Up ]

Projects, Logic, Writing, and Presenting

Grading standards

Principles for projects

Reasoning and argument analysis

Writing English well

Various do's and don'ts


Grading standards

 The university interprets A to indicate excellent, B good, C fair, D poor (unsatisfactory but passing) and F failure.  I use 90% and above to indicate the A range (A- goes as high as 93.9%); 80% and up indicates the B range (87% for B+), and so on.

Class participation.  The syllabus normally says something like the following. 

Evaluation is based on participation (10 points): In this class we are pursuing the meanings of the highest values that humanity has attempted to realize.  We a community of inquiry, and our interaction has a life of its own; so you are expected to attend regularly, be on time, have the reading done, and be biologically and intellectually ready to participate.

            I normally interpret this in the following way.  Good attendance is the threshold that gets you a C.  Beyond that threshold, participation largely means taking initiative to make contributions—questions and comments.

            Please note: my system of marking attendance differentiates between on time and late.  If you have a reason to be late consistently, please speak with me during the first week.



Principles for projects


What are the projects? What do they require?

Your education gets real when you relate ideas from class to your life. The projects help you make those connections. The course is designed to be project centered rather than merely or instructor- or text-centered.  Rather, texts serve as tools to help you in your experiments and in the writings you create.

Many students have made priceless discoveries and report fine adventures with these projects. Sometimes, of course, frustration arises in the process. Some frustration is part of the normal experience of encountering a worthy challenge. At other times, however, the frustration has a lesson to teach so that we can make the project assignment more clear and helpful. Please speak up about difficulties you encounter, ambiguities or problems that you note, so that we can all benefit from the lessons to be learned.  Be sure to see the instructor if you are lost for more than a couple days about how to proceed.

No student is ever obliged to practice something that conflicts with his or her own beliefs or to experiment with something that just doesn't feel right.  The student is to adjust the assigned principle or concept as needed until it fits.  See the instructor if you have any doubts about how to modify the assignment in a way that will still satisfy the assignment. 

Each project involves the following elements.

How much personal information should I share in writing the papers?

Growth happens most when we use the projects to address our own growth issues. You are never obliged, however, to disclose personal information to the instructor in a paper. You may find it useful to take advantage of a class assignment to write reflections on a sensitive issue; you may find sharing and interacting helpful to you. Nevertheless, always remember: Self-revelation is voluntary. You may prefer to write about an experience that is less sensitive. There are times in our lives where when it is unwise to probe a deep and difficult issue.  Remember the professional counseling help available free to students at the Health Service.  You may also write about the experience in a third-person way, changing the names to preserve the anonymity of those involved.


Reasoning and argument analysis

One of the hallmarks of much philosophic writing is that there is some attempt to give reasons in support of a thesis.  Even though this class does not presuppose any training in logic, the student may well begin to consider some ideas about how to examine reasoning. 

Philosophy involves asking questions, considering alternative perspectives, reasoning, and articulating our experience/understanding.  One of philosophy's methods is analytic philosophy.  This tradition asks persistently, "What does this mean?"  "Why do you believe it?"  Analytic philosophy emphasizes precise formulation of a question, involvement with the best contemporary philosophy on a given topic, lucid organization of ideas, keen analysis, construction of persuasive arguments, and clear writing.

One commonly suggested sequence of questions to develop your response to reading is: Describe, Interpret, Evaluate. For example, What does the author say? What does the author mean by what s/he says? Is it true?

When considering a piece of reasoning, you may find leverage in asking the following questions.

1.  What is my purpose in working with this piece of text (or our purpose, insofar as the inquiry is a team project)?  If there are multiple purposes, which purpose is dominant?

2.  What does the author's purpose seem to be?

3.  Are there any empirical claims or assumptions which can be confirmed or disconfirmed in daily experience or science?

4.  Are there claims or assumptions--positive or negative--about religion or spiritual realities?

5.  What words or phrases convey key concepts?  (Do not overlook articles, prepositions, verb forms, etc.)  Is there any term, phrase, or sentence that is ambiguous?  What interpretations are possible?  What interpretation is most plausible?  Or is it the case that more than one meaning is involved (whether or not the ambiguity is deliberate)?  Note that what one finds to be clear depends partly upon the categories one is accustomed to using.  Is there any problem with the concepts being used?

6.  In the sentences where key affirmations are made (assuming, for the moment, that they are not questions, exclamations, commands, or invocations) is the grammar clear?  Are the subject and predicate presented as possibly linked, actually linked, or necessarily linked?  Does a sentence express a necessary condition or a sufficient condition?  What other possible relationships might obtain between subject and predicate?  Do not overlook the interesting structures of paragraphs and groups of paragraphs.

7.  Examine the arguments.  The term "argument," as used in philosophy, does not connote an angry dispute between persons; it simply means that a conclusion is being proposed on the basis of one or more reasons or premises.  In reasoning it is common to use words called inference markers.  "Therefore" indicates a conclusion.  "Because" indicates a reason for a conclusion.  Other conclusion indicators include "thus" and "hence."  Other reason indicators include "since," and (in some uses) "for."

Argument is not the only way to achieve a strategic sequence in writing.  Authors also use descriptions, accounts, and narratives.

8.  Identify the conclusion(s), stated and unstated.  What is the text driving at?  What is the main point?  There may be several arguments in the text.  Having summarized the text as a whole, you may focus on just one line of argument.

