Wednesday, May 14, 2014

MOOCed out

I've been watching and enjoying John Holbo's video lectures for his course on reason and persuasion. But I think I've finally given up, despite making it all the way into the last lesson. And finding another course to watch instead has proved challenging. So I've temporarily given up on that too.

What's the problem? First Holbo's course. It's a funny course because it's not about how to reason and persuade, nor about the difference between reason and persuasion, as the title might suggest. It's more a reading of the Euthyphro, the Meno, and Book I of the Republic, followed by Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis. Holbo is clear and funny, and he makes good use of cartoons that he draws himself. Watching a couple of parts of one of the eight lessons is a pleasant and mildly (for those who've already read the books he's talking about) educational way to spend half an hour or so. If you've read his posts at Crooked Timber, though, then you'll know that he can sometimes ramble a little. The seven parts of lesson 1 add up to about 75 minutes of lecture. The ten parts of lesson 8 add up to about 3 hours or so. And he's less clear on Haidt, which might be why he doesn't seem to get right to the point. So I quit.

I enjoyed the experience enough, though, that I recommend it and want to find another course like it. But without Holbo's sense of humor and cartoons I'm finding that watching lectures online is painfully dull. I would much rather read. Students must surely feel the same way. Of course, if you have to attend lectures then your pain is, arguably, irrelevant. But I don't have to do this. And it's hard to imagine anyone having to take a free online course.

Bottom line:

  1. I don't see much of a future for MOOCs unless lecturers as entertaining as Holbo (and Sandel) can be found in sufficient numbers (or a lot of arm-twisting occurs), and 
  2. if you know of any other good online philosophy courses I'd be very glad to hear about them.


  1. 'i'll be your lecturer…'

    this sounds so absurd when spoken by a man in a little window. especially when he goes on to do the universal first-day blather in his introductory video. get to the fucking meat! this is the internet!

    for a while you could watch andrew taggart doing 'philosophical meditations' on youtube, and while they weren't perfect, or intended to be finished products for mass consumption, i think he was taking risks at thinking on the spot in a way that still had a point to it. and the model was closer to 'a youtube channel', at least one version of that that i'm familiar with. an attempt to adapt to / exploit the medium.

    i know that the availability of philosophy outside the academy is furthered to some extent by moocs or by the dmf fave, the youtubed academic paper presentation, but if all academics are going to do with this technology is videotape themselves doing the semi-spontaneous or fully-scripted things they already do all the time, they're basically saying that they belong in the middle ages. the scripts and the venues for improvisation match other conditions, not the current ones.

    1. Is that how the first lesson begins? I'd forgotten. It is absurd, but he probably knows it. I enjoyed most of the lectures, anyway.

      But you're right, the internet more or less demands something different.

    2. it's the 'trailer', but perhaps not the first official 'lecture'.

      I would say that the lecture, which came into being in an age when printing had long since been in existence, is in a certain sense an “archaic form,” a point Horkheimer once demonstrated very elegantly. That is to say, it has in a sense been superseded by the written form. Hence if this form is to be retained, if people are to continue to give real lectures, this can only have a meaning if the things that are said during a lecture, and the way they are said, cannot be found in printed form, especially not in the so-called authoritative texts of philosophy. Hence I regard with contempt the idea of simply regurgitating the contents of a book, and rebel against the whole conception. It would also be very foolish, because if it were simply a matter of gaining a knowledge of some theories or other, of opinions or doctrines that have been handed down in the history of philosophy, these are matters that you could indeed learn much more easily by reading them yourselves. Reading them for yourselves would also have the advantage that you could dwell on the difficult passages—and philosophy has no shortage of these—and really sink your teeth into them. That is much better than for me to attempt to expound them here since I would necessarily have to condense the arguments much more and you would find them rushing past you. This is one reason why I have chosen a form that some of you find so puzzling; but it is often the case that if we are baffled by the form in which something is presented, the difficulties frequently arise from the fact that we approach them with false expectations.

      Theodor Adorno, Lecture Three (14 May 1963) of Problems of Moral Philosophy (Probleme der Moralphilosophie), translated by Rodney Livingstone (Stanford, 2001), p. 24.

    3. Thanks. I should read those lectures.

  2. Conant & Diamond's summer school on the "methodological sections" of the Investigations is an interesting listen:

    And while it's not philosophy, Donald Kagan's course on the history of ancient Greece is the most interesting podcast I've heard:

    Finally, there is a large collection of philosophy podcasts here:

    1. Thanks! I didn't know the summer school stuff was online. Podcasts and I don't always get along (where do you look?), but these sound well worth trying.

  3. I guess "podcasts" may be technically incorrect. All of those (except for the Conant and Diamond) are university courses that are also posted online.