Instructor: Michael Smith
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumThe course aims to convey a modern theory of action and agency. In the first half of the course, you will learn about two, competing theories of action and agency - one made popular by William Scanlon, and the second made popular by Bernard Williams. In the second half of the course, you will be presented with various situations designed to challenge our intuitions (and any theory worth its salt) concerning action and agency.
Learning From Classroom InstructionLectures: Prof. Smith prepares handouts for every lecture. The handouts are succinct and expressive, and a perfectly adequate fallback if you can’t attend. On the other hand, attending gives you the advantage of knowing which elements of the philosophical situation are being attended to by your primary graders. If you know what the professor is thinking about, you will be prepared to write a paper that engages with the professor's thought. Precepts: I had Erik Zhang as a preceptor, and can only speak to his precepting. Erik was the best preceptor I've had at Princeton - he clearly explained, with energy, the courses material. It is because of Erik's skill, and Michael's clarity, that I didn't have to do a single reading for the course. I could simply listen, understand, and respond.
Learning For and From AssignmentsReadings: I didn't do any of the readings. It worked for me, because I wasn't bogged down by details and could focus on the essentials. The essentials (the big picture trends of the class) guided my papers, which turned out well. Most people got too bogged down in the details - ignore them and pay attention to the big picture. Draw some diagrams. Papers: Grading in the course was almost entirely on the basis of papers. Engage with the subject of discussion. Michael introduces you to a conversation that your preceptor should illuminate. Your paper is an opportunity to participate in that conversation, and if you participate (following the conventions of philosophy), you will almost certainly get a good grade on your papers. Tests: There were no tests.
External ResourcesI didn't use any external resources in this class. In fact, its relative isolation was a selling point for me. I loved how easy it was to slip, twice a week, into the discussion of agency and reasons. And how difficult it was, at the end of those two weekly lectures, to let the material go.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionI highly recommend the course to all philosophy majors. If you are very new to philosophy, I wouldn't recommend it. The finest foods are sometimes icky to those uninitiated to the culinary arts, and are better reserved for later. If you're on the fence, then I'm sure another factor is determining your decision. But this is an amazing class that has deepened my understanding of human nature. If you can invest in it, it might deepen yours.