Philosophy and Human Existence

Dec 2010

Professor Beardman is a nice person. She is clearly very, very smart. She is enthusiastic about her subject matter. At times her explanations of difficult concepts aren't terribly helpful, but of course that is because the concepts are difficult. I thought at times she could be a little short with people, but overall she tried to encourage participation and really wanted people to understand what was being taught. The problem with this course was not Professor Beardman. The problem was the other students. If you're a philosophy major, this is not going to be a big deal for you. If you're not, it will be. Having to listen to students recount every detail of their infallible argument against Cartesian Skepticism that they just thought up while sitting in class in the last five minutes is unbearable. No one has any humility these days. Everyone thinks that their idea is the best idea in the history of the world, and even if they themselves did not spend any time working on it, we should all drop whatever we are doing to listen to them explain it in excruciating, class time-consuming detail. Beardman tried to cut these interruptions short, but too many of the students apparently didn't respect her or their classmates (or, probably, anyone but themselves) enough to shut up, despite repeated hints (and by hints I mean the professor said, "Okay, well I don't want us to spend too much time on that, let's move on..."). The class was an hour and fifteen minutes long. Probably 35-40 minutes of each class was spent by students trying to explain how they had upended hundreds of years of philosophical thought on their way into class that morning. I feel bad giving a negative review to a class that could have been a good experience if it weren't for the other students in the class, but overall I really feel like I learned a lot less than I might have, and the course was overall a negative experience for me. My attitude here is a bit cynical, I guess. Most of the Columbia and Barnard students I know from other classes and other semesters would not act like this. So maybe I just got into a bad group. It may also be that for philosophy majors, these types of "interruptions" as I call them would be useful, if only to demonstrate the sort of tired counter-arguments that are easily dismissed in philosophy. In any case, if you're not a philosophy major, it's not worth the risk, in my view. There are other ways to fulfill a humanities credit.

Jan 2010

I'll give Professor Beardman this, she was certainly quirky. What she wasn't was articulate. She tended to get so wrapped up in just how much she knew about philosophy that she went on extreme tangents mid-sentence that would proceed to preoccupy the next 15 minutes of class. It also made her assume that as wee little intro course takers we must be idiots incapable of expressing coherent thoughts. Yeah, sure, we were the confusing ones. She often contradicted herself and made no sense whatsoever. None of the material was as complex as she made it sound. For example, she once said, "If determinism true, and every event has a cause, and every action has a cause going back to before born, from beginning of everything, the conditions of universe, and laws of nature, if a being knew the state of the universe at any time, and knew all of the laws of nature, and the universe is purely deterministic, you could predict any event in the future," except keep in mind that in real life, she would stop mid-sentence to plop in a random phrase without explaining what it had to do with the rest of everything, or randomly repeat a phrase she had already said. In other words, she rarely used full sentences and pretty much spoke in stream-of-consciousness. It was also hard to know what to write on the papers with someone so vague and with so few other assignments.

Jan 2009

First and foremost, the Philosophy and Human Existence course material was really great. Philosophers both past and present were well represented, and the course readers were thoroughly interesting. Be forewarned, however, that this course if NOT for those of you that lack interest in philosophy. This is philosophy course through and through, and, in order to get the most out of this class, you will want to spend the extra time required to wrap your head around a great assortment of thinkers. Katalin Makkai certainly knows what she is talking about when it comes to the material. She is well versed in the ways of the French Existentialists and could talk for days about Immanuel Kant. If there is a professor in the best position to teach this class, it is she. Her class is, although she'd rather not call it this, a lecture course and mostly revolves around her explanations of the dense assigned readings. But if you pay attention and follow the conversation, you will take a lot from it this course. The greatest complaint I had was with the T.A. Although the class was only about 30, all of the grades were determined by the T.A. and an outside grader. Unfortunately, when the T.A. graded the papers, he brutally (and often rudely) shredded apart every bit of it. However, the grader graded quite easily. It just depended on what letter of the alphabet your surname began with (a 50-50 throw up). I wish that Prof. Makkai had done the grading, for I feel she would have best understood the points that we, her class, were making.

Dec 2008

This class is great if you are up for challenging readings and concepts. There is a reading due for every class, most of which are not very long but are very intense. Prof. Makkai spends the class going over the reading which we're supposed to have read ahead of time. Even if you don't do the reading you will probably be able to figure out what is going on. She does a great job of explaining hard concepts. The readings may seem daunting but she never tests on ideas that weren't explicitly explained in class. A great introduction to philosophical inquiry but definitely not for someone who wants to slack off. Make sure to keep up with the reading! It sucks when you haven't done the reading for awhile and then you have to write a paper and go back and do it. Not recommended for people with short attention spans or people who aren't genuinely interested in philosophical ideas and thinkers.

