What skills do philosophy / ethics students need?

This post is to ask our students (and others) what skills they think are important in the study of Religion, Philosophy & Ethics. While it is initially for current students to reflect on what they did well/badly in the first semester – I, as ever, welcome contributions from our wider readership..



Anonymous says:

Throughout last term, we found referencing to be a stuggle.Some of us also found that we don’t draft and/or proof read our final submissions.Time management is also something we found hard in the philosophy modules – we find that completing the essay takes longer than we plan for.We have all found that so far we are enjoying the religious side of the course.All the RPE staff have been helpful, encouraging and have motivated us.Finally, we’re all pleased with our personal tutor sessions. Especially the quick response to enquiries made by e-mail.

RPE187 Group discussion says:

Philosophy/ethics students definitely need the ability to debate and discuss. Being an open minded person who is able to accept an opposing view without offense, and being able to see both sides of an argument is important. With there being so many controversial issues in this field you cannot be too sensitive to them, but also need to be able to show empathy and understanding. It is also important to have good literacy skills, and a good knowledge of vocabulary to be able to read some of the texts necessary for the philosophy side of the course.As the course is largely essay based you have to be able to manage time effectively, and write clear lecture notes.We feel it is important to ask the lecturer questions if you haven’t understood, and to follow up on assessment feedback in order to improve.

dave b steph c sue k jo p says:

Important study skills for religion philosophy and ethics-General reading and writting skills-Open mindedness and acceptance of other peoples opinions.-Analytic skills.-Ability to discuss without causing offence.To help us with studying-Reminders about assignment dedlines.-Group study sessions.-More copies of books in the learning centre.-More stuff on webct

Sara K says:

I think that RPE students must have the ability to:1. debate and discuss2. make your point heard and stand up for it, even if Controversial and without getting embarrased or feeling like you are being attacked.3. be open minded, with an acceptance of others points of view4. to have a good standard of reading and writting skillsThe things i did well in semester 1 was that i handed all of my assignments in on time and asked for help when needed. The things that i struggled with in semester 1 was getting used to the wording and getting my head to the essay questions.I think that i also found it hard finding information for assignments and therefore tended to rely on websites.

someone says:

As mentioned in the previous comments, literacy skills, open mindedness, the ability to discuss sensitive issues without causing/taking offense and referencing. The ability to research information and choose what is relevant and knowing where you are going with your essay is something that i have found difficult-getting lost in mines of information! Reading- Sometimes i find a lack of general knowledge about the background history(more in religion subjects) can leave me a bit in the dark as to the context and era in which things happen.and reading for lectures-important….Knowing how to plan an essay as well.

jasonrpe says:

Adding to all that has already been said, I would say one NEEDS a strong interest in the subject matter to get the most out of it.I would also stress the importance of being able to listen to others, and I mean really listen, not just hear others. This is something I have tried to do better this year.Finally, and perhaps the most difficult thing, the ability to switch from being engrossed in one area – for example Islamic ethics – to something radically different – such as New religious movements like the Raelians. I found it extremely tough to try and immerse myself in one matter, and then switch onto something else. I wrote all my essays exclusively, meaning essays for one subject were fully completed before I even started a different essay for a different subject.

Jasmine Stanley says:

In my opinion, a very important thing to keep in mind about Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics studies is the fact that no one knows all the facts. There aren’t definite correct answers unlike a subject like Math. Everyone in the room talking about a topic could easily all be correct or incorrect or even in different degrees of correctness. If you are a person who does not enjoy discussions, then classes under Philosophy and Religion departments ARE NOT FOR YOU. The best way to learn in these type of classes are the discussions!

Rico Vitz says:

Jasmine,I think you are probably right that “no one knows all the facts” about R-P-E-esque questions. I’m intrigued, though, by this comment: “Everyone in the room talking about a topic could easily all be correct or incorrect or even in different degrees of correctness.”Do you want to say that all of the people in the room could be correct EVEN IF they hold mutually exclusive claims. For instance, could two people each be correct if one held that there is a personal creator of the universe and the other held that there is NOT a personal creator of the universe?

Saltasaurus_19 says:

Test!! This is a Test…

David W... says:

Rico – interesting point.I sometimes worry that there is a mild fear amongst students of telling someone else that they think they are wrong. Some viewpoints ARE mutually incompatible – and holding one implies that you DO believe that the other is wrong… I think that while we should show a certain level of respect for others – that respect includes (rather than precludes) having the honesty to tell people when we think they are talking nonsense (esp. if it is what we think is dangerous nonsense).Dave

I’m going to butt in here before Jasmine, to ask rico vitz if this isn’t the dilemma and freedom of philosophy and ethics generally, in regards to the personal creator question or any other less specific question? The truth. I have noticed skilled arbiters convincingly argue either side of an issue with equal detachment. Comparable to sophistry. I was having a discussion with some of the people on my course today. There was a general agreement that we used to know what we believed. We started this course and all of a sudden we have decided we know very little and find ourselves arguing within ourselves about prior convictions. Personally, I am wondering about objectivity and subjectivity. Whether there is the existence of an objective good that we work towards or is always present but needs only to be revealed (but as we go towards good and therefore confirming its lack and by the same token affirming evil) or whether we create our entire reality and live in a completely relativistic world. It not only diverts my previous course on ‘how to get what I want’ (praying, begging) but also questions my former relationship to an idea of protection and goodness, i.e. represented by God. I have always loved the part of the Sistine Chapel where God is stretching to meet Adam. And Adam is just too lazy to lift his finger to meet God’s gesture. That small gap, separateness and tension is the story of humanity’s troubles. But I always thought, Yes, God is always there and wants to love, protect and help us, but we are too preoccupied and distracted by our life to notice and meet his embrace. I’m not sure if that is what Michelangelo intended, but that’s how I used to see it. And I was comforted by the idea. But now ….Yes, discussion is helpful; but reading and thinking by myself and trial and error (checking out what my life dishes out to me – noticing causes and effects) are signposts too.

Michael Grimshaw says:

I am going to disagree with Jasmine’s earlier claim that the best way to learn in these types of classes is by discussion. There are several different types of learners and not everyone learns best through discussion. It may be great for audible learners and at the same time frustrating for kinesthetic learners. While classroom discussion can be enjoyable and helpful, I have to question how much it really helps us in the search for truth. Most of our fellow students in the classroom know a relatively small amount about the course material, which is why we are there to learn it. We all come from varied experiences and education backgrounds, but we are by no means experts on the material. So classrooms discussions in these low level courses are essentially a lot of people who haven’t evaluated their beliefs, presenting opinions on what they don’t know to be true. From my experience, classroom discussions also tend to take quite a bit of time to make the progress they do make, and that progress is usually teacher initiated. I have found the best way for me to learn is reading, research, and discussions with those who know more than I do. Discussions with graduate students and professors have done much more to advance my own search for truth than a time constrained classroom discussion with my peers could ever do.

Anonymous says:

i think a philosophy student needs to be able to expand on their opinions and listen to the opinions of others without judging before the other person has explained their views fully

