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Methodology (How to Study Philosophy)

Methodology (How to Study Philosophy)

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These are the notes from the Methodology course from a major Pontifical University. The philosophical point of view of the teacher was the Thomistic/Scholastic perspective.
These are the notes from the Methodology course from a major Pontifical University. The philosophical point of view of the teacher was the Thomistic/Scholastic perspective.

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Published by: ThomisticPhilosophy on Dec 22, 2009
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Methodology (How to Study Philosophy) Class Notes

(Taken at a Pontifical University)

First Lesson: The nature of university studies: University is meant to be a scientific institution which has two aims: a) transmission of knowledge b) education of future scientists Universities appeared in the 12th century. In the 1st universities the 1st place was assigned to philosophy. Other subjects: Theology, law, medicine. The institutions were at the service of the country. Universities have retained an important place in society. Study (definition): Concentrate all the personal resources in order to gather/assimilate different data/information, make a relationship between them, how they are linked, in order to understand problems, give solutions, control problems. Gather information for the sake of operation, solving problems, not only a passive activity and reasoning. It is a serious productive intellectual activity. To know how to study means to coordinate two dimensions with maximum responsibility (thinking and acting). Learning how to study means learning to coordinate my being on the level of doing research and activities. Studies: Change of growth. A kind of formation, not only an assimilation, reflecting data, but also creative actualization. Children asked magician after he showed tricks: “Is there a magical formula for studying?” The magician answered: “Just one: Hard work!” Egyptian priest came to the library of Alexandria, said to the assisting person: “Need to learn as quick as possible, because I want to hunt, too.” Scholar answered: “ In your country there are two different ways: For normal people and for royalty. In learning there is only one road. There is no royal easy road.” Methodology is needed, because it’s a part of our life. Our life as such is very complex. Today we are surrounded by a lot of information. Methodology will make us able to prepare peculiarly. Methodology will 1

enable us to be updated constantly on what is going on. We learn how to master tools, to build our knowledge in a personal way. It is not enough to learn, we have to learn how to learn. Method (meaning): Etymologically: Method = Greek (meta + hodos), means: towards (meta) + street (hodos) = a path which brings to a determinate objective/end = A set of reasoned and rational procedures. It is a set of particular procedures by which we come to a determined end. Scientifically: Process, which a human mind has to form and follow in order to reach a knowledge of a truth. Kind of way, path or procedure, which we have to follow in our investigation. Methodology (meaning): Etymologically: Method = Greek (meta + hodos + logos), means: towards (meta) + street (hodos) + research/science (logos) = a science of the method. Gathering of techniques/procedures helping us in our scientific investigations. Here Methodology is equivalent with method as such. This is the meaning we will focus on. Methodology requires practice and self-criticism on my side. It requires an analysis of how I study/work. A certain methodology is indispensable for us in our whole life. If we want to live a meaningful life (not giving in to nihilism), we have to have a certain knowledge of our life, know to what end we want to live. Once we know that, we need to know a certain way, in order to achieve that end. To live means to act. Whatever is alive, acts. If our acting has no final cause it will go in circles. If we act towards a particular end, we have to plan this acting. Life needs reflection. Studying is nothing else but a part of our life and it needs method, especially philosophy. Specific nature of philosophy studies, because philosophy involves invention of concepts. Abstract concepts, which are manipulated by means of different representations. To organize these concepts you need method in order to not get disoriented or confused. This will cause discouragement and you lose energy/momentum. Images might be in act in my head, without me knowing it. We might think that others are super-students, have all the positive qualities, are organized, have good notes, know answers etc.; while I have difficulties, have holes in my notes, lack organization etc. Don’t create in your head the super-student, because he does not exist. Idealization has a result increasing of a poor attitude towards studies in you, increases lack of self-confidence. 2

Be confident about your own capacities to study. Sometimes you will be asked questions or want to ask questions. While you are timid or have language problems others give answers and ask. But don’t judge yourself and your colleagues, because the one who contributes most to the class in a quantitative sense, does not have to be more intelligent. Meet people from 2nd/3rd year and ask them about professors, you get an image which might be totally wrong. How important is the level of our IQ? Important, but not the bees knees. Good IQ usually is the result of hard work, hardly anybody is born as a genius. You can always become a better student than you are right now. With methodology you can succeed, if you want!

Second Lesson: 2 ways of studying: passive (having)/active (being) = must combine both attitudes in study Study Habits: A set of skills or techniques which can help us in efficient studies; habit (garment) Three kind of skills which are basic for good studies 1. Ability to find out what you want 2. Fixing it in your mind 3. Organizing it for your own use Third Lesson: Five general guidelines or attitudes, which are good to have in order to study in an efficient way: 1.) 2.) Try to know your potential and talents and use them up to the max! Discover the qualities, that may be hidden. Try to increase your accuracy in learning. Means that if you learn a new technique of doing something you make errors but with practice you can decrease the errors. It is the same with learning. 3.) Right attitude towards studying. Means that you have to examine your way of studying and see if you are happy with it. Do I know in the morning, how I am going to spend the 3

day? Do I have sufficient time for studies? Do I find it difficult to get down to work? Do I waste time? Do I often work under pressure? Is my work left unfinished? Or is it left in inferior quality? Do I postpone difficult assignments? Am I aware of having any kind of method in studying? 4.) Count my own successes! Keep them in mind. Need feedback for further progress. Feedback can come from the answers I give during the lectures or from written papers. Satisfaction of having done things well. 5.) Know how to stimulate myself for studying. Give rewards to myself, if I studied well.

