General Discussion: Introduction to Philosophy

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    Thanks @unfalsify & welcome. There will be more news about specific needs as the project moves along. Very happy to have you aboard!

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    hrm any responses to the Project Scope proposal above? @joll.nicholas and @clhendricksbc? others?

  • Sorry–I’m in the middle of two days of travel and haven’t had much online time. I am about to get on a plane again, so won’t be able to get back to this until tomorrow, probably. Just wanted to say I’m here but busy at the moment!

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  • Logic is hard to incorporate into an intro course I think. A module on logic can’t really cover any technical material. Perhaps the way to go is to include logic in either metaphysics, in epistemology, or expand that part to logic & philosophy of science.

    Personally, I tend to think that for an intro class it might be good to organize the chapters around questions. These of course will roughly align with existing topics. But questions are a good entry into the topics, and it’ll help us avoid the pitfall of just describing a bunch of theories rather than actually explaining what these are theories of and why one would subscribe to them. It will also make it easier to remix the book if it’s divided into smaller chunks focussing on questions. You could pick all the ethics and political phil questions for an ethics intro, or just one central question from each section for a general intro.

  • Hi all,

    Sorry–I’m out of the country and with spotty internet access…it keeps going down.

    @hugh: the draft project scope looks great to me.

    @joll-nicholas: I think your bullet points sound like a good overview. We could indeed look at other intro to philosophy texts to see what else we could do that would be different. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if it’s too specialized that might take away from the focus on making it a kind of basic building blocks type text that others could use to then create their own customizations. That, to me, is the critical part: we can’t be everything to everyone, but the value of the open license is that people can make of it what they need.

    Maybe what @rzach said about organizing it around questions could be part of what makes ours a bit different? Though perhaps many already do that…I don’t know. I haven’t used a textbook in years because of my desire to save students money!

    I won’t be able to look at my stash of unused philosophy textbooks I’ve gotten from publishers until I return home, starting Dec. 29.

  • Perhaps using storytelling as a tool to introduce ideas could be an effective strategy? Textbooks are usually associated with rather dry prose, but I doubt whether presenting things that way genuinely benefits the reader. The format of a personal letter written to a keen but inexperienced learner is one example of such an approach. Questions (and addressing them) would certainly fit into this format. It seems to me that the more engaging and relatable the presentation, the more it will stick - but I am not an education professional. In any case, it’s always possible to present more precise definitions in depth after giving an intuitive sketch; but I think in some cases it’s not possible to regain the audience if we begin with a technical exposition, which makes any further less formal treatments ineffective.

    As for logic, I agree that it’s hard to incorporate it into an introductory course, but I do think that some basic technical material can be successfully understood by anyone with less than average intelligence, so long as it is presented right. Instead of condensing it all into one chapter, I think that scattering reminders and side notes about it where relevant would be more effective.

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    Just a general “this is looking good” comment: Looking good!

    A note, to consider: Betrand Russel’s The Problems of Philosophy is in the public domain, which means someone/we can easily do things with that text (or parts of it) without worrying about copyright.

  • @joll.nicholas I think the fastest way to get things going is to have section editors who are then in charge of contributors and quality control for that section. The nice thing about that is that there doesn’t have to be just one person in charge of absolutely everything, which is difficult to do being as how this is a volunteer project. The downside is coherence and a sense of unity of approach. That’s where the overarching editor (that’d be me) would have to be in contact with the section editors and try to maintain some kind of unity. The styles will be different, no question–as are writing styles between any authors. But I think the basics of the approach should be similar, like what we’re talking about here: have a narrative style? refer to current events? etc.

    My worry about making the book too specialized in terms of style (e.g., the suggestion above by @unfalsify about using storytelling) is that the more specialized or different one makes it, the less usable it is by many people. I keep coming back to this, but the idea here is to provide basic building blocks that others can modify, and if we write it in too specific a style that becomes hard to do. Why are there so many textbooks out there with different approaches? Because no one size fits all…and yet with commercial textbooks you can’t do anything about that; you take it or leave it. With an open textbook you can take a little piece and put it on your website, or add a video to it, or write a new section to go along with a few paragraphs you like about a specific philosopher or philosophical issue. It needs to be somewhat bland, I fear, in order to be functional in that way–things need to be able to be pulled apart easily.

    I do like Rachels’ approach of having current events embedded, though that gets dated pretty quickly, and one problem with open textbooks is that they aren’t often quickly updated. It’s hard enough to get people to agree to write things for free in the first place, but to get them to return every few years to update may be even more difficult, after they’re out of steam. Then again, because it’s open, people who are using the textbooks could change out the dated “current events.” So maybe that’s no too much of a concern.

    I wonder if we might move forward by getting some more people pinned down as section editors and then having this conversation amongst all of us?

  • Hi everyone:

    Could all who are here go to this spreadsheet and make sure you’re on it and your information is correct? See the “people” tab on the bottom…


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    @clhendricksbc this all sounds sensible to me! cc. @joll.nicholas

  • Regarding my style remarks: I agree that over-specializing will reduce the usability of this book. On the other hand, over-generalizing will (taken far enough) reduce it into a dictionary - and I think that the ones available now are good enough. My suggestion is only that we at least keep the tone and style approachable: anecdotes and a clear, straightforward manner of writing should be good enough. I think that trying to keep the anecdotes current is a bit of a futile endeavour, so it might be better to simply use historical events. The thing that I think could damage such a project is jumping into jargon too fast, or elaborating on theoretical elements at length before going into any examples. I admit that these considerations are just expressions of my preferences, but I think that it’s easy to appear disinterested with teaching the reader anything if we speed through things too fast or (worse yet) write as though we were expecting them to know very well the things that we barely introduced. This is simply the experience that I had with some textbooks.
    As far as presenting one possible practical solution goes: one way of testing the quality of writing would simply be asking volunteers that fit the definition of the target audience to read the texts. They might not be able to pinpoint directly what’s wrong with a passage, but they should at least be able to indicate whether the style made the point hard to follow.

  • @hugh I think this is a pretty good list.

    On subject specialisations: I put critical theory down because it is the subject of my PhD, but there are several others I know enough about teaching to write about. I’m sure it will similar for others. If we identify gaps in our knowledge base we will surely know experts who can be brought in.

    I have three suggestions at this stage:

    1.) Some brainstorming around these top level contents to help us decide on what the subsequent level of granularity looks like. To my mind, most of the decisions we will be making will be about what to exclude rather than what to put it.

    2.) It might be worth going through some of the classic introductory texts mentioned in this thread and making some brief notes about the kinds of areas covered, so we have something of a checklist.

    3.) I wonder whether an additional top level category/heading is needed. At the moment there is no mention of what Philosophy is or why one might be interested in it. I think the first chapter should be a general introduction to philosophy and a discussion what is distinctive about it.

  • @unfalsify This sounds exactly right on to me! Good points.

  • @drrobertfarrow Yes, yes and yes. All good suggestions. I have some more textbooks in my office I can look through and make notes on as well; I’m out of the country right now so can’t do so until end of December. We might start a google doc with notes on existing textbooks and brainstorms about what to put in. I find I am losing track of suggestions here in this long thread!

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