Thursday, June 28, 2007

Welcome — and what to expect

Welcome to In Socrates' Wake. As the immodest title of this blog suggests, this blog's purpose is to stimulate dialogue and disseminate ideas about the teaching of philosophy as an academic discipline. I plan to post a few items per week, some of which have been on my mind for some time, others of which are prompted by my current teaching experiences and investigations of teaching. Over the coming months, you can expect discussion of all of the following:

  1. Techniques for organizing class meetings, including crafting lectures, encouraging student discussion and involvement, etc.

  2. Curricular and program design, such as designing courses and developing philosophy major programs

  3. Teaching-related technologies, including the WWW and course management systems (e.g., Blackboard)

  4. The assessment of student learning, including how to evaluate student performance

  5. Developing student writing, and other 'subskills' of philosophy, such as critical thinking

  6. Learning theory, insofar as it informs good teaching of philosophy

I'd also like to hear from readers about a wide range of other more 'personal' issues pertaining to the teaching of philosophy: why we teach, how the profession prepares us to teach, the delights and frustrations teaching brings. Since the demise of Metatome, there is not (to the best of my knowledge) a blog devoted to discussion of teaching philosophy, so I hope ISW can fill a niche within the field. Please feel free to drop me a line (michael *at* cholbi *dot* com) and check my profile. Again, welcome!


  1. I'm green when it comes to teaching, so I'm not sure I'll have much to contribute, but I hope to get some good ideas from the blog.

  2. Glad to see this new blog, I look forward to reading and commenting

    Cheers David

  3. I tried to send this via e-mail, but it bounced ("user unknown"):

    I saw on PEA Soup that you had started a new blog about teaching philosophy. I am not a professional philosopher; I studied it as an undergraduate at Tufts and have kept up with it as a hobby ever since. On many occasions I have talked about philosophy with my own friends and my brother and his friends (they are all younger, just out of college). They frequently ask why philosophy is worth studying or knowing about, or what good it is since it provides no “real answers.” I have gotten very good results by telling them:

    1. Philosophy is about making choices. You can’t always believe everything that seems appealing; sometimes you have to choose between beliefs. Studying philosophy helps one see when these choices are necessary, especially when it’s not obvious (e.g. when two beliefs appear not to conflict, but in fact one of them implies something else, and the something else is what causes the conflict). This is very useful because life is also full of choices, and if one has had practice at understanding and breaking down choices in a sort of theoretical or thought-experimental setting, one will be better prepared to make important decisions in life.

    2. All philosophers ultimately end up appealing to our common sense intuitions. When a philosopher makes an argument that conflicts with common sense, usually that means that his argument gets rejected. So philosophy may not provide “real answers”, but it gives something almost as useful: the implications of the answers we’ve already got, and perhaps grounds for re-thinking those answers.

    In general I stay away from talking about “asking the right questions” or “thinking about thinking” etc. The general usefulness of understanding logic and argument resonates for some people but not others. But (almost) everyone is interested in how they can make better choices in life, and I really do think philosophy has helped me do that, and that for people who will not become academic philosophers or enter professions that heavily involve argument (such as law or politics), this is the biggest “selling point” for studying philosophy.

    Best of luck with the new blog.

  4. I think this blog is a great idea, and I look forward to learning from others' experiences and methods in the classroom. Many people I've talked to, when they ask what I do, have a horror story to tell about their one philosophy class. I think we too quickly dismiss this as the fault of our students, and need to pursue the craft of teaching with the same excellence we seek as scholars.

  5. I'd be interested in learning more about what others have done to get students to read the assignments and read them well.

    Nathan Nobis


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