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Methods Used in This Course

      There is little doubt that many teachers attempt to inform students to an excessive degree; students have little enough time to assimilate the data given them, much less to entertain such questions as

      What is the nature of this information?

      What is the scope of its application?

      What is the context and limits of its truth?

It might be surprising to learn that students acquire information just about as well with a teacher as without one.  (Indeed, teachers learn the same way students do.)  These are some general reasons why our Ethics course is not a course designed to be primarily informational, instead the class is more adequately described as an introduction to shared inquiry into the clarification of life's values.

      I think you will find that learning, inquiry, and problem solving are most enjoyable human experiences.  I expect to learn a great deal from our shared inquiry.  You and I both have a personal stake in the quality of the class and a personal responsibility for making it challenging.  This class, more than any other class in your university career, is designed to encourage you to think about your responsibility for your own life course.

          We will adopt certain techniques recommended by may educators, namely those of guided discovery through problem-oriented Socratic lectures, group discussion, simulations, papers, and review examinations.

      Socratic lectures are used to focus on principles and methods appropriate to our study of ethics.  The lectures are not expository.  Ultimately, of course, you learn about a method, not by listening to me talk, but by using it yourself.  If I do my job correctly, you will discover and evaluate the significance of philosophical principles yourself.  Moreover, if I attempt to instruct you on what is important about the topics discussed, the art of inquiry, both shared and personal, is lost.  A Socratic lecture is a series of carefully framed questions followed by considered responses.  Your answers and those given by other students usually give the direction of the lecture.  I might suggest how problems can be best approached, but we will both be thinking.

      Class discussion is used to enable you to think and converse critically.  In order to understand a given problem, often both questions and answers must be rephrased.  We are seeking to solve problems (or at least devise methods to go about solving problems):  non-directed or street-corner conversations are out of place.  We will attempt to discover the inadequacies of a given hypothesis as well as attempt to develop alternative hypotheses.  Responsibility for the direction of the discussion is mine; responsibility for specific contributions to the class is yours.

      Simulations are sometimes called "educational games."  Very often students and teachers speak of the "real world" in contrast to "the classroom."  As an individual trained in philosophy, I am not sure that the real world can be opposed to anything, and so it is difficult for me to see that the classroom itself is not part of the real world.  Be that as it may, there are definite learning advantages in classroom situations that are absent in less structured situations.  "When you are up to your waist in alligators, it's difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp."  Educational games streamline learning by simplifying otherwise complex situations so that basic principles and strategies become evident.  Although experience is said to be the great teacher, good simulations are often the next best thing.

      Papers and tests are different in this class from many other classes.  If there be the Great American College Student, then that person is one who has learned the technique of passive acquiescence in the memorizing of material, especially material which he or she thinks the teacher thinks is of some importance.  Unfortunately, in many other classes this strategy almost always works.  In our class the strategy of the passive acquisition of facts will probably not be successful.  You will be encouraged to rely on yourself to produce considered responses-responses from your point of view from a rational perspective.  Positions are to be substantiated, and alternative points of view are to be seriously and sincerely explored. Your papers and tests will demonstrate some of the ways an educated mind approaches life's problems.  It is my job to supply the tools to help you in this endeavor.  We will learn by trial and error how to express ideas clearly, what constitutes a good argument, what constitutes a fallacious one, and how a reasoned position for most persons is usually superior to an intuitive one.  All papers will be assigned a grade.  The purpose of the tests is to provide a limited opportunity to organize your thoughts about ethical problems into some kind of consistent framework.

      The reading assignments are fairly short in recognition of the fact that reading philosophy takes time and in some cases is exceedingly difficult.  As you prepare for your classes, you will probably find that this class is one of the most exciting of your university career.  I will attempt to create the conditions under which you can exercise your native curiosity.  Class periods will be varied, and I will seek to keep each class tightly organized and effective.  If I do my job correctly, our ethics course will be one of the most valuable in your university career.Ethics Homepage

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10.09.01       2001 OPL

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