reviews..... I am a guy. I never said one thing in class. I took the class freshman year, with only one other intro class as my experience with Philosophy. I would say that this puts me somewhere in the middle of the rest of the reviewers- at the time of taking the class, I was certainly not a philosophy "jock" and expect to be one of her favorites, nor did I expect her to be a man-hating, cold, grade-ruining favoritist, as some of the reviews seem to imply. I never spoke to her enough to develop any sort of serious academic relationship during office hours, but I did go once. Like I said, I was somewhere in the middle, which most people, of course, usually are. So what do I think of her? Well, first off, Mercer gives off an aire of subtle arrogance, which some people take as her assuredness of brilliance or as a sign of some smug, deluded self-righteousness. Of course, this is Columbia, and most any professor teaching here with anything close to a "prestigious" position or history in their field is going to have a bit of an ego. Get over it. She's a professor, not a kindergarten teacher. In terms of favoritism, I would argue it's more the fault of annoying philosophy majors and certain others that either want to become her pet or see her as some sort of feminist beacon in the philosophy world. I don't think that she necessarily encourages this, but she will respond when you ask a question in class, and unfortunately, those are the people who generally tend to ask the questions. And she does not hate guys- if you are threatened by someone saying that there is no true philosophical basis for sexism, or think that feminism means women hating men and wanting to bring about their ruin, then you have some issues to figure out on your own that really don't have anything to do with what she says. I was never offended by her views with regards to gender/ feminism/ etc etc, and I am by no means a femisit activist or anything along those lines. And as to her grading policies- as some philosophy professors will, she allows you to write either in a dialectic or essay form, which is nice, since you don't have to be a philosophy major to write a critical dialogue. With her grading- well, I didn't find any problem there, and thought she was thorough and fair. When I didn't understand a comment, I went into her office hours, and contrary to popular belief, she was warm, attentive, and responsive to my questions. Eventually, with virtually no formal experience in philosophy, I got an A in the class. I was not one of her favorites, I am a guy, my GPA wasn't ruined, etc. etc. While I don't think that she is the most incredible professor I've ever had, she was great, and I enjoyed the class even though I hate the period in philosophy. I would definitely recommend you take her class, unless you are for some reason inclined to believe the extreme, often overly personal "Oh my god this is the best/ worst class I've ever taken" reviews or can't handle someone not holding your hand and softening up their words for you.
Evil and great. In my opinion, she is absolute, pure, evil, but she is a fantastic teacher with amazing command of the subject. Much as she might attempt to crush every student's hope, much as she might destroy every piece of work you hand her, she is nevertheless amazingly dominant in the classroom and ingenious at the desk. Never looking at a single note, she can speak excitingly for hours on virtually any topic. But pure evil nonetheless.
As the last reviewer felt compelled to emphasize Professor Mercer's alleged gender-favoritism not once, but twice, I'll begin my review by pointing out that I am (gasp!) male. I took her class as a sophomore, with only a poorly-taught Methods and Problems class and a generally disfavorable impression of the department under my belt, and the experience encouraged me to eventually major in philosophy. In-class discussions did what historical surveys are intended to do: introduce, elucidate, and contextualize, and all in an engaging manner. She didn't go incredibly in depth, but, ummm, did you read the course title? That's a pretty hefty chunk of material to cover. While I sympathize with students eager to plunge deeply into a particular text of interest, I also think that it's fair to point out that it's nearly impossible to reconcile the desires of hardcore philosophy jocks taking a required-for-the-major course, and sweaty, nervous, first-time philo kids. *CULPA edit* It's ludicrous to pronounce on how a professor would teach an upper-level seminar based on how they teach an introductory survey. The reviewer also points to the abundance of positive reviews as evidence of Mercer's alleged favoritism, and that Mercer "so desperately wants" us to see her as caring. That seems like a bizarre interpretation. Maybe, just maybe, a professor that wants us to think of her as a caring professor, and a bunch of students thinking that she is a caring professor, is actually evidence that Mercer IS a caring professor. That was certainly my impression. I received my first paper--which, incidentally, I had turned in late--back with lengthy and thoughtful comments about specific points of my paper, as well as an invitation to discuss it and any other general questions during office hours. Since then, I have found her to be unfailingly generous with her time and advice--a helpful and, yes, even caring, professor in an aloof and sometimes difficult department.
Professor Mercer is fantastic- easily one of the best profs IÂ’ve had at Columbia so far. Her lectures are entertaining, upbeat, and witty. Most remarkably, she manages to keep even the driest and most theoretical philosophers relevant (which sometimes entails throwing things across the classroom). If you take her feminism and philosophy class, you might get a few funny stories about her son. SheÂ’s also incredibly approachable and helpful outside of the classroom (I visited her office hours pretty frequently throughout the year and IÂ’m usually terrified of talking to my professors). Mercer often doesnÂ’t entertain self-indulgent remarks made by students who donÂ’t really know what theyÂ’re talking about- which perhaps explains some of the complaints made about her not tolerating criticism. I canÂ’t recall her ever shutting a student down unfairly, and IÂ’m pretty sure most of the class was relieved when she occasionally chose to cut a student off. I also donÂ’t understand the complaints about MercerÂ’s grading- I found her to be one of the least arbitrary graders IÂ’ve had. She has fairly high but reasonable standards- if you demonstrate a good grasp of the material, youÂ’ll get an A. And the workload is not bad, either.
