Dr. Ari Santas’
Guidelines for Philosophy
I. Reading A Philosophical Text
As you might have noticed, reading philosophy is
more difficult than reading most other things. This is mostly due to the
difficulty of the subject matter and the argumentative style; but with a little
bit of effort, the difficulty can be overcome. Just remember (as a prof of mine once told me), if it
was written by a human being, it can be understood by a human being. Below is a
strategy for getting an insight into a text. If you're still having problems,
you should make an appointment with me.
Stage 1: (Before the Lecture/Discussion) Quickly read the material once to get the general idea. Read with a pencil (not a pen it's often necessary to erase what you have written on past readings). Circle unfamiliar words and define them in the margin.
Stage 2: (Before or After the Lecture/Discussion) Read the material carefully the second time. Underline key words and phrases (definitions, important points, summaries of previous points, etc.). Indicate topical shifts and summarize important points in the margin. Through every passage in your reading of the text, you should be thinking of what has been said, and what you know is going to be said (from the last reading). You need to be considering how what you're reading at this moment relates to what went on before and what will come. This is the first step towards understanding the structure of the essay. (This applies to the writing of an essay and the preparation of a presentation as well.)
Stage 3: (Before You Write An Assignment) Quickly read through the material again, pausing only on those points that are directly relevant to your investigation. Use your marginal notes and your underlining’s to find the structure of the essay in question. Look for transitions between ideas and reflect on whether the movement from one part to the next is warranted. For instance, if the author makes an inference (one kind of transition) which relies on a bad assumption, the move is unwarranted. The most important part of any evaluation of an argumentative essay is to scrutinize the (often hidden) assumptions which provide transitions between ideas. (Again, this also applies to writing and to presentations.)
**Stages 2 & 3 often have to be repeated, depending on the difficulty of the material and your level of familiarity with the subject matter.
II. Writing Philosophy Papers
See VSU Policy on Plagiarism: http://romulus.valdosta.edu/academic/AcademicHonestyatVSU.shtml. My policy is one of zero tolerance. Plagiarism is grounds for failing the course.
A. Basic Skills:
Your essays will be evaluated partly on your writing skills. That means that good grammar and spelling count, but, more importantly, it means that your essays must relay clearly and coherently what you want to say.
I am sympathetic with those of you who have
been shoved through school without being taught how to write properly, so I'll
be glad to help you as much as I can if you have a writing problem.
B. Stages In Your Writing:
As in your reading of the text,
your writing can improve by breaking it up into stages:
Stage 1: Carefully consider the issue at hand (e.g., study the assigned question). Make sure you understand what is being asked of you. Write down your preliminary thoughts on the matter, either in the form of a rough outline or (sketchy) prose.
Stage 2: Take those preliminary thoughts and consider how they might be arranged (or, rearranged) so that each follows one from the other. Whether in the form of sentences or paragraphs, your ideas should be connected in such a way that at every step in your prose you can see how it is related to what has been written above, and to what will be written below. Once you grasp this structure, you will be in a position to write a final outline.
Stage 3: Now your task is to make it clear to your reader (your target audience should be your peers) that you have an essay structured so that one idea logically and coherently leads to another. Write the final draft following your outline, and keep in mind that your task is to make what you understand clear to someone who may not understand. In other words, be explicit don't assume your reader can read your mind!
C. Things To Remember:
1) IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM-- make sure you understand the problem you are considering.
2) USE AN OUTLINE! sketch your ideas either before you start writing, or at least before you write your final draft this will help you organize your ideas, and hence make your answers better.
3) BE CONCISE don't ramble or go off on tangents (don't bring up issues that are not pertinent to the issue at hand).
4) BE CLEAR let your roommate or a friend look at a draft just to see if s/he can follow it. If s/he can't, chances are, your audience won't either.
5) BE FAIR when evaluating an author's argument, don't interpret it in the worst possible way so your attack will be easy.
6) BE THOROUGH don't leave loose ends, or omit important aspects of the problem.
7) SUMMARIZE your main conclusions this will remind the reader as well as yourself what you have found out in your investigation of the issue.
D. Deadlines and Grading:
Papers are expected in on time. Unless otherwise arranged, late papers will be penalized. On final papers, those who do not turn papers in on deadline will receive a '0' unless an 'I' has been prearranged before grades are assigned. If you're having trouble, make sure you contact me and let me know so we can avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.