Indication of five general guidelines/five basic skills, which are good to have, no matter if you write a paper or read a text: 1.) Foreseeing: This is important because this capacity is the best to get rid of anxiety. Means you have to have a general vision of your task. Don’t look until next Monday, but further. Philosophy will last two years! General exam for baccalaureate! Have a global vision of the work during the next two years. 2.) Inquiring: It is a capacity of being in dialogue with what I am reading/listening to. Constantly interview whatever is the object of the current study. The aim of this is to make me ask many questions in such a way that the ideas which are contained become alive. Increases my concentration and helps to understand the matter and remember it much longer. Obtain certain information by asking questions. Spirit of questioning is one of the most important tools of a good student. It makes you an active person, not a passive receiver, because the attitude of questioning creates in me a helpful tension with the material. If you approach material which you are reading or listening to with a question in mind you will be more able to pick out the detail. E.g.: You will read a newspaper more thoroughly with a certain question in mind. 3.) Reacting: Means first of all to study, listen, read in a critical way. Being critical. Suggests a mental activity or being alert to what you are listening to. Participate, be involved in a particular task. Our minds are at rest sometimes, when we are listening or reading. Ears and eyes are at work, but mind is always asleep. If you try to react to the text you will stay awake and alert. We have to learn to react, because it is a personal act. The way I react will depend on my personality, because it involves thinking and emotions. A book sometimes makes you angry, sometimes it makes you want to laugh. Reacting can be a spontaneous thing. Often, especially in difficult philosophical text, such reactions want to be spontaneous. “It is boring” is not a reaction. React in a critical way, before you react in an intelligent way. Aim of reacting is to make me mentally active, become sensitive to what I am reading. In order to react correctly, I have to ask 4

these questions: Enter into a relation/dialogue with the text. Not a monologue, make the text answer my concrete questions. Ask about the arguments the author is using. Can the theses be opposed by other theses? It is useful to ask, what the questions are, that the author is trying to answer. Try to ask if the facts presented are correct. Is the author distinguishing between opinions and facts. Are the conclusions following the premises? Would other conclusions be equally correct? Are the conclusions in agreement with my opinion? Two people observing one situation can easily agree on facts, but they are always less likely to agree on interpretation of the facts. 4.) Speaking out: Verify how and what I do learn. It is the best method providing me with the feedback of what I learn and how correctly I learn. Once I learned a certain argument following: Something is like that because of this and that. Best thing to know if I learned it is to speak it out loud. Prove if I understood the chain of argument. Explain it to someone, because this really shows if you not only got the conclusion but also the arguments/premises. All this verifies a lever of precision of what I know. Easy to grasp the main ideas, but when asked about details, most people are lost. Check if you know! 5.) Teleprinting: Try to fix the matter of studies in my memory. Imprinting in my memory so that I have a certain amount of information. Re-read my notes, repeat them to myself. Do it often. I have to prevent my mind from losing what I have learned.

Fourth Lesson: There are two more things to concentrate on in this course: The capacities for writing papers and the capacities for reading. Writing papers: There are basically three kinds of papers: 1.) The analysis of a text: You read a text and say what it is about 2.) Comment: You have to make your own critical assessment of the text. 3.) You chose a thing/topic that you write about and you develop it If you are asked to write a paper according to the third kind of paper, you have some problems to solve. The first problem will be the choice of the topic. Sometimes a teacher will give you a list of topics to write on. If not, you have to define what you are going to write about. What criteria should guide me in defining the theme? There are five elements, subjective criteria, to keep in mind: 5


The topic has to be sufficiently delimited. The topic has to be adequate to the kind of paper I write. So if I am asked to write ten pages, I cannot pick a very general topic or one that is linked with other topics or simply too complex. Focus on the length of the paper. I also have to take into consideration the time that I have for writing the paper. Be clear about the main topic, so I know on what to focus, before diving into the books. Know if something is relevant, no matter how interesting it is.


The topic has to be remarkable. It has to be meaningful for me. If I am going to dedicate countless hours to writing a paper, I should make sure, that it has a meaning for me.


The topic has to be original. It has to be a thing that could possibly bring a new development to the science (philosophy). Sometimes it might seem, that the topic is exhausted. But if you do a good research, you will see, that there is nothing like exhaustion. If it is me, who is developing thing, it will be my point of view on the topic, so it is likely to be original, because it is different from the points of view from which the topic was looked at before. This is s strict demand for the doctorate thesis, but it doesn’t hurt to start the practice early.

4.) 5.)