9.  Identify the reason(s) or premise(s) for each conclusion.  Are the premises true?

10.  Identify any unstated assumptions.  Attribute to the author only those assumptions that you may reasonably expect him or her to be assuming (on the basis of the text).  These are not necessarily the same as the assumptions that are logically required in order for the argument to be valid.  Are the assumptions true?

11.  Construct a diagram of the argument. 

12.  Do the premises and unstated assumptions, IF TRUE, constitute strong evidence for the conclusion?

13.  Consider other arguments that are relevant but not mentioned in the argument you are examining.

14.  Give the argument an overall evaluation.  It's easy to pick flaws.  Were your criticisms significant or minor?  Could the author easily fix the argument and make it strong?

15.  What can you do constructively with your analysis that goes beyond the immediate assignment in class?


Writing English well

 Why does the instructor insist on well-written papers?

The staff at the Writing Center (318 Satterfield Hall, 672-1787) are trained to help you grow in the many dimensions of the process of writing.  One basic aspect of writing that is easy for everyone to neglect is correctness on the level of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  Having taught English for several years at an international school, I became more aware of the global importance of English as the first language in some powerful countries and as a second language for countless persons in many countries around the world.  If we neglect the care of this tool for thinking and communication, we conspire in planetary cultural decline.  If we care for the quality of all dimensions of our writing process, we help the planet turn things around in the direction of progress.

Think for a moment why many students graduate with a bachelor's degree without the habit of writing consistently correct English sentences or organizing their ideas in a logical way. U.S. business spends a billion dollars a year (so I read years ago) training people in basics they should have gotten from school. Tuition rises because state subsidies go down partly because legislators are not impressed with what all our investment in education is achieving. This scandal, like every other decline, gets turned around person by person, small group by small group, and this class is one where we turn it around. I growl fiercely about writing because I find that if I do not, I get far more careless writing than otherwise. Having spent years teaching English, I offer help to anyone who needs it. I also reduce grades significantly for poor writing. Writing is communication, bringing good to another person--ultimately, an act of love. The more we rely on machines for communicating, the more important it is to write graciously and well.

Research on the process of learning to write has found that it can be unhelpful to insist on the fine points of grammar and punctuation until other, global skills have been learned.  Learning to reason well, to conceive the movement of the paper as a whole, and then to think of a skillful sequence of paragraphs is the place to begin. 

Selected Principles of Grammar, Punctuation, and Style 

 1.  Write complete sentences.  A sentence fragment lacks a normal main clause with a subject and a verb—or else introduces a clause with a subordinating conjunction, for example: “Because you are just too tired to do it right.”

 2.  The number of the verb (singular or plural) must agree the number of the subject.

 3.  Use a comma to separate main clauses only when they are joined by a pure (coordinating) conjunction.  When joined by an adverbial conjunction or not joined at all, use a semicolon between main clauses.  There are only four pure conjunctions: and, but, or, nor

 4.  Commas follow introductory elements such as adverb clauses, long prepositional phrases, participial and infinitive phrases, transitional expressions, and interjections.

 5.  Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas (if you do not use parentheses).

 6.  Do not use a comma (a) to separate subject from verb, (b) to set off a coordinating conjunction, or (c) to separate components of a compound verb.

 7.  In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.  The number of commas to use is the n umber of items in the series minus one.

 8.  Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particular s, an appositive, an amplification, an illustrative quotation, and after the following, as follows, thus, this, and these.

 9.  Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption, to announce a long appositive, and before a repeated word.

10.  Use the apostrophe to indicate the possessive case (except for personal pronouns and whose), to mark omissions in contracted words or numbers in dates, and to form certain plurals.

11.  Use quotation marks to set off all direct quotations, inside titles, and words used in a special sense.  Commas and periods always precede final quotations marks.  Colons and semicolons always follow final quotation marks.  Interrogation and exclamation marks may precede or follow final quotations marks according to the sense of the context.  Italicize titles of publications.  Use quotation marks around other titles.


12.  Your style should express your best effort to bring good to your reader in a way that is both responsible and expressive of you as a unique personality.  You do not need to try to be different or unique, however, because if your effort is excellent and your approach sincere, your personality will show through.  Do not fear to use humor.  The use of the first person singular is permissible on these papers. 

Here are some common recommendations regarding style that will often be helpful to the beginning writer.  Put statements in positive form.  Use definite, concrete language.  Omit needless words.  Write more with nous and verbs than with adjectives and adverbs.



Various do's and don'ts


The seminar report


The first job is to communicate (normally with the aid of a handout) an outline of the assigned reading.  Where the selection is organized as an argument, you will present an outline of the argument (see the instructions on argument analysis).

Outlining is a discipline often neglected after primary school or junior high.  Outlining obliges you to overcome the tendency to grab what is of most interest to you and simply to make your comment on that.  Outlining obliges you to stay with—and reproduce in a way you can reasonably expect the author to approve—the way the piece unfolds from start to finish.  One way (time-consuming, but worth it for some texts) is to summarize the meaning of each paragraph, then look for meaningful groups of paragraphs, and groups of groups, etc., until a structure of the whole emerges.  Beware of relying on editorial additions, which may neglect important dimensions of what the author is trying to do.  Of course, you should not normally expect to present much of the data gathered by detailed argument analysis or outlining.

Take 15-20 minutes, leaving the last 5 (of 15) to 10 (of 20) for discussion.  Offer some response of your own to the selection, and pose some questions to start discussion.  You need to empower the students to discuss.  Coming up with good questions is one of the most important things you can do; please take the time to do this thoughtfully.

You are the teacher during this time.  Conduct yourself accordingly.