Your own personal list of methods

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Somewhere in your notes, you should keep a list called "My own personal list of philosophical methods," (or, whatever you want to call it). That list isn't just a repetition of the official list or the many "notes on method" that get thrown out in class. It should reflect methods that really stand out to you and which you particularly value.

So, based on this semester's teaching, here's my own personal list:

Spring 2010 methods list

1. Philosophy seems to involve making lots of lists of things, like the way we use words, or examples of things that would fit under a concept or be exceptions to it. I guess this is part of "Carefully looking at Phenomena" on the official list.

2. Rationales, arguments, explanations. Need to start noticing those again. Example: Euthyphro 10, Apology, every day in class, and for the rest of your life.

3. Finding a principle at work in making a distinction. Example from first day, distinguishing kinds of reality using a principle about relative "independence" of a thing.

4. Looking for an essential definition, what you would need to know to identify a thing in terms of its intrinsic reality. (Consider examples from lecture on Platonic metaphysics.)

5. Looking for implications that follow from initial claims. For example, if love is one thing, say, "essentially good," what follows? What needs explaining or more argumentation if we take this starting point.

6. Brainstorm: "Questions a good theory of _______ should be able to answer?" For example, what should a good theory of love explain or what questions should it answer?

7. Dialogue - Using the variety of ideas that groups generate and critical response and discussion to develop your own and others' philosophical views. Socrates' thought of himself as a "midwife" to give birth to philosophical ideas and rationales in others. For this method to be effective, you must be very thoughtful about the style and substance of your group discussion behaviors. The question answer method of the Euthyphro is an example, but we will add additional tips about listening, asking questions, paying attention to the direction of the conversation.

8. Thought Experiment. Our role call question on love (and many others), Descartes' Meditations, The Matrix, and the Brain in a Vat story, are all examples of thought experiments. We'll add detail to this method as we go.

9. Dialectical engagement with a theory or viewpoint. When you engage in critical reflection on standard theories or any philosophical writing, be sure to "let the theory speak" in its defense. Of course, you'll have to be the voice of the theory. The underlying skill to this method is to be able to switch positions during critical response and assume the position of the theory you critique so as to understanding the theory's resources for self-defense.

10. Developing alternative versions of existing theories. Often you will have critical responses to a philosophical theory (for example, Epicureanism is often criticized for being to quietist) which you could use either to dismiss the theory or consider some variation of the theory that is not susceptible to your negative criticism. (For example, how much could you modify an Epicurean philosophy to account for elements of your view of the self such as activism and striving.) Sometimes you find that the theory cannot be modified to avoid the criticism.

Related Docs

Go to Philosophical Methods
Go to General Overview of Critical Thinking Concepts