Wednesday, 19 October 2011

This week in my classes

There's a balance to be struck between: (1) Guiding students in how to approach difficult philosophical texts - offering prompt questions, contextualising the texts' problems and assumptions, explicitly demonstrating the skills of the philosopher in reading, reconstructing, and imaginatively extending the texts' arguments; & (2) Allowing students to experience the productive confusion and open-ended response that's part of what makes reading those texts worthwhile. Too much of (1) will lead to box-ticking and purely reactive work; too much of (2) will lead to frustration, panic, and rejection of the course (students stop doing the reading, don't attend seminars, etc.). Neither excess helps learning.

For my ethics course this term I'm experimentally turning the dial a couple of clicks towards (1). I'm offering quite a lot of prompts, and using lectures to explain problematic contexts: free will; consequentialism, deontology, virtue. And in particular, I'm doing more explicit meta-analysis of philosophical practice. I'm spending time in seminars identifying different kinds of task as we engage in them - exposition of the text, argumentative response to it, imagination in constructing replies to objections on Hume's behalf. I'm saying out loud that what we're doing now is trying to make Hume's argument clear in our own words, and what we'll do next is see why we might disagree with it. This is in contrast to the rather more free-wheeling, student-led, and demonstrative rather than self-descriptive seminar style that I've adopted over the last few years.

I'll be interested to see how it pans out...

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