Mediocre, mediocre, mediocre. The course was fine, but there are so many better classes in the philosophy department that I cannot recommend it. Although Mercer made many attempts to enliven the class, her delivery seemed forced. The conflict between dogmatic rationalism and empirical skepticism was frequently superceded by the conflict between pleasurable slumber and agonizing consciousness. Mercer seemed to be afraid of going too fast. The result was a superficial discussion of the basic themes of the texts with repeated emphasis on basic points (for example, people use skepticism to undermine dogmatismÂ… duh), which left little time for discussion of the subtleties. Also, the course left out a lot. No discussion of monads or the principle of sufficient reason for Leibniz (especially strange considering she is a Leibniz scholar). No discussion of Locke at all. On the good side, Descartes, Hume, and Kant are covered well (principally because the readings for these three were the most extensive). Mercer limited the class to metaphysics, which was a good choice since there is so much stuff during this period. Also, Professor Mercer is incredibly nice and unbelievably accessible outside of class. There should be more reading in this course, especially for Bacon and Leibniz.
Professor Mercer is an enlightening teacher and an incredibly knowledgeable historian. She made the relatively dry material covered in this required course easy to learn by offering some of the most comprehensive, smart and witty lectures I have had at Columbia. She is a true expert and she is personable and down-to-earth during office hours and with regard to grades.
This woman is amazing. Whether she is throwing chalk at the blackboard to make a point about our expectations of cause and effect, or ranting about how stupid squirrels can be, there is never a dull moment in her class. She presents material in such a way that it seems relevant and we never lose our sense of context because she frames all of the philosophers in the same way. She is also incredibly knowledgable about her field, and comes back after international conferences to enlighten us by sharing stories of philosophers debating Plato over beers. She's really just an excellent professor. Anybody interested in philosophy should take a course taught by her. And there is nothing scary or mean about her, despite what others say.
You will not love this class. You may like it, you may think it's ok, but you won't think it's great. I cannot say anything against Kitcher as a person: she's very nice, approachable, and extremely tolerant of her students' absolutely moronic and masturbatory questions that often monopolize the class and totally divert the discussion, precluding you from actually learning anything. That's one problem anyway: she never shoots anyone down. What should be a lecture often becomes a FIFTY person seminar-- not exactly a good way to learn. Her lectures are easy to follow, but in no way systematic. I found her clarifications helpful, but wanted a more in-depth and detailed account. Another problem: the philosophers we studied at the beginning of the course (Spinoza and Leibniz in particular) are maddeningly obtuse. Anyone interested in making accusations that philosophy is pointlessly speculative need look no further. On the other hand, the material gets better: Hume and Kant are brilliant, and do a lot to undermine the ridiculously stupid positions of their predecessors, which is fun to watch, in a vengeful sort of way. Moreover these texts have a lot of intrinsic value. Studying Kant in particular has exposed me to a whole knew way of thinking about things. In the final analysis, though the class was pretty mediocre, it gave me the introductory information I wanted. It could have been better, but so what?
True, Prof. Kitcher just goes over the readings, but I liked that. Something about hearing each philosopher's views again, in a different format and from a different angle made the stuff make more sense to me. Hey, this is an intro course, what do you expect. Prof Kitcher REALLY cares about her students. I missed a class and she went over her whole lecture for me in office hours. If you're someone who sometimes falls behind in the reading - she's the perfect professor because she doesn't assume you understood anything. This attitude is especially good for Kant, because chances are we students missed something important even if we read the stuff. Bottom line: great intro course, especially for someone who just wants some fundamentals in philosophy and not necessarily major in it.
As the previous review says, Prof Kitcher is a very nice woman. While the material in this class can leave you shaking your head at the concept that anyone ever believed some of the nonsense from people like Spinoza, the professor is good at acknowledging points that she believes are weak in the author's argument and trying to explain the strengths where she believes them. There is no dogmatic defense of every author in this class. While the class can get a bit large the professor tends to deal well with questions, in many cases actually answering the student's question rather than something tangentially related to the question as so many of my professors have. The readings can get repetitive, look out for the small type in the reader that makes some of the assignments look short, but you do not need to do them in-depth as long as you cover each of the major topic points that are conveniently pointed out by the reader. Attendance is very useful in this class as the tests are almost entirely from the classroom summary of the reading. A fair grader and eminently approachable.
I write in response to some of the negative reviews of Professor Mercer. Contrary to some of the negative reviewers (who presumably were the recipients of Professor Mercer's alleged inconsistency in grading), Mercer is perhaps one of the best undergraduate professors on the philosophy faculty. She takes a real interest in undergraduates, as demonstrated by her serving as the DR for Columbia College. Her lectures are very easy to follow, and quite pleasant to listen to. Sure, she brings up some crazy examples sometimes to illustrate some of the more difficult philosophical theories. But she achieves her purpose, in explaining the meaning of these texts. For philosophy majors, I should also point out that you are not going to get a better history of philosophy professor in the department--your alternatives are Gabbey, Kitcher, Mann.
If you don't want to ruin your GPA, or if you're not ready to recieve the first bad grade of your life, you might want to give a lot of thought before signing up for Prof. Mecer's class. Her lectures are interesting and clear, so that they succinctly summarize and convey the essence of the assigned readings, although some of her anecdotes may strike you as self-congratulatory (ie.- what her grad school advisors said about a certain paper she wrote). Yet, even if you manage understand the ideas well, this does not guarantee a good grade on her exams. Other classmates too seem unsure ahow they get their grades. The saving grace is that for papers, in which you have more leeway to sum up the ideas in words slightly different from the ones she is looking for, Prof.Mercer tends to be a much kinder grader.