Like that between being strong and being a good football player. Having charisma is very helpful in teaching. It can get students to concentrate and to pay attention without really trying. But this can be worthless when the teacher is incompetent, unfocused, unclear, or fails in some other way to get the material across. In that case, students may still remember her or him years later, but they won't remember what was covered in the course. With charisma, it's easier to be a good teacher. But charisma alone does not ensure success.
Is my interest in studying legal theory better served by enrolling in philosophy graduate school or enrolling in law school?
This depends on the university as well as on your specific interests in this field. You might apply especially to universities that have both: a law school with a real interest in legal theory as well as a philosophy department with strength in philosophy of law, ethics, and political philosophy. Such universities also typically offer a joint JD/PhD program, which may be just right for your interests and would allow you to keep more career options open.
I am about to start tutoring someone who is soon to be taking their A-level exams in philosophy (UK schooling system), specifically in the field of political philosophy. Can you recommend any good texts that cover this field for this level of study (I don't want to bombard them with undergrad/grad level ideas!)? I need something broad, with enough material to give them confidence and get them thinking about the topic. Thanks.
I think Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy is a very good text for beginners. It may be a little harder than what you're looking for, but it's a standard work now, one likely to have influenced the exam and those who mark it. It's broad and covers well the main schools of thought. The same is true to a somewhat lesser extent of Adam Swift's Political Philosophy: A Beginner's Guide for Students and Politicians . Swift is a British author teaching at Oxford.
Which edition of Kant's critiques do you recommend? (And for that matter, where is there reliable information to be found about which editions of philosophy books are best?)
I think the Cambridge University Press editions are probably best in all three cases, they tend to do very good editions -- both of translated and of originally Anglophone works. Typically, a good indicator is what the best recent secondary literature is using or what top scholars assign in their classes. This information is often easily obtainable through Amazon or the internet generally.
I am stuck on a decision that I hope one of you can help me with.
I am graduating in June (2006) and everyone is telling me to go to college. I am currently protesting college - thinking that if I self-teach myself (by reading many books), then I could possibly gain more knowledge than if I am sitting in a classroom with many other students. I am stubborn with this idea.
I assume that with a teacher in a classroom full of students, (s)he is teaching the subject, not the people. (I hope that makes sense.)
I am not too sure if my thinking is something I should go by, or if I should just grow up and go to college.
Any opinion would be great.
You are right: You can possibly learn more from reading books than by going to college. But then it's also true that you might possibly learn more by going to college than from reading books on your own. The real question is: which path will gain you more, and more important, knowledge and understanding? This question is hard to answer in the abstract -- certainly for me, but also for you. If you choose the solitary reading program: Will you still be motivated to go on six months later? And after a year, will you still have a clear grasp of what you understood in the first month? And if you choose college: Will you get into a good one with lots of bright and interesting peers (in my experience, students tend to learn no less from one another than from their teachers)? And will you be able to find there classes taught by people who are truly engaging and inspiring? Given the uncertainties, I would suggest that you go to college (assuming you have a place for September) and give it...
What do you recommend as a course of action for someone who suffered from depression as an undergraduate (and got poor grades as a result), but is nevertheless very competent and wants to pursue graduate school in philosophy?
With the help of a former teacher, perhaps, s/he can write a philosophy essay in an area s/he is most interested in. This essay can serve as a basis for assessing whether s/he really has the talent, preparation, and commitment for graduate training in philosophy. If so, this essay can also serve as a writing sample for applications. But it is probably also important to have at least one reference letter from a professor familiar with the applicant who can explain the special circumstances. It may also help to take another philosophy course or two before applying. This may help in developing a suitable essay topic and also in yielding another good grade and strong letter of recommendation.