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Permalink to Dealing with students who say: “It depends”

Dealing with students who say: “It depends”

In ethics like many areas of human enquiry a very sensible initial response to a question may well be “it depends”. However when some students have the tendency of saying with a certain degree of self satisfaction “it depends” (arms folded, smug smile) as though to say check mate!

It’s important to realise in ethics as elsewhere acknowledging that the answer depends on some further features of a situation is not a complete answer. Far from it. This is true of even the most straightforward of questions. If your house mate asked you “I’m going to the shop do we need any milk?” an initial response may well be “it depends”. But if that was all you had to say on the matter your housemate would be pretty frustrated. What does it depend on? How do these relations of dependence work and why? These are the interesting questions.

In the case of milk, it depends on whether there’s any milk left in the fridge. From this we can sketch a general rule. If there is milk the answer to the question is no, we don’t need any more. If there’s none left them yes, we do. And of course the matter could depend on a number of additional considerations too. For example if there is milk left, but just a small amount, enough for one or two cups of tea – then the answer is, yes we probably do need some more. Furthermore, if there is none left, but you know that no one will be in the house over the weekend to drink any milk. Then the answer is no we don‘t.

From this exercise of spelling out some of the ways in which the answer depends, we can draw general, and ultimately more useful conclusions. The answer to the question “Do we need any milk?” broadly speaking is affected by the fact that milk is both a perishable and a staple. We mustn’t buy too much as it will turn sour but equally, we must try to avoid running out. The answer therefore will depend on the likelihood that we will have a just enough or else an excess or deficiency.

Although this kind of detailed analysis of milk is probably implicitly obvious among housemates, when we’re dealing with more complex issues. It helps to spell things out as best we can. “It depends” is only ever a first move, never check mate.

This post is by Grace


Permalink to How to Write a Crap Philosophy Essay – A Brief Guide for Students

How to Write a Crap Philosophy Essay – A Brief Guide for Students

How to Write a Crap Philosophy Essay - A Brief Guide for Students

This comes from James Lenman from Sheffield university via Nick Jones at Leeds University

Always begin your essay along these lines: “Since the very dawn of time the problem of free will has been considered by many of the greatest and deepest thinkers in history.”

Always end your essay along these lines: “So it can be seen from the above arguments that there are many different points of view about the free will problem.”

Whenever in any doubt as to what to say about X, say, apropos of nothing in particular and without explanation, that X is extremely subjective.

When that gets boring, try saying that X is all very relative. Never say what it is relative to.

Use language with as little precision as possible. Engage heavily in malapropism and category mistakes. Refer to claims as “arguments” and to arguments as “claims”. Frequently describe sentences as “valid” and arguments as “true”. Use the word “logical” to mean plausible or true. Use “infer” when you mean “imply”. Never use the expression “begging the question” with its correct meaning but use it incorrectly as often as possible.

“Argument” is perhaps the most important word in philosophy. So why not impress the marker by spelling it with two “e”s?

Get into the habit of inserting words like “so” and “therefore” between sentences that are entirely irrelevant to one another. This, all by itself, will bring into being a mutual relevance that previously did not exist.

Be careful always assiduously to avoid answering the question asked. There are so many other more interesting things for you to discuss.

Put “quotation marks” round words “entirely” at random.

Be completely defeated by apostrophes. Systematically confuse “its” and “it’s”.

At some point in every essay, treat the marker to a brief Dr McCoy style sermon about the dangers of being too “logical” when trying to think about the existence of God/moral obligation/free will/the theory of knowledge/any subject matter whatever. To reinforce the point it always helps to point out how once again how very subjective the subject matter in question is.

Avoid clarity at all costs. Remember: nothing that is clear can possibly be really deep. If as a result the marker gives you a third that just shows that your wisdom is going straight over his/her head.

(Don’t, whatever you do, heed the words of Peter Medawar: “No one who has something original or important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood; people who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief.” – What a silly man!)

Remember. Paragraphs are for sissies. So are headings.

Only little people use examples. Avoid them strenuously. If you must insist on using some, be sure to do so with studied irrelevance.

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