Francey Russell

May 2021

It's been a hot minute since I took the class (Fall 2020), but having taken a few more philosophy classes I have a better sense of what this class has done for me and how well Francey teaches. The Class: This is not the same Ethics that is required for philosophy majors. Rather, it focuses, unsurprisingly, on a rather concentrated area of moral psychology within ethics. The core questions we addressed were these: What makes us blame people? When, why, and should blame be inhibited? How does free will or the lack of it affect moral responsibility? When, why, and should we treat agent and deed separately (is it coherent that a good person does bad things)? These questions fascinated me because they are applicable in daily life in a way that all philosophy should be. If they sound like things you often wonder about, you will like the class. Another thing I appreciated was how well-thought-out the readings were. There is, as it were, a "moral responsibility canon" out there, and the sequence in which we read them made readings progressively easier. As the course went on, the recurrent topics became apparent to the point that seeing different theories of blame and blameworthiness were like seeing different sides of an ongoing conversation. Oh, and we read Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, if you're into that (he has a lot to say about free will, blame, and Christianity). Ironically, this class trained me to write good papers better than UW. The Professor: Francey is an incredibly intelligent yet down-to-earth woman. The readings were far from easy because I feel any moral psychology theory of the mind differs from others in subtle ways; Francey is here to save the day! She'll spend much of the class deconstructing dense ideas (maybe it's my brain), and by the end you'll feel like you have another tool under your belt to analyze human behavior and psychology. There were about 30 people in the lecture, so there was a lot of live interaction too (objections, clarifications, extensions etc, your mileage may differ depending on class size). Francey welcomed questions and responded to them intelligently and charitably. I couldn't make the scheduled office hour time, but it was really easy to schedule meetings with her. If you genuinely interested in the material (if not, why are you taking this elective), you'll find yourself talking for hours with her about it. From my experience with her, I think she deserves a silver nugget (that is, if you believe in free will).

Dec 2020

Professor Russell's Introduction to Philosophy class wasn't exactly what I expected, but by the end of the semester, I came to appreciate it for what it was. Professor Russell's lecture style isn't the most engaging, but it's very helpful if you didn't do the reading thoroughly, and she did her best to make the class less monotonous by asking discussion questions every so often and putting us into breakout rooms now and then. The most annoying part of the course IMO was the four-person discussion groups that we had to meet with weekly. They were randomly assigned and my group didn't cohere so well, so we were always forgetting to meet and there was tension about who would do the weekly write-ups. Content-wise, this course wasn't so much an introduction to the subject of philosophy as it was a review of some philosophical articles and texts, some recent, some classic, many of them centering around the subject of race and racism. For example, we read MLK's Letter from a Birmingham City Jail, DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folks", Audre Lorde's "The Uses of Anger", James Baldwin's "White Guilt", and several others. The workload was pretty manageable; you didn't necessarily have to do the readings for each class, although it's easier to gain participation points and participate in your discussion group if you do, and the reading responses are graded pass/fail. There's a lot of emphasis on how writing a philosophy paper requires an "argument reconstruction" rather than a "mere summary", a concept that I'm still not fully sure I understand. Nevertheless, the paper grading was pretty fair, and the professor and TA were very open to office hours and very accommodating around deadlines.