Category Archives: Intro to Philosophy

Reading theory….

Thinking Cat (1)

No matter which course you’re taking, you’ll have to read articles about “theory” — in ethics, it’s ethical theory — in Intro to Philosophy it also includes theories about mind-body, free will, God etc..

The thing about these articles that is similar is that the philosopher has an idea, and they’re trying to put that idea down on paper — sometimes it works well, other times it’s a bit more difficult to understand what they’re thinking or trying to say..

So — some hints and tips..

  • Read all parts of the assignment, the introductions and conclusions — the foonotes etc.. because you’ll often find clues there.
  • Google the word, idea, or concept that seems central for another point of view on it…
  • Skim the assignment first trying to get the general idea.  Figure out how the parts of the article and argument go together.
  • Go back and read carefully — taking notes as you go… write down each major move in your own words, and why the philosopher thinks that’s a good move.  As you’re going, write down objections and questions you have — since those will be useful later.
  • When you’re done reading and taking notes, look at your notes — do they make sense?  If you had to use them to teach someone else what you just read, could you do it?  If not, go back and check to make sure your notes reflect what you read…
  • Then, think about ways that theory connects to the world around you — put it in context for you… (this is a good way to start a mid-term and final paper assignment… ).

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How to get started on those assignments… Fall 15..

you go girl

To start, the first week is a bit wonky, there are a couple of extra things to do — because 1) I want you to get to know the course, and 2) we have a college-required assessment project and your responses are necessary… I’m only going to cover the normal weekly assignments here.

Read This” — that’s your reading assignment.  Plan to do it over time — philosophy is hard, and you have to think about it… don’t think about it like you would reading a regular book, it’s not like that.  As you read, take notes — write in the margin, and generally engage with what you’re reading.  If it all becomes a blur to you after a bit, stop and do something else — I’ve found housework, taking a walk etc… to be very helpful.

Summarize the Readings” — this is where you write a short summary of each reading.  For many weeks, that means a bunch of short summaries — that’s ok. The idea is for you to get the general idea of the reading and write it down — post them all together in one post — it’s due the first Sunday of the unit.

Read and Respond” — the questions are on the class schedule.  Pick one of them, write a short paper about it (1-3 pages or so) and put it in the drop box —It’s also due the first Sunday of the unit, but you may revise until the second Sunday because….

Peer Feedback” — Post either your Summarize the Reading OR your Read and Respond paper into your Peer Feedback group for this unit.  Do this by the first Sunday of the unit as well… then, spend the next week reading and critiquing the work of your group… they’ll do the same for you. Respond to a minimum of 2, and ideally 4 or more posts (or 100% of the other people posting).

When writing peer feedback for Summarize the Readings — pick a couple of summaries out of their larger post and focus on those… tell your peers what works and what could be better…It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it.

Questions and Answers” –During the second week (by Thursday for sure!) post a question you have about the material — it might be something that relates to the material, but is from current events — it might be an aspect of the material you don’t understand etc… but, ask a question, a good question — in about 100 words (or more..).  Then answer a minimum of 2, and ideally 4 other students’ questions before the discussion area closes…

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How to Talk to your professor…


This is a brilliant site about how to “do” college…

It’s all pretty much common sense to us, the proffies — who have spent most or all of our adult lives in college in one way or the other.. but, you’ll probably find some helpful advice here…

Probably #1, It’s on the syllabus (Class Schedule 🙂 )…. I really do mean that.

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How did the course end up this way — or, what’s the bigger picture?

10 rules for teachers and students…

I just read this, and it’s very true — so, I love it — go read it… now…

Ok… now, you’re back and of course you’re wondering how all of this class stuff goes together… 

First of all, Logic is different — in terms of how / where I teach it, what we’re supposed to accomplish and all of that.  So — while the general principles apply to logic too, I’m going to talk about courses that aren’t logic for a bit here… 

  • I constructed the course with the idea that it takes at least 3 exposures to an idea for it to catch in your head.
  • I think that you’ll learn writing skills by writing — hmmm… no shock there.
  • I think that collaborating is a good idea, as is competition.  It’s also a good idea to see how other students think about things, to evaluate their arguments, and to respond to their positions.  Generally, I think an open discussion board is a terrible place to do this (because everyone posts at the last possible minute).  
  • I think that Philosophy is hard.
  • I think that online classes make you (the student) work harder to get the ideas, because you don’t have me to explain it in the traditional lecture setting — and, that you don’t NEED me to do this.  I do explain, in a more Socratic way.. and, as such I think that you’ll need to explore your own ways of gaining information to be successful in the course.  This is a good life skill.  
  • Finally, I think that when you write a formal paper, that you should have already demonstrated some knowledge about the topic and that you’ll have written about it informally before you write about it formally.

So — how does all of this wash out in the class —  you need to think about the activities in the class in this way, 

First you read — then you take a quiz / post  your reading notes… (reading notes lets you see how other folks interpreted the material) — then you write a short read and respond assignment that gets MY feedback (so you can see if you’re on the right track) — you also participate in a general discussion or a debate.  Especially in the debate, you do the collaboration part, the evaluation part, the respond part etc…  Finally, you write some papers and turn them in… 

And, along the way, I hope you learn some philosophy, some critical thinking skills, some writing skills and some research skills… so — go!