The topic has to be interesting. Scientific work is very arduous, brings obstacles, it is tiring at times. So if the work is interesting, it will be much easier. The topic has to be realizable. Is the topic workable? Can it be done? Do I have enough preparation, enough competence, to face the topic? Will I find the material I need?

What are the steps I have to follow to write a definition/to formulate of my paper/topic/ theme? Usually it is a progressive report from wide to particular. The first step would be to see what in general is the type of matter to which I feel attracted. The second step would be to individualize a sector/area of research, which represents a particular interest for me. Don’t get too narrow too soon, because you might miss an interesting point. The third step would be to deepen my knowledge about the matter. Start with general writings like encyclopedia, or monographic reading/general critical studies in this field. Specialized readings will then allow me to pass from a matter of general interest to a particular problem/question. The fourth step would be to look for the advice of the professor. He can tell me, if it can be done or not. He will help clarifying stuff. Once the topic is chosen or once a topic on which to write on is received, you can proceed like that: The first step to take would be the analysis and comprehension of the topic. Sounds banal, but isn’t. If you don’t do it, you can make lots of mistakes. Spend some time with the thing itself and give it some attention. Don’t start writing or reading yet. 6

The second step would be to convince myself, that the thing is intelligible. You have to be convinced that the theme has a meaning/has sense. Therefore my intelligence can work on it. Do not have prejudices. The third step is to distrust my memory. Sometimes a theme might seem familiar, so that plenty of information comes to mind. But these memories can put at risk the work. Don’t take a thing as something you have already seen, because my memory might trick me. Consider the thing itself, not what you thing you understood about the thing. Allow the thing, not my memory about it, to speak to me. The fourth step would be to study carefully the formulation of the theme. Sometimes details make differences, especially in philosophy. Never try to transform the topic! If I don’t understand the topic immediately and if I don’t really try to understand, I might feel the temptation to modify the topic, bring it into a formulation, that sounds more familiar. This is a very big NO-NO! So once you understood what you are asked to write, once you understood the topic, remain faithful to it! Always check, if you’re still with the topic! The topic has to guide me in my writing. This means, that I have to be faithful to it, the topic will give me the orders, I am subjected to it. I have to be careful to understand the demands of the topic, to understand the natural order, dictated by the topic. I have to respect the topic.

Fifth Lesson: Bibliographical research: How to do a proper bibliographical research, when I picked my topic? Of course the research has to correspond with the paper I am writing. There are different methods of research, depending on whether you write a doctorate paper or a simple paper. It still has to be a full research. You have to make a systematical identification and analysis of the literature containing information on my topic. The first bibliographical research has four objectives: Limit the material Give a complete vision of the material regarding my problem Find out the level of research on my topic Enable a provisional outline of my work

How do I find the material I need? Personal contact with the documents is important, because you do not 7

only need a list of titles, but also have to verify the content of the books. Check out encyclopedias for articles on my topic, because at the end of these articles I will find literaturetips on the subject. Check out general scientific works on my topic for the same reason. Check out book reviews. “Bulletin Thomiste” (includes book reviews) “International scientific bibliography” (by the university of Louvain) How do you evaluate a bibliography? You have to make a reference to good books/articles. You need a critical sense. You can look at certain external criteria, like the books mentioned above or philosophical reviews, critical opinions on the books, competence of the author (is he known, does he have qualification for this topic…), the editorial house (reputation), whether the book is one of more volumes on the same topic, the number of reprints the book had, the number of quotes an author gets by other authors and the date of publication (if the book is old, it doesn’t have to be without value). You have to evaluate the material itself. Judge on the basis of critiques according to the content of the book. The criteria I have to look for are clarity, coherence, richness, directness etc. Read the preface of the author, the table of contents and the index. Briefly go to some pages of the book, read them and see how clear it is, how the writing makes me feel. Is the writing just a presentation of opinions without evidence, is the argumentation consequent or not? Pay attention so the sobriety of the style. Are there emotions or is the argumentation cool? Classify the material you find. You can separate the material into the following four main blocks: The basic material. Books that I recognize as essential in my research. The useful material. Books that speak about marginal aspects of my topic, or the ones that clarify a certain context that my not relate directly to the topic, but still help to get a clearer view. The publications of general character. Books written for a broader public may be useful, but they are not very valuable. The documents I want to track down or consult eventually. The books that might be something but just aren’t there right now. Divide bibliography into two parts: Primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are the firsthand documents, which regard my topic. They are writings not based on other writers work, but are the original sources dealing with my topic, presenting it to me directly. 8

