Final Exam

Q: Why are empiricists more likely to be Utilitarian in ethics? How does this carry over to their approach to justice?
A: "Empiricists are more likely to be Utilitarian in ethics because of how they see things. Empiricists debate about where knowledge comes from, reason or senses and since this is the same constant debate that is had it keeps them the same. This carries over to their approach on justice because they debate about the justice system and whether or not it is right and fair."

This is the kind of thing that makes me glad to be done.


NT, right?

This is a rough-ish sketch, perhaps a study, and not intended as a finished product, but it stands in contrast to the cartoons you have come to know and love, as well as the more abstract nonsense I post here occasionally - to serve as a brief break from politics, economics, philosophy and complaining about students (I promise more of that in the coming days).
A friend (who teaches art at the college level) suggested I attend a figure drawing thing here in town (she was also excited, so I did not take this as a direct criticism of my doodling abilities), and it turns out I can't go: I will be grading final exams (did I mention that I'd be complaining about students again in the coming days?).
However, I have bought a book on figure drawing, and I've been doing exercises in the evenings; however, this is the one drawing I've done that was relatively complete, and of course it isn't a figure drawing at all, but a sketch of my room. My choice reminded me of my friend Paul, who enjoys personality typing, such as the Myers-Briggs Personality test as well as the Enneagram: he might point out the relative lack of people in this drawing, more of an NT thing than NF (at least some of you were expecting a theology joke related to that, sorry).

So, hi Paul! I hope you and yours are doing well - I have a package I need to mail to you.


The Social Contract

I have a stock response with regard to Ayn Rand: if you haven't read her by the time you're 19, don't bother. (Admittedly, the specific age sometimes changes by a year, plus or minus, depending on my mood - never past twenty, though.) Sometimes I add a second part: if you want to read serious libertarian political philosophy, read Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

As it so happens, I was just teaching a bit on Nozick for my intro class. (A bit of background here: this particular intro class has a broader scope than the average one I've taught, so in addition to epistemology and metaphysics, I also deal with ethics and justice - quite a bit to cram into a single course, but I try to make some of the connections between the topics explicit in a way that I don't remember them being explicit when I was an undergraduate.) The "justice" part of my intro class is framed as, "ethics is how we act individually, justice is how we act corporately" (in a direct parallel to, epistemology is how we gain knowledge individually, philosophy of science is how we gain knowledge corporately). (And for anyone out there who misses this: "corporately" does not necessarily refer to business, it here refers to people acting together - this is the kind of thing my students tend to misunderstand.)
We start with Thrasymachus: might makes right. Socrates dissects the argument (I can go over that in the comments if anyone is really interested, and doesn't already know it). We move then onto Hobbes: life in the state of nature, and the social contract. For me, this is an important transition, because, as with most philosophers who don't specialize in political philosophy (and perhaps some who do, I don't really know, or care), there is a direct connection between Thrasymachus' assumptions and those of Hobbes. We then move from Hobbes to Mill - both empiricists - and then on to John Rawls. What I try to make clear in that transition is that Rawls is fundamentally Kantian in his approach, and I go into some detail about what I mean there (again, I can explain that in the comments, or another post, if readers are interested but unfamiliar).
Then we get to Nozick, and the thing to remember in context is that Nozick is also fundamentally Kantian: that is, he shares some basic assumptions with Rawls, but disagrees on point particular point. He calls this the principle of fairness, but it's a variation on the social contract. Let me say that again: Nozick doesn't like the social contract. I think this is absurd, personally, but at least the connection between Nozick and Ayn Rand is there for all to see. (I then move from Nozick to Adam Smith, to Marx and onto Peter Singer and Amartya Sen, an admittedly biased place to end not only the section on justice, but the course.)
So, last week a student came up and asked me the name of Nozick's book (which he should have known, since it was named in our textbook!), since I had repeated my "don't read Ayn Rand" line while talking about Nozick - and it just so happened that he had started reading Atlas Shrugged the night before (no link, and I suppose I should be glad that he was reading anything, since he obviously hadn't read the assignment for class). I asked him how old he was and he replied, "Nineteen," so I shrugged.
But the more I think about it, the more I just want to say, "If you're not happy with the Social Contract, go visit Somalia."


Two Thoughts...

...before I teach my final class at RIT. And for that matter, perhaps ever: I am tired of teaching part-time, and although I've been offered contracts for the fall at all three of the institutions at which I've been teaching, none of them can offer any assistance over the summer, and none of them can offer me anything other than part-time work. I don't mean to sound bitter (which is always a bad thing to preface a blog post with), but I'm tired of this, and two particular reasons come to mind. (If you're not interested, please just read the cartoons and ignore the text: you're not my students!)
First, there's this thing about supply and demand. There is a consistent demand for philosophy courses, either generated by the college itself (making one or more courses mandatory for the general ed or core curriculum) or else just by students wanting to take courses outside their majors (that they perceive to be easy, but more on that in a second). So, the demand is there. Unfortunately, the supply is also there: too many people such as myself, running around with PhDs, willing to teach at McDonald's wages (no offense to McDonald's). So the administrators squeeze where they have some leverage, and rather than hiring someone such as myself to teach full time - and please remember, there is sufficient demand! - they continue to hire adjuncts.
Second, it seems to me that fewer and fewer students are bothering with the reading, or coming to class, than when I was teaching twelve years ago; perhaps I was simply naive then, but I don't think so. That seems to be true across all three of the schools at which I've been teaching (and I may have previous linked an article that talked about a lack of preparedness among NY high school graduates - empirical evidence that I'm probably not imagining it). But it makes teaching less fun, less rewarding: I enjoy digging into a topic, having a good debate, getting a response from students. I still get this, to a certain extent, but from surprisingly few students, and it seems, fewer each quarter (here at RIT).

So, this may be the last class I ever teach, and I have some pretty mixed feelings about it. Probably more to follow in the next few weeks.