HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION
At the beginning of this century Philosophy A was dominated by a triumvirate of men whose fame was international. Prompted by a desire to come into intimate contact with these great minds many students at Harvard were moved to take the course. Now these men have gone and Philosophy A has become a dull symposium of abstract thought nourished by the diversification plan of the University. This decline can be traced to two underlying causes; the nature of the course itself, and the departure of James, Royce, and Munsterburg.
It is impossible to make an elementary survey either valuable or conclusive, particularly one which deals with such an intangible subject as the thoughts of men. By knowledge and by that indefinable thing called personality a great man can make it palatable to undergraduates, but it is the man rather than the subject that interests the students. Today the lectures are given by scholars who are valuable in their field of advanced study but who are unequal to the peculiar executions of the course. They are forced to give a history of philosophy to a lot of un-interested Sophomores and Juniors who take it solely to fulfill the graduation requirements.
The weekly quiz sections are intolerable. A five minute test is given, not to determine the amount of knowledge gleaned from the week's reading, but to ascertain merely if the student has done the assignment. Beyond the fact that this procedure is contrary to all pedagogical theory, it is absolutely impossible to convey any of the salient points of 150 pages of Plato to an instructor by means of a five minute scrawl. These meetings were primarily organized to solve any difficulties that the student might have, but they have been reduced to infinite and fruitless arguments on the number of ultimate realities that exist or other such important philosophical problems. These discussions are usually worried along by laymen whose only qualification lies in a facile verbosity. This is not entirely the section man's fault for Philosophy A offers a moderately lucrative training ground while he is studying for a Ph.D., his primary object.
The course as it exists now fails miserably in its purpose. It is too expansive to form a firm foundation for the man who plans to concentrate in the subject, and it is unutterably boring to the person who is seeking only to satisfy the exaction's of a worthless diversification system. The men who give the course are not to be too severely censured, for they are fitted neither by desire nor by qualification for such a unique position. The field is too big, too unwieldy for one year's study; that is the fundamental trouble. A survey course such as elementary Fine Arts has pictures and slides to form continuity in the student's mind, but Philosophy A leaves behind for many only a host of intellectual specters headed by octogenarian Socrates babbling worn out truths to a motley train of the lame, the halt, and the blind.