Market trends in modern philosophy

Fri 10 May 2013 12:11 PM

This semester, I taught the core undergraduate 17th+18th Century Philosophy course again. Earlier this week, at the final class meeting, I asked my usual debriefing questions. Which philosopher did they find the most philosophically rewarding? and which the least?

Here are the results, including the change since last time:

            yay     boo

Descartes 5 +5 4 -2

Locke 5 +1 12 +11

Berkeley 10 +4 10 -3

Hume 7 -1 7 +7

Kant 10 +1 3 +3

There was much love for Berkeley this time. A number of students said that they were, at that point in the semester, simply convinced by his arguments. One used this as a reason for saying that Berkeley was the worst philosophically; the student subsequently agreed with Hume and felt as if he had been duped by Berkeley's arguments!

I also asked which text they thought was the best written (clearest, most fun to read) and which the worst written (most obscure, most unpleasant to read). Results, again with the delta from last time:

                          yay    boo

Descartes' Meditations 17 +10 1 -1

Locke's Essay (selections) 1 -5 4 +1

Berkeley's Principles 11 +9 0 -5

Hume's Enquiry 3 -6 5 +3

Kant's Critique (abridged) 1 +1 25 +11

They were only allowed one vote in each column.* Insofar as the numbers don't add up, it may be either because some students didn't vote or because I'm sloppy at counting.

A number of students said, after voting, that they found Descartes to be the easiest to read simply because they had read the Meditations before.

I said when we were discussing it that I think Berkeley's Principles is a well written piece of philosophy. It explicitly lays out arguments, and it's admirably clear. Although it is possible that my enthusiasm rubbed off on the class, so that more students picked Berkeley as the easiest read, I don't think I was any more enthusiastic than I am every time I teach Berkeley.

Last time, when students didn't overwhelmingly identify Kant as the hardest to read, I conjectured that many of them hadn't tried to read Kant. If that's right, then this year's class does seem to have tried out the reading.

* One student really wanted to split his 'yay' vote one-half for the selections from Locke and one-half for Kant.