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Shen-yi Liao

I find it really cool and also really helpful to read about all the practical and pedagogical considerations that went into the construction of this course, and how the design ended up achieving the goals!


I agree with Shen-yi that this seems really thoughtful put together, and I like the idea of having 3 "layers" of goals. My only question is about the order of the layers - it seems very strange to me to give higher priority to the ability to label particular philosophical positions than to the ability to construct a coherent argument. Can students really pass the class without demonstrating any ability to construct an argument that hangs together robustly (your primary goal just includes them practicing this rather than succeeding at it)? For me I think the priorities would flip to 1) your tertiary, 2) your primary, 3) your secondary.
Thanks for offering this up, though: I'm looking forward to the rest of the series if they're all as detailed as this one.

Stacey Goguen

Re: Fool

I think that's a important question you're asking.

And though it feels a bit weird saying it (out loud), yes, they can pass the class without "without demonstrating any ability to construct an argument that hangs together robustly."

As it turns out, most of the time when this happens, the student earns a C grade, which is passing, and at my university, means something like "meets minimum satisfactory course goals." Technically, a student is able to get an A by simply achieving my primary goals super well (being amazing at reflection, etc.) without *also* getting better at logically constructing and analyzing arguments...though in practice, that never happens. My A and B students do get better at the logic and conceptual analysis stuff, too (though even when I was focus on that stuff, students wouldn't improve as much as I'd hope).

I'm starting to see what we (philosophers) often think of as 'basic' stuff of (analyzing and building arguments) as really a second-order skill for a lot of people (who haven't taken a philosophy class before, which is 95-99% of students taking this course). It blows their mind to just sit back and think about the different positions on these issues, and the fact that there's not some clear-cut answer that someone's already figured out. I suspect that trying to have them immediately jump into argument construction when they're still trying to get acclimated to a whole different kind of class discussion and dynamic is, at least for some students, going too quickly. And I don't mean primarily in terms of, 'oh poor students they can't keep up,' but more in terms of, we might under-train them in important reflection and discussion skills if we *always* jump immediately to argument construction and analysis. For instance, I've met many very, very intelligent philosophers who can't for the life of them articulate what the stakes of an argument are. ("Truth!" some of them have said, in seriousness.) I'd argue that analyzing the stakes of a discussion (beyond just a simple what-practical-thing-does-this-logically-entail) is a separate skill that philosophy classes don't often spend time developing in an explicit manner.

But I'll acknowledge, there's always a potential danger in being afraid that you're going too fast for your students. I think there's something to the idea that, if set the bar high students will stretch themselves to meet it. So that is something I'm worried about for this class--that I might cut away too much of the challenge that motivates them to push themselves.

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