Pathways and my Summary of the Introduction To Philosophy Pathway

I have mentioned before in this blog I am doing the Pathways courses as below:

https://philosophypathways.com/programs/pak2.html

While I am making headway with the fourth essay now in  Pathway B: Philosophy of Mind I have always intended on writing up a summary of how the first pathway went; the intention being that this synopsis may be useful for others. So here goes. I will describe some background first and then describe how the essays went.

Last year in June I was thinking about doing the University of London (UOL) distance learning programs in English or Theology, starting with doing the cert and may be getting up to diploma level, pending on how things went. I did have reservations about UOL though as they do not actively tutor their courses and then Heythrop college closed (they handled the Theology element). I began looking at the option of doing the Philosophy courses. Until then I always viewed philosophy as a wishy washy subject, which annoyed me with its inconclusiveness. I read somewhere that studying philosophy helps you to think more critically and keep you more open minded. I realised I was not being open minded about philosophy, so may be I was not as open minded or logical as I would like to think myself to be.

I found an Introduction to to Philosophy course on Coursera

https://www.coursera.org/learn/philosophy

and did the course over a month. I found the course quite interesting and wanted to know more.

I then found the Geoffrey Klempners  Pathways site on the web (referred to as GK from now on). I was not familiar with the way it used to run and emailed some queries to him enquiring why it was so cheap (only 60 GBP at the time), believing that there may be some more tutoring fees on top (which I would not mind). It turned out that he used to actively tutor, but had retired from that activity. He then put up the price to 180 GBP, as he believed the lower price would make people think it was not any good. I decided to pay the new price in any case and it has , so far , been worth it. I submitted 5 essays to GK as part of the first course

A. Introduction to Philosophy — The Possible World Machine

As GK says on his website each of his course are divided into 15 chapters and the student is required to write an essay after each 3 chapters. I decided I would try to write one essay a  month.

The pathways site has a recommended book list and from that (and the London School of Philosophy website) I decided on buying some background material first, namely

Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward Craig)

Philosophy For Everyone (Matthew Chrisman, Duncan PritchardGuy Fletcher, Elinor Mason, Suilin Lavelle, Michaela Massimi, Aladair Richmod, Dave Ward)

Philosophy: The Basics (Nigel Warburton)

Philosophy: The Essential Study Guide (Nigel Warburton)

A History Of Western Philosophy (Bertrand Russell)

The Problems of Philosophy (Bertrand Russell)

Western Philosophy: An Anthology (edited by John Cottingham)

Thought Probes: Philosophy Through Science Fiction Literature (Fred D. Miller, Nicholas D. Smith) – this is the only book is recommended by GK for the Introduction to Philosophy course.

I think the main delay in setting myself up was trying to absorb the information in the tomes above. Naturally I did not read the reference works from page to page, but tried to get a good overview of where I would need to look before starting in earnest.

I did refer to to additional sources as I went through the courses, for the particular essay questions.

Now some comments about the essays as I progressed through them, with some GK comments (as said he does not actively tutor but will comment if something is way off or if he like a certain point..)

Essay for units 1-3

Explore the use of ‘possible worlds’ in philosophy, illustrating your argument with
an example of a problem that involves the notion of possible worlds.

GK comments: Fine but I did not mention anything about whether possible worlds did exist.

Essay for units 4-6

Assess The Significance Of Philosophical Scepticism

GK comments:  I may not really cover philosophical scepticism, deal such as Pyrrhonism etc.. which he was right about( I rushed in, though I had a good anecdote about Einstein to build an interesting essay on and went OT)

Essay for units 7-9

Why Be Moral?

GK Comments: ” The various moral theories such as utilitarianism, Kantianism etc. offer an account of what is the moral thing to do, once we have decided to throw our lot in with morality, although both Mill and Kant also attempted to make a case for being moral. I think you got the point that this is a case that needs to be made.” (may be I should have covered these areas a bit more)

Essay for units 10-12

What Is Perception? Explain The Role of Perception In An Account Of The Nature
And Limits Of Human Knowledge

GK Comments:  “I made a few corrections to typos, but otherwise the essay was fine. Nice point about photography and getting close to the subject. This is especially true when your prime lens is wide, or extra-wide angle which is what I use for most of my work” (we both have an interest in photography).

Essay for units 13-15

Is It Rational To Fear Death?

GK comments: “An interesting take. I hadn’t considered in this connection my
speculations about the unacountably many possible worlds much
worse than this one.” (I referred to one of his videos on youtube)
Generally I found GKs feedback to be brief but useful. For the price though I find Pathways excellent. Before proceeding to the next course I decided to get another academic to briefly assess them. In summary his remarks were more forensic and critical (I think as he is looking at them from a  more more strict academic level)

A1:

 Introduction: not entirely clear what the argument will be: i.e. what the conclusion will be or how you will reach it.

Main body of essay: in general, the essay was written in a rather descriptive style, with a limited attempt to provide an argument. Given the question, this wasn’t entirely fatal, although the essay could have been improved by focussing more clearly on a specific conclusion and directing the rest of the essay towards supporting that conclusion. At present the essay reads rather like a list of examples.

