|Philosopher's Books Muse on Metaphysics and Reveal Secrets of Getting Good Grades
November 19, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Paul Studtmann spent 11 years working on his recently published first book, The Foundations of Aristotle's Categorial Scheme (2008 Marquette University Press). But the Davidson College assistant professor of philosophy is not advising friends and colleagues to read that one. He’s much more excited about the three books he wrote in the single year he spent on his sabbatical.
|Paul Studtmann teaching his class this semester in logic.|
“To tell the truth, the Aristotle book was like 11 years of a bad marriage which is finally and thankfully over,” Studtmann confessed. “It was painful to write, but it was a good learning experience and was considerably helpful in writing my second book, which was by contrast a pleasant one-year love affair.”
The Foundations of Aristotle's Categorical Scheme concerns Aristotle’s set of doctrines called “categories,” which provide the framework of inquiry for a wide variety of philosophical investigations of the ancient Greek philosopher. Prominent philosophers through the ages have embraced, defended, modified or rejected Aristotle’s work, and Studtmann in his book seeks to “provide a useful introduction to the content of this endlessly fascinating work.”
Aristotle was the subject of Studtmann’s Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Colorado. Encouraged by advisers and friends, he embarked on the natural course of turning the thesis into a book. Unfortunately, that course became a quagmire, and Studtmann ended up picking at it and fretting over it for the next decade, completely rewriting the book twice, before finally successfully turning it over to the publisher.
With that weight off his shoulders, Studtmann was eagerly anticipating his sabbatical during the 2007-08 school year. Even better, he received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies that allowed him to spend the entire year on sabbatical at full pay, rather than just half a year at full pay or a full year at half pay. With means in hand to support 12 months of scholarship, he moved to San Francisco and rented an apartment in a center city neighborhood.
The change of venue and free time proved tremendously productive. Studtmann charged through a second book titled Empiricism and the Problem of Metaphysics, which he believes will be quite controversial and widely read by his professional peers. He explained, “One of the central questions we face is whether philosophy can give us any real knowledge of the world. My answer is that it might well not. I specify precise conditions that would have to be met in order to gain knowledge from philosophy, and give reasons why those conditions aren’t met. It could impact most of what everyone is doing in contemporary philosophy.”
He continued, “I advocate a response called ‘silentism,’ concluding that the ultimate philosophical perspective about unknowable metaphysical ideas should simply be silence. There’s no value in discussing them. I may be showing that the emperor really does have no clothes!”
The book has been accepted by one publisher, and is under consideration by Cambridge University Press.
With that project done, Studtmann then launched into a book he has tentatively titled God, Freedom and the Immortaility of the Soul, which addresses the three issues cited by famed philosopher Immanuel Kant as the major issues in metaphysics. Studtmann has completed a draft of that work, but says it’s not quite ready for publication yet.
Production of three publishable works in a short time may look good on a resume, but Studtmann was under no delusion that he could get rich through sale of his philosophical treatises. So he embarked on a final sabbatical work that he knew would appeal to a huge market — writing a short book titled Work Smarter, Not Harder: How to Get Good Grades in College by Manipulating Your Professors’ Psychologies.
|Studtmann's first book expanded his thesis work on Aristotle.|
Though it has nothing to do with philosophy, it’s a subject that Studtmann knows well from both sides of the lectern. He was valedictorian of his graduating class at the University of Iowa, and made straight A’s throughout his graduate school career. “Getting good grades might be the only useful thing I know how to do!” he joked, “and writing this book was definitely the most fun I’ve had writing anything.”
Studtmann began with the premise that students enter college with a mistaken view of professors as austere, learned people with highly refined intellects who operate largely above the fray of human emotion. “What they don’t realize is that professors are subject to the same psychological forces as everyone, and that influences how they treat students and give out grades,” Studtmann said. “There are many studies showing that people are subject to psychological forces that dictate the way they dole out rewards, whether they realize it or not. What it means is that, to get good grades, you should get the professor to like you.”
Studtmann admits that his conclusions are fairly self-evident. Students who get good grades sit in the front, stay awake in class, speak up and ask intelligent questions, seek help during office hours, keep up with assignments, and show an interest in the professor’s life and achievements. Studtmann continued, “There’s a two-fold result to following this advice. Not only does the professor become psychologically invested in the student, but the student gets better educated. The book points out that a student’s calculated approach toward a professor can be as valuable a lesson as learning any academic material covered in the course.”
Studtmann conveys his lessons through a character named “Professor Important.” From their perspective, students view him as an important man. But in reality he’s a 50-year-old with problems at home who’s tired of writing boring academic papers and is disgruntled that he’s not nearly as important as he’d like to be. Students who understand that situation and give the professor the attention all people crave are likely to be rewarded with good grades. “Various studies have shown that papers are graded differently depending on whether the professor does or doesn’t know who wrote them,” Studtmann said. “It may not seem fair, but it’s a fact.”
Studtmann plans to market the book, which is under 50 pages, as an electronic book on the Web. He hopes to have it ready for order in time for the holiday gift-giving season. “What better gift to a college-age child or friend than a sure-fire method for getting good grades?!” he said.
Studtmann has taught at Davidson since 2004. He is currently teaching courses in symbolic logic, the philosophy of religion, and Jean Paul Sartre. In the spring he will teach a course in the philosophy of mathematics, and a writing course on “Sex, Love and Friendship.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz