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recent grad

Teaching intro for the first time this term has led me to think that classic problems in epistemology are a bad way to go. Students can find some epistemology interesting--e.g. the question of trust in science. But Cartesian skepticism or the problem of the criterion? I'm going to avoid those for a while.

Brendan Larvor

Teach topics that you care about. Then, the students will see the pleasure in thinking, the adventure of ideas. It doesn't matter much what those topics are. Philosophy has no shallow end, no square one, it's not cumulative so you can start anywhere.

Where do I find Concepcion's excellent paper?

Helen De Cruz

It is here: https://www.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=teachphil&id=teachphil_2004_0027_0004_0351_0368

Calvin H. Warner

I added "The Paradoxes of Time Travel" by David Lewis to the rotation last semester and it was a big hit. I flagged it on syllabus day as something we'd be talking about and was asked several times during the semester, "When are we gonna talk about time travel?" and when we finally did I think it mostly lived up to their expectations. I definitely had students participating on that day that I'd never heard from before. I needed a way to transition from the ethics part of my course to the M&E and this turned out to be a fun way to do it.

To my surprise, another reading my students really liked was Aquinas. We took a day to slowly work through the Argument from Motion, which I was worried would be too meticulous, but students responded well to it.

I have also found in my own classes and in discussion with colleagues that students tend to like the things the instructor is most interested in. I suspect that when we teach our interests, our passion comes out and gets students more excited about the material. That's just my two cents.

Dustin Locke

My two main moves in intro are my levels system:


and letting students vote on which topics they want covered in the second half of the semester.

Mark Hopwood

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.)

Michel X.

I've found that discussion of the nature of truth have tended to fall a little flat, unless they're also tied to an area where they're applied and can be seen in action. I suspect it's just because the differences are subtle and technical, and students often fail to see the point (in the criticisms, and in overcoming them).

So, for example, I've seen the truth stuff work well when the class turns around to examine "truth" as a criterion in scientific methodology, or when we try to see how our theories of truth play out when we apply them to fictional works.

Some other things that work well: Linda Nochlin's "Why have there been no great women artists" just *kills*. It's especially good for pointing out to students that our narratives of "genius" are flawed, and not as clear-cut as we make them out to be. Anne W. Eaton's "Rough Heroes of the New Hollywood" is also very well received.

Dustin Locke

Mark: I've been doing the levels system for the last 8 semesters. Let me just say that it's very, very hard for me to imagine going back to traditional essay assignments. It is a bit more work for me, both in terms of grading and since students are more likely to come for help in office hours (because, I believe, this method gives them the confidence needed to come to office hours), but it's totally worth the payoff in student success. And the grading is much more pleasurable: not only are the essays better, but you don't feel overwhelmed by trying to teach students all the aspects of good writing at once.

Scott Clifton

There is one danger in teaching what we are most (or more) interested in. I hold the view that intro classes should aim to prepare students who want to take more philosophy courses with some of the basic concepts, issues, and positions. I have seen many of my colleagues choose to teach what THEY think is important, but so often, it's idiosyncratic and too narrowly focused for students to use profitably in later courses. There is, of course, a tradeoff. We don't want to give students the impression that contemporary philosophers devote a lot of thought and attention to esoteric issues like knowledge of the external world or whether God exists. But I also wouldn't want a philosophy major or graduate emerging having no background in Descartes's Meditations or the ontological argument. So there needs to be a balance between teaching what we think is important with what has been traditionally thought important in various historical periods.

Helen De Cruz

Scott: I find this a really important point, especially if one teaches for philosophy majors. But even if not, it is still important to do right to the field and not be purely idiosyncratic. I was an art history and archaeology major and one compulsory philosophy course we had was aesthetics, taught by a man who taught just his own book which was a neo-Kantian approach to beauty and art. We learned nothing else in aesthetics at all. We found the course so uninteresting student representatives tried to get a change in the curriculum so that those choosing the option archaeology would not have to take aesthetics anymore. It would have been so different if someone had offered a more wide-ranging course.
There is of course a danger in that students learning the basics would be to continue specific ideas about what counts as brilliant and classic (and the authors matching those definitions are almost always dead white men) but I try to solve this by alternating 'basics' with recent exciting directions where I aim to implement readings by scholars who are members of underrepresented groups in philosophy (women, non-western philosophers). It seems to work well with my ethics class.

Joshua Mugg

I have the students complete commentaries due the night before class. They consist of a standard form argument from the text, one objection, and one reply to that objection. They get D for trying, C for correct summary, B for a relevant objection, and an A for a relevant reply.

There are 25 readings in the course, and students can do one commentary for each reading, but I only take the best 6 grades. A lot of students start the semester by doing very poorly, but are often getting As by the end of the semester.

This also prepares them for the expository essay and philosophy paper.

I am a big believer in learning through error and correction. So I do test corrections for midterms, let students rewrite papers, and allow them to do lots of commentaries.

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