Tuesday, November 09, 2004

HoP Survey Courses

There is an interesting post at "Metatome" on whether history of philosophy survey courses are good ways to educate undergraduates. My view:

They absolutely are. The problems noted in the post are quite real; but they arise not from the courses themselves, but from the utterly absurd and perverse mode of thinking in which HoP survey courses are considered suitable for introductory-level students. They are not. Had I my way, the standard curriculum would look more like this:

1. Intro Courses (thematically arranged survey courses)
2. More specialized thematic courses.
3. HoP survey courses (general and hybridized with 2)
4. More specialized HoP courses.

The fact of the matter is, history of philosophy is harder to get one's mind around than a more thematic subject is, precisely because there are vastly more factors in play. And another reason it makes more sense to do it this way is that very few thematic courses actually tap into all that much history of philosophy - certainly nothing that can't be gleaned from a quick refresher. Students should first be introduced to particular patterns of thought on particular issues, and then should be hit with heavy-HoP courses to let them see just how much more there is out there, to introduce them to new patterns of thought, to give them a chance to start using what they've already learned to enter into new fields of thought, to give them a better grasp of how certain presuppositions have come about.

Another reason it makes sense to do it this way is that HoP actually requires additional skills beyond those that 'philosophical problems' courses require - skills suited particularly to the historical approach itself. Ideally, it is this that should be learned in HoP survey; and this requires that students already have learned more basic skills in previous courses. Using HoP survey as a general introductory course makes this impossible; and the failure to transmit those skills puts the department in danger of churning out students whose understanding of the greatest representatives of their discipline is superficial and undeveloped.

But then, I'm a HoP person myself; the HoP survey course I think would be even a merely adequate HoP survey course is rather more advanced than what everyone seems to expect from these courses.

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