My Intro to Phil class is reading Russell’s Problems with me. This is my first time to teach out of Problems in an extended way; although I have taught the first few pages a number of times when working on arguments for sense-data in other classes.
We read the first part of Plato’s Theaetetus (through the ‘knowledge’ =df perception sections) and then we read Descartes’ Meditations (all of it). In previous versions of the class, I moved from Descartes to Wittgenstein’s Blue Book or into Kant’s Prolegomena. I eventually gave up on the Wittgenstein, mainly because the dialectic (its crisscrossing of the landscape, to borrow a PI image) is so complicated that I found the students really couldn’t keep up. Of course, the Plato is dialectically complicated too, but it is better signposted, and falls into clearer large sections, even if the intra-sectional arguments are sometimes formidable. (Does Socrates acccept or reject the Heraclitean Fluxiness that he introduces when he discusses knowledge-as-perception or not? etc.)
I eventually gave up on the Kant because there is too much distance, as it were, between Descartes and Kant for the students to really understand what Kant is doing. I also found that it is hard to motivate the students to sympathize with Kant if they have not felt the milking-the-he-goat-into-a-sieve pointlessness that often attends philosophical argumentation. (Let me be clear: I have in mind feeling that in a way that earns the feeling, by having been burned by philosophical argumentation in the past, burned while–and because–you were inwardly, actively and sympathetically trusting in philosophical argumentation. Students sometimes–too often–feel that philosophical argumentation is pointless; but they haven’t earned that feeling. That kind of cheap felt pointlessness does not serve to motivate sympathy with Kant.) So the students lack the background both of understanding and of earned affective response needed for the Prolegomena to do its simultaneous ending-and-beginning work. Giving up on Wittgenstein and Kant has led me to Russell. So far, so ok. Moving from the Meditation to the Problems, while not seamless, is reasonably straightforward: “Is there any knowledge so certain that no reasonable person could doubt it?”–the beginning of Problems strikes the students as quite familiar. We will see how it goes the final couple of weeks. I will report back.