Friday, December 11, 2009

Last Day

This is the last day of the semester, so I'm in a festive, party mood. I didn't have a party for my big lecture class, which finished up on Wednesday, but I did give them a good last class. I always close this course, Intro to Ethics, in the same way. We begin the semester by reading Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, the story of a life gone wrong. This sets the structure for the class, in which we read seven great works of philosophy on how to make one's life go right: Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, the Discourses of Epictetus, Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Mill's Utilitarianism, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Sartre's "Existentialism and Humanism" plus snippets from Being and Nothingness, and then, to add a little nonwestern element to the course, Trungpa's Shambhala, or the Sacred Path of the Warrior. On the last day, I ask the students, "If you could take just one of these books and give it to Ivan Ilych, not as he lies dying, but when he's your age, studying at the university, which would it be?" And then we vote. In the big lecture class this term, Shambhala was the winner, with Mill in second place; in my small version of the same course, taught in the Farrand resident hall, Shambhala and Sartre tied; when I taught the course in Maymester, Aristotle won. Poor Kant always gets the fewest votes - none in the Farrand class this time, and only one in the big lecture, and that from one of my graduate student T.A.s. I'm always fascinated to count the votes and see which philosopher will be declared the semester's winner in the best-advice-on-how-to-live-your-life category. I also got my students in the big lecture to clap for me at the end of the class, by making a little speech thanking them for a great semester - a surefire way to garner their applause in return.

I gave my Farrand class a cupcake party on Wednesday; I carried two dozen gorgeous and delicious cupcakes on the Skip with me from Boulder Baked, along with a gallon of milk (which had lumps of ice in it when I went to pour it - that's how cold it's been this week!). Today I gave my Ethical Theory class a pizza party. I was afraid that I had ordered too many pizzas - six extra-large! But not to worry: every slice was devoured. Tonight is the philosophy department non-holiday non-party (university policy doesn't permit university funding for holiday events or parties). Yay for non-holidays! and non-parties! And festive last days of student applause (however transparently solicited) and wise advice on how to go forward to live the rest of our lives.


  1. I am so impressed that you have continued to post on this blog through the entire semester! Congrats on that! And I remember being very happy to get treats from you on the last day of class - thanks for continuing that custom as well. Everything is better with enthusiasm (and food)!

  2. Thanks, Cindy. Everything was also better with you here....