Secondary sources are a far larger group, because this is the material discussing the primary sources. What is a good way to take notes during the bibliographical research? Do not write in a book, because I might want to re-arrange, carry notes around etc. Use bibliographical cards instead. What data should these cards contain? Author, title, publication details, short but specific content (also important for later work). After the completion of the bibliographic research I have to write a preliminary outline, in order to gather the material in an ordered way. The preliminary outline: Organize the facts/ideas gained during the first bibliographical research. Don’t waste too much time on that. Do not start writing without having a plan. Write down certain points in which I want to develop my topic. How? Try to see what the possible, logical order of the arguments/the arrangement is. Try to see the possible controlling or central idea of the topic. After writing down the plan, gather some documentation. This consists in getting a personal relationship with what I have found out in the initial bibliographical research. Start a proper research by reading the material I have found. From the first moment I need a critical evaluation of what I am reading. Otherwise I will read in a superficial way and be dispersed or I might neglect important information. One criterion is the relevance. Is this, what I am reading, relevant to my topic? Take notes while I am reading. This is very important. Sixth Lesson: Research (continued): Make content cards. Don’t write down stuff in a book, but only on single sheets, so you can rearrange. Content card should contain just one piece of data. And this data should be complete. Again, having only one piece of information on a card helps you to rearrange later. Also, the information must have integrity. The card has to contain all the essential elements, all the elements necessary to understand the complete data. When writing content card, never forget to write down, where you got the information (book, chapter, page etc.), so you don’t have to make another research. Quote exactly! Even possible mistakes have to be quoted and indicated in this way: [sic.]. Next step: Organization of the material. Bring an order to the material. There are two different ways: You order the content alphabetically. Or you can order the material according to the preliminary outline. This has the advantage that you see if you have enough material for all the points. Next step: Elaborate a documentation. First go through all the notes. Do it quickly, because remembering is not important here. This is more about impregnating the mind with as much data as possible. Eliminate duplicates, if there are any. Fill in gaps. You might want to change the outline. So insert new points, suppress others. Suppressing usually is more difficult (psychologically). You might feel the need to make use of what you have found. The only criterion, though, should be: Is the point relevant or not? Next step: Try to create a final outline. If it’s not possible, go back to research and fill the gaps. If you create the outline, make a division (and do it properly -> no single division in sub-chapters!) 9

Next step: Write! Next step: Leave the paper alone. Take it up after a week or so and notice how you react: “Did I actually write that crap?” Give the paper to somebody else, gather some critique and then improve. The text needs some characteristics: Flow: Natural transition between paragraphs. Unity: The idea of a paragraph is to have one part of the text that deals with just one idea. Each paragraph needs unity. Coherence: Enables the reader to grasp the wholeness of the paper. Try to make evident the link between sections. Show that the passage between sections is natural, logical, reasonable. Shape/emphasis: Papers sometimes lack shape/emphasis. Each part seems to be equally important. There is no development towards a climax. Try to avoid that. Correct grammar: Speaks for itself. Correct argumentation: Are the arguments correct? Don’t contradict yourself! Make sure, arguments have a logical sequence, relate to previous arguments. Can the arguments be questioned? Are the arguments leading to a general and final conclusion? Documentation: Don’t submit a paper with direct quotation and no indication of sources! Don’t plagiarize! Add a bibliography! Try to keep a good balance between the chapters and sub-chapters. Don’t make one chapter tiny and let another grow out of control. Do all that correctly and you SCORE! Three main parts of a paper: Preliminary part: Title page, foreword (where needed), table of contents, list of abbreviations (where needed), without-whoms (where needed) etc. Central part: Introduction, chapters (general body of the essay), conclusion Complementary part: Appendix (where needed), bibliography (obligatory!), indexes (where needed) Title page: Top middle: Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, next line: Faculty of Philosophy; Center middle: My name, next line: title, Bottom middle: Moderator’s name (the one with whom you are writing the paper), next line: Rome, 2006


Seventh Lesson: Continuation of Division of Writing a Paper Table of Contents / Index Listing down all of the parts the paper contains except title page and tables of contents itself Lists of Abbreviations *When quoting an author who writes several different books, abbreviate his works Form out of fist letters of main words in title Should not contain usual abbreviations Only put those of your own creation Indicate according to the alphabetical order of the abbreviation When the abbreviated title appears for the first time, you have to do it in full form Second Group of Elements: Introduction, Chapters and Conclusion Intro: Essential part of the essay Constitutes first approach to the reader of the theme Aim to make reader enter into the topic of the writing- passage from outside to inside Content of Intro: All possible elements necessary for the intelligibility of the reader Introduce topic of which you are aiming to write Make justification of limits of my work Define topic-indicate its limits Indicate relationship of my writing to previous research already done in the field Indicate the development of the problem of which you are writing and its actual state- evolution of proceeding studies Problemization of topic- set problem- show “problemicity” of problem- problem and possible consequences Can be done by formulating a set of questions Will help reader proceed throughout argumentation You don’t answer the questions in the intro Clarification/ Indication of purpose of my work – explain what it is about Practicality of the paper/problem – Point to indicate Presentation / Justification of methodology used Tools/ Sources in which you are basing yourself on 11

