Sunday, February 12, 2017

Advice for Ethics and Values Students

When I took Ethics and Values last spring, I thought the course was extremely easy; I had taken upper division courses in philosophy as well as early modern and Ancient Greek philosophy, so many of things that were taught were repetitive and redundant. However, I noticed then, and certainly as a teaching assistant, that many of these ideas and concepts are difficult and very new to the uninitiated. So, here are a few things that may make this class easier for you. Some will seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious things are the ones we do not realize until later (For example, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley taking the enchanted car rather than sending an owl to Hogwarts in The Chamber of Secrets).

First, understand that philosophy is hard and requires great effort. Even very bright people struggle with it. A good example of this is Avicenna, a medieval Islamic philosopher who made great contributions to medicine as well as to philosophy. However, even this great intellect had to read Aristotle's Metaphysics 40 times, and he was still unable to understand it until he read Al-Farabi's commentary on it.
Avicenna, a model student

Avicenna, like you, was a student. This means you may need to read and re-read materials several times to understand them, and if that doesn't work then seek additional help. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a great resource. Take advantage of it. It is written for the lay-person as well as the scholar. In addition to this resource, make sure to remember a lesson that Socrates taught us: ask questions. Chances are that if you have a question, the rest of the class has it to. Don't be afraid to ask a question because it may sound stupid and obvious to others; you will be stupid for sure if you do not ask a question and your grade suffers as a result.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, whom the instructor often quotes, said that "Philosophy is not a set of doctrines, rather it is an activity." For you, this means that you will have to be actively engaged in the class by taking notes and making comments. You do not learn if you do not do something. Be something that acts rather than something that is acted upon.

When the essay questions come around, remember that there is an outline in the syllabus about what we are looking for in your work. Do not feel that you must create a philosophical masterpiece like A Treatise of Human Nature in order to be successful, just answer the question to the best of your ability. We understand that much of this information is new and we are looking for a basic grasp of the material rather than a rigid understanding of it.

If you have any additional questions, remember that you may e-mail the instructor or myself and we will be happy to assist you in any way that we can; we will not do the assignment for you however, that is for you to do.

Hopefully this information was somewhat helpful, and as I mentioned earlier do not hesitate to e-mail me or ask questions before class. If I do not know the answer, I will at least hopefully be able to direct you to someone who does.

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