Review Comment

[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

January 03, 2017

Varzi, Achille Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Varzi is really funny and metaphysics is super interesting, but Varzi tends to get off topic in lectures. Sebasien Rivat is the better TA but Simon Brown is also pretty good. I was in Simon's recitation and his only problem is that we never had time to go through all the week's material, although it's really Varzi's problem for being unclear in lectures and therefore necessitating a complete review of all the material in recitation. I got an A in the course but I feel like I understand max 60% of the material. Also the course catalog claims the course has no prerequisites but it would have been helpful to have taken logic before this course.

Workload:

2 midterms, each 25%
1 final, 40%
Recitation participation, 10%

May 03, 2016

Varzi, Achille Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

This is an awesome class. Definitely take it. Professor Varzi is a phenomenal lecturer and a nice, approachable guy. It's a great introduction to analytic philosophy in general and metaphysics in particular. It's extremely theoretical. It's not until the second to last week in which you learn something that actually seems relevant to the world. Nevertheless, the material and method of analysis are rigorous and interesting, and maybe you'll come to really care about some of the more theoretical, abstract topics (like, maybe the world should have a coherent description of identity or the possibility of backward time travel).

Grading is not bad and the workload is very light. If you've been to class you'll be able to do the take home assignments. Going to class is highly recommended. He covers everything in the reading in class and will test specifically about things he talked most about in lecture.

Workload:

2 Take Home Assignments - short answer questions
1 Take Home Final - also short answer questions

May 07, 2012

Lawhead, Jonathan (TA) Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

If you have a chance to take a section with Jon, you should take it. He is without a doubt one of the best TA's in the philosophy department and is probably a better teacher than some of the professors. I had him for metaphysics, the class wasn't my cup of tea, but jon did his best to make things interesting. His recitations were really free form, and he let us talk about pretty much whatever we wanted to. This could be kind of frustrating sometimes when we wandered off topic from the readings and material really far, but it was usually ok because Jon had interesting stuff to say about most of what we covered. He is obviously most well versed in the science related parts of philosophy, and he was a little weak in his presentation of the really historical or obscure stuff, but usually made up for it by helping us figure out the material together. If he didn't know the answer to a question, he would ask for help from the class and we would all talk about it until we figured out what the solution was together, which was really great. I learned more about how to actually be a philosopher in this class than in any other class. He seems to know a ton of stuff about a ton of things (especially physics and science), and his lectures were really great even though they were spontaneous (I think). His knowledge of science gave a nice contrast with the professor (Varzi's) really really abstract and disconnected musings on the subject. Don't get me wrong, I love Varzi too, the guy is really funny and approachable, but in a class like this it was nice to have someone to talk about the connection between metaphysics and science. Jon was great at answering questions in class and outside of class, and I learned the most out of trying to argue a point with him. He'll shoot down your ideas probably, but he does it in a way that doesn't seem mean or elitist, and you leave feeling like you have new ideas about the topic you were talking about. He probably wouldn't be that great for people who don't like to talk in class or like to argue, because he never calls on anyone. If people don't volunteer comments, he'll just keep talking (pretty much forever), but what he says is usually really interesting and he'll always listen to what students say and talk back to you. He gives you his own opinion on topics rather than just repeating what's in the book. Like other reviewers said he's really opinionated but it looks like he also really likes to argue about his opinions, so I always felt ok about bringing up objections to what he was saying.

Oh and he has great shoes.

Workload:

Metaphysics was 2 take home midterms and a take home final. We were supposed to come to all the recitations too but I don't think he actually cared.

May 29, 2011

Collins, John and Lawhead, Jonathan (TA) Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Oh where to begin with metaphysics...

This class was hilarious, pointless, challenging, and useless all at the same time. In fact, the only way that one can sum up the absurdity of this course is to look at the absurdity of the professor. Collins exhibits unexpected strengths and unexpected weaknesses. The most apparent thing about Collins is his utter lack of professionalism. This lack manifests itself in many way including but not limited to: the notable absence of any syllabus that actually tells you what you are going to learn in the course (for the trolls out there, know that there is a 'listing of readings and assignments' but it is updated as we go which means you never know where the course is headed), Collins' utter rejection of the idea that he needs to put any of the topics we discuss in context (i.e., so that you could see where a particular debate fits in to the larger field of philosophy), and the lack of a grading rubric, a set number of assignments, or a description of how much each assignment will affect one's grade. In my opinion, Columbia professors should be allowed to teach their classes as they wish provided they meet certain a criteria of professionalism which Collins simply does not possess nor demonstrates any desire in possessing. This unprofessionalism leads to all sorts of frustrations from not knowing how you are doing in the course to being bullied in class for offering an opinion that is wrong and (in Collins' opinion) stupid.