Introduction linked with objectives – structure – how my work will be divided/main arguments of my work Avoid making the introduction a page of universal statements of the topic – it must develop concrete points Intro has to be interesting/ attractive but don’t sacrifice content of paper How long should the intro be? Depends on the paper Has to be proportioned to limits of paper As short as possible containing all essential elements proper to the text (For a 10 page paper- ¾ to a full page is good) When to write Intro?: After the work is completed, It has to introduce the totality of the paper Placed after table of contents Intro will be a separate page from content Parts of text itself Chapters of the essay Whole work has to be divided into parts/chapters/subchapters Cannot be one continuous development of a topic (For term paper, continue chapters on same page, in bigger works, start a new page) Never place chapter/subchapter titles at the bottom of the page and two lines must follow the title Eighth Lesson: Direct quote and paraphrasing: Quotations = Exact passages/words of someone else, direct quotations have to be transcribed with total fidelity Paraphrasing = Thought of somebody else, expressed in your own linguistic way. Always indicate paraphrases, although they may not be direct quotes. Reasons are ethical (not your thoughts) and practical (reader might want to check out). Conclusion of paper: Put an end to an essay and complete it. What should be contained? Results from the research. What did you achieve with your work, consequences, what have you proved. Indicate merits and limits of your work. Show questions that are still left unanswered and problems that are left open. Don’t use general universal phrases. Conclusion has to correspond with the introduction. Appendix: Part of the work where you can put the things not essential for the originality of the work but still useful/helpful for the reader, i.e. an original and hard to find text by an author to whom you make a 12

reference. Different appendices are possible. Bibliography: Constitutes the formal statement of the credentials of the paper, indicates the sources on which I based my paper. Criteria for bibliography: Exact, up to date and honest. Only show the works you actually used (not necessarily quoted) for the paper. Divide between primary and secondary sources and general works like dictionaries. Put things in order (alphabetically or chronologically). Secondary sources are easier ordered alphabetically. Indexes (authors, subjects) are also useful. This all is for papers with a freely chosen topic.

There also are analysis/explanation and commentary of texts that you will have to write. Analysis/Explanation is not just one more exercise, it is the best way to approach the thinking of the author. It is a direct work on the author without making comments or being a secondary source. In order to know what others said you cannot rely on the comments. You have to read directly and in depth, think by yourself. Analysis/Explanation is not a pre-text to make a paper (your own) on a certain topic (instead of an analysis). This is free reflection, not analysis. a comment either. a paraphrase. Paraphrase is anti-philosophical, because it consists in repetition of what the author said in different words and often in bigger quantity. a word-by-word division. This is mechanical and results in destruction of the meaning. Plato calls this a foolish slaughter. Avoid mechanical division and cut text according to natural articulations not piece by piece. Analysis/Explanation is the simplest procedure that can exist in the approach to a text. It exists in announcing what is there in the text, what we find in it, what is pre-supposed, what is exposed (and what is not), what is implied by the author. Emphasize the meaning of the text. Clarify the importance of the development of the text. Expose the articulation of the arguments. In writing an explanation be careful to respect certain principles: a) Indicate theme (what the author is speaking about), thesis (what the author affirms about the topic, what is his position in regard to the topic) and problem list (what problems result from such position, where do you have questions). 13

b) c) d)

Recognition of the general development of the text. How does the author argue to arrive at his position? Discover, analyze, make operative notions/contents pre-supposed in the text. What is written between the lines? Express yourself on the exposed discourse. Make an evaluation of the authors arguments from the point of view of the correctness of the argument, not so much its truth.

How do we behave in front of the text? Be receptive. Eliminate all you have in your memory about a given topic. Don’t be prejudiced. Don’t look at the text as a confirmation of what you already know. Try to be satisfied with what you read. Do not look for comments by others on the text. This only creates bars between you and the text. Solutions for all difficulties are in the text itself. Don’t be afraid of your own incapacities. If there is a meaning in the text and you have some brains, you’ll find it. How to proceed in analyzing? You need lots of attention to what you read. Make a photocopy of the text and work with a pen. Underline terms, notions, different arguments. This will make the text look familiar and closer to you. Re-re-re-re-re-re-re-read the text. And try to approach it with a pure sight, try to forget what you think you understood in the previous reading. Everything has to be examined, down to the construction of the sentences. Be aware, that if certain answers jump at you immediately they might be wrong and block your view. Read the text so often, until you actually get a plan of it. Individualize the development, articulation of the text. Find out the form of the text. See, which articulations are more important, which are less important. What elements do you need in the introduction, the explanation itself and the conclusion of the Analysis/explanation (Table of cont, intro, main part, conclusion, bibliography) Ninth Lesson: Virtue text analysis: Main words: Virtue, mean, state of character, choice Theme of the text is the essence of moral virtue. Thesis that Aristotle tries to prove is in the last line: According to its essence the virtue is a mean and - with regard to what is best and right - an extreme. The thesis gives a good point to examine: How can something be a mean and an extreme at the same time. The word “then” in the first line indicates that Aristotle is making reference to a previous discussion, recalls results from previous chapters. 14

