Quiz Tip Sheet. A few people have emailed about the last quiz. Here are a few tips. First, some good news. I will start including a bonus question on future exams. Tips: 1. Quiz questions are reading comprehension questions: The discussion boards are designed to give you a chance to try out your own arguments and to evaluation the arguments in the readings. The quizzes are designed to test reading comprehension. This does not mean the quiz questions will be rote (i.e., what does Herrick say on page 24, paragraph 1). They will require active reading and comprehension of what is written. Key Point: The answers will come from the text. 2. Reading Philosophy may require skills that you haven’t yet mastered.
I have two points, here. First, reading comprehension, in any discipline, improves with knowledge of the subject matter. If you have never taken a philosophy course before (or read philosophical essays) then you can expect to find the material more challenging at first than at the end, after you have developed a feel for philosophical writing & reading. Second, reading philosophy may be more challenging that reading other kinds of writing. Philosophy majors consistently outperform other majors on graduate level entrance exams (for law, business, general grad school, and even the MCAT, for medicine). Most likely, this is because of the kinds of skills required to read, write, and understand philosophical writing.
Key Point: Give yourself room to grow in your skills. Just because you’ve gotten a 4.0 in your other classes, doesn’t mean that you will get a 4.0 on every quiz in this class. The types of things that are important to notice in a philosophical essay may be different from the types of things you are used to looking for. And the types of logical inferences required in philosophical reading may be different from your typical patterns of inference. 3. What to notice — Understand Logic: Mastering the material at the end of the first reading will help your reading comprehension (of philosophy) immensely. Here is a brief outline of the different types of arguments/reasoning. Make sure you can define and identify each type. As you encounter new arguments, or argument types, put them on your map. Key Point: As you read, pay close attention to how arguments are characterized. Different types of arguments require different standards of evaluation. 1. Deductive arguments (reasoning): At best, if the premises are true, the conclusion MUST be true. a. Category Based Arguments: All whales are mammals; all mammals are animals; thus all whales are animals. 2. Inductive Arguments (reasoning): At best if the premises are true, the conclusion is likely to be true. a. Analogy Arguments: (Like Paley)b. Best Explanation Arguments (like fine-tuning)c. Generalizations: most universes are not fine-tuned, thus, probably, none are.
4. What to notice – Your Assumptions:* We read with selective perception. Our brains fill in sentences in ways that reflect our beliefs. Key Point: Active reading requires that we constantly monitor our assumptions. Arguments do not always go in the direction you think they will. For example, you may think that all theists oppose Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Thus, you may have been surprised to find that a religious leader complimented Darwin on his theory of natural selection and noted that it seemed to be a more noble theory than creationism. More than just being surprised, you may have overlooked that fact altogether. Put differently, some of the strongest critiques of (some) design arguments come from theists, not atheists. So, if you were reading the text with the background assumption that all theists endorse all design arguments, you might make errors in your reading. We ALL have to fight these natural tendencies. 5. Know Your Test Creator: I have taught test prep (LSAT – Law school entrance test) for over a dozen years. We stress two things in our classes: (a) knowing how to think logically; (b) knowing the types of questions that are asked on the test. Here are some types of questions I select or create: (I don’t create them all; some are Paul Herrick’s suggestions) a. Questions that highlight your knowledge of and attention to the basic logic patterns introduced in Chapter 1 and stressed in the reading being tested (i.e., what type of argument is X?). b. Questions that reflect key themes or concepts in the reading: i.e., the distinction between single-step selection and cumulative selection, or the aspect of Darwin’s theory that was most contentious, or – relatedly – the distinction between a philosophical question/thesis and a scientific question/thesis. (I usually review the “Questions for Reflection” at the end of each section. c. Questions that might challenge common but mistaken assumptions: i.e., the theory of natural selection is logically inconsistent with the existence of an intelligent designer; does the design theory show that the Christian God exists? d. Attentiveness and Thoroughness: The most straightforward questions are designed to reward those who have spent time reviewing the reading before the quiz. Did Dawkins support the single-step hypothesis or the cumulative selection hypothesis? Summary of Key Points: 1. The quizzes stress reading comprehension: answers will come from the text. 2. Give yourself room to Grow: Reading philosophy may require a different skill set. 3. Pay Attention to Logical Distinctions: (Section 3, Chapter 1) – do the practice questions once a week until you have mastered them. 4. Pay Attention to your Assumptions: Arguments may not go where you think! 5. Know your Test: how are questions selected? What will they typically test for? *On Assumptions: I came across a quote yesterday that tickled me, and also served as a good reminder to always check my assumptions. “Robert Owen is not a man to think differently of a book for having read it.” [RO was a 19th century British social reformer. A remarkable man with, apparently, unshakeable assumptions, no matter what the evidence said.]