Philip Kitcher

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

May 2013

Do NOT take this class. Especially if your TA is some guy named Borhane. Yes this class is only based on essays, but if it is on such a subjective topic, that leads way for the TA to say whatever he wants about it. If you don't agree with his viewpoints, he can pretty much just mark you down... and for a class that is based on such a subjective topic, that's what tends to happen.

Apr 2013

Really horrible. Kitcher's rhetoric is good so at first it seems like it's going to be a good class. at some point you realize he said absolutely nothing substantial, and you just wasted an hour-fifteen of your life. obviously people seem to like him, there's a little cult around him, but I think the negative reviewers have a point. hate to say - but, nothing but bells & airs. not much more than a pompous Brit. I was bored.

Mar 2013

The review below is an perfect example of a resentful student who is unsatisfied with his/her grade and blames it all on the professor. The first essay was graded relatively harshly, however, if you did well on the second and the third, you would still get an A range grade even if you got a C plus for your first essay. Professor Kitcher and the TAs are all very patient and encouraging. They want you to do well - given that you make an effort - and take something out of this rather large lecture. This was my first philosophy class and I was very grateful of how much I learned about religion and the sophistication of its debate with science. The course is certainly not a belief-changing experience (and shouldn't be), but it definitely helps you appreciate both sides of the debate more and reexamine your own position. Professor Kitcher is a fantastic lecturer: you will also find out that he has the potential of becoming a great actor after listening to his reading of The Brothers Karamazov. In general this is a great and unique into to philosophy. Instead of "avoid[ing]" it, one should seek it out if one can. Before I end this review I would like to point out two fallacies in the previous review: 1) Professor Kitcher certainly did not say "humanity is developing on the right track, and we are becoming more 'moral' and "ethical' as history goes by." Ironically, this was the view he was trying to attack. Professor Kitcher's view on progress is very similar to that of Kuhn, which (generally speaking) states that progress doesn't mean leading *to* the truth but making something new *from* what is already there. It is in that sense that we are becoming more "moral" and "ethical". (I cannot guarantee that my wording is accurate, but the generally idea is not false.) Even if this were a "dangerous thing to say to young students", the students wouldn't have to accept that. 2) There is difference between a "philosophy essay" and a piece of "philosophical writing", which the previous review failed to identify. I don't want to waste time making the distinction...if you think they are the same...maybe that explains why you think the grading is harsh in the first place.

Mar 2013

Avoid. Essays are graded harshly - class is famous for people withdrawing for a 'W' after seeing Kitcher and his TA's comments - unjustifiably harsh and mind-numbingly petty. Kitcher's mumblings are meaningless at best. Close to the end of class, he will give a lecture based stricly on editorials regarding his thoughts on Secular Humanism, according to which humanity is developing on the right track, and we are becoming more "moral" and "ethical" as history goes by. I thought that was a pretty dangerous thing to say to young students. He will not allow room for creativity in writing, stating a philosophical essay should be pragmatic. However, on one of the last lectures he will state that the prose philosophy of dostoevsky is the supreme form of philosophical writing. In any case - nothing changes the fact the class is quite boring, grading is harsh, and the man is a walking contradiction. Avoid at all cost.

Jan 2011

This class was one of the best academic experiences I've had. Kitcher is a fantastic lecturer; very clear, well organized, and detail oriented. He structured the class in an accessible way, starting off with the "easier" books and working into Ulysses, which took up the majority of the semester. We went one chapter per class through U., which is the only way to really study the book in detail, with all its intricacies and nuance. It's a lot of tough reading, but very rewarding, and I can't imagine that there is a better professor out there with whom to study this material. Kitcher has read all of these books many times (as he admitted in class, and as is evident as well from his depth of knowledge), which is quite an asset in a professor for a first-time reader of Joyce. This literature is unique in that it takes a lot of guidance to even get the basic techniques and premises, not to mention the subtleties and upper-structural elements, and Kitcher did a great job of not losing sight of this fact. He always kept his lectures grounded in the foundations of the three books while also hitting upon more subjective or elusive material. I found that as I became comfortable with the former, the latter started to become more and more interesting and rewarding to study. Take this class if at all possible. It's worth it even for non-lit majors.