You won't be graded on which style you use, but you will be graded on how well you use it. If you have problems writing, stick to the simplest style and use simple language. Do not try to impress your reader with elaborate and "academic" terms (besides, there's always the risk of using such terms incorrectly, which not only alienates your audience, but makes you look like a fool!) Your papers will be graded on the following criteria:
Clarity and Development (grammar, structure, style)
Command of Material (completeness, accuracy)
Critical Reasoning (originality, logic, imagination)
My grading scale is simply the A, B, C, D, F system, converted to the 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 numerical scale. Each of the above criteria is given a separate grade and they are added up into a 0-12 grading scale, where 12 is an A, 11 an A-, 10 a B+, etc.
A. General Format:
All presentations of selected readings should provide the audience with three things: exegesis, interpretation, and criticism. The exegesis (exposition) informs the audience as to the main components of the material covered; the interpretation puts the material in a context such that the audience can better relate to the material; and the criticism allows the audience (as well as the speaker) to step back from what has been proposed and consider its worth and/or limitations. These three facets need not be provided in a rigid order, and can often be combined; but I strongly recommend to all but the most advanced students the following format for presenting philosophical material
Exposition of Contents: an explanation, using your own words, of the material under study. Your main task is to point out the main components of the article(s) or section(s), and should supplement the author's examples with your own;
Analysis of the Issue(s): a critical look at some significant aspect(s) of the material, which interprets it in a context of your choice (e.g., comparison to a related problem, or other author's view, application to some other area of study that interests you, or to some significant experience that you've had);
Evaluation of the Position(s): a critical evaluation of the main position(s) in the material (e.g., are there significant insights here? are there important limitations? whose is the more cogent argument?). (Please note: evaluation is rarely a black and white issue in philosophy. When it is black and white, then it's likely that this problem has little or no philosophical import.)
I generally ask you to develop your “readings” presentations in one of two ways as follows:
(1) Exposition—a concise presentation of the article(s) or section(s) assigned. Your goal here is to present the content of the section without interpretation (to the extent that it's possible) or evaluation. This portion should include outlines and summaries. There is no need to cover everything, but your audience will need to know about all of the components essential to understanding the material.
(2) Interpretation—a representation of the material from some outside perspective. Your goal here is to reconsider the material from some point of view with which you are familiar. For instance, if you know well the historical context in which this author wrote, you may recast the section in the light of that history. Or if you see parallels to some other thinker (philosopher, satirist, etc...), you may reconstrue the material in light of those parallels.
(3) Criticism—an evaluation of the author's ideas in the assigned section. Keeping in mind (1) and (2) above, take a stand on whether this thinker got it right. Remember, no one is likely to be all right or all wrong. It is just as much a sin to agree with everything someone says as it is to prop up a straw man and knock him down.
(1) Analysis—a thorough analysis of the article(s) or section(s) assigned. There is no need to cover everything, but your audience will need to know about all of the components essential to understanding the material.
(2) Focus—an in depth examination of one component of the covered material. It can be a further elaboration on one of the author's positions (e.g., an application to something that interests you); it could be a comparison to some other thinker that you are familiar with; or it could be a criticism on your part of what the author is proposing.
B. Debate Formats
In debate reports, ach issue should be presented in the following format, with each member of the group playing a part in at least one of the following sections:
a) Introduction: a discussion of what the issue/question is, what is at stake, morally speaking, and a sketch of the two positions to follow;
b) YES Side: a concise and complete presentation of the yes side of the issue/question, to be supplemented with one's own examples and arguments where necessary;
c) NO Side: same as in (b) for the no side of the issue/question;
d) Resolution: a statement of where the crux of the disagreement lies and a proposal for a resolution of the problem(s) at hand, along with a defense of the proposal against possible criticisms.
Remember that when you present a particular side of the debate you must take the stance of the author, explain his or her view, and defend it—whether or not you personally agree.
C. Stages in the Preparation of an Oral Report:
As with reading and writing philosophy, your activity should take place in
stages. An oral presentation is often nothing more than the final product of
the other two activities, since ultimately, the goal of all this is to share
ideas and to enrich each others' experiences. Remember, the primary goal of
both written and oral work is to communicate something that you know to someone
else who might not know it quite as well. The significant difference between
written work and oral work is that with an oral report you face the challenge
of retaining the continuous attention of your audience (who cannot simply set
you aside and return later as one does a book). FOR THIS REASON, YOU SHOULD NOT
READ A PRESENTATION, BUT DISCUSS THE MATERIAL FROM NOTES. If you prepare well,
however, you will be able to overcome the difficulties of a good presentation.
Stage 1: Get a good general idea of what's going on in the assigned material, well before (preferably a week) the date of the presentation. Identify main themes and problems that are being addressed.
Stage 2: Consider the relationships between the main components of the text, both internally (between the parts within a given section) and externally (between the internal parts of a section and the rest of the sections). You need to be reflecting as you read and considering these various relations throughout every part of the text (needless to say, you won't be doing this on the first reading). Having grasped this structure, you are in a position to interpret and evaluate the assigned material.
