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08/16/2019

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Sebastian Lutz

Brian Besong writes (in "Teaching the Debate", Teaching Philosophy 39(4):401-412, 2016, philpapers.org/rec/BESTTD):

"One very common style of teaching philosophy involves remaining publicly neutral regarding the views being debated—a technique commonly styled ‘teaching the debate.’ This paper seeks to survey evidence from the literature in social psychology that suggests teaching the debate naturally lends itself to student skepticism toward the philosophical views presented. In contrast, research suggests that presenting one’s own views alongside teaching the debate in question—or ‘engaging the debate’—can effectively avoid eliciting skeptical attitudes among students without sacrificing desirable pedagogical outcomes. Thus, there are good reasons to engage philosophical debates as an educator, not merely teach them."

Nicolas Delon

I usually disclose my views, with appropriate caveats, uncertainty and framing it as my view-we-can-talk-more-about-the-arguments-if-you-want. My main rationale, besides appearing relatable (I’m an actual person with views, not an impartial argument-churning-machine, is that I often teach subjects involving animal ethics where it would be odd for me to pretend I’m just a spectator. Students want to know what I think and I believe they have a right to it, sort of.

Amanda

I think it is fine to do either, provided that if you disclose your views, you are fair about it and don't discourage students who think differently.(Sadly, I think very few philosophers are fair to views with which they disagree, alas. But then again, if these sorts of persons tried to hide their views, then I'm sure they still wouldn't be fair, so it is kind of a wash.)

Marcus said, "Yet, when we do philosophy, we don't bracket our own views. We defend things, and then engage in critical philosophical discussion with others."

Well, I do the second part. But the first part isn't how I do philosophy. I often *do* bracket my own views. And a significant percentage of the time ,my own views are agonistic, anyway. I don't have any issue writing a paper for a position I think is false, or (more frequently) that I am unsure of its truth. I see writing philosophy as a task in making good arguments for why something *could* be the case. This doesn't require actually believing whatever you are arguing for.

Anyway, I disclose my own views when teaching only when specifically asked. And every once and a while students will ask (as in, ask while I am teaching, not in private...they do that too but that's not what I'm talking about.) I make it pretty clear with how I teach, that I first explain an argument in favor of Y and then an argument against Y. So the students seem aware that I 'm not making the case for my own views. In evaluations, I have gotten various remarks about how students appreciate that I am "fair" and "not biased." I do not, however, think this means everyone should teach how I do. I'm sure people who disclose their views have gotten remarks from students about their "honesty." This is all to say, I find it very implausible that either disclosing or not disclosing one's views should be seen as the "right" way to teach, full-stop. There are good and bad ways to take either approach, and the *best* approach depends on the individual instructor and all sorts of facets about their skills and personality.

I will say that revealing one's views will inevitably, or almost inevitably, isolate certain students. Regardless of how the instructor presents themselves, they will feel as though the instructor does not respect and understand people like them. This is not a reason to never disclose one's views, for there is no teaching method that pleases everyone. But I want to throw that out there.

Postdoc

The Besong piece is quite helpful. Many thanks, Sebastian.

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