In the 1st sentence he gives the definition of virtue (a mean). Then we learn what the virtue of a mean is, namely lying between two things (excess and defect) that are always wrong. “Hence” indicates that everything proceeding this word allows us to draw the following conclusion. Look for different meanings: Virtue = state of character concerned with choice AND mean relative to us. Mean = rational principle AND middle way between two vices/evils. It is what is right. Last sentence: He speaks about virtue at two different levels. At the level of the essence (something which is determined by reason) virtue is defined simply as a mean, because its in an intermediate between two opposite vices. There is a second element at the level of perfection/excellence: Virtue is an extreme in regard to what is best and right. URL for cool book about the right style in writing papers: http://www.mhra.org.uk/Publications/Books/StyleGuide/StyleGuideV1.pdf

Back to Analysis/Explanation: Main problems/themes/thesis; for what to look when to analyze a text. Concrete realization of analysis: Introduction (first part): It is a real test for the paper, because a good intro always prepares the reader in a good way. You write the introduction last and you make it brief and concise. It has to contain four elements: First: Indicate the theme and the object of the text, what the author speaks of. Careful: Find an authentic theme that corresponds to the totality of the text. It is enough to write one good phrase here. Second: Indicate the author’s thesis exposed in the text. What the author is affirming in regard to his thesis. It is a philosophical position assumed by the author in regard to the topic given. Thesis is main core of the text. Careful: Find the real thesis. Again: Few words will suffice. Third: Problematization of the text (Virtue being middle way and extreme in our text). Fourth: Indicate the development of the text: Different moments of the authors thought. What are the main arguments/points of his argumentation. Again: Do it briefly. Explanation (main part): Detailed examination of the text step by step. Five important points: First: Indicate and underline the important terms (virtue, mean, state of character in our text). Also find out the implicit notions the author has in mind when he writes. Something is not clicking sometimes, you might miss something in the text. Something might be incomprehensible, because it is clearer in the original (Greek). Harharhar. Indicate main notions, key terms. Second: Accentuate problems and questions you meet in the text. Each text is an answer to a question the 15

author has. Pose the questions to help yourself to get from one argument to another. Paper: dialogue between questions and answers. Third: Individualize articulations of text and develop them. The author does not indicate the main steps in order to arrive at the conclusion. You have to do it in an explicit way. Show the main points/steps he went through. Fourth: Pay attention to the examples. Examples are significant. They explain/illustrate and give information. If there are examples in the philosophical test, the author thought they were important. Find out why? Fifth: Be attentive to the moments which might be lacking argumentation or where arguments change and something seems to be missing. Pay attention to what is not in the text. Separate main parts into chapters/titles. Should be possible. Let arguments represent different problems. Plus: She wants it! Conclusion (last part): Two things: First: Quick essential of the text, short critical examination Second: Give an evaluation of the text/debate, guided by the text. Indicate how accurate the authors arguments were, how well the argumentation was developed, how clear it was. Again: short and remain within the text. Don’t let the conclusion turn into commentary. Don’t go to the truth of the authors thesis, because then you will be commenting. The writing itself of the analysis/explanation: Write without a draft. Write directly as if it was the final version (after re-re-re-re-re-reading of the text, of course). A draft might just be a loss of time. It justifies negligence (“it’s just a draft”). If the text has been analyzed correctly, there is no reason why you should write it twice. Always have the text before your eyes while you are writing! If you quote the text, be brief.

Tenth Lesson: Comment (different from explanation): You don’t only try to see what the author is saying, but you have to evaluate the philosophical thought you find. Enter in a broader dialogue with the author. It also involves making a reference to other authors/commentators. Consider if what the author says is true/valid or not. Commentary in general is broader and more ambitious than analysis. Commentary already shows how much knowledge and intelligence you have. To make a good commentary you have to have broad and precise knowledge in a given field. It also presupposes a detailed work on the text of the commentators of the given author. Exercise 16

on the history of the philosophy is required as well as speculative skills. It is essential not to mix explanation and comment, because they fulfill different functions. So always ask the prof what you are supposed to write, when you are given a text to write on. Explanation of the text is always at the service of the text. You don’t go out of the frame of the text itself, while the commentary questions the author. Explanation only speaks about what the author said, commentary can question the validity and truth of what the author says. Explanation starts with the text and stops within the text, commentary goes beyond. How to write a good comment? The substance of the comment depends on the philosophical knowledge you already have. You can have different comments on the same text, as far as content and quality are concerned. It is a personal exercise, so it depends on your abilities to link the historical facts. A comment is an exercise that shows the personal philosophical culture and level of the student. It involves a lot of personal qualities.

