Theories of Knowledge and Reality: Intro

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I've been wanting to work through some of the material in the introduction to philosophy course (Theories of Knowledge and Reality) that I've now taught seven different times (five of those seven with two sections, so really twelve times of teaching the material). On most of the topics I've got well-organized and carefully written class handouts. If I do this, I can basically have much of my course materials online so that those who want to can look at the substance of what I teach in that class, which is not only my favorite course to teach but the one that I think I'm best at teaching. I'd love to be able to point people to that if they want to get a sense of how I cover certain issues and so on. It will also give me a chance to get feedback from a wider variety of people than just my students on how this material can be presented and on whether my evaluations of certain positions and arguments are correct.

I want to stress that this isn't what you would get by taking my course. Much of the learning that goes on in the classroom comes from direct interaction. I will tease out certain ideas, often getting students to come up with them. For some reason my teaching style lends itself well to the process of presenting some bits, being hit with an objection, responding to the objection, using that response to lead into the next bit, with its own objections to follow, and so on. Some of that might come across in handouts, but the idea is that the student's own objections will be part of this process. Sometimes that requires my clarifying questions to see what someone really has in mind. You can have these back-and-forth processes in comments on a blog post, but you can't do it in the middle of a post before you read the rest of the post the way you can do it in a live conversation. So I want to say that these notes don't duplicate what goes on in the classroom. What they do is present much of the content of what I want to get across in this class, and they give some sense of how I think about the various arguments and positions that arise, of how I organize the information and the issues, of how I think certain answers to certain questions will have some bearing on how you might answer other questions.

I had wanted to be posting these topics as I was teaching them this summer, but that course is now done, and I haven't been able to begin posting them yet. There are really two reasons I've had trouble getting this series started. One was how to covert all the references to things in the readings into ways people who hadn't read them, including figuring out how I should be citing things when posting online. I've posted some of my handouts, or at least adaptations from them, in the past, and that hasn't stopped me before, so I can deal with that. It just might take some work.

The other thing that's delayed getting this started is that one of two of my handouts I've used, including the first one, are sort of a collective effort. The course is normally taught in a team, though each instructor has their own sections. They have a common pool of material to use, especially at the beginning as they're getting started. My handout on the first topic is heavily dependent on the ways others' prior handouts had framed the material, basically lifting their words directly without citation, with a note at the top saying that the material comes from other instructors' shared Philosophy 107 materials or some such thing. I don't feel comfortable posting that on my blog, so I can't really get the series going until I basically write this material from scratch to ensure that it's my writing. There is one topic later on that I'll have to write up as well, because I don't have a handout on that, but what's been keeping me from doing this has been this starting problem. Now that I have most of that, revising the other handouts for the blog format will be much easier. I've waited until I had a few posts in the series already written to give me some time ahead to prepare the next ones, and that way if I have little time to blog I can just put the next one in the series up and then get the next ones ready when I have time. So you can expect to see this series moving along more quickly than some of my other, in case cases not yet complete, series.

I want to say to those who are philosophers that I'm not trying to explore every topic at the level of detail that other people who teach introductory courses will do. There are views and topics that could easily be done in a course like this that I steer away from. Sometimes it's because my view of what an introductory course does will not allow the level of detail or difficulty of certain topics. Sometimes it's because I think certain things are dead-ends with respect to what I'm focusing on. Sometimes it's simply because I can't do everything, and I have to choose what I think is most important or most central to what I think an introduction to philosophy dealing with these topics can accomplish well. I realize that not everyone will agree with me.

The topics of the course are Knowledge and Skepticism, the Existence of God, Free Will, the Mind-Body Problem, and Personal Identity. The boundaries between these issues as I present them are imprecise. Some topics will be in both the skepticism and the God categories. One topic at the end of the existence of God unit gets into issues about freedom. One question raised at the end of the free will section is really a mind-body question. Some of the mind-body views are basically the same vies as some of the personal identity views, and some of the arguments in the personal identity unit are really arguments for mind-body views. The course thus flows as one investigation, and while I will list certain topics in certain categories I can understand how it might be organized differently.

My next post will start things off, and then I'll post what will become the list of all the posts in the series (with links), which I will update as the series progresses. It doesn't make much sense to have such a post until there's something to link to.

4 Comments

Man, I can't wait. It sounds great.

Well, I, for one, am excited.

I guess with Rey included, that means it really should read "I, for two, am excited."

Me, too.

I find your teaching method interesting and take a similar approach with my students. We have looked at theories of history and the usual a priori and a posteriori approaches are offered. Now we will examine the theories of knowledge to let them question their thoughts. I will refer them to your site as we move from Decartes to Berkeley to William James.

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