Nov 2005

At the first class during shopping period, Professor Guay charmed me with his good looks and low-key sense of humor. However, the class turned out to be very disappointing. I went into the class thinking that we'd have cool, existential discussions about morality and the meaning of life. Instead, all that ever happens in class is a lengththy explanation, maybe with a short discussion, of the text we read overnight. Nothing else. It gets boring really fast. There are frequent reading quizzes, but they're designed so that you can't hurt your grade unless you're an class-cutting idiot who never does your homework. Papers are really scary, but if you do exactly what it asks for, you're guaranteed an A. Bottom line: an easy class, but not an enjoyable one.

Jan 2005

This class is boring. I would almost fall asleep on a daily basis. Although it is a boring class I found it to be an easy one (and i'm no philosophy expert.) You don't ever have to do the reading (i rarely did) because Carmen gives very detailed lectures. The papers are not too bad (you have a lot of options on what to write about) and he gives you the questions that will be on the final. I never did the readings and was always sleepy in class but still managed an A.

Jan 2005

This was by far the worst class I have taken. In my opinion, Carman believes that his thoughts are the only ones that matter, and is very egotistical and demeaning towards his students. His lectures are boring and not helpful, since even when you think you are understanding what he is saying, he will certainly prove you wrong.

Dec 2004

Nice guy, not so great professor. He loves philosophy and it shows, but his lectures tend to lean towards the boring and repetitive. I missed a class on a Thursday and came back on Tuesday to find that he was repeating things from the previous Tuesday's class. Papers are graded ridiculously; it seems as though he wants students to repeat his ideas, though I haven't really figured it out because the grading seems fairly arbitrary. (My first essay and my second essay were pretty different -- one creative, one basically mimicking the notes -- and I got the same grade.) A lot of the reading was excruciatingly boring and heavy-handed (David Hume especially), but Professor Carman went over the work so thoroughly that reading the texts seemed optional. I wouldn't suggest taking his class if you like to be creative in your papers or you're looking for a great lecture, but he's not bad if you're just in it for the philosophy.

Dec 2004

A lot of people really love this guy, and a fair number of people really hate him. Basically, the syllabus for this course is interesting and he presents all of the material well. It's easy to tell which works he likes better than others, because he focuses on some texts exorbitantly and leaves little to no room for others towards the end of the semester. He makes things relate to modern day life quite well, which makes it easy to understand the texts. However, he is a ridiculously difficult grader, and is extremely picky. In my opinion if you make any impression on him, he will grade according to that impression -- if he doesn't like something about you, he will grade accordingly. He doesn't appreciate creativity on papers, and is meticulous when it comes to clarity. Often times if you write sentences that are direct quotes from his lectures, or even from the text introductions, he will say they are unclear and mark you down for them. He punishes really heavily for tiny mistakes (saying one thing slightly off-point might warrant you a grade drop) even if your papers are mostly accurate and precise. Also, he doesn't give many chances to improve grades -- he doesn't really take rewrites, except for on rare occasions, and doesn't change grades even when he agrees himself that they are unfair. Carman makes for a rather interesting lectures, but bruises the GPA in far too many cases.

Nov 2004

A good introduction to philosophy. Interesting readings, although a lot. But the professor goes over the readings at lenght in class. In fact, the class can get unbearably boring because he wants to make sure certain things are drilled into our heads. The professor is a very nice man and he does a great job explaining if you don't understand the reading. But don't expect to have any interesting debates about what you read. It's all about understanding what the texts.

May 2004

Readings were tough. She was very helpful after classes and she tried hard to explain things to students (although in a very philosophical manner). THe sad part is that she kinda threw us into the pool of complication without telling us how to swim out of it. You better take notes in class because you'd have to depend on it when it comes to BSing the phil papers. I have to confess that I "B*S*" my way throughout the course......based on the note of course. i got an A-.

May 2004

Katalin Makkai is a wonderful professor. Her lectures were extremely interesting, and more often than not they were in fact interesting *discussions*, rather than just only her speaking. She always had interesting things to say, and is very knowledgable, and was interested in what the students thought too. Very fair grading. The readings could be tough, but many were interesting, and they sparked very interesting discussion. I highly recommend this class, and this professor.

