Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Decision About the Direction of the Blog

Let me begin by saying that I have been really impressed and delighted by the depth and richness of some of the recent discussions that have been taking place on this blog. The highest praise I can offer is this: it is the kind of discussion that I want my students to be exposed to (and to participate in).

And this has led me to make a decision about the direction of this blog over the coming months. My school year starts up again in a few weeks, and one of the courses I will be teaching is philosophy of religion. What I'd like to do is, for the duration of the coming semester, link this blog to that course in a deliberate way.

In other words, I will be routinely posting on topics that directly relate to current course readings and lectures, and I will be explicitly inviting my students to visit the blog. This is not to say that I will not be posting on other topics, but it is to say that I will prioritize posts that directly relate to current discussions in the course.

One implication of this decision is that pedagogical considerations will shape the character of the posts. You will likely see me devote more attention than usual to explicating the views and arguments of different philosophers and religious thinkers. I may be more judicious about when I reveal what I think on an issue (based on my sense of how such revelations are likely to impact my aim of inspiring independent critical thinking in my students*). And there are likely to be more posts that serve primarily to set up discussion questions.

Another implication of this decision is that certain promised posts (e.g., on Hegel, on philosophy of mind, etc.) may be delayed (unless I get to them before the school year starts...but given my need to prepare for the coming semester, I'm not expecting a lot of really time-consuming posts between now and then). While this is regrettable, I think that the benefits--both for my students and for regular contributors to this blog--outweigh the drawbacks.

*On this point, I've found that a balance between being mercurial on some topics and forthright about my position on others works best. When I do the former, some students feel less intimidated about sharing their own views, and it becomes easier to operate as a facilitator for discussions among students. But the discipline of philosophy proceeds by philosophers developing arguments for their own positions which they then present to others with an invitation to raise objections, challenges, and opposing arguments (and which they then defend or revise in the light of these objections). Modeling this process in the classroom (or, it seems, on a blog) is one valuable way for students to learn how philosophy works--and while I can (and do) ask students to be in the hotseat and defend their views in the light objections, I believe there are real pedagogical benefits to putting myself in the hotseat by presenting my own arguments and ideas and inviting students to act as fellow philosophers critically assessing them--at least once I'm confident that the students understand that they are supposed to challenge me, that I do not punish them for disagreeing, etc.


  1. Perhaps you would consider recommending a few books for your blog-only readers, enabling them to follow along as you're teaching?

  2. Good idea Jonathan.

    Also good to see Eric (unlike God) not getting angry when his students disagree with him ;-)

  3. Perfectly fine with me. But then, I'm a former philosophy major, so I find this stuff interesting. :-)

  4. Eric,

    I think that’s a very interesting idea. While reading Plato I have always wondered how it might have been to walk into the Agora in Athens and join a philosophical discussion by Socrates and his students. Perhaps your blog will emulate such an environment.

    Further I find quite appealing the idea of getting a more or less systematic exposure to the main ideas of philosophy of religion in such a free debate format.

  5. Jonathan--Your idea is good. Unfortunately, for this course I have chosen to go with an anthology (God Matters,) which is priced like a textbook (presumably because it is one--although it was less than half the current price when I first used it a couple of years back). I see there are some used copies available through Amazon, but even they are pricy.

    But at least some of the things anthologized in GOD MATTERS that I will be using are in the public domain (Anselm, Aquinas, Hume, maybe William James and some older translations of Kierkegaard, etc.) and thus should be something that can be tracked down online. When that is the case I will provide links. I may also post a copy of the reading schedule on the blog so that industrious blog-readers can attempt to track down essays on their own.

    In addition to the essays in GOD MATTERS, I will be assigning chapters from Dawkins' THE GOD DELUSION and from my response to serve as springboards for creating interest and student engagement in the more rigorous philosophical essays. Those books are more affordable.

    If, however, you are looking for a concise introduction to the philosophy of religion that covers many of the topics we will be covering in the course, you are unlikely to do better than William Rowe's Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. I see you can access a number of relatively affordable used copies through Amazon. I guess if I were to recommend a single book to read that would help keep you abreast and informed, that would be it.

    Dianelos--Expressing the hope that my blog will emulate Socrates and his students in the Agora certainly puts the pressure on! At this point, my biggest hope is that my students will actually check out the blog every once in awhile. We'll see.

  6. Eric, that sounds like a plan. Thanks for that. I'll keep an eye out for those books between now and the start of your course. Looking forward to it.