My Favorite Professor: Ray Rennard
It is not often when a professor can make you see the world in a whole new way, but Professor Rennard can do just that. An associate professor of philosophy and chair of the Philosophy Department, Rennard started teaching at Pacific in 2005 after he received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 2003. Rennard teaches a variety of really interesting, thought-provoking classes at Pacific, such as philosophy of science, introduction to logic, theory of knowledge and philosophy of mind, and he never fails to make me laugh.
Professor Rennard teaches about nine different courses every two years. “One of the great things about teaching is that it gives me an excuse to be a perpetual student,” exclaimed Rennard.
According to Pacific’s website, Rennard teaches courses in the broad area known as M&E, which stands for metaphysics and epistemology. Some of the questions Rennard considers in his classes include the following: Are mental states just brain states? Can computers think? What can we know? What is truth and why is it important? Does science reveal the nature of reality? What distinguishes science from non-science?
Rennard is accustomed to dabbling into several disciplines to probe the burning questions he has, and in his classes, he often mentions some of the really interesting tidbits he picks up along the way. “I really enjoy taking a fundamental question (for example, how do thoughts get their contents?) and following the answer wherever it goes. Usually, the answer will cross several disciplines. One should not be afraid to roll up one’s pants and wade into the deep waters as necessary,” stated Rennard.
One of the reasons why Rennard is such a great professor is that he inspires his students to question what they think they know about the world. “One of my aims is to encourage students to think critically about issues that they thought they understood clearly. Augustine once said of the concept of time that he knows it quite well until asked to explain it to another. I think that’s true of many of the concepts we employ in everyday life. Philosophers like to challenge common conceptions and propose sometimes-outlandish thought experiments. This might seem pointless to some, but it strengthens our capacity for clear-headed reasoning and tests the limits of our understanding,” explained Rennard. Being able to challenge commonly held beliefs is part of the reason why his classes are so interesting. Students are able to explore their ideas, and Rennard encourages students to ask questions.
Rennard sees the value philosophy can bring to all students’ lives. “There are many practical reasons to study philosophy; e.g., to develop strong analytical skills and the ability to create and evaluate complex arguments. But, my favorite reason comes from philosopher John Perry: Study philosophy in college to avoid a midlife existential crisis,” asserted Rennard.
If Rennard could teach a few extra courses at Pacific, he would delve into cognitive science, neuroethics and topics in advanced logic. Neuroethics is a new area of study: “The issues that I find really interesting here relate the pharmacological treatment of mental disorders to personal identity and our sense of the self. There are a lot of important questions to ask about how we characterize and treat mental disorders,” stated Rennard. Regarding cognitive science, “Part of my training in graduate school was in cognitive science, and I think it would be fun to teach an introduction to this exciting interdisciplinary approach to mind and cognition,” explained Rennard.
Students enrolled in the theory of knowledge study the nature, origins and limits of human knowledge; they consider deep questions, such as what can humans know, are humans really rational, and what justifies what a person knows or claims to believe? Logic introduces students to some of the concepts and methods used in the analysis of arguments. This class also satisfies the math requirement for your general education at Pacific.
Rennard opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at things, whether I was in his logic or philosophy of science class. Not only does he enlighten the minds of students, but Professor Rennard exemplifies all the qualities of an interesting, effective professor.
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