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And One More Thing…

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Just another note–you wouldn’t have gotten a “freebie” in  introductory philosophy where I went to school, either.

It was divided into two semesters, 101 to 102.  There was–again–no textbook.

You would have read selections from the pre-Socratics, then all the dialogues of Plato, plus The Republic and The Laws (in their entirety), plus Aristotle’s Politics, Nichomachean Ethics, and Poetics, plus Cicero’s De Officiis, plus some Seneca, Augustine, Aquinas, Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard, Erasmus, More, Occam, Francis Bacon, Luther. 

And that was first semester.

You’d have had three short (about 10 page) papers and an ORAL final exam, at which you would have been required to first explain all of that and then illustrate the connections that made this an evolution (what came from where and why).

And the papers couldn’t be bullshit, either.  What were the practical social and political effects of the change in the concept of the human person between Aristotle’s Athens and Aquinas’s Rome?  Show how Bacon’s divorce of ethics from the scientific pursuit of temporal knowledge was related to Macchiavelli’s divorce of ethics from statecraft.


It’s not that most people these days are taught the humanities badly.

It’s that they’re not taught them at all.

Written by janeh

September 17th, 2011 at 9:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'And One More Thing…'

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  1. These days, ten pages is a friggin’ term paper – and that’s as likely to be an /upper/ limit as a lower one. No one wants to grade a full-length essay, especially when most of them are just repetition and verbiage.

    When I told other students that it took me hours to edit my paper down to the allowable length, they would stare like I’d just farted out my ears, or admitted to reading a textbook that wasn’t required for a class. For them, writing a paper meant filling up white space with words, echoing back what they thought the teacher wanted to hear and stretching it from one sentence into three pages (some would try pumping the teacher for opinions and “suggestions”). Even the literate ones didn’t have a single fucking thing to say, often not even when they picked their own topic without restriction.


    17 Sep 11 at 2:01 pm

  2. ab, perhaps you missed the observation that the Humanities were seldom taught well these days?

    “Echoing what the teacher thought” is the constant danger. The professor of Engineering or Architecture is–style apart–teaching facts. If he says that this material or that arch will not take a certain weight and is wrong, he can be effectively and inarguably refuted. And being refuted by Freshmen can make a professor very aware of the difference between opinion and fact.

    When an English professor says that Author X worked between these dates, he’s in the realm of facts, and he’s probably still there when he says that, say, THIS city is a symbol of sterility and decay, while THIS countryside represents fertility and growth, or that these named later writers were influenced by these earlier ones. At least, this is a realm in which facts exist and reasoning can be applied.

    When he says that Author X is a truly great author, while Author Y is a hack, or that Philosopher A is full of insight and Philosopher B writes “pseudo-philsophical maunderings”–I actually saw that is a textbook once–he has left fact for opinion however many of his colleagues agree with him. How does he–or anyone–prove or disprove such statements? Students at the mercy of such a professor are well advised to say EXACTLY what they think the professor wants to hear, escape unharmed, and never take a course from that person again.

    But passing off taste as fact and insisting your students so treat it is only a possibility. It is no more inherent in teaching the humanities than massacre is inherent in government.

    Don’t confuse the temptation with the nature of the field.


    17 Sep 11 at 3:47 pm

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