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08/01/2022

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Tom

I'd probably use the same methods I'd use to teach similar texts from the Western canon. And I'd distinguish between form and content. Telling stories is not incompatible with arguments, and most texts I've seen that describe world views also provide arguments for why we should accept those world views. Yes, there are assumptions, just as in any text, but figuring out what those assumptions are and why they are accepted is just part of the task.

anon

Line of thought 1: Just the same as the responder quoted by Marcus. If you're more comfortable teaching texts that contain more explicit argument, then just focus on assigning that sort of non-Western text.

(If you want some very explicit, zero-effort-to-find arguments, look at the Dasti & Phillips translation of the Nyāya Sūtra for instance. But there's lots of places you could go.)

Line of thought 2: Last year I assigned a contemporary analytic journal article I hadn't read before. As I read it, I was struck by how much of the article was just describing a worldview. The inferences were quick, happened in a couple paragraphs without much fanfare, and took some effort to notice. More broadly, I know that analytic philosophy has the reputation for precise, explicit argument, but I think there's a lot of papers in that canon that don't really live up to the image. And insofar as one has experience working with those texts, one already has experience with "non argumentative" texts.

Peter

On top of what's already been mentioned, I wonder if this is a good opportunity for both the OP and their students to reconsider what might be an overly narrow conception of what counts as an argument.

Specifically I think it's worthwhile to consider the observation that in the Western tradition, most of our arguments are given specifically in a "piece-of-reasoning" format, even when they're embedded in a larger piece of text. And as mentioned in the first comment above, various non-Western figures like Mengzi and the Mohists use the sort of things that Westerners would count as arguments, since there are plenty of passages that are written as "pieces of reasoning".

But other kinds of philosophy also uses lots of thought experiments, and lots of narratives and anecdotes. The Milinda Panha, a classic Buddhist text often used to teach topics in personal identity, is mostly a set of stories. Even though they're written as stories, they still provide arguments. It might be worth considering, both as a philosopher, and as a pedagogical exercise, how pieces of writing that aren't specifically written pieces of *reasoning* can nevertheless be used to deliver arguments.

G

Thank you, Marcus, and everyone, for suggestions.

To answer some questions, I actually assign some non-argumentative texts on purpose, hoping to show that there are different styles of philosophy and philosophy is not just about arguments. For example, three of the "four books" (other than Mengzi) of Confucianism are non-argumentative, Daodejing too. I am also trying to include some Indigenous philosophy--some contemporary texts are argumentative but the ancient ones are close to mythology. I am less comfortable teaching non-argumentative texts, and that's precisely why I asked this question.

Prof L

To directly answer the question: lay out the tenets of the view explicitly. Ask students to articulate that view, to provide arguments, for or against such views, or articulate/defend their own view in relation to it.

I'm a little shocked by this discussion. I don't teach "arguments" primarily because I think they are boring and they don't really provide a challenge. E.g., "Here are some implications of premises you might be committed to" ... that's not all that interesting. But let's take a look at this historical text: HERE is a completely different way of conceptualizing the world. Isn't it a bit wild? Let's think our way into it. Why might someone see the world like this? How might you argue for or against this way of seeing things? Articulate your own view on this issue in relation to this one, etc.

Criticism

You don’t have to agree with every description. If I’m reading history, I can still find things I disagree with. Maybe the author is too narrow in their description, maybe they’re not as accurate, or maybe they misinterpreted a primary text. You can even critique a scientist’s explanation for something. Just because they don’t explicitly say, “I argue x”, does not mean their words are immune from criticism.

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