Sunday, March 13, 2011

Concept Maps in Philosophy Courses

(cross posted at

Concept maps, also known as graphic organizers, are images used to visually represent concepts, and relationships between concepts. Concept maps that illustrate arguments are called argument maps.

Moral Philosophy (K. Pierce)

I use concept maps in all my courses. I teach introductory philosophy courses mostly; both online and face to face; at a state college, and at several universities.

If my own experience is any indication, visual organizers work pretty well in all of the above-mentioned environments. Students consistently report that the maps help them understand the meaning and application of, and relationships between, concepts.

I know I'd have been thrilled if I'd encountered more of these when I was in school, both as an undergraduate, and as a graduate student. My thinking occurs visually; my mind interprets concepts, and relationships between them, as images. I don't know if that's a good way of explaining it, but there it is.

Thus, using and creating concept maps comes pretty natural to me. Plus, I like to draw. So I either create the maps or graphic organizers beforehand, or draw them on the spot.

Have any of you ever used, or thought about using, concept maps in your courses? If yes:

- What topics, concepts, applications, do you use them for?
- What are, have been, the results?
- Do students like them? Why or why not?
- Do you create them yourself, or do you get them elsewhere?
- If the latter, where? (You're welcome to use mine!)

If no: Why not?

If drawing or creating images just doesn't come easy to you, and that's all that's been stopping you from trying these in your courses, you're welcome to use mine (see below for link). I've posted the application I use, below, at the bottom of this post.

Next are a couple more. Suggestions for other maps? Comments? Constructive criticism?

"Five Branches" (K. Pierce)

"Ethics Mountain" (K. Pierce)

March 14, 2011 update: Hey all, Gliffy has a collaboration feature. I'd like to update the Moral Philosophy map, per all the excellent feedback received so far (and pending). If any of you are interested in collaborating on it, sign up to Gliffy, and we can work on it together if you would like.

Here are 2 more I made a while back; perhaps they could be of use to some. Comments? Criticism? Suggestions?

"Moral arguments" (K. Pierce)

"Deductive vs. Inductive" (K. Pierce)

Explanation of "Concept Map" @ Wikipedia:
More of my concept maps:
What I use to create concept maps: (link fixed)
Another resource: 
Added March 14: to find argument maps, go to Google Image, and search "argument map"


  1. Karla,

    I love it, love it, love it. I love concept maps. They help ME, and I know they help the students.

    However I rarely use them becuase I have NO IDEA how to make them. What program do you use? I've tried Word and Power Point, but the features that you'd use are not user friendly if you ask me.

    Any suggestions? What progam created the moral philosophy concept map?

  2. Chris,

    Hurray! I'm so glad you like them; I'm glad for your students' sake. The program I use is Gliffy...I'll check that link.

    Here it is again, try this:

    I like Gliffy because it's easy to use, and for a small monthly fee, your maps are hosted there, too.

    I go in streaks...sometimes I make several a day! It's been a while since I did that.

    Let me know if you have any other questions. :) Karla

  3. Awesome, Karla. I'll check them out now. I like making these things too.


  4. Chris, if you make some on Gliffy, let me know. Maybe we can start a concept map repository here, a Concept Maps tag...

  5. Karla: These are great. I'm teaching moral theory next quarter, and I'll definitely use the moral philosophy one. Small quibbles: I think of divine command theory as a metaethical view, since what God commands could be that we maximize utility, etc. It's most centrally a view about morality's source, not its content. Most actual DC theorists are non-con's, but it's not essential to the view. Also, there are some non-religious natural law folks who would detach natural law from God's existence or command. Lastly, is there a spot for Ross-style intuitionism/pluralism?

  6. Karla, also I've wondered if you done these (or had students do them) for contrasting metaphysical positions. Several years back, I was teaching a course on Spinoza and Leibniz and had the students draw pictures of their respective metaphysical systems (as well as Descartes'). They had great fun with it. Have you tried something like that?

  7. I like the moral philosophy map too, but in addition to Michael Cholbi's points, I think there needs to be space for non-utilitarian (and non-egoist) versions of consequentialism, which don't regard happiness (or preference satisfaction) as the only intrinsic good

  8. Michael and Phil,

    Great points, really. Especially the point about DCT being a meta-ethical view! The entire thing is in serious need of an update. And that's one of the reasons I posted it here; I know I can count on you all for some useful feedback and constructive criticism.

    As explanation (not as defense!), you should know the moral philosophy map was first created over three years ago; at the time, I made it with applied ethics on the brain. Hence the reason everything is dumped into that section.

    Not that I'm trying to dodge responsibility, mind you. I'm just sayin'.

    So again, great points, much appreciated.

    So what do you think, are either of you inspired enough to give concept map making a try yourself?

    Or have you already? If yes, what programs have you used?


  9. Michael,

    To answer your question about making this a part of assignments:

    In my applied ethics classes I have had students create concept maps. I've been pleased with the results. For several semesters now, I've made this a feature of their first assignment.

    I've not been too strict about whether the map / image must represent an argument, etc. Rather, I tell them, simply, to illustrate the argument using circles, squares, images, whatever, with lines drawn between them to express relationships.

    I keep it loose for several reasons; one reason being so they can come back, later in the semester, and compare their basic skills and understanding now, to then. Another reason I keep it loose is because at that point, I've probably already terrified them with my syllabus, standards, and the first assignment. The free form concept mapping feature of the first assignment helps them relax. I hope.

    In the future, I would like to use more specific argument mapping criteria.

    For examples of what some students have created, see here:

  10. Thank you Karla Pierce, this is Great! I believe that using visual stimulus in classes can really help students learn the material. Here is great picture I found. It's a taxonomy of logical fallacies posted on my blog here:

  11. I LOVE "Ethics Mountain"!

    It seems like most of the "maps" above are taxonomies or classifications of concepts.

    Do you have any "argument maps" though?

    I have encountered these before and, frankly, have yet to find them valuable, at least to my way of thinking. This is because I think I tend to think in more linear terms and, this step by step (premise by premise, leading to conclusion(s)), is not well represented in a map.

    (Also, on a map, you can start anywhere, or start where you are, to get somewhere else; with reasoning, however, there typically are at least definite ending points (i.e., conclusions you hope to support) and, at the very least, we can see if a path of reasoning towards that conclusion will support it or not).

    Anyway, I've always found argument maps much more confusing and bewildering, compared to plain old premise-conclusion presentations of arguments.

    Has anyone has similar or different experiences with argument maps?

  12. Nathan,

    I know you think more linearly, I've seen your materials before, on your blog. Your argument handouts are excellent! I've definitely used them before, as resources for my own prep.

    Isn't it funny how differently we all can approach the same concept, at times!?

    Anyway, what do you think about supplementing some of your materials, with concept maps, at times...even though you don't particularly like them yourself? Some of your students may not be as linear; those individuals might benefit from the more image-oriented materials.

    You could even say something like this: "Listen, I dug up some concept maps; while I can't make heads or tails out of these, since I don't really think this way, they might benefit some of you who DO, so have at them."

    What do you think?

    Oh, here's a more "argument" oriented "map" I made last year, I doesn't map out a particular argument; rather, it seeks to illustrate basic argument elements.

    As far as particular arguments mapped out, go to Google image, and key in "argument map".

    :) Karla

  13. @ Philosoraptors:

    Yes, I love that map! I posted it to my teaching blog a while back. Thanks for linking to it here.

    :) Karla

  14. [Late to this post... somehow I missed it earlier]
    I used a flowchart to lay out positions in in philosophy of mind last quarter. I used PowerPoint to put it together, though, which was a bit of a trial, frankly. I'll have to give Gliffy a go.

  15. Cool, I love concept maps and especially brainstorming them out together! Haven't used Gliffy but am a big fan of Lucidchart where we will get 10 of us on there at the same time to work together! (Free accounts for students and teachers.)

    I like that you use a variety of charts here - Venn diagrams, flowcharts, hierarchical charts, etc.

  16. Wow, J.M.,

    I like it! I just fooled around with Lucidchart for a bit; it seems super user friendly on first glance. I like the publish to Twitter option, and the chat in collaboration feature.

    Thanks for sharing this. What maps have you made using this program?

  17. We've used it mostly for brainstorming in mind maps and also some flowcharts. Another big help is looking at Lucidchart's Community Library where other people have shared what they made.


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