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Evaluating Ethical Theory…


Ethics right wrong depends


Ethical theory is both simple and complicated — (that’s helpful, right? 🙂 ).

It’s simple because of it’s abstract nature.  It seems that if you plug information into the theory, you’ll get an answer concerning what you should do.  The problem is the information you plug into the theory… thus, it’s also complicated.

For every theory you evaluate, you should ask yourself a series of questions..

1) What information are you being asked to plug into the theory?  Connected to that question is the practical question of whether or not you have ACCESS to that information.  A related question is whether or not your information is reliable — as well as the question of whether or not you can (or need to) have a set of objectively ‘true’ set of information.

2) How are you supposed to use that information to make decisions?  Is it a matter of adding up happy and sad impacts?  Are you supposed to use your abilities to reason to make a conclusion?  Are you supposed to make agreements with others based on that information?

3) Is the core thing that’s supposed to be “good” REALLY good — or the best kind of “good”?  In one theory you’re supposed to be increasing happiness — but, is that really the best thing to increase?  Does it matter if you have good intentions but end up hurting someone?  Should you be following laws/rules/norms in a society in which those laws/rules/norms sacrifice one person for the good of others?  

4) Does the theory cohere with our own human nature (do we have one in the first place??) — or is it asking us to do something that is going to be impossible, based on our own instincts for self-preservation, protection of those near to us, etc.

5)  What would happen if everyone acted this way, in these situations?  This is NOT the question of whether or not everyone DOES act that way (this is an irrelevant question, by the way) — but, rather what would the world look like if everyone held this theory as their central value system?  Would that be an improvement in the situation, or would it cause problems across the society.  

For every ethical theory you evaluate, take these things into consideration — and, in the end understand that very few people just blindly follow one of these theories — as well as the fact that it’s often the case that the core question behind every moral problem may assume one theory or another as an underlying premise, because the data produced by the situation fits more easily into one theory than another — (that doesn’t make it right, it just is…).

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Experts actually ARE experts…

OR — just because they disagree with you, doesn’t mean that you’re right and they’re wrong…

This article hits on one of the things that really bugs me about student papers.  When students dismiss a philosopher’s well-considered opinion as ‘just an opinion’ or say that ‘everyone is entitled to an opinion’ — it makes me want to stop reading– and that’s not good for you.

When you write a paper, you should THINK about the ideas that are opposite of your own — then you should do some research to find out whether or not YOUR position is credible.  Especially in the realm of philosophy, the articles you’re reading have been selected because the authors actually DO know something.  Philosophers think deeply about both their own positions AND the opposing arguments.  They’ve selected evidence that makes sense to support their position and they explain WHY that evidence supports their position.  You should follow the same path.

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January 20, 2014 · 1:36 pm


Read this — I swear I’m not Dr. Amelia..

This post gives lots of good advice… read it —

Go do it.. I’ll wait…

Really only one thing is different — I didn’t e-mail you the syllabus.  That’s because I often change it right up until the last-minute, so I don’t want versions of the class schedule out there — BUT — the class schedule is available on D2L, so make sure you know when the important dates are.

A few things I’d have added..

The dates on the class schedule refer to due dates — those are days when I expect you to have the work completed.  If you’re in a class that meets in-person (I do have a few of those every year 🙂 ) — the material there is going to be the subject of our in-class discussions.  When I figure out what to talk about on that day, I look at the class schedule, so you should too.

If you miss a class, get the notes from a classmate.  I don’t usually lecture from notes, they’re in my head — I’ve been doing this for a long time — I was in grad school for even longer — it’s what I know.  If you ask me for my lecture notes,  you’ll be disappointed because I’ll hand  you a cryptic post-it note with a couple of sentences on it — at most.

I have a lot of students — and 5 classes to juggle… so, if you ask me a question that’s covered by the class schedule, course document, or syllabus I’ll tell you to look there and ask me if you need clarification.  I may say something that contradicts those documents — and if I do, the resolution will be found there.  I’m a big believer in following my own syllabus/class document/class schedule — so, there you have it.

Likewise, because I have a lot of students I don’t need you to call or e-mail me if you’re going to miss class.  If you happen to get me in my office, I’ll tell you to talk to me when you get back to class — and if I happen to answer your e-mail about that, I’ll tell  you the same thing.  We can deal with those kinds of issues when your problem is resolved.

Overall, my goal is to teach you some philosophy — and to do so with a sense of humor, compassion, respect, and a general drive to push my students intellectually.  my courses are designed with this goal in mind.  Sometimes that will make it seem as if I’m being a hard-ass, but it’s really for your own good.  I also believe that failure is a teaching tool — the last one I prefer to use, but if I have to fail you I will..

So, let’s have a great semester and — go back and read Dr. Amelia’s post — it’s a good one.

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August 13, 2013 · 12:34 pm