The assignment is simply to find the five most important propositions asserted by the author in the reading for a given day, and present them at the beginning of class.
In some classes, I'll ask you to read them aloud, and in others I'll ask you to write them on the board. You won't have to lead discussion or make an extended oral presentation. But you will be on call to help clarify what you meant in your five propositions, what the author meant, and why you selected these five instead of others.
- Write five single sentences, not five paragraphs.
- Use your own words. Don't quote.
- Support each sentence with a page number in the author's text.
- Don't merely describe the topics, themes, or subjects the author addressed; give us five assertions which the author made about those topics. Use the occasion to clarify anything difficult or obscure in the original. In short, write five sentences which author could have written, if only the author wrote as clearly as you do.
- Bring two printouts of your work to class, one for me and one for yourself. Since we start class with these propositions, they must be ready at the moment class begins.
- Send your propositions to the class email list. This will free the others in class from having to take notes on your propositions, and may trigger electronic discussion beyond what takes place in class. Send the email before or after class, but not on an earlier or later day.
Bad Kuhn introduces the word "paradigm" and talks about what paradigms are.
What's wrong? This is a subject-matter, not an assertion.
Bad Kuhn says that paradigms are important in terms of scientific practice as far as method is concerned.
What's wrong? This is gobbledygook.
Better Kuhn says that paradigms are exemplary scientific achievements.
What's wrong? Kuhn wouldn't talk about what Kuhn said, and there's no citation to the text.
Best Paradigms are exemplary scientific achievements. (p. 10)
Five sentences and five page numbers doesn't sound like a hard assignment. It's certainly easier than many assignments, but it may be harder than you anticipate. It's not enough to know what the author is saying in the day's reading, which can be hard enough. You have to know the subset most worth presenting if we don't have time for all of it. There are three potential difficulties:
- Make your propositions clear. (Don't leave us wondering what you mean.)
- Make your propositions accurate. (Don't misinterpret or oversimplify the author.)
- Make your propositions central. (Don't mistake what is important to you for what is important to the author.)
We'll understand that five sentences cannot summarize everything in a text. We want your sense of what is central rather than peripheral to the author, and your way of restating what is central. We'll use that as a point of departure and guide to author's position, not as a substitute for it.
This is not a philosophy-specific assignment. It's a skill you will find useful in any discipline and practically any job. We're using it here partly to improve our discussions and partly to give you practice in this essential skill.
In text-based courses, we'll use your propositions to bring us quickly to the heart of the author's text for that day. In less text-based courses, we'll use your propositions to jumpstart our understanding of the author's position so that we can get beyond textual niceties to discussable questions sooner rather than later.
You may have to present the opening propositions several times during the semester (as many times as the enrollment divides into the available slots). Sign up for your days based on your schedule or the reading assigned for certain days.
Department of Philosophy,
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2000, Peter Suber.