First: You have to know what the text says before you comment on it. So the first thing you want to do when encountering the text is, to suspend your philosophical knowledge in order to make a good explanation of the text. That is a presupposition for a comment. Second: Be careful to maintain the order of the operations in such a way that you do not become disoriented during analysis and commentary. Write in such a way that you do not write two successive exposures, where you have an explanation first and then the comment Therefore work in a defined way (horizontally and vertically at the same time). Work in three columns: The first one will be used for an explanation/analysis. The second one will be dedicated to the comments you can make because of your philosophical knowledge and/or comments of other authors on the text. It contains what you know from history of philosophy and belongs to the points you find when analyzing. The third one will be reserved for personal observations. It can contain more personal reflections, things that come to your mind, possible links with other problems and so on. The second and third column will prepare the actual comment. Keep this way of proceeding up until you reach the end of the text. Respect the order of the text you get from the analysis. Third: If the analytical work and historical and personal reflection are completed, formulate a plan of a unified work based on the results of step two. Again: Do not write a commentary with two separate parts (explanation and then commentary), because you are forced to make a summary explanation/a paraphrase followed by a comment without a proper structure but with many repetitions instead. So prepare the material 17

in columns, as step two says, because it makes the totality of the material obvious and shows you empty boxes. This shows what information and material you have to gather. Try to fill the empty boxes. Once the table is full, look for main themes and problems, find your focal points. These might come from the thesis of the author, but also from somewhere else (within the text). Your topic might correspond with the one of the author or not. To write an outline, follow the order of the text, unless you find very good reasons not to do so. Try to write a plan of the text that follows the first column and look for the equivalents in the other columns. Try to keep an equilibrium between the parts of the comment. Introduction and conclusion do not have to be long and follow the rules of the ones in explanation. The contents though is different, because the work is not only on the text but also about what others and you are thinking about it, the intro will not only speak about the author and the text. You will have to raise to the level of the problem and present the contents of the work of the author and introduce its place the general philosophical debate. Refer to the plan of the work. Explain the arguments to which you go. This might also be accompanied by a set of problems or questions you will present. Indicate objectives of your commentary, what you want to prove. Explain your position/thesis in regard to what the author says. In the conclusion you have to make a critical appraisal of your work and make some kind of speculative reflection in order to situation your work in the field of philosophy. Two main difficulties arise in both writing an analysis or a comment on a text. You might be confronted with a text that seems so difficult and obscure that you seem to be unable to cope with it. The language might have a high degree of technicality, presupposing a lot of knowledge. On the other hand there are texts that seem so transparent and simple that they are almost empty. It seems to be so easy, that you cannot say anything about it. The second problem is the bigger one, because, in the case of the first problem, if you have to analyze a very dense and difficult text, once you become familiar with the terms and the language, the text itself falls into place. In the second case though you might not find anything you can write about.

Eleventh Lesson Reading skills: Can you read? Valid question, because there is reading and reading! Philosophy is a complicated subject. In order to read efficiently you need philosophical preparation. In order to have that you have to read: Learning through reading and reading to learn. Different types of reading: For enjoyment For information For formation: Supposed to cultivate personal dimensions as a person. Moral, cultural, intellectual 18

development. In-depth-reading: Combines reading for information and for formation. This involves remembering the information and understanding the text. Reflective, critical reading, stimulating your development. Reading is thinking, hence the aspect of understanding: Think about what you are reading, try to understand it. Reading philosophical texts is not always easy or pleasant. An obstacle in the beginning is a lack of adequate knowledge. Also, the philosophical styles might be difficult in the beginning. There are lots of philosophical terms, which you have to understand, which you have to get used to. There are also texts written in literary form. In the first approach it seems to have an immediate accessibility. But when you think about it, it seems that you cannot draw anything from it, because it seems so easy and banal. But be patient! Five important moments in reading: First: Survey Take a general look at the book. The aim is to help you to find your personal way through the text easily. It is important to have an insight into the book’s content in a short time. It is easier to read a philosophical book if you know what it is about. How do you get an accurate overview of a book: Find: 1) Purpose of the book, 2) content of the book, 3) level of the book, 4) structure of the book. How do you find these? Look at title, name of the author, publishing house. Look at the table of contents. It shows you which way the author is taking, what he is aiming at. Look at the analytical index. It shows you which themes are important in the book. Flip through the pages, read some passages, in order to get familiar with the book. Read preface, introduction and conclusion of the book. Preface tells you something about why the book was written, about its objectives and for whom the book was written. The introduction and conclusion will give you an overview of the book. Look at footnotes, appendices etc, too. After the survey you will be able to evaluate the book and see how interesting and difficult it is. Second: Questions Whoever reads something in order to answer personal questions understands the material much better, is motivated to think critically about what is presented. If, for example, there is an important event in your country and you take up a newspaper, you will read it with interest, looking for answers to the questions about the event. How to ask questions? Two important points to underline: 1) The amount of questions, 2) the origin of questions. 1) Be careful in regard to how many questions you ask. Do not ask too many questions, do not ask questions that are irrelevant. Two or three good questions per chapter should be enough. 2) Justification/origin of the questions. This means it has to be clear why you are asking the particular question at that particular moment. The questions should be in place. Justify to yourself why you are asking questions. Be clear from where the question comes. 19

