When I think of the professors who have most shaped my intellectual development, and what I admire about them, a few things stand out. They all had high expectations from their students. At the same time, they conveyed to us that, through hard work and dedication, anyone could meet those expectations. And they were approachable and willing to serve as mentors. By being generous with their time and attention outside of the classroom, they made us feel that we were being taken seriously, that we were doing something important, and that there was progress to be made. These are the traits I aspire to emulate and what I try to convey to my students in my own teaching practice.(The student gave me permission to post that.) I think these are beautiful words, and they also express my own attitude towards our course (and teaching in general). I hope you'll all be fortunate enough to encounter it many of your courses, and that you'll make the best use of it.
Note however that it's not equivalent to saying "If Y then A=B." A susbtantial number of you offered the following thesis as being Leibniz's Law: that if A and B have all the same properties, then A=B. This is not the view we're calling Leibniz's Law; it's another, more controversial thesis. (This more controversial thesis has a name: it's called the Identity of Indiscernibles. Confusingly, this more controversial thesis was one that Leibniz also held, and is famous for defending. But when contemporary philosophers say "Leibniz's Law", they mean the thesis described in the previous paragraph, not the Identity of Indiscernibles.) This more controversial thesis may commit you to denying that it's even in principle possible for there to be two snowflakes that are exactly alike and have all the same properties. A defender of the controversial thesis will say, even if two snowflakes are perfect copies they'd at least have different locations so there'd have to be some difference in their properties, so that's okay. An opponent of the controversial thesis may complain that there are other kinds of perfect duplicates that they think are possible, but that this principle says are impossible. (Perhaps a statue and the clay it is made of are two objects, but have all the same properties?) This is all controversial. The important point is that there is controversy and argument over this principle, whereas there is not the same kind of controvery over the principle voiced in the previous paragraph, called "Leibniz's Law." (Philosophers do dispute the fine details of exactly how Leibniz's Law should be formulated; but they all agree that something in that vicinity must be right.) Confusing Leibniz's Law with the more controversial thesis that if A and B have all the same properties they are the same thing is like, if I told you that all humans are mammals and someone asked you, What did Pryor say? and you answered, "He says that all mammals are humans."
Statistics: 33 of you stated Leibniz's Law correctly (or more or less correctly), and 13 of you instead stated the other, more controversial thesis. 4 of you said other things that were either confusing or were clear but not right. (It looks like 29 of you missed the quiz!?) Many of you were able to give plausible illustrations of Leibniz's Law being used in an argument, both legitimately and illegitimately, but a fair number of you had trouble with this. The notions of epistemic versus metaphysical possibility or contingency, that we introduced at the end of last class (and were explained further in the lecture notes posted on Monday) were clearly ones that a lot of you had trouble understanding. I hope today's discussion helped with that a bit more, and that if your lack of understanding persists, you'll take steps of your own to clear it up. Ask us questions, in section or after class; or read the notes again; or both. We can guide you but like a physical trainer, we can't do the workout for you.
Coming up with properties that are plausibly essential to us is challenging, but a number of you had good suggestions. A handful of you said that "thinking" is essential to you, and two said that "free will" is. (Perhaps it is; some would disagree, but maybe they're wrong, and we really do have free will, not only in fact, but in any possible situation in which we exist.) One of you suggested "being the first-born daughter of R and L". That's an interesting proposal, one that some philosophers have also defended; there's also been interesting work arguing against it. One of you suggested that "being born in California" is essential to him. I find that kind of hard to believe, but a philosopher with ingenuity might make a case for it. Note that the issue is not whether this student would have been different in some ways if he had been born elsewhere. He's committing himself to the claim that it would be literally impossible, even in the broadest sense, for him to have born in any other location. It'd be interesting to see how far that view could be defended. It does seem kind of surprising.
In this class, I’m aiming for a grade between B and A. Barring accidents, I’ll be making sure to do all of the reading for the dates it was assigned, taking my own notes and figuring out the main structure and arguments of the readings on my own ahead of time, and returning to the readings again while (and after) we’ve discussed them to study them again with fresh eyes. I’ll be plotting my papers out in advance, seeking feedback about my plans from multiple sources, then (inevitably) completely re-designing the paper in response to feedback, writing a draft, setting it aside, coming back to it and rewriting it (multiple times if I can). I’ll be actively participating in our section discussions, every week.In short, there are many reasons some of you might miss lectures and if you're sick I hope you'll recover quickly, and that the lecture notes and sections can help you catch up again quickly. But I also hope none of you will delude yourself into thinking you'll be able to get by with less work and engagement with the course than it really takes. We tried to make this clear from the beginning.
Finally, there seems to be an ongoing issue with ten or so of you trickling in after class has begun. You will miss announcements, the framing remarks at the start of lecture that might be important to understand what's going on, and when we give the surprise quizzes you won't be able to take them. Also, it's distracting to me and other students and slightly slows down how much material we can get through. Each case of a student coming in late doesn't have that much effect, but five to ten students showing up late each time does make a noticeable difference. Cumulatively, it really is distracting and discouraging. I'll be gentle about this for now: please try harder.
If you want to read ahead, for Wednesday 10/14 we'll be discussing Armstrong, The Nature of Mind and Lycan, Machine Consciousness. (Optional reading: Block, What is Functionalism?.)
Test your understanding: How many arguments does van Inwagen offer for dualism? Can you say in a sentence or two what is the main strategy of each of the arguments? Where does his discussion of the "second" argument for dualism begin, and where does it end? Which side (the dualist, or the physicalist) is "ahead" at the start of each paragraph in that discussion? What does van Inwagen mean by "interactionism" and "epiphenomenalism"? What question are these views competing answers to? Then: how many arguments does van Inwagen offer for physicalism? (these come after the blank page in the pdf).
It's to be expected that you'll have trouble answering some of these questions: after all, you've just started studying philosophy. We will be discussing most of them in more detail in the coming weeks. But to the extent that you can't answer the questions, it means you haven't fully understood that part of van Inwagen's discussion. When you find yourself in that position, you should work hard to improve your position. Reread the article several times, trying to keep track of the details. We can't gift you with understanding. We're more like personal trainers who can guide you ways that may help you learn more efficiently---but only if you're already seriously engaged in the attempt in the first place.
One thing you may notice, if you're alert, is that van Inwagen will define some terms a bit differently than I do, and also states some debates a bit differently than I will. As I've said in lecture, this is inevitable in philosophy. You need to learn how to work around it. The first step is noticing when different philosophers are using the same words in slightly different ways. I'm aware of at least one word I introduced during previous lectures that van Inwagen defines a bit differently: can you identify it?
In addition to our course---that is, Phil UA 1 section 1 (the lecture) and sections 2-5 (the recitations)---this semester the department also offers:
For more details about these other courses, see the department course listings.
The primary aim of all of these courses is a common one: to teach you how to reason, argue, and write like a philosopher. Additionally, there is moderate overlap between the issues discussed in our course and each of the others. So it's not easy to choose between them based on what material the courses propose to cover.
Perhaps the focus of one of these courses will appeal to you more than the others. Or perhaps one will fit your schedule best. Or if you're on the fence, perhaps you can arrange to sit in on a few sessions of two of the classes and see which you're more comfortable in. It's not obvious that will be feasible: some of these courses may hit their enrollment limits. But you might look into it if you genuinely can't decide. Note that it's far better to sit in from the beginning in a class you're hoping eventually to enroll in, even if you're not enrolled in it yet, than to try to drop in in the middle of things in the second week or so.