Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oxford University Press, Milestones

So, I just called for my first ever desk copies for my first ever course I'm teaching. It's PHIL 102 Introduction to Philosophy. I'm really excited. When dealing with an academic press, all they do is just send you the book. You call, talk to someone, and that's it.

I'll be adopting some intensive-writing techniques for the introductory course, and have decided that the Vaughn text Writing Philosophy should take a more active role than I have seen it before. Moreover, I have developed a formal rubric for students to follow, which basically amounts to a student defending a thesis and anticipating intellectual objections to that thesis. I saw this general strategy as immensely powerful in improving philosophical writing in Vancouver, particularly for a largely ESL student audience. I think it should work here, although some of the Vancouver model lacks exegetical concerns and historical context one finds in Continental pedagogy. I'll have to see how it is received by the students and my peers.

I anticipate some very rudimentary problems and want to think of ways to make the writing component of the course easier on students. The equivalent problem of Vancouver students at SFU may surface at SIU, namely that students are now more under-prepared for abstract thinking and subsequent writing philosophy requires. The strength of an American university is that they only speak one language. There is no language barrier between myself and the students. This takes a lot of pressure off of me when I think about teaching philosophy.

To make it easier, I've adopted the general strategy of grading drafts and providing systematic feedback as an expert reader. I wanted to take the time, and perhaps develop several feedback sheets for various courses since much of my interests will fall along more historically-centered coursework.

Secondly, I have chosen to use Richard Double's Beginning Philosophy. This book is a wonderful introduction to various philosophical problems, even including some meta-ethics at the introductory level. While this book is largely analytic, I have a strange appreciation for this book. It's incredibly clear and concise about very dense topics. I've never seen a book explain so clearly Aquinas' contingency argument for God's existence and Mackie's error theory. Moreover, the focus on clarity and dialectic throughout is something I think may help others with their coursework at SIU. Most students cannot fathom that one would be arguing after the truth of how the world is; most students regard the humanities with some strange relativism.

It's just really exciting to be teaching my own course. Rarely, I am told is this opportunity given to a first-year PhD.

7 comments:

DanielK said...

Good luck with your first teaching assignment! I find that along with the traditional subjects, you have to throw in philosophical subjects that are relevant to the students these days. You probably have to teach Aquinas due to required curricula, but most of my students never found it interesting. I find that teaching Plato, Descartes, and Kierkegaard are big hits and they serve as great discussion material.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

I don't have to teach anyone in particular, as I have not been made aware. Instead, I view introductory courses as both fostering the beginning stages of an intellectual skill set that includes logical reasoning, argumentation and opening up a critical space for reflection on one's own situation and laying the groundwork for further study in philosophy.


I think introductory courses may be the only exposure to philosophy some people have, and as such, this openning up philosophy for non-majors and one-time attendees adds significant pressure for delivery. Moreover, the type of skills I want to foster would be helpful in many areas outside one's course of study.

Plato's dialogues make, I think, beginning stages more accessible. Descartes also writes a spiritual meditation that invites you along with him to be by his side at a hearth in Holland. Kierkegaard's narrative can be easily taken in until one ultimately realizes one may be invited to do philosophy if they go just a little further. Do you think, Daniel, these students find these authors more relevant due to their unconventional manner they present philosophy? Let me explain this question. I think it is a little more complicated than I let on in the asking.

If one is systematic, one could think that philosophy is just a boiling down to argumentation. Sometimes, I am this way, and lapse into it very easily. But I love the ancients, especially Plato. I love the extra-rational elements of the daimon, and how some dialogs simply end in aporia with no settled conclusion. This way of presenting a dialog and seeing if someone else's argument stands up to reason may be in there too, but it doesn't seem to bhe the exhaustive feature of the text, nor the philosophy practiced. That's where I am going with the above question.

DanielK said...

Argumentation and logical reasoning are important in every introduction to philosophy course. I learned long ago that foregoing those in favor of teaching more philosophers doesn't prepare students well enough for future philosophy courses, especially if you're not teaching a full year course. I found that focusing on three is a good number in addition to talking about argumentation and reasoning skills. I find that when I teach someone like Hume or Mackie or Moore, they tend copy rote from the argumentation handbook that I provide. It's great that someone like Moore writes so argumentatively, but he does it so well that I see patterns in the way my students present Moore in their essays.

Yes, Plato's dialogues, Descartes' meditations, and Kierkegaard's narrative are unconventional in their presentation. What they talk about and how they present it interests my students, which is a plus, but more importantly, it takes a little more effort to apply the argumentation and logical thinking skills to these philosophers. I find that that is most important.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

So, Daniel, we are in some agreement. The transparency of an author's clarity makes it a little easier to give an exposition of them unlike those that have an unconventional style require more talent on the part of the students to see how to apply the logical reasoning skills. I, often, feel this way about Continental philosophy in general---so much of what we do is focused on making one think in atypical ways like through literature.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

So, Daniel, we are in some agreement. The transparency of an author's clarity makes it a little easier to give an exposition of them unlike those that have an unconventional style require more talent on the part of the students to see how to apply the logical reasoning skills. I, often, feel this way about Continental philosophy in general---so much of what we do is focused on making one think in atypical ways like through literature.

Anonymous said...

The same Richard Double, author of 'The NonReality of Free Will'?

That says it all, my friend.

Nothing like a little neo-Marxism to get your career going.

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