Teaching Philosophy

There is a lot of information when you search for “teaching philosophy” or related terms, but they are all related to the in-class problems of teaching philosophy.  How to get discussions going, how to make students accountable for doing the reading, etc. etc.  But I cannot find any discussion on the curriculum of philosophy.  So far my philosophy education has been various classes mostly focused on entirely different subjects such as rationalism and epistemology.  Critical Thinking, 20th Century Continental Philosophy and other separate topics of this sort.  I wonder if this is the best way to teach a philosophy major though.  An introduction to philosophy sure, make it a broad course, just get a student’s feet wet in various writers, topics, eras etc.  But, if they are more interested and want to pursue philosophy how should the student learn all of the different philosophical systems?  I understand not every single system can be learned without a minimum of three lifetimes but, the general themes in philosophy at least.  What is the best way to introduce a student with a major in philosophy?  I have not been able to find anyone who has discussed this question.

Does it make sense to be teaching philosophy is this jumbled way? Where I can pick and choose a little bit of Aristotle and then go to Heidegger and then to Descartes then come back to modern texts?  To me no, context is important in my opinion and just throwing various philosophers at me does not help me with that sort of context.  Maybe not every student learns like this, but I think a discussion like this definitely has to happen if it has not already.

I think, that it would make more sense to start with Socrates (which it seems most intro philosophy courses do anyway) and then work historically forward to the present day philosophy.  But, we have to make sure to avoid getting in the mindset of there being Aristotle’s telos of humanity.  Yet, the historical part of philosophy happening is incredibly important.  I have barely ever dealt with Aristotle (less than a one semester course) and then I went on to reading Rationalist texts, who were all attempting to react to Aristotle’s metaphysics.  How in the world can I truly understand these thinkers without having some more thorough knowledge of Aristotle and everything in between the two sets of thinkers?  I don’t think I can.  Maybe historical is not the best way though, it is not exactly friendly to philosophy’s ideal of being timeless.

Another problem is in these classes like “rationalism” I end up dealing with a handful of writers but never really getting into any of them and in some ways it seems that I cannot come to appreciate the vastness of their thought without having read some of their other texts.  Locke, as an empiricist is another example, I have had to go over both his Essay on Human Understanding and his Treatise on Government, but they have never been taught as coming from the same Mr. Locke.  It is almost as if there are two different John Lockes who wrote these two separate texts, yet it isn’t.  The same man wrote both texts and I think that a better understanding of both would come from having dealt with both in the same course.  So a “Locke” course would thus be in order.  But then the student may absolutely despise all of Locke’s writings, but this student would have to understand and know Locke well in order to properly respond to his writing and understand the others that responded to Locke’s writings.  Then there is the question, is one better than the other? Is it possible to reconcile them? What about actual modern philosophy that has not been directly dealt with in the historical texts?

My direct answers to these questions respectively are: No, Yes,  higher level classes, if at all.  (Modern philosophy in the sense of journal articles being written like they are today is terrible in my opinion, but that is another topic.)

So I guess, has this discussion been had? Where at?


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