Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Regular intro vs. intro to ethics

The Philosophy Smoker's Mr. Zero reports that students perform better in his introductory ethics courses than in straight intro to philosophy:

I've noticed a general trend in my teaching whereby my Intro Ethics students generally do almost a full letter grade better on average than my regular Intro students (e.g. a B+ to the Intro's B-). I don't think it's because my Ethics class is easier, because the pattern extends to individual test questions concerning material that I include in both classes, such as the meaning of the word 'valid.' 

Have others noted the same trend? Zero and his commenters consider some possible explanations. Is this the case, and if so, what does it tell us about how these seminal introductory courses should be approached?


  1. I've noticed the difference in course grades. I think the Ethics material is more closely related to things they've thought about before, so it is easier to grasp.

    I've also noticed the retention rates in Ethics are higher, mostly because it's required for several programs at my college (criminal justice and allied health).

  2. I tend to agree with the suggestions from 'Inside the Philosophy Factory. But, I also think that the reason why this may be the case is that we try to cover too many technical 'subjects' in an intro course whereas ethics is really one subject. Even if we include meta-ethics as well as normative ethics in this course, the underlying technical area is still ethics and we can set up a general framework within the 1st couple of weeks and work off of that.

    I am in the process of creating my syllabus for an intro course this fall and I have narrowed it down to four general areas; knowledge, metaphysics, political philosophy and philosophy of religion, but with a couple of sub-divisions in each area, i.e., personal identity and free will in the metaphysics area. I think I need to eliminate one general area and because I must cover philosophy of religion I am thinking of eliminating metaphysics as those topics will arise in some of the topics we will discuss in philosophy of religion.

  3. I agree with the Factory's and John's comments.

    I find Intro to Philosophy far more "inconclusive" since, well, "pure" philosophy is far more inconclusive than ethics, especially practical / applied ethics. That is, it's harder for students (and anyone) to find confident answers about free will, personal identity, global skepticism, etc. than abortion, euthanasia, etc. The former also seem to be matters that it's quite respectable (maybe more respectable) to have no opinions on, i.e., suspend judgment on, than practical ethics topics.

  4. Very well explained. I would like to say that it is very interesting to read your blog.

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