It’s tough being a philosophy student …

The last tripos scripts marked! And by happy chance, the answers I marked today were among the best of the season, and cheered me up a lot. (I’m Chair of the Examining Board for Parts IB and II this year so I’ve meetings to organize this coming week, and still have to examine three M.Phil. dissertations: but at least I’ve read all the relevant undergraduate scripts for the year. And I’m on leave next summer term, so that’s it for two years. Terrific.)

It strikes me again while marking that it’s quite tough being a philosophy student these days: the disputes you are supposed to get your head around have become so sophisticated, the to and fro of the dialectic often so intricate. An example. When I first started teaching, Donnellan’s paper on ‘Reference and Definite Descriptions’ had quite recently been published — it was state of the art. An undergraduate who could talk some sense about his distinction between referential and attributive uses of descriptions was thought to be doing really well. Just think what we’d expect a first class student to know about the Theory of Descriptions nowadays (for a start, Kripke’s response to Donnellan, problems with Kripke’s Gricean manoeuvres, etc.). True there are textbooks, Stanford Encyclopedia articles, and the like to help the student through: but still, the level of sophistication we now expect from our best undergraduates is daunting.

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