Stage 3: Now place yourself in the position of an audience that does not have the insight into the text that you have acquired: how can you bring it about that they can share what you know? Consider the difficulties you've had and anticipate the ones the audience is likely to have, and decide which are the essential points and how you'll want to express them so that they'll be understood.
D. Importance of Definitions:
Philosophers, like all formal inquirers, try to fix the meanings of their terms so as to avoid confusion. Unfortunately, if you don't keep this in mind, you're likely to get very confused. It is therefore important that you take note of any term that the author defines (e.g., "By 'x' I mean..."). When you present material, make sure you indicate to your audience when a term has been assigned a special meaning.
E. Use of Examples:
The more difficult the material, the more important it is to illustrate with examples. Authors' examples should be noted and used in presentations. Furthermore, they should be supplemented with your own. If you cannot think of your own illustration of an author's position, it is likely that you do not understand it.
F. Diagrams, Handouts and Visual Aids:
The use of diagrams and handouts helps both the audience and the speaker. The audience profits from having a visual representation of abstract relationships and distinctions; and the speaker profits not only from having a communication aid, but also from the exercise of creating the aid itself. Each oral report should be accompanied by either a written outline of the entire report, to be handed out to the class (one for each group) or (preferably) a PowerPoint slide show.
G. Choice of Wording:
Always try to express the author's ideas in your own words. Again, if you cannot do this, it's a sign that you don't fully understand. Be careful, however, to not corrupt the author's intended meaning. For instance, it is best not to redefine key definitions, though use of supplementary synonyms is perfectly legitimate.
IV. Group Work
Many of my assignments are to be completed in groups and some classes function exclusively using this format. There are a number of reasons I have chosen to employ the "triad method" (so named because students are broken down into groups of threes); some of them are as follows:
First, inquiry is not private. Whether working on a project in industry or in academia, you will be often required to work with a team. To do this well, there must be a spirit of cooperation and an ability to explain ideas to one's peers; and there must be enough self-esteem to confront those who tend to let others do more than their share of the work. Engaging in group work now will help you in the future.
Second, working in groups, if done responsibly, accomplishes more than working alone. When labor is divided and then re-synthesized in meetings, much more is learned than if one were working on his or her own.
Third, students are often in a better position to help with the material than the professor. At the very least they can supplement and reinforce what has already been said in class.
The use of this method, however, does have risks. Unless we take the right precautions and the participants have the right attitude, there is a lot of room for problems. If group members allow any of their group to take a free ride, there will be undue stress on those who are acting responsibly. If the groups are not organized with the right amount of diversity, some groups might suffer a lack of critical perspective necessary to complete assigned tasks in a satisfactory way. Nevertheless, despite these problems I and many others have used this method with excellent results.
Here are some suggestions to avoid the problems mentioned above:
· know your members: take each other's phone numbers, meet as often as possible
· encourage each other to do well: don't let your partners slack off; bug them, pester them, make them work!
· plan ahead: get together early to determine schedules so that you won't have last minute problems in coordinating your efforts
· ask lots of questions: if there are any questions irresolvable by the group, confront me (or someone else) with the question.
In most cases the ground rules for group work are as follows:
1. Each group will submit one assignment; you may not work individually and submit separate papers.
2. Except in those special cases where students have dropped out of the course, I require the initial groups to stay together throughout the term; try to work together!
3. Any paper that has been completed and returned may be resubmitted for additional credit. If your group desires to resubmit work, you must consult with me and plan a meeting within two days of receipt of the original paper. Along with the resubmission should be the original version with my comments on it.
4. Only those persons whose names appear on the paper will receive credit for the submitted (or resubmitted) work:
a) if you do not contribute to your group's efforts and they decide to not include your name on it, that is their prerogative (and your problem!);
b) if you are unhappy with your group mates' performance at any time, it is your responsibility to let him or her know and iron out your difficulties. The only action I will take in these conflicts is to arrange a meeting of all members of the group in which each member will be asked to assess the problem(s) as s/he sees it.
c) in general you should stay in close communication and do your best to get along so as to avoid misunderstandings and their accompanying misgivings.
5. For oral reports and skits, unless otherwise arranged and agreed upon by all members, only those who are part of the report/skit will receive credit.
6. Remember that throughout the term, your group mates will be evaluating your performance as a group member, which for the purposes of evaluation means two things:
a) those of you who have been working hard will have that fact reflected positively in your participation grade;
b) those of you who have been taking advantage of the system will be penalized.
Groups are assigned early in the term before the first take-home assignment is issued. You have to be nice to each other, but shouldn’t be a door mat; and don't stand for free riders!