PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT STATEMENT ON TEACHING
Philosophy examines the presuppositions and the conceptual foundations of all human activities, whether practical or theoretical. It is concerned with forms of knowledge (science, belief, self-examination); forms of human interaction (society, political life, morality, religion, justice); our practical relationship to the environment (nature, technology, economics); and our creative productivity (art, literature, music). Philosophy has been interdisciplinary from its inception. The study of philosophy provides us with the knowledge and skills to reflect upon, analyze, and understand ourselves, and the world we inhabit. Philosophy is the record of humanity’s quest to undertake and fulfill these endeavors. It also provides the skills that enable life-long learning and versatile professional development.
A major in philosophy gives students access to the fruits of over 2,500 years of thought on matters of ultimate concern. It encourages and provides the means of thinking effectively about timeless questions through a study of important writings on these topics. A successful student of philosophy is equipped to engage in intellectual conversation on a range of topics of both classical and contemporary concern. The study of philosophy encourages breadth and depth of understanding and promotes the ability to think and write cogently and rigorously.
Philosophy majors prepare themselves for a wide range of professional and business occupations that value highly developed skills of analysis, interpretation and strategic reading of texts comprehensive thinking, and communicative abilities. Students majoring in Philosophy commonly pursue careers in law, medicine, business, technology, public service, art institutions, teaching, editing and publishing, and academia. In addition to its focus on the traditional liberal arts curriculum, the Department of Philosophy offers courses in feminism and gender studies, computation and consciousness, philosophy of science, technology and the environment, interdisciplinary connections with arts, languages, and cultural studies, and non-Western Philosophies.
The program is guided by the following pedagogical principles.
Our program is above all oriented by the key principle that we are teaching the integral human being. Our program aims to address the different dimensions of human existence and to provide each one of our students with the resources, tools, and historical and cultural background to achieve their life plans and professional goals, while remaining life-long learners who are also morally mature and civically engaged.
Our pedagogy is thus learner autonomy focused. We think learning is something that should take place throughout one’s life, and thus, we cultivate in each and every student a commitment and responsibility for personal and individualized learning. There is no critical thinking or moral and aesthetic maturity without students taking charge of their own education. We educate best by teaching students to educate themselves and to see every opportunity as an educational opportunity. Learning takes place everywhere.
In tandem, we are guided by the pedagogical principle of enabling research commitment. Philosophy as a love of wisdom, a passion for learning, is thus a love of investigation and research. We think that all knowledge has some efficacy, but this efficacy has to be investigated. There is no possibility for transformation without understanding an analysis of the possibilities of action. We are deeply committed to educating knowledge producers and not simply knowledge consumers.
Our teaching is guided by the principle of cooperation. Philosophy itself is the performance and enactment of a form of epistemic friendship. To philosophize is to think within a community of enquirers. Philosophy itself is a testament to the disciplinary and interdisciplinary collaboration that takes place within a community of investigators. Philosophy trains autonomous learners to develop collaborative learning strategies.
Our pedagogy is guided by the principle of a dialogical cosmopolitanism. We aim to educate engaged global citizens who are ethically, aesthetically, and epistemically solicitous but who also celebrate the contributions and traditions of other communities of learners.
Finally,we seek to foster a passion for philosophy. Philosophy is already a love of wisdom, which is what the word itself means. We aim to foster in our students the kind of “examined life” that Socrates proposed. Above all, a passion for philosophy is a passion for self-reflection and gratitude towards the enlightenment we accomplish with, through, and for others.
Research Initiative and Creative Autonomy. We aim to educate students to become self-motivated investigators who undertake their own projects, investigations, and research initiatives. There is no technological, social, political, scientific, or ethical transformation without the will to innovate.
The curriculum delivered by the Philosophy Department is built around SIX basic pivots:
The acquisition and nurturing of basic philosophic skills. One of the main goals of the philosophy curriculum is to seed and enable the honing of skills that are distinct to philosophy, but which are foundational to all forms of knowledge.
- To be able to write an essay that clearly articulates a thesis, with supporting arguments, which anticipates foreseeable objections, and that tries to respond to them in insightful ways.
- To be able to engage, lead, and participate in respectful, reflexive, and critical dialogues.
- To learn to discern the merits and weaknesses of different philosophical positions.
- To learn to discern and appreciate the different genres of philosophical writing and how they have enabled various philosophical insights.
2. The History of Philosophy. One cannot properly philosophize without being educated about the history of philosophy. Philosophy is an activity, but it is also a canon—with a history, with figures, movements, traditions, and schools that attest to the historical evolution of thought, thinking, and the self-understanding of human beings. The history of philosophy is surely one of the most illustrative and insightful self-portraits of humanity’s own process of evolution and, some may say, maturation. Through the delivery of synchronically and diachronically constructed historical material, the program is able to practically deliver in each course we offer, the sense of historical development that is integral in all education.
