Phil Bold, a doctoral student in philosophy, still remembers the first course he taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His undergraduate students were “a particularly enthusiastic group” and would visit during his office hours to talk through questions about the material.
On one very nice day, he decided to hold office hours outside. “I distinctly remember thinking at that moment, sitting in the shade and feeling the cool breeze, puzzling over Plato’s theory of the forms: This is the good life. It inspired such a deep love for the students at Carolina, who I’ve found again and again to be the most curious, hard-working and insightful students I’ve ever met.”
Bold is a 2019 recipient of the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Graduate Teaching Assistants. He and 23 other University Teaching Award recipients (including four other graduate teaching assistants) will be recognized at an April 8 awards banquet.
We asked Bold, who received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Brown University, a few questions about his work at UNC-Chapel Hill:
What do you enjoy the most about teaching undergraduates? How is this experience contributing to your own graduate education at Carolina?
I enjoy teaching for the same reason that I enjoy sharing the experience of great music, literature, film and works of art with my closest friends. Great works have the potential to bring us together, to bind communities, to foster intimacy, to expand our minds and their beauty is deeply enhanced when shared with others. When I teach a text and see one of my student’s eyes widen and glisten with awe or curiosity, I feel that I’ve made a deep human connection. It fills my heart with joy and reminds me why all of my work matters. To be honest, it always feels slightly tragic when the semester comes to an end — like I’ve lost some of my best friends.
What should we know about your research?
In the Republic, Plato famously says that justice and happiness require a kind of rule by reason. Politically, this means that there is justice only to the extent that we are governed by those who are truly wise. Personally, this means that we will only be happy to the extent that our life’s activities are constrained by rationality. A crucial component of this doctrine is that reason must rule over our passions, pleasures, otherwise, we are bound to experience chaos, frustration and disorder. But what are the passions, according to Plato? And why exactly are they unfit for authority over our lives and our politics? These are the questions I will address in my dissertation.
How does undergraduate teaching impact your research?
I operate with the admittedly controversial assumption that Plato’s arguments in the Republicare designed to be persuasive for ordinary democratic citizens – in other words, his arguments are not directed exclusively at professional philosophers. Teaching this text to undergraduates from all walks of life, interests and specializations is thus an incredible opportunity for me to explore and test this hypothesis. Hearing their diverse reactions to the text has been continuously helpful and illuminating. Not to mention, I understand Plato’s systematic perspective only to the extent that I can defend it against challenges, puzzles and objections such as these — I think Plato would agree with this standard at least.