As an instructor, I demystify philosophical methodologies for students with little formal experience with analytic reasoning, and I demonstrate the value of philosophy to students who might not otherwise consider choosing philosophy as a major.
My students use metadiscourse and framing to produce cogent essays, while systematically approaching philosophical questions. Students develop their understanding of metadiscourse –discussion about the discussion – as a methodological tool. If the course’s guiding question is, “What reason do we have to be good?”, students respond to five minute writing prompts during each of my classes to explain, for example, how applying Kant’s Categorical Imperative [CI] helps them to answer it. Next, they reflect on their decision-making procedure, either in full class discussion or in pairs,in order to discover how the CI states that what counts as a reason for one person to act counts as one for everyone, so if anyone has a reason to be good we all do. Then they write again, with the specific aim of narrating their entire thread of reasoning from the core question of the class, to their articulation of the CI, and their explanation for why we need the CI to answer the question.This process reveals that effectively doing philosophy involves more than rehashing views, since articulation of the CI is only one small part of what’s expected in this writing process. I similarly focus on methodology when coaching Ethics Bowl, where I prioritize framing. Most students have views on known debates,such as the permissibility of capital punishment. When they approach new,related questions, such as whether states should be permitted to use untested chemicals for lethal injection, they frame their views in light of these known debates. If capital punishment is already morally questionable, what does that mean for the use of painful experimental new drugs? This strategy centers students as experts and allows them to frame new issues in light of questions they already grasp. As they begin to identify as individuals with philosophy expertise, they develop the confidence to explore their own views.
By focusing on the sorts of issues students confront everyday, they can recognize the practical value of philosophy, providing them with opportunities to consider philosophy as a pragmatic choice for a major. Ethics Bowl is valuable for this reason. In class, my students read work by contemporary philosophers – many of whom are marginalized in the profession, utilizing “close to the bone” cases. For example, students read parts of Nomy Arpaly’s Unprincipled Virtue in my Introduction to Ethics class. They enjoy the text because it examines non-ideal agents. In their written assignments, they analyse examples of apparently sound reasoning performed by epistemically compromised agents,such as an anorectic who correctly assesses the badness of eating fatty food.Or they attempt to make sense of how we ought to morally regard a depressed person who is having difficulty taking care of her children. Because all of my students are familiar with the ramifications of mental health issues, they are keen on engaging these topics and perceive their immediate value.
Students leave my classes with a sense of the practical relevance of current debates in philosophy. Moreover, they are equipped with explicit knowledge of philosophical methodologies, which are applicable to other disciplines. In this way, I demonstrate the value of philosophy to my students, showcasing it as an eminently viable polymorphic tool-kit.