Evaluation Notes for
PHL271 Introduction to Philosophy
V1 Created: 01/21/13
1. Explain how three philosophical theories could be put into practice
The main idea of this project is that students think through a realistic application of the premises, ways of thinking, and consequences for the theories they have studied in this course. Beyond asking students to evaluate theories in an abstract way, this project asks students to evaluate those theories as ways of living. Students must distill the fundamental points of each theory – its assumptions or presuppositions about how humans behave in society, its attitudes toward society itself, the priorities (ethical and otherwise) that each theory emphasizes, etc – and imagine what kind of society would manifest from those fundamental beliefs, attitudes, and values. Students’ descriptions of each society must translate the basic claims of the theory into a concrete social description. This is a work of imagination, of course, but it must be justified by relating the description to the actual theory (see point 2). This must be written in a journal format, recounting the tales of their travels to these philosophical lands in the first-person.
2. Re-construct the reasoning process that each philosophy uses to justify its claims
Students must base their interpretive descriptions of philosophical societies on the actual claims of the texts that they meant to represent. Therefore, students must summarize the basic reasoning process of the theory in question in order to show how the theory proceeds from premises to consequences/outcomes (otherwise it would be impossible to know what specific philosophical features students are drawing upon to devise the social manifestation of the theories they are using). Students’ summaries does not have to be in-depth rehearsals of every point in a philosopher’s argument, but students must show the overall thrust of the reasoning process that each thinker uses to proceed through their argument. What basic ideas about the world and human nature are presented, and what are the conclusions that the thinker draws from those premises?
3. Highlight the positive outcomes from the practice of each philosophy
Students must state the ways in which a philosophy put into practice as a society functions well or positively. For example, if the philosophy in question emphasizes realization of the nature of reality through philosophical understanding, as in Plato (and specifically the Allegory of the Cave), the people in a Platonic society might be very curious and engaged in questioning the meaning of their lives and even questioning reality as it appears to them from a merely conventional standpoint.
4. Predict how the weaknesses of each philosophy would negatively affect its society
On the other hand, students must also evaluate the pitfalls faced by each philosophical society, showing what problems might come about in a society that fully embodies the principles of each of their three chosen figures. For example in the Platonic society described above, a disadvantage of a society based on Plato’s principles might be that people are so concerned with discovering the nature of reality as an abstract “Form of the Good” that they do not want to relate with the nitty-gritty details of conventional life. Furthermore, because the Allegory of the Cave says that only a select few will ever be able to attain full philosophical knowledge and that they should go back into the cave to benevolently “rule” those who cannot free themselves, some might read this as a justification for a hierarchical society, which some people might view as a negative. Whatever the student’s opinion of the text, they must argue for how the downsides of a theory would bear themselves out in a constructed social context. They must show negative consequences as they manifest in people’s ways of thinking or the actual social outcome of the beliefs and practices that follow from their philosophical foundations.
5. Identify areas of your own community that have philosophical significance
The final part of the project involves the student’s return to their home community or society and an analysis of the philosophical issues that are taking place in that community. It could be a matter as general as whether people behave ethically—thinking about the importance of things like virtue or bravery and putting those values into practice in their own behavior—or as specific as analyzing concrete institutions like the education system, religion, or racism. Students must take up at least one such philosophical issue and explain what its philosophical meaning is—what beliefs and ideas are expressed by the individual or social behavior related to that issue and what the consequences of those philosophical issues are for their community (e.g. a society that is not thoughtful or reflective and therefore not aware of the best way to live or self-organize; an educational system that either does or does not inspire people to engage in an empowering way with the problems of their life and of society; a society that either does or does not effectively face the reality of racial inequality, etc).
6. Argue how the positive aspects of the philosophies you have learned about could be constructively applied to your community
This is the part of the project where students apply their philosophical analyses of the theorists they have examined to their real-life situation. They must say how their community or society could be improved upon by applying some aspect of the theories they have studied. They are not necessarily proposing that their community become a full-blown “philosophical society” on the scale of what they envisioned in the first part of the project, but they are proposing ways in which the virtues of those societies might be brought to the level of their own community and the issues it faces.