Aug 2010

Really, you don't need me to add anything to the many glowing reviews already posted here; until he's nominated for sainthood, there really isn't going to be much else to say about this kind and brilliant man. But let me add a couple things to keep in mind when taking a seminar class with Professor Kitcher, especially Lit Hum: (1) If, like me, you are unbearably shy, and the thought of taking a seminar in which "participation" is part of your grade is among your worst fears, then Philip Kitcher is your man. He is exceedingly understanding in this department, and will gladly allow you to submit written responses to readings before class if you ask his permission at the beginning of the semester. Best of all, though, Professor K is so thoughtful and receptive a discussion leader that, by the end of the semester, he'll be able to draw out even the quietest students in class. (2) If you aren't willing to scrutinize every sentence you put into an essay and ask yourself, "What exactly am I saying here?" then Philip Kitcher is most certainly not your man. He is brutal—I mean this in the best way—when it comes to picking apart every aspect of your argument, which means that you will learn more about writing from his red ink and meeting with him during office hours than you'll ever learn in UWriting (which may not be saying much, but you get the point). Don't expect to get away with clever turns of phrase and self-important words that add nothing to what you're trying to say; this may sound like an obvious lesson, but Professor Kitcher will assure you that it really isn't. In short, give him no bullshit and Philip Kitcher will give you unconditional love. What more could you ask for?

May 2010

Philip Kitcher is a remarkably thought provoking professor who is also totally approachable and dedicated to making one's undergraduate experience really rewarding. Kitcher's lectures were really put together, but he engaged actively in discussion whenever anyone had a question or wanted to accuse him of either being too religious or not religious enough. Kitcher did a really great job of outlining exactly where the course was headed and made sure to cover all the facets of religion: from Focus on the Family to Balinese Water Temples. Personally, I found the course to be really enlightening on all the different ways one can think about religion and how that conception works with or against science. I would, however, caution those who are ardent Dawkinsian Atheists or Bible Thumping Christians from signing up for this course with the hope that you will be able to wage war against the other side and get Kitcher to endorse you. That is, simply put, not what Kitcher wants you to get out of the course. The class is geared for those looking to get a bigger perspective on the nature of both science and religion not for those whom have already chosen a side. Kitcher wants you to think about the issue not just defend a position well. That said there were a great number of ardent Atheists and Catholics in the class and their dialogue was very interesting throughout the course so don't think this course is just for the weak minded who can't make a decision either! So, Kitcher as a professor is excellent and his combination of lecture and discussion is thrilling, but a third thing Kitcher get right is the workload. There are only 3 essays for this class and no tests. This means that you don't have to do the reading if you are swapped, but don't expect to understand much of the class if you skip too many. The idea is the Kitcher wants us wrestling wit the ideas in the course and not memorizing arguments or who said what in what chapter of what book. The light work load encouraged me to think more about the content of the class than if I had been studying for a midterm and final. Take this class, keep an open mind, and sit back and let Kitcher work his magic and enhance your understand of the question of science and religion!

Jan 2009

Bearded, gaunt, coming to class each day with hunched back and hat in hand and addressing his congregation in the limpid tones of Received Pronunciation, Philip Kitcher is the walking embodiment of Britannitas. His was a particularly British geekdom - at one point, he claimed to have first read Finnegans Wake when he was in his early teens - and he has fulfilled this kind of depressing promise to become a premiere philosopher of science, a prominent atheist, a Columbia philosophy professor, and now the lecturer for Joyce class. Perhaps a representative anecdote would be useful. On the first day of class, Kitcher ingressed in his usual manner and dress. He went over to the computer and crooned, "I really don't know how to work this thing!" A few pictures - Dublin in the twenties and the nineties, an ontogeny of Joyce - were shown, until the technophobic cry was repeated and someone came to the rescue. This should give you a pretty good idea of the timbre of Kitcher, and the timbre of his class. His intellectual achievements dazzled anyone with the wherewithal to look them up - and, I'm guessing from the composition of the class, this was most everyone - but at core he's just an average White person who's a little smarter than the rest. Of course, this meant that when he lectured about this dizzyingly complicated literature on simple subjects in plainspoken English, the class was all the more amazed. Let it not be said that Kitcher doesn't know his shit: he loves the material, and he's put in enough time to synthesize a consistent view of everything from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake, and distill it down to a series of compelling lectures. The problems with this class might have been mostly on my side, but I'm guessing that many of the students had many of the same issues that I did. The bulk of the time is spent reading Ulysses (one lecture per chapter, roughly); Kitcher advised that we read it, then re-read it; I had difficulty getting through it once, with superficial readings, and I found that going to lecture and then reading, rather than vice versa, was the best way to attack this famously abstruse book. But I didn't find it enjoyable, FW seemed just as absurd as ever, and I'd already read Dubliners and Portrait. To quote Joyce: "I remember nothing - only impressions, feelings" - and this, along with my ambivalence towards the novels, probably explains my ambivalence towards the class as a whole. At the end, Kitcher said, "You've gotten a philosopher's take on Joyce," and it's worth bearing in mind that this is a work in progress - this is the first time Kitcher, taking over for Michael Seidel, has taught Joyce - and that it's hardly a typical English class.

