TEACHING PHILOSOPHY WRITING
Matthew Walker, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Humanities Division
My Teaching Innovation Grant – “Teaching Philosophy Writing” – supported a week-long visit in March 2017 from Jyl Gentzler, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Writing Center, Amherst College. In addition to having published many highly regarded papers in leading philosophy journals (including the winner of the 2003 Philosophical Quarterly Essay Prize), Gentzler is the co-author of Mastering the Art of Philosophy: A Guide to Philosophical Writing, with Seven Exemplary Essays (Routledge, forthcoming).
All Yale-NUS students take Philosophy and Political Thought. Many Yale-NUS students also major or take advanced courses in either Philosophy or Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Such courses emphasize a special kind of writing, one whose analytical, argumentative, and evaluative character is essentially linked to the distinctive goals of philosophical thinking. Virtually none of our students, however, has previous exposure to writing in this genre before college. Given its novelty, many students find mastering this genre uniquely challenging. My grant aimed, then, to provide Yale-NUS faculty members and students with additional insights on, and resources for, philosophy writing pedagogy.
During her visit, Gentzler led a workshop for philosophy faculty and Writers’ Centre staff, in which we examined the philosophy essay as a
type of writing. What are the virtues of a good philosophy paper? What particular skills do students need to write such a paper? How,
specifically, are the aims of philosophical writing and philosophical thinking connected? Those who attended the workshop all learned from
Gentzler’s teaching experience, practical advice, and useful handouts, which promise to inform future efforts in teaching writing. In the following days, Yale-NUS faculty benefited from informal opportunities to discuss ideas from the workshop with Gentzler and to learn more about her own work teaching philosophy at Amherst.
In addition to giving an excellent talk on Plato’s Republic and getting to meet CTL staff during her visit, Gentzler also led a Philosophy Café for students on “The Art of Philosophical Writing.” Here, Yale-NUS students got the special chance to discuss their particular concerns and goal as philosophical writers with a seasoned expert in the field. The Philosophy Café provided a forum for lively conversation, which continued on during a dinner with Gentzler and students.
Adapted from a paper of the same name to appear in “Proceedings of the 2017 IADIS International Conference Educational Technologies”