The philosophy faculty have been discussing the possibility of adding some pre-requisites to some of our courses, and we’d like to have some student feedback on the idea. Let me explain the proposal a bit. Right now, anyone can walk in and take any of our philosophy courses. For many courses this is a fine idea, as we all believe that as many students as possible should be exposed to philosophy. But some courses really are pretty advanced, and some background would be really helpful: e.g., Epistemology and Contemporary European Philosophy. We are thinking of requiring one other, non-ethics philosophy course as a pre-req for these courses. Also, we’re thinking about requiring Ancient (or Intro) before Medieval, and Early Modern (or Intro) before Kant. And once we start offering Contemporary Ethical Theory again, we would require Intro or an ethics course for it.
What do you think? Feel free to add comments below as well.
4 thoughts on “Pre-requisites in philosophy? A poll”
I can see it both ways. I’ve never taken Medieval, Kant, or Contemporary Ethical Theory while I was there, but it seems that some prerequisites would be necessary to understand them. Understanding Kant’s Epistemology without the background of the empiricists seems to be lacking, for example. I don’t know what type of students go to these upper division classes, but I’m assuming that most of them are philosophy students anyways.
However, if one shows up to class without any background, then obviously the teacher has to do some major filling in by giving some context and seeing what questions are crises these philosophers are replying to. If the teacher doesn’t mind giving that background, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. But a semester’s worth of background gives the student a richer context then a days or weeks worth of background. Without the background, the student may not appreciate exactly what the philosophical problems are and why the philosophers are asking these questions in the first place.
So I can see it both ways, but I lean more to requiring some pre-reqs.
I very unexpectedly stumbled upon the philosophy program and just took what worked with my schedule that first semester: Kant and His Successors.
I certainly would have been better prepared for the class had I taken Intro, Ancient, Medieval,and/or Early Modern. I’m sure I would get a lot more out of the class now. That said, I still found the class fascinating and was able to rise to the occasion pretty well. I’m glad I had the opportunity to take it. It stirred in me a desire to know what earlier philosophers had said about metaphysics, ontology, or ethics. From there I’ve been able to fill in many of the gaps.
Therefore, although more guidelines/restrictions may have been helpful to me, I wouldn’t want the program to be too exclusive or rigid. It might discourage or divert unexpected converts like myself.
I can see it both ways as well. However, I do think that I may be more in favor of keeping the status quo given that the philosophy programs strengths come from its flexibility. I have taken almost all of these courses, and a majority of the faculty begin the class by discussing the basics anyway.
My worry (not unlike Dan’s) is that those that may unexpectedly find a philosophy course extremely interesting will be turned away due to the need for pre reqs. The problem for me is that the courses that are pre req’s tend to be substantially large and deter from the actual philosophical learning environment. I enjoyed Phil 1010 because Huenemann made it a fun learning environment, but the class was so large (100 +) that comments and discussions were limited in intellectual thought. The higher the course I took, the smaller the class sizes became which inspired real discussion and debate among those studying the material.
What I think is most beneficial about the current program is that once a student decides to take a course and finds it enjoyable (even if they may not understand the background) it may inspire them to take more classes to understand the history behind what they took. This could also lead students to look into the basics on their own time, which is also beneficial to the student. If you deter this from happening, you may see a real loss of interest in philosophy. Plus for those that are new to the course topics, you professors could offer some readings to those students to read on top of the usual course material so that they could get a greater understanding of the course.
Thanks, Shaun, Dan, and Doug, for these thoughtful responses. I think you’re right there’s a tade-off: we’d get better-prepared students in those classes with pre-reqs, but we’d lose out on the “serendipity effect.” Note, though, that there’d still be a lot of Phil courses, at all levels, without pre-reqs.