What kinds of questions do we have to ask? First two questions: Why am I reading this book? What do I expect from this book? Title of the book: This can turn into a question, can make you ask, what you already know about the topic. Titles of the chapters: Statements of these titles can be converted into questions, too. There are hidden questions in the text, because the whole book is an answer to the question the author asked. Six traditional kinds of questions: Who, when, where, what, why, how. Two groups: Short concrete answers, “closed” questions (who, when ,where). “Open” questions (what, why, how). Ten philosophical groups/models of questions: Definition (What is it?, how is it defined?, what is its nature?), Distinction (In what is A different from B?, what is the difference in nature between A and B?), Place (Place of the problem. Where does the problem find its place in the general dimension of science, philosophy, knowledge?), Principle of reason (What is the reason to be/exist of a particular reality?), Conditions of possibility (What are the conditions which make a particular thing possible/enable the existence of a particular reality?), Origin (Who invented something? From where originates a particular event or phenomenon?), Process of formation (How can it happen? What is the way in which it was produced? How does it come to be? In what way does the problem reach this formulation?), Finality (Why? For what purpose/end is it happening?), Effects (What are the possible consequences? What are the implications of a certain phenomenon/reality?), Capacity to instruct (What is it teaching me? What does it allow to understand?) Two more important and useful questions: About the truth of the statements and the relevance of the statements. Is what the author writes relevant? Is it a necessary part of the discussion?

Twelfth Lesson: Third: Reading itself. Reading is an activity combining three elements: Analyzing sentences in order to find answers, having a critical approach, taking notes. Analyzing: Be able to focus on the main elements. A paragraph always concentrates on one element. Find this main ides of the paragraph. The same goes for sections or chapters. Generally an idea is indicated at the beginning of a paragraph. Sometimes it is at the end, when the author likes to lead the reader to the conclusion. Several sentences might appear to be important. Yet they might not contain the main idea of the author. Do not make the mistake of misplacing an accent. To make sure you found the correct idea of the paragraph, look whether it corresponds to the whole paragraph. A correct analysis enables you to recall details as well. These are important elements because they are 20

supporting the main idea. What are the details? Those elements and arguments on which the main idea is based on. Focus on the search for the main idea. You can already make notes of important details. Reviewing the passage you should pay more attention to the detail. During the second division, concentrate on main idea and details and see if they correspond. Criticism: We have sentences of different validity. To be more critical, examine the statements you are reading. Set up comparisons. Look for a variety of views and compare them with what you are reading about. The author might assume a position “a” in regard to a particular problem. Assume that the opposite is true, see if the position can be maintained. Or you read something and think “Crap!” Why do I have this reaction? Often it is in conflict with your own opinion. Compare, see what is more reasonable or acceptable. Reactions to the author’s statement wont always be there. So we have to establish a method of comparing automatically, habitually. How does an opposite point of view change the situation? What similarities will remain? Question the truth of prepositions. Author affirms something and leaves it to our consideration. Why would we want to question the truth of prepositions? Because it helps to identify simple assumptions, statements, which have no critical background and are not challenged from the point of view of truth. Take up extreme positions and try to argue against the truth of the preposition. = Is it true/self evident/evident enough? This is important, because if the preposition is not true, the argument might be valid, but the conclusion will be false. If the preposition is true, where is the evidence? Question the validity of an argument. Is the argument done correctly from the logical point of view? Is it constructed correctly according to the rules of logic? It might be, but this does not mean that the conclusion is true or corresponding with reality, which again makes the evaluation of the validity of prepositions important. Prepositions can be true or false, arguments can be valid or invalid from the logical point of view. Is the totality of the argumentation of the book correct from the logical point of view? Be alert to generalizations or assumptions. In the philosophical text there is no place for generalizations and assumptions (“All people know that…; all people agree on…”). Notes: Why should I take notes? Lasting ink is better than memory. Memory pays tricks on us sometimes. Taking notes helps us to learn. Taking notes helps us to be mentally alert. Reading without taking notes sometimes leads your mind to other places and after four pages you realize that you didn’t get anything at all. Taking notes helps you memorizing the text. Develop a system of abbreviations. Make your notes in a clear way. Quote in a correct way. How to make notes? Read first, write later. You have to understand what you want to write down. Do some underlining/marking, but only do it in your books. And do not underline too much. Use pencils, so you can erase what you underlined, if you need to. Taking notes during classes: Listening is an active and composed and critical process. Listening is difficult 21

because you have to listen analyze, select and record. Good listening is difficult. Speakers’ velocity might not be your own. You have to be on the same mental speed as the speaker. Also: You can’t choose place and time for listening. You have to adjust your mood and energy. You have to be there. We might be distracted by events in the classroom. It is difficult to be critical when you are listening. It is hard to evaluate speaker’s ideas and validity. Sometimes it is difficult to listen and take notes, when the speaker’s personality does not “click” with yours. Even worse, when the subject is boring. Cope with it. Becoming a better listener: Get ready to listen mentally as soon as the bell rings. Direct your attention to the speaker, not to the sounds and events around. Prepare for the lecture. Revise your notes. Know what went on before. Do more listening than writing. Take up the main points. At home revise and complete the notes. Fourth: Recalling. This means that at the end of the chapter or a section it is good to recall what you read, make a synthesis of it. This will help you to fix the more important ideas and will be a necessary base for reviewing. Fifth: Reviewing. This is a final look at your notes, do a final check of the validity of what you have done.


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