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Mark Hopwood
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Dustin: I'm really interested in your levels system. I've read about similar ideas and thought about trying to implement something like it myself, but I'd love to hear more about how it's worked out for you. Have you found that students respond well to the levels system? Do they get frustrated? Do you end up spending a lot of time meeting with them? Do you feel like you've seen significantly more progress in their writing by doing it this way? (Btw, great OP Helen - how to teach Intro well is probably one of the questions I spend most time thinking about.)
Thanks Marcus! I absolutely agree that moral relativism is a serious philosophical position. I probably should have been clearer in distinguishing the kind of "knee-jerk relativism" I'm talking about from the kind of developed, sophisticated relativism that I think you're talking about. I would be absolutely delighted if my students went away from my class committed to the latter form of relativism - what I'm worried about is them never getting beyond the knee-jerk version. You might say: students are unlikely to come to class with fully developed versions of any philosophical position, so why worry so much about relativism? I think the reason is that in my experience (and in the experience of many others I've talked to), knee-jerk relativism really does seem to have the capacity to end the discussion before it's started. (It's probably worth saying that I think that "knee-jerk objectivism" would have a very similar effect - it's just that I don't see that as often.) On some level, I think our views on this might actually be very similar. I agree with you that it's not our job to convince our students not to be relativists, and I agree with you that it's extremely pedagogically valuable to lay out and evaluate forms of relativism that survive simple, standard objections. I was actually intending the post to question what I take to be a widespread dismissive attitude toward relativism, but that probably didn't come across clearly enough. What do I worry, though (as I said in the post), is that it would be hard to do a proper discussion of the different forms of relativism and subjectivism in less than a third or even half of a semester, but I'm not sure that I want to spend that long on relativism in every single moral philosophy class that I teach. Maybe that's something I should reconsider, though!
I'm totally on board with the general point here, but I feel compelled to leap to Plato's defense! I agree that Xanthippe gets a pretty raw deal in the Phaedo, but in general, my feeling is that the dialogue format allows for a form of philosophical writing that is considerably more attentive to the human context in which moral claims are made. To take just one example: when Euthyphro confidently asserts the piety of taking his father to court, it clearly matters that he's making this argument to someone (Socrates) who's being taken to court himself, by people whose reasoning is just as feeble as Euthyphro's. Even on the Xanthippe issue, it's notable that Plato's text is written in a way that allows us to see the human consequences of Socrates's high-minded dedication to following the law. So: I think this is a massively important issue for us to think about as philosophers, but I'd be inclined to see Plato as a model rather than the root of the problem.
"You should follow the principles that are true for you"; "what's right and wrong is just what your culture tells you is right and wrong"; "no-one else can tell you that your morality isn't the right one". Sound familiar? Anyone who has taught Intro to Ethics (and probably a lot... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2015 at The Philosophers' Cocoon
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Congratulations Marcus! They're fortunate to have you.
Toggle Commented Feb 16, 2015 on New beginnings at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Thanks Michel. The point about assignments is one that a number of people have made in conversations I've had about this, and I think it's a really good one. Students need a lot of practice and trial and error to get the hang of this stuff, and as you say, it's hard to do that if you only have two papers required. I'm definitely thinking about ways I can build in more smaller, progressively structured assignments in my intro classes. If anyone has any examples of ways they've done this successfully, I'd love to see them!
Thanks Derek - this is really helpful. I think you're absolutely right about the importance of the writing process. It sounds like my experience might be somewhat similar to yours - I think my students definitely do better if they write multiple drafts and get comments back, but the larger the group the more challenging that is. I'd be very interested to know how you put together the individual worksheets you mentioned - that's not something I've tried before. I took a look at the materials you linked to (which seem really great), and one thing I noticed was that the way the sample prompt is structured doesn't really use the language of premises and conclusions at all. Instead, you're guiding them through the process of evaluating the strength of a position by considering possible objections and counter-examples. In many ways, this actually seems closer to the kind of thing that philosophers spend most of their time doing, which makes me wonder: is it really helpful to introduce the idea of philosophical argument in terms of premises and conclusions at all? Is it possible that we would be better off just avoiding that language entirely at the introductory stage? (Since I don't know much about your class I'm not sure exactly how you approach this, Derek, so I don't want to attribute any views on this question to you - your materials just got me thinking about it.)
My grad school addressed this problem with a financial incentive: if you didn't have a certain number of courses completed by a certain point, you missed out on part of your funding. I don't know whether other schools do similar things, but it was certainly an effective incentive in my case (although it may not have worked equally well for everyone).
Thanks Moti! The presentation looks really helpful (although I confess I've only skimmed it so far). Have you tried doing anything similar to that yourself? He crams quite a lot in there (albeit with very useful slides and examples), so my sense is that you'd need to spend quite a while working through exercises to really get students comfortable with using the concepts. That brings me back to my question, of course: i.e. how much time do I really want to devote to this in a 101 intro class? I'd be really interested to know what your experience has been, though.
Thanks to Marcus for allowing me to be a contributor here - I've read and benefited from this blog as a grad student, a job seeker, and now as a junior faculty member. I've been thinking a lot about teaching recently, and found myself having trouble with a pretty fundamental... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2015 at The Philosophers' Cocoon
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Feb 9, 2015