Jun 2006

I agree that Prof. Kitcher is a mind-numbingly brilliant teacher - certainly one of the best I have met at Columbia. His knowledge of the texts is ABSOLUTELY EXTRAORDINARY. This guy is a magician. His ability to make use of a mere two hours to give us a complete, clear, interesting appraisal of texts must be the envy of the entire scholarly world. The only disappointment was that he wasn't teaching both semesters. But then, hey, who steps in, but his wife! An equal, or even greater superpower in philosophy, but a marginally less-skilled teacher. You would be incredibly lucky to be taught by her, and to be taught by both would prove in most books the existence of a benificent God, had not they dispelled that notion in class. Taken together, this CC sequence is the gem of the department, even Columbia.

Apr 2006

I can't believe that there are negative reviews on here. Philip Kitcher was a wonderful professor who knew how to somehow wrap up a text in 2 hours without fail. No matter how complex, the main points were driven home, with some interesting discussion in between. I also do not think that it's fair to say that Kitcher picked favorites. He did call on some people more often than others, but those were the people who tended to raise their hands. Why pick on someone who clearly doesn't want to talk? Furthermore, I think that even if he suspected someone had something not all that intelligent to share, he would still call on them and then go on to move the class effortlessly. His grading is humourously easy. I can't say for sure, but everyone I know got between a 93 and 100 on the midterm, and I woulddn't be surprised if it was the same for the final. The essays (at least in my case) were graded similarly easily. As long as you "showed intelligence" he seemed to like what you wrote. He did like to repeatedly say how good our class was, but it still was a bit unbelievable. Other than that, enjoy yourself and feel fortunate you were/are so lucky to have him as a teacher! One last note, you might want to transfer second semester. See the other Kitcher's reviews for an explanation.

Apr 2006

Professor Kitcher is awesome, and I knew this from the moment he walked through the door wearing a trench coat and an Indiana Jones hat, round Freudian glasses and the most gangstally pointed mini-beard that outdoes the gangsta-ness of Dumbledore. With his buttery British accent he proceeded to teach us philosophy in such a compelling way that we actually didn't spend half the class drawing pictures of his beard in our notebooks. We actually paid attention, in part because of his complete knowledge of every single aspect of each book that our class read, and as a result, grades on the midterm and final were stellar, not solely in part because of his gentle grading, because his teaching style made one *want* to do well. His humor was relentless, and he'd often break into hilarious Nazi lieutenant impressions or interpretations of people stuck in the Hobbesian State of Nature complete with flailing arms and cockney accents. His office hours were always available, and his midterm reviews were possibly the most helpful things ever. He'd go out of his way to make sure his students knew the material. He'd also often come up with insane philosophical mind experiments, complete with drawings on the blackboard (some of which the students actually partook in), with hilarious results. I must say, however, that his intelligence was intimidating, and made one worry about coming off sounding idiotic when writing a paper, in comparison. But perhaps he realized his own gangstasity and treated us with kids gloves as a result. Lastly, Mr. Kitcher invited us all over for dinner on the final day of class, and cooked DELICIOUS FISH. OH MY GOD IT WAS DELICIOUS. Of course, I must take points off from Kitcher for not giving us the recipe. I beseech you sir, please tell me how to cook such tender and moist bass.

Jan 2006

I can't believe that there are so many bad reviews of this man. Kitcher is a wonderful professor! He knows the books inside and out, which helps as CC is not the most trivial subject matter in the world. He clarifies everything very, very well. At times it may seem like he pick favorites, but honestly, not everyone raised their hands. I don't think Kitcher wanted to call on people who clearly didn't want to be called on, because what's the point of embarrassing someone when teaching a class? Furthermore, he recognized when people's points weren't so good, but he let them speak and moved the conversation without much awkwardness. He does have a bias towards the philosophy of science, but that was a kind of cool perspective on the class. His grading is humorously easy (you should have seen our expressions when he returned the midterm), but he also repeatedly said how good our class was, so who knows, maybe he really did think we deserved it. The worst part of the class was the fact we had to write 2 questions before every class, but in retrospect, this probably helped us participate in conversations better, as well as on the midterm, final, and essays. Overall, don't be shy, talk, do the work, and you'll be fine. And feel lucky that professor Kitcher is your's for CC! I don't think you can get much better than that.

Jan 2005

You will be frustrated if he opens his mouth. Try an entire semester... While he may seem somewhat accepting of your ideas, it is quite obvious that he tries too hard to play the securlar humanist,. You know that when you're saying something and relate it to a higher being, he may keep a straight face, but on the inside he's laughing at you. Avoid at all costs.

Jan 2005

He's ok. Plays favorites and does not like other opinions, but he's nice I guess. I do not recommend.

