Teaching: December 2005 Archives

This is the the eighteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. I've posted an earlier version of this a while ago, but the comments degenerated into a discussion of things completely unrelated to the post. That time, it was a version of my notes on this that hadn't been altered since 2001. I've decided to expand it a bit based on further study of the subject, even though I haven't taught all these issues in the course that this series is based on. I should also say that my presentation depends heavily on William Rowe's work, most importantly the short article he wrote for introductory courses that appears in Reason and Responsibility, ed. Feinberg and Shafer-Landau, with one reference to one other text I have used in that course, Jan Cover and Rudy Garns's Theories of Knowledge and Reality (abbreviated TKR).

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is one of a number of classic arguments sometimes used in conjunction with each other to establish the existence of a being with some of the characteristics generally taken to be true of God. I'm going to look at three such arguments, each contributing something different to the overall picture The cosmological argument in particular occupies a very small role in any overall picture of how some have offered argumentation in support of theism.

I just (for some reason) received the hard copies of my teaching evaluations for last spring, and the online versions I looked at months ago didn't have the reverse side with the written comments, so I was able to see some of the much more useful information finally. One comment stands out as especially noteworthy: "If you didn't read you had no idea what was going on, did not present info in an easy to follow manner"

I read that to one of my teaching colleagues, and he laughed. This is what we try to get across to students in the first week of class. Isn't it a bit lame to omplain that it's true at the end of class, as if that reflects badly on the instructor? In a philosophy class, the instruction time assumes that you've already done the reading. I'm not there to summarize the reading for them just so they won't have to do it. I'm there to help them reflect on it in a way that they would have a harder time doing without someone aware of the broader philosophical tradition, to inform them of whatever the readings did not happen to cover, and to engage in methods of approaching these issues that will clarify things in ways not addressed in the readings. What would be the point of assigning reading if I didn't want them to have thought about these issues before coming to class?

What's especially funny about this is a set of further factors that I didn't notice until I turned the page over to the front. It's a comment on the following question: "How would you rate the contributions of the assigned reading materials to the course? Please explain." The choices were Excellent, Very good, Good, Fair, Poor, or Not applicable. This student chose "Very good". In fact, all of the student's answers on the computer-graded section were pretty good (except for the one about prompt grading, the bane of my teaching existence). I should also note that the student indicated that they expected to receive a C+ in the course and indicated putting in average effort to make the course a success. I'm guessing that the student vicariously experienced the very good contribution of the reading material to the course through seeing that the other students who did it tended to do well in the course. Or something.

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