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Friday, January 30, 2009

Ron Amundson is my hero.

You know how as you teach a class there's a tendency for your syllabus to get longer and longer? This isn't because you're teaching more material (probably) but because you're slipping in additional notes for your students. Fun things like, "Late work will be accepted only with an adequate excuse. Being a member of the football team and playing an away game on the due date is an adequate excuse. Playing football on the game cube is not." Well, I now have a new goal in my life that is related to this tendency.

Somehow, someway, I want to find an excuse to include a disclaimer as cool at the one Ronald Amundson uses:


“Metaphysics” as a field of study within the academic area of Philosophy is very
different from “Metaphysics” as the label of a bookshelf in Border’s Books. This is a
Philosophy course. It is not about what Border’s Books calls Metaphysics.

The popular (Border’s Books) understanding of Metaphysics is that it is the study
of paranormal phenomena, such as extrasensory perception, out-of-body travel,
reincarnation, and auras. None of these topics will be seriously discussed in this
It doesn’t much matter what my opinions are about the matter, but you may want
to know. I believe in science. I do not believe in pseudoscience. I believe that no one has
extra-sensory perception (even though perception is a very complicated and interesting
thing). I do not believe in reincarnation, or in out-of-body travel. In fact I have published
articles in anti-paranormal journals, and I’m somewhat famous for my skeptical
refutation of the paranormal Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon. (See my web page for
details if you’re interested.)

I do not believe that I’m any more narrow-minded than the next person on these
topics. But if you are a fan of paranormal phenomenon, you will probably consider me to
be very narrow-minded. That’s ok with me -- you have a right to consider me narrowminded
if you want to. But the important thing is this: You should not take this course
because you expect to study astrology, ESP, and so on. I will not ask my students to study
topics that I consider foolish, and I consider astrology, etc., very foolish.


So if you signed up for the course because you are interested in the supernatural
or paranormal, please drop the course. You will not be able to pass the course by
concentrating your attention on the paranormal, and trying to prove its existence to me.
Many people have tried. None of them has passed the course. Please don’t add your
student record to the gruesome list of people who believed that they could convince
Amundson that they possessed ESP.

I have had some bad experiences on this topic. Some very sincere students have
gotten angry and even belligerant because I required them to study and write about
theories that they disagreed with. I am teaching this course the way the American
Philosophical Association affirms is the academically responsible way to teach
Metaphysics. Please, if that is not a course that you want to take, do not take this one. [emphasis and formatting as original as my intrinsic laziness permits]

Quite aside from the humor of imagining a very earnest undergraduate arguing the paranormal with a philosophy professor- particularly a very unwilling philosophy professor- I just have to love that disclaimer. It's direct, it's honest, it's helpful, and I bet it gets ignored all the time.

Ron Amundson, I salute you!

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