Monday, January 16, 2012

Short Readings in Philosophy?

I tend to be in a favor of using short readings in philosophy. This is because, in part, my sense is that many student populations have an especially hard time comprehending full-length philosophical essays (Jonathan Bennett has made similar observations about reading comprehension in history of philosophy courses and has developed excellent texts to address that). Given my style of teaching, I think I am typically able to get a lot of student learning out of a very short reading so I prefer them.

With this in mind, I'd like to share -- with his and his publisher's permission - Russ Shafer Landau's 2 page section "Ethical Starting Points" from his The Fundamentals of Ethics (Oxford University Press) textbook. I've found this page useful at the beginning of the semester in ethics courses since it nicely identifies many moral views that most of already accept, and so it identifies some common ground or assumptions to work from (as well as critically examine as the course progresses).

Concerning this piece, I'd like to ask this: are any "starting points" anyone would like to add? Any that you'd like to remove? I'd like to also ask if there are other good short readings that anyone would like to share. Peg Tittle's What If? Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy is great in this regard - lots of 1 page or less readings -- but what else is good in the very short readings genre?


  1. Have you looked at Cottingham's Western Philosophy anthology? If I recall, there were very few readings longer than 7 pages, and many significantly shorter.

    As a great fan of Anselm (who was majorly misunderstood IMO precisely becauser people tried to pigeonhole him into this methodology), I have misgivings about using short selections. But the Cottingham volume struck me as one that did this approach well.

  2. One short piece I like to give students at the beginning of ethics courses is the first chapter of Anthony Weston's A 21st Century Ethical Toolkit (available here: It discusses the sorts of mental habits and virtues needed to learn in an ethics course. My students seem to find it a good starting place.


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