Philosophy deptartment sets new structure for introductory course

After a year of deliberation, the Department of Philosophy has decided to significantly re-structure its major for the first time in more than two decades. The new major will continue to require nine courses, but now there will be four required classes instead of the previous three.

The required courses Philosophy 101, “Introduction to Moral and Political Philosophy,” and 102, “Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology,” have been substituted with a year-long course, Philosophy 201-202, “History of Ancient and Modern Philosophy.” This course structure is similar to that used in art history, where 101 and 102 are taken as a two semester-long segments of one class.

The Philosophy department’s five electives will also have to meet distributional requirements for the major as follows: one contemporary metaphysics and epistemology, one contemporary value theory, one history and one tutorial. The requirement for a senior seminar will remain unchanged. The re-structured major will be implemented with the Class of 2014. Current philosophy students will have the choice of following the old track or the new one.

According to William Dudley, professor of philosophy, no structural changes have been made to the philosophy major for approximately 25 years, and  the last changes were made before most current professors even joined the department.

These changes have been introduced primarily because the department feels that the introductory courses “are trying to do too many things at once,” according to the proposal submitted to the Committee on Education Policy (CEP). In restructuring its courses, the department aims to distribute among the different 100-level classes aspects of philosophy which include philosophical writing and the history of philosophy. The department hopes teaching these fundamentals will build the required knowledge foundation for students, while other courses can focus on developing the craft of philosophical thinking. According to Dudley, the new structure would mean less compromise for professors and will be “more satisfying.”

Philosophy major Patricia Klein ’11 appreciates the new course structure. “It’s hard to tell a priori which orders of courses provide a natural progression, where ideas explored at one time will likely inform discussions later down the road, and which don’t,” she said. Patricia lauded the idea of year-long philosophical history courses that could provide “common knowledge” that allow all majors to interact with one another on the basis of a shared pool of information. “The importance of a strong epistemic background preceding active philosophy is easily underestimated,” Henry Hall ’11 said. He added that the new distributional requirements will ensure “preventing the aforementioned possibility of narrow scopes.”
Alison Hansen-Decelles ’10 sees value in the 100-level writing intensive requirement: “It takes time to figure out what kinds of arguments you can make in philosophy,” she said, “so the 100-level course focused on writing and discussing is a great idea.” She also compared the tutorial requirement to the Socratic method, the gold standard in philosophy instruction.

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