- Great Systems of Philosophy. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the great systems, currents, movements, and traditions of philosophy by being able to define and describe these systems, currents, movements and traditions either orally or in written form. Some of these systems, currents, movements, and traditions may include: empiricism, idealism, nominalism, skepticism, materialism, phenomenology, existentialism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Thomism, Kantianism, and so on. Knowledge of these systems must also reflect knowledge of their respective historical periods: ancient, medieval, renaissance, early modern, 19th century, contemporary, etc. Our majors are required to take two foundational courses in Ancient and Modern Philosophy (200, 206), which culminate in comprehensive examinations. These courses lead on to an upper division historical sequence (300, 304, 306, 308, 309, 312, 347).
- Specific Figures in Philosophy. Students will document through written and/or oral analysis and synthesis comfortable and competent specialization in the work of at least one key figure in Western, or non-Western philosophy (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Marx, etc). A seminar on a work or figure is required of our majors (401 or 402).
3. Philosophy in Relation to Other Disciplines. Students should be knowledgeable of the interdependence among philosophy and other disciplines such as aesthetics, the arts, literature, music, life sciences, technology studies, environment science, war and peace studies, psychoanalysis, jurisprudence, linguistics, gender studies, computer science, mathematics, and physics.
- These courses are marked in our offerings as Category III.
4. Cross-cultural and Historical Sensibility. We aim to educate students to be respectful of cultural and historical differences, and who are also sensitive to the fecundity of other cultural and historical philosophical points of views. To learn philosophy is either a voyage across cultures and times, or it is learning to enter into a long dialogue of humanity with itself in many voices, languages, styles and genres.
- Non-Western Philosophy, in which students are provided opportunities to study non-Western systems of thought: Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Islam, and specific traditions from Japan, China, Africa, and Latin America (e.g., 111, 340, 344, 472, 473).
5. Logic. Thinking takes place in different logical forms: deduction, induction, inferences, and abduction. Proper argumentation is made up of sound arguments that follow proper laws of deduction or induction. We aim to train students to recognize sound and valid arguments, and to apply the rules of logical argumentation to everyday speech and writing.
- Formal Training in Critical Analytical Techniques. Our majors must pass examinations in formal or informal logic (e.g. 220, 108).
6. Basic problem areas of philosophy. Students must be conversant in some of the foundational questions of philosophy: i.e., What is Knowledge? What is the Truth? What is the Good? What is Justice? What is the Beautiful? What is Punishment? What is Objectivity?
- These courses are marked in our offerings as Category II and will enable students to address the following sorts of questions:
- Ethical Reasoning. What should we do when faced with a moral dilemma or quandry quandary? What is the good thing to do? What gives an act moral worth? Are there any norms or rules that all human beings can appeal to when adjudicating the merits of one path of action over another? Do we have duties towards animals, nature, the earth? Do humans have intrinsic worth and, if so, why? Are moral norms inscribed in the human soul, as the trajectory of the stars are traced in the sky?
- Political Justice. What makes a society just? Is political power arbitrary and lawless, or does it follow from norms that guide it? Is the political organization of humans something natural or a sign of an insufficiency in humans for which political institutions are a prosthetic? What is legitimacy? What is authority? Is political power a force to accomplish only instrumental ends? What is the relationship between economic justice and political justice? Can we constrain violence through law? Is there a relationship between law and morality?
- Gender Justice. Sexual difference is fundamental to the human experience, but this biological difference has assumed a plethora of socio-cultural-religious-political and philosophical forms. The step from biology to cultural difference comes under the name of gender. Some of the most important philosophical developments of the last one hundred years have had to do with what determines gender, how gender shapes how we relate to each other, and how gender plays out in the social life of both men and women. Does sex/gender matter to a person’s ability to grasp certain ideas? Are ideas gendered? Is justice gendered? Is epistemology gendered? How can we develop notions of political equality that both overcome and remedy gender inequality?
- Metaphysics. What is real? What is reality? What does it mean to be? We aim to train students to recognize that every scientific picture of the world presupposes “ontological” and “metaphysical” claims that may or may not be warranted and or sustainable.
- Epistemology.What can we know? Can we know anything for sure? Are there limits to our knowledge and, if so, how would we know? If we need a criterion to distinguish between what is true and false, how can we justify that criterion? Can we refute skepticism or relativism? Do we need to?
- Philosophy of Mind/Language. What is a mind? What is consciousness? Can non-human animals think? What is the relationship between the emotions and cognition? Can there be cognition without a language? What is a language? Can there be artificial intelligence? How do we recognize a mind in the absence of a common language? Do all languages have a deep grammar that would allow us to translate all languages? These questions overlap with many other disciplines. In fact, many disciplines have been spawned from the different ways in which philosophers have addressed and articulated these questions.