In terms of how the essay addressed the question, it failed to discuss the central uses of possible worlds in philosophy, namely: analysing the nature of possibility, necessity, contingency, causation, propositions, physicalism, supervenience, verisimilitude, and so on. Indeed, no clear account was given of what a possible world is, even in a minimal sense, e.g. “a complete way things might have been.” There was also no discussion of modal realism, although it was alluded to in the last quote from the Routledge Encyclopaedia. These were all conspicuous by their absence.

The argument reconstruction in standard form is invalid.

Excessive use of quotes – only quote if you absolutely have to (e.g. if you’re arguing for a novel interpretation of a passage and quote the original so that your interpretation may be assessed), otherwise just put it in your own words.

Finally, the important distinction between possible worlds in the philosophers sense versus the physicists sense was not recognised.

Conclusion: there was no conclusion: i.e. a summary of what you have concluded and how you have reached that conclusion.

A2:

Introduction: again no proper introduction. Your introduction should state what your conclusion will be and how you will reach it: what objection(s) you will consider and how you will respond.

Main body: again, the essay was written in a rather descriptive style, with a limited attempt to provide an argument.

It would have been useful to begin with a clearer account of what it is to be a sceptic, e.g. “to be a sceptic about a domain of knowledge A is to deny that knowledge of any propositions in A is possible” or such like.

Don’t introduce key notions like a priori or the problem of induction without explaining them.

1-3 are a bit confused. Better: “Propositional knowledge is typically taken to be analysable into three necessary conditions: x is knowledge if and only if (i) x is a belief; (ii) x is true; (iii) x is justified.

Only use “valid” to mean “deductively valid”.

Perhaps the key point about scepticism is that any theory of knowledge worth its salt should be able to refute (that’s the classic assumption, at least) – hence it is useful test of epistemological theories. This point didn’t come across clearly enough in the essay.

Descartes aside, the examples used were a bit off-piste and failed to make the central concerns of epistemology when it comes to scepticism clear: e.g. what is the structure of knowledge (foundationalism, coherentism, infinitism), are particular domains more susceptible to scepticism than others (e.g. moral knowledge, aesthetic knowledge, religious knowledge, etc.)? Where does knowledge come from (empiricism vs. rationalism)? And so on.

Again: the quotes seemed to be used largely for the purposes of adornment.

Conclusion: again, no proper conclusion.

A3:

Introduction: again, no proper introduction. It’s not clear what you mean by “subjective question”.

Main body: again, the essay was written in a rather descriptive style, with a limited attempt to provide an argument. The essay begins without a clear description of what the philosophical issue is: the question “why be moral?” demands good reasons be given for one be moral. There was no discussion of this, instead there were just some loose reflections of limited relevance.

When some philosophical positions are introduced, objectivism etc., they are metaethical positions which might be relevant to the question but whose relevance is not made clear, nor are the positions themselves, which are not properly explained.

The essay would have benefited from focussing on one classic answer to the question, e.g. that we should be moral because it is rational to be moral (this was Kant’s answer).

Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics are discussed but never clearly explained, not linked to the question in a fully satisfactory way.

 Again: the quotes seemed to be used largely for the purposes of adornment.

 Conclusion: again, no proper conclusion.

 A4:

 Introduction: again, no proper introduction.

 Main body: again, the essay was written in a rather descriptive style, with a limited attempt to provide an argument.

 The attempt to use original examples from short stories is to be praised, but here, like elsewhere the examples didn’t really assist in clarifying the substantive philosophical issues. Indeed, in this essay, it was never made fully clear exactly what the philosophical issues were. In the case of perception and epistemology, some detailed discussion of empiricism would seem to be required, but there was none. This was a significant omission.

 The other obvious issue to focus on would be direct versus indirect realism (or even idealism), and although Russell was discussed very briefly, this issue was largely skirted around.

 Again: the quotes seemed to be used largely for the purposes of adornment.

 Conclusion: again, no proper conclusion.

 A5:

 Introduction: again, no proper introduction. And the claim that the essay question is rhetorical seems obviously false – otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a philosophical issue to investigate!

 Main body: This essay is more focussed and develops a more coherent line of argument than the others. It sticks to the issue of whether it is rational to fear death and delves, to a reasonable degree of depth, into Epicurus/Lucretius’ arguments against the rationality of fearing death.

 To improve the essay, the discussion would need to be more detailed and rigourus. The level of engagement with the issues is still relatively superficial – largely describing the views of others, or making comments upon those views of limited incisiveness.

 Again: the quotes seemed to be used largely for the purposes of adornment.

 Conclusion: again, no proper conclusion.

In short I think for I need to have a good introduction and conclusion to my essays with a solid logical argument in the middle, with a minimum of quotes. I have done this so far for the Philosophy of Mind Course I have been doing since December.
I have included the 5 essays I wrote below. Please note the extra sources I used (on top of the additional reading I did for the course).

 

 

 

 

 

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