Dec 2003

take this class if you are interested in philosophy and KNOW that you are a philosophy minded person. i thought i was such a person and then spent the entire semester sitting silently in the back of the class, participating only in the mandatory online chat. but prof beardman was an amazing lecturer and tries very hard to engage her students in discussion, which can be great, again, if you are one of those people who want to discuss very trivial philosophical concepts. i definately recommend prof beardman, id take a class with her in the future. as for the class, the readings are really interesting and the concepts can also be interesting if, again, you are interested in the subject.

Nov 2003

Prof. Beardman is an amazing woman. I came to Barnard without any idea what I wanted to major in, and I took her class the first semester I was here, and now I'm planning to major in Philosophy. She makes the subject matter so interesting and is so enthusiastic about what she does. She understands that we're college students and doesn't torture us with endless readings and massive papers. I would highly recommend taking any and all classes that she offers. Honestly, she is my favorite professor that I've ever had.

Apr 2003

....[CULPA CENSOR]....What a waste of an elective. This class sucked. She is clearly very passionate about philosophy and knows a lot, and doesn't really care whether you like it or not. For an intro class, the readings were far too abstruse and complicated. Fortunately, you don't HAVE to talk in class and you don't even necessarily have to do the readings. The papers are ridiculous. The ones I actually thought about and worked hard on earned low grades, and the ones I pulled out of my ass thirty minutes before class got A's. What you know about philosophy and how you interpret the material doesn't make a bit of difference; the name of the game is Guess What Professor Makkai is Thinking! If you can use the right terminology in your papers, even if you plagiarize it right out of the texts, then you're gold. Her wit and "cool chic" style are entertaining for a day until they become irritating and detrimental to class discussion....[CULPA CENSOR]....

Apr 2003

I took Professor Makkai for Introduction to Philosophy and Human Existence. Makkai's teaching style is careful and creative, and as she lectures she often paces in silence for a minute or so before making a delicate point about the very nuanced world of philosophy. She is passionate and engrossed as she teaches. Like a great pitcher with impeccable control, she reminded me of Greg Maddux as she lectured. At the front of the room she'll pause in silence briefly, gearing up to rear back and throw something just off the corner of the plate - she's fascinating to watch and listen to. A very fair grader with plentiful, helpful writing suggestions. Always available outside of class.

Jan 2003

This was a great introductory philosophy class. Prof. Makkai is quirky and interesting and her presentation of a wide variety of philosophical texts was informative and worthwhile. She's a fair grader, giving positive and constructive comments on papers along with corrections, and lenient in terms of lateness or absence (although sometimes I actually thought she was a little *too* nice to people who were consistently tardy). The fact that there were no in-class exams -- and no mid-term at all -- was also a plus. In any case, I highly recommend Prof. Makkai and encourage anyone to take her class!

Apr 2002

Another reviewer says that no one from this class should walk away with less than an 'A.' I have my suspicions that whoever this person is, they must have slept with the professor. This class is very interesting, and Carman is a great lecturer (though he jumps around quite a bit), but as a grader? He's death to your GPA--so before you take this class for credit, decide if you want a good class, or a good GPA. If it's the former, you've hit pay dirt. The guy knows, and moreover, *loves* the material he teaches you--and it shows, from the useful and creative analogies and examples to make the point crystal clear to the way he's able to relate philosophy to his 2 year old. He's so thorough that reading is almost optional--though you definitely get a better grasp of the nuances if you've done it, plus you'll be better able to argue with him (he almost never concedes, but he certainly respects and appreciates a thought-out and backed-up response from his students). However, if you're taking this class for a good grade, well, don't. If you do a thorough and thoughtful job on the paper, he'll rip it to shreds, like he did on my second paper. If you do any less, which I did on my first, he rips it into shreds, then will make you eat it. In fairness, however, he's more lenient on the midterm--and I assume the final--and he gives your overall grade a curve. I walked out with a very good grade, in spite of my diatribe, though by no means an A; and boy, did he make me sweat with fear to get even what I did.

Nov 2001

One of the most eloquent professors I've had so far. His lectures are clear, succinct, engaging, and thought-provoking. His knowledge of the material is impressive, and he is available to his students--a nice man, a mild intellectual. The reading is definitely manageable and pretty interesting--is basically an intro/survey class. no reason for anyone not to walk away with an A. Lectures are a must to attend, readings can be done last minute for purpose of writing the essays.