Opening Propositions Assignment
Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College

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.

For example:

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:

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.

Ribbon] Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A. Copyright © 2000, Peter Suber.