Lecture Stunts

I love hearing about tricks and stunts that people have used as part of their teaching strategy in lectures. I have just been reading Williamson’s description of his technique for setting up real life Gettier cases:

To make the point vivid, I have occasionally created Gettier cases for lecture audiences. For example, I have begun a lecture by apologizing for not giving a power-point presentation; I explained that the only time I gave a power-point presentation it was a complete disaster. Since my listeners had no reason to distrust me on a claim so much to my discredit, they acquired through my testimony the justified belief that the only time I gave a power-point presentation it was a complete disaster. They competently deduced that I had never given a successful power-point presentation. Thus they acquired the justified belief that I had never given a successful power-point presentation. That belief was true, but the reason was that I had never given a power-point presentation at all (and still do not intend to.) My assertion that the only time I had given a power-point presentation it was a complete disaster was a bare-faced lie….Someone commented “you can’t believe the first thing he says.” (192, The Philosophy of Philosophy, 2008)
(I like the story, but I also like the subversive insertion of a hyphen into “powerpoint.”)

My friend Nate Williams told me a story about a professor who taught intro ethics at Chapel HIll. Upon the first occasion in the semester a student relativised an ethical claim to a person, as in “Eating meat is wrong for you but it isn’t wrong for me” he would have them removed from the lecture hall by a couple of grad students in white coats. When the student (invariably) protested that this was wrong, the professor would reply, “well it might be wrong for you…”

The same friend also gave me an idea for a trick I use when teaching personal identity. After some discussion of the soul, I ask the students whether they think they have souls, and if so, whether they are the kind of thing that can be sold to another person. After getting their views, I hand out contracts beginning “I hereby agree to sell my soul to Gillian Russell for the price of one candy bar…” The contract states that if they have no soul, or if its ownership is not transferable to me, then get to keep the candy bar and the contract is complete. Then I lay out enough candy for the entire class on the front desk and wait … I have seven so far. All reasonable offers will be considered.