The trends on Kant futures

Tue 10 May 2011 08:47 PM

Last week we had the final class meeting for my 17th+18th Century Philosophy course. As I've discussed before, I ask them pick the philosopher they found best in terms of content, the most rewarding to think about; also, I ask them to pick the one that they found to be worst or least rewarding.

I also ask them which of the texts they found the most readable or fun to read; similarly, the least. These are questions about style and presentation, rather than content.

I instruct students to note their selections. Then I take a show of hands, and we discuss the results.

Now that I have the old blog post in front of me, I can chart some trends. Here are the results from this year's class, along with the difference from the results last time:

            yay     boo

Descartes 0 -4 6 +1

Locke 4 -1 1 -1

Berkeley 6 +3 13 +3

Hume 6 -1 0 -3

Kant 9 +5 0 -1

And for texts:

                          yay    boo

Descartes' Meditations 7 x 1 +1

Locke's Essay (selections) 6 +2 3 +3

Berkeley's Principles 2 -3 5 +4

Hume's Enquiry 9 +3 2 +1

Kant's Critique (abridged) 0 x 14 -9

Some observations:

Kant fared better than last time. He had more fans philosophically, and fewer detractors stylistically. Last time, almost everyone had him tagged for worst writer. The semester was two meetings shorter this time than last, and we spent one day fewer on Kant. A cynical hypothesis is that, in the bustle of end term, fewer people actually tried to read Kant this time. Students who haven't tried reading it are less likely to hate Kant's prose.

Berkeley was even more polarizing than before (on the side of content) but much less liked (on the side of style). I have no snarky explanation for this fact.

Perhaps the best remark from the discussion: If you confuse enough people, someone's going kill you.