- Aesthetics. What is a work of art? In what way is the aesthetic a question of the senses, the sublime, feelings, texts, textualities, expression, perception, writing, discourse, figuration, perspective, or cultural understanding? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or is it objective? Can art be philosophical? What cultural cognitive, moral, political, and social roles does art perform? Does art embody the self-understanding of a society at a given time? What is the relationship between art and human experience. We aim to educate students to develop aesthetic maturity by recognizing a variety of works of art that correspond to different historical periods and that embody different artistic practices and the availability of material, techniques, and institutions.
These Learning Objectives are delivered through the General Educational Curriculum in the following way:
|1. Effective Writing in English||In upper level courses, essays are assigned in class that require statement of a thesis, development of an argument, consideration of objections, and a conclusion; these essays require the consultation of primary and secondary texts and the effective use of these texts in presenting an argument of a philosophical topic. The grades awarded in these courses reflect the level of competence in this skill. Majors may also write an honors thesis which develops a more elaborate and sustained argument over 30-50 pages.|
|2. Quantitative Problem Solving||
Our logic and critical reasoning courses, and indeed all our courses, include activities—such as the presentation and discussion of complex texts in class, as well as writing assignments that offer arguments based on the rigorous interpretation of texts—that are designed to develop problem solving skills. Competence in these areas is reflected in the grades awarded for these courses. In addition, the fact that our majors perform well on GRE, LSAT, MCAT and GMAT exams demonstrates a high level of competency in problem-solving.
|3. Effective Speaking||Many of our courses require students to make graded oral presentations and to participate in intensive class discussion. Indeed, debate is a requirement in virtually all our classes. Other departmental activities also provide models for oral presentation as well as occasions for students to practice speaking: oral defenses of honors theses, colloquia, and philosophy club meetings.|
|4. Critical Reasoning||All undergraduate majors must pass a course in logic (108 or 220). Other courses require the written and oral analysis of classical and contemporary texts assessed in exams, writing assignments, and oral presentations. Everything in our courses is geared towards developing critical thinking and reasoning skills in our students.|
|5. Moral Maturity and Good Judgment||Understanding of major ethical theories; appreciation of the need for informed judgment; practice in the exercise of judgment using real and hypothetical examples; how ethical judgment and behavior may be impacted by gender. This is a substantial part of every course we teach in ethics (105, 247, 284, 366, 367, 372, 374, 376, 379, 383, 384), butit is also a significant element of all other courses.|
|6. Political Maturity||Understanding major theories of justice, of the sources of political authority, of law, of forms of political organization; how gender affects political equality and justice (105, 284, 367, 371, 375, 377, 379, 383, 384). These courses parallel and sometimes overlap with our offerings in Ethics.|
|7. Methods of the Humantities||Our majors must learn the various methodologies used in philosophy and demonstrate their ability to use them in a variety of writing assignments. Courses that concentrate on method and methodology are marked as Category II in our offerings. In courses such as Philosophy and the Arts or Philosophy and Literature in Social Contexts, students are also taught to analyze the methods and research technique of other disciplines in the Arts and Humanities. In courses such as the Philosophy of Law, Medicine, and Education, we examine the practices of various Professions.|
|8. Understanding the methods of the sciences and the links between science, technology, the arts, society and the environment||Philosophy as a discipline has the tools needed for understanding connections among the disciplines and among disparate aspects of life. Our majors take courses in the philosophy of various disciplines marked as Category III in our offerings. In particular, we have many courses that address the relationship between society, the individual, the arts, the environment, technology and various sciences (268, 330, 336, 363, 364, 365, 366, 368, 369, 370, 374, 376).|
|9. Aesthetic Maturity||The process of aesthetic maturation would be a student's development from an initial position of uninformed judgments about artworks, to knowledge of the history of art, cultural productions and aesthetic theories. Our students will learn to approach artworks with an attitude of openness and appreciation rather than pre-judgment (109, 110, 264, 371, 380, 381).|
|10. Historical Sensibility||Compulsory rigorous examination of Ancient and Modern Philosophy (200, 206) that prepares for further research in various periods (300, 304, 306, 308, 309, 312, 347). Advanced research into a figure or tect in a seminar setting is required (401 or 402). The experience of historical development is integral to the delivery of all our courses and the entire curriculum as such.|
|11. Cosmopolitan Sensibility||All of our courses expose students to different periods and cultures, as well as different racial, ethnic, religious and gendered experiences (111, 284, 340, 344, 378, 379, 383, 384, 472, 473 in addition to our historical courses). Many are explicitly comparative. Philosophy is an intellectual voyage across history and the world.|
|12. Applied Learning and Professionalization||In all our classes, we place an emphasis on doing philosophy. This happens in class discussion and writing assignments, but also in the context of field trips and participation in other philosophical activities in the department. Many of our courses contain an experiential learning aspect in so far as they require that students tackle real life problems. In logic and critical thinking, we actually use examples from everyday life to test out skills and problem solving strategies.|
Paul B. Thompson