So now that we have gotten why you should not take this class out of the way, let me pander to those who really love Collins so that we can really understand why this professor is so contentious.

Despite all of his unprofessionalism, Collins does do a tremendous job of stimulating debate. Be warned, however, that this is not meaningful debate. Collins likes to talk about what redness is or whether it is possible for two objects to be located in the same space. These questions are not interesting because they have no impact (or potential impact) on our world. Despite their lack of importance, the questions do have a way of teaching you to be a good critical thinker and a good debater. Collins is capable of describing a number of good argumentative techniques that will be genuinely helpful to you in the future. This is why some may enjoy Collins. If you can set aside the pointlessness of the class and the lack of professionalism and simply focus on perfecting one's argumentative skills, then you may enjoy this class.

*breath*

Now, on the other hand, Jon Lawhead is an absolute joy. The man was empathetic with the fact that we had to suffer through this joke of a class, he answered our questions in a clear, consistent, and comprehendible way, and he was totally approachable. Everything good in TA can be found in Jon, and I recommend that you try to be in his section anytime he is in a class.

Workload:

Okay so this is probably useless because there is no way of saying whether this workload will be the same next time Collins teaches this class, and there is no way to say how much he weighted each of these things but here it goes:

4 400 word assignments (he originally said there could be up to 7 of these) on questions that Collins thinks up after a given lecture of his choice

Midterm

5 page essay on either a question he gives or a topic of your choice if you are into that kind of thing

Final

May 12, 2006

Varzi, Achille Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics and [PHIL V3411] Introduction to Symbolic Logic

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I've never written a CULPA review before, but Varzi's too good to pass up the opportunity. I knew a number of people in each class who were not philosophy majors--I strongly recommend that no matter what your field, you take a course with Professor Varzi. If you're interested in logic and/or philosophy of language it will be a good way to further your interest--since even metaphysics has become in a number of important aspects a mainly linguistic field. If you're not particularly interested in these areas, he will surely interest you in at least a few of the topics covered in the classes. For instance, we talked seriously about time travel for a week in Metaphysics--he's written some very funny stuff about it himself. (Of the few of his own publications on the syllabus--most with a co-author as he humbly points out whenever he mentions them--one was a case-study of groups involving the Chicago Bulls; another was a humorous exchange about time travel.) In class, he always cracks a few jokes and has the entire class laughing--even in Logic. He makes each new topic very clear and guides the class through their major interpretations and problems. After class and in office hours he is extremely approachable, friendly, and helpful. I'm afraid I don't have much to add to the reviews here since everyone seems to agree on his greatness. Definitely, whether or not you're a philosophy major, take a class with this guy. Not a single better professor in the department as far as I can tell, and he is among the best at the university I'm sure.

Workload:

Logic: The assigned readings in the textbook are really not necessary if you go to class and follow Varzi's very clear lectures which he posts prior to each class so that students can print them and follow along in class. Weekly homework--helpful, though not particularly important for the grade; 2 Midterms and a Final--very fair, transparently graded, and consistent in structure.

Metaphysics: Reading for each class, not overwhelming; 2 Take-home assignments, kind of like metaphysics problem sets in that they are not the vague kind of assignments that sometimes crop up in humanities courses. They really require you to think hard about some of the topic covered in class. Varzi switched the final to a take-home of the same nature as the midterms. The midterms, 3 or 4 questions each, could not be more than a page. The final he was a bit more flexible with, but could be done in the same space.