Nov 2004

I do not mean to praise the man, but Prof. Kitcher has a incredibly clear and logical insight of the texts taught in CC---a wonderful thing when you're trudging through philosophical and political tracts. He will make you understand the texts, unfold their obscurities and show you them in their clarity; you cannot ask for more in a CC class. Being that the time allotted for each text is restricted and one must apprehend the argument before one can make thoughtful and interesting comments, I really thought that Prof. Kitcher's rather directioned, straight-forward CC classes were more than appropriate. I do not mean to say that his is a class devoid of individual thinking, or of discussion. What I mean to say is that what you get out of CC is clarity of the texts' arguments, rather than jumbled obscurity. He asks us to write two questions concerning the text for every class---though writing them by the middle of the first term truly got tiring. They will, however, force you, at least, to look at the text, which might be good or not. If you do get Prof. Kitcher for CC that means the stars are smiling down on you.

Nov 2004

As one reviewer described him, "sheer genius." I was quite apalled to see some reviewers describing him as pompous, arrogant, etc. This man is a brilliant professor who teaches really well. I actually tried very hard to do all the CC readings before his class because I felt that if I didn't I would somehow let him down. He's extremely well regarded in his field and this year he is actually the head of the CC dept! He admits to being an atheist -- sometimes I think he takes pride in that! but w/e, i'm atheist too so its all good :-) . Mind you, he never looks down upon religion or anything of that sort. If you get into his class, I'll gurantee you that he'll be one of the best professors you've ever had, or will ever have.

May 2004

Each class was conducted exactly the same. Individuals were required to present their weekly responses regarding the reading to the class. They were then commented upon by Kitcher, other students... and then on to the next person. The format became pretty stagnent early on. However, the weekly responses were an excellent way to be engaged in the reading. Kitcher himself is obviously extremely well read and in touch with the works in this course (Capital, Wealth of Nations, On Liberty, etc). He related his views to the class in what was often an engaging and animated way. However, Kitcher does have a tendency to downgrade opinions and interpretation that conflict with his own -- and he does not do so in a terribly accommodating manner. Rather, you feel as though you cannot pursue your interpretation for fear of a bad grade. This is not to say he that Kitcher is not a good professor. Many professors, especially in the Philosophy department, suffer from this hang up. As an individual, Kitcher is extremely approachable and human (I say this, because I sometimes doubt the humanity of professors -- often out of touch with everything but their field of study)

Oct 2003

He's a classic Columbia professor: sit down, shut up, and write down everything he says--then spit it back to him, and you'll get an A. He is incredibly unfair, and picks favorites of whom he becomes as enamoured as they are of him. The workload is a crapshoot: sometimes the reading is laughable, othertimes it is overwhelming. Expect to go over practically every damn sentence in the philosophy books, but to go flying through the other books. Also, you had better have a bleeding heart going in to this class: Kitcher hates religion, Freudian psychology, and the American Revolutionaries; also, if you want to live, never, ever disagree with any of his opinions regarding feminism.

May 2003

This is exactly what the Columbia core should be. I got so much out of Kitcher's class! He knows the books inside and out, gets the big picture, makes all the students think, and basically inspires people to do their best. He gets everyone to participate, and somehow gets students to disagree productively, so there's great discussion. He discourages both the usual CC traps (ignorant pontificating-with-attitude, and mushy lets-agree-with-anything-anyone- says) while still making everyone comfortable... And he clearly cares a lot about every student. I saw a lot of people do extra work for this class and I don't blame them! Enjoy!

Apr 2001

A charismatic, pompous man, who was insufferably underprepared for class. He is obviously a world class philosopher, but left us dissatisfied in the lack of conclusions reached in the class. He will enthrall you for forty-five minutes and then make you want to staple his tongue to the relatively interesting reading assignments in the last half-hour

Jan 2000

This class is sheer genius. Kitcher is obviously an atheist, but the class is full of orthodox jews and fundamentalist christians. It's like shaking up red and black ants inside a glass jar. The reading is <i>extremely</i> light, the 3 papers are short (4-5) and don't seem to bother most. After listening to his lectures you can almost write out this stuff asleep. A great elective. I'd imagine it would be like a vacation for a serious Philosophy major. Plus, the Jerry Springer-style bickerings over Jesus and Moses. Why hasn't this man won a teaching award?

Jan 2000

If you can get into Kitcher's section, you've hit CC paydirt! This brilliant Philosophy celebrity (featured in a recent NY Times article) has inspired his own cult due to his sharp wit and sharper intellect. He expects you to work hard and will drill into you if you BS in his class. A fantastic prof!!!

Jan 2000

Kitcher is a good professor -- funny and interesting, with a great Australian accent. The class is extremely lecture oriented, but he always lets students ask questions. What's more, if you do ask a question he'll challenge you on your answer and make you think about it. Discussion groups are available but no one in our class took advantage of them so he stopped offering them. I wouldn't say you will never fall asleep in this class, but if you stay awake you won't feel unsatisfied after the hour and fifteen minutes has passed.