Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Using Your Own Book For a Class

I received a (somewhat dubious-looking) solicitation to work with a publisher in putting together an Intro to Philosophy reader. This is something I could imagine doing in the future--though I've also toyed with the idea of putting together a 100% open-access philosophy anthology (which would include both classic and contemporary writings, perhaps even some commissioned pieces).

This led me back to the old question: what are the (unwritten) rules, if any, concerning using one's own books in one's classes? (Perhaps some schools actually have written rules about this.) Presumably, if you have created a book for a particular class, it is one that meets your distinctive vision of what content is to be covered in that class. So why not use it? On the other hand, of course, is the sense that one would be making extra profit (on royalties). Of course, someone will get paid (though perhaps royalties aren't that much; I don't know), so why shouldn't it be you? Alternatively, one could defer the royalties from books sold to one's own students, or donate that money to a good cause. (One could even let the students vote.) I had a professor who paid each student a dollar to balance out the fact that one of our required texts was a book by him.



  1. I think the unwritten rule is that you shouldn't do this. Someone at Crooked Timber (Harry Brighouse maybe?) has discussed it, and said that he doesn't assign his book because the students get his views from his lectures and he wants them to get other views from the reading. That makes sense to me. But I still assign my own work in one of my courses, partly because I wrote it for that course. The book hasn't earned back its advance yet (and might never do so), so I'm not (so far) profiting from my students by assigning the book. Friends of mine who assign their own work (they write and publish together) sell their books at cost to the students to avoid any ethical problems. This can be tricky, though, since some of our students get their books free, but have to get them from the college bookstore to do so. So having students buy directly from professors could disadvantage the already disadvantaged.

    If you genuinely believe your book is the best one available for your students then I see no reason not to assign it.

  2. Brighouse's point (if it was his) seems to make sense especially if it's a book-book, rather than a reader. If I ever did a reader, I would want to include fairly substantive introductions to sections and readings, but that probably wouldn't be too much repetition.

  3. I used to worry about this issue. I've never assigned a whole book written by myself, though I have included one chapter in a "coursepack" collection of assigned readings. I figure that the few extra dollars I may make from this in total over several years -- enough to buy three or four "Bohemian Veg" vegan sandwiches at Capers Whole Foods on West 4th in Vancouver -- is not worth wringing my hands over. Have I gone over to the dark side?