April 02, 2006

Varzi, Achille Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics and [PHIL V3411] Introduction to Symbolic Logic

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

The denotation of the logic teacher and the denotation of the idol of students everywhere both name the philosopher also known as Achille Varzi. Only Varzi could make such otherwise complex material so easy to understand... I once tried to read the logic book by Gaifman and thanked the gods I didn't take the class when Gaifman himself was teaching it. Having a professor like Varzi alter the entire way you think is the reason people decide to take philosophy classes and then to become philosophy majors. Only Varzi could discuss the subject of the existence of holes with such... um... depth...

May 22, 2005

Peacocke, Christopher Silver_nugget
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

The review below was completely accurate, except that it didn't really explain how bad a professor Peacocke is for regular undergraduates.

First of all, let's talk about how he conducts his lectures. The first half, or so, of lecture is a student presentation on the assigned reading. The reading is really friggin' difficult and not a single student in the class ever understood what the author was saying (I was, I'm pretty sure, among the very top scorers on both the midterm and final, and I understood pretty much nothing of the readings or the lectures. Over half the class failed the midterm an I got a solid 'A' on it - so if I got an 'A' understanding what little I did, I'm sure almost nobody else understood anything either. ). So a poor student has to get up there in front of the whole class and mumble for twenty minutes about something she doesn't know a thing about (usually she just reads aloud a written summary of the paper - made up of verbatim lines from the text in the order the author wrote them - without even attempting to give a comprehensive analysis of what the author was trying to say), and the poor audience meanwhile just sits there and stares into space hoping the speaker finishes soon. Peacocke is a horrible lecturer, but he's still a hell of a lot better than a nervous undergraduate.

So, after the speaker finishes, Peacocke always says the same thing: somthing like "that was a very thorough summary" - and then he starts to mumble about the text, himself. Half the time I couldn't make out what he was saying, since he speaks softly - and when I could figure out the words they still made no sense. Peacocke is super famous as an analytic philosopher, and I'm sure whatever he was saying was really damned good. A bunch of us were cramming for the final in Butler, and some girl said something like "you know, when you understand what Peacocke is saying it actually makes a lot more sense than the other guys we read." I don't doubt it, but the man is famously unclear (unclear as in hard to decipher - not necessarily confused in his thinking). How anyone can figure out what he's saying is beyond me. He has a huge reputation for lack of clarity among other philosophers (he and this guy McDowell from Pittsburgh are supposed to rival each other in lack of clarity. I can't believe anyone is a more unclear writer than Peacocke, though).

Anyways, so the portion of the lecture when he actually speaks is just as horrible as the portion where the undergrads speak. So at the end of it all, nobody knows a damned thing about metaphysics. And then we're supposed to be tested on this stuff? And he's disappointed when we all fail?
Oh, and he wouln't budge when we asked him not to make the final cumulative. If we're having such a hard time, at least narrow down the number of texts we're responsible for. Nope.

The upshot is pretty much the same as the review below: Peacocke is probably really good for a person who wants to pursue analytic philosophy in grad school. He's totally into formal logic and stuff like that, so math people would benefit from him as well. He is absolutely horrible in lecture, so I would recommend only taking seminars with him, if you're going to take him at all. I would warn most students not to take him, though - he's probably brilliant, but you won't learn from him, since he can't teach well.

Workload:

Midterm, Final. Final is cumulative. For our class, the final counted for the entire grade. Because so many people failed the midterm, Peacocke wanted to make it so everyone still had the chance to do well in the course, so the final counted for pretty much everything.

Little reading - one or two 10-15 page articles per class - but it's really damned difficult and technical stuff. I would *STRONGLY* recommend taking symbolic logic before taking a course with Peacocke.

January 11, 2004

Collins, John
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Having taken classes with most of the professors from the philo department, I can say without reserve that Collins is one of the better ones. The material covered in Metaphysics is extremely interesting and mind-boggling. The subject of metaphysics was novel to me. Most of us are more acquainted with theories of logic, epistemology, classical philosophy, etc. But metaphysics truly takes philosophy to a new level. With that said, there is virtually no reading material to this class, which can be a blessing or a curse. To do well in this class, unless you are David Armstrong himself, you should definitely attend every lecture and take notes. Collins presents arguments in a very dynamic fashion. The topics are interesting. But in the end, it's up to you to sort out all the theories and come to the conclusion yourself which theory is most viable. He will answer questions and will often take your opinion into consideration. A very challenging subject, taught be an experienced professor. One of the better courses at Columbia.

Workload:

Midterm, Final, 5 Short Written Assignemnts, 1 final paper. Grading ranges on the tougher side.

March 02, 2002

Berofsky, Bernard
Senior Seminar, [PHIL V3601] Metaphysics, and [PHIL V3786] Free Will and Responsibility

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Berofsky is a fabulous lecturer with a style that flows well. He uses clever examples to illustrate some of the more difficult theories (although some of the examples are from the literature), and moves at a nice pace to cover a lot of material. He always stops every fifteen or so minutes in his lectures to invite questions, so his classes are very open and have the atmosphere of a discussion-based seminar sometimes. However, Berofsky does take attendance and even uses a seating chart to make sure people attend classes. He will count attendance in the final grade. That having been said, I should point out that he is very set in his ways when it comes to term papers. Don't believe what he says in the syllabus that papers should be an original argument! What he really wants you to do is just the opposite. He wants you to reconstruct some argument that some philosopher has made on some interesting topic, usually from the reading list. Believe me on this one--I tried twice, and learned the hard way! Don't make the same mistake I did. It's a good idea to go see him in office hours before you go off to do some research for a paper. he will usually suggest one or two readings--Make sure to include those readings explicitly within your paper, if you want to do well. Be careful, too, about pressing a point too insistently in class--he has the potential of making you look dumb.

Workload:

Two papers. Final. In seminars, one term paper, one presentation paper.

February 01, 2002

Collins, John
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics, [PHIL W4565] Rational Choice, and Formal Logic

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I took three classes from John Collins in my four years at college, and I would not hesitate to claim that a few hours a week with him ought to be required for any undergrad claiming to think logically, and certainly anyone considering philosophy as a major or concentration. The man is brilliant. There are those in his classes who think he is smug and disorganized, but they usually make up the vocal minority. Philosophy students, including MA and PhDs, seek out his classes in order to soak in his rants and observe his methodical process of thinking. Classes are engaging, extremely enjoyable, and John is always willing to offer further explanation to the confused mind. I took Metaphysics as my first philosophy class, and did fine without Methods and Problems, which seems to be the class people complain about. The real reason people complain is that they are not philosophers and are intimidated by the process of becoming one (lots of thinking, not much doing).

Workload:

Varies from class to class. He doesn't give away As, and sometimes it is hard to figure out what you did wrong, but intellectually, the classes are gold mines. You come out smarter.

December 31, 1999

Collins, John
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

More utterly engrossing than one of those crazy episodes of Nova where they travel through black holes, every single lecture this man gives is gold. Complicated and esoteric problems in metaphysics find realization in simple, ordinary examples (time travel, clones, severed feet) that will have you arguing with Collins, your neighbor and (when you get home) your mother. Light readings too; this is not a history class. The readings are narrow, extremely dense, and to the point. And for the illiterate, he recounts all the arguments in class anyway. One complaint: the annoying kid in the front row who asks too many questions gets way too much airtime. Collins is not brutal; he's jovial. Watch out for the second paper. He always falls way behind (due to annoying kid) and the last paper is practically assigned the day before the final.

Workload:

two papers that really challenge you to say something more than simple regurgitation (though that will do too) and an in class final.

December 31, 1999

Collins, John
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

A competent and interesting lecturer, with few demands on the students save their interest. The photocopied readings were extremely short but insightful. For god's sake, remember that there is no right answer in philosophy.

Workload:

1 paper (short), Midterm and Final exams.

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics Achille Varzi 2012 Spring MW / 4:10- 5:25 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics John Collins 2011 Spring TR / 9:00-10:25 AM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics Achille Varzi 2009 Fall MW / 1:10- 2:25 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics John Collins 2009 Spring TR / 11:00-12:15 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics Achille Varzi 2006 Spring MW / 4:10- 5:25 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics Christopher Peacocke 2005 Spring TR / 4:10- 5:25 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics John Collins 2003 Fall TR / 9:10-10:25 AM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics Carol Rovane 2001 Spring MW / 11:00-12:15 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V3601: Metaphysics John Collins 2001 Fall MW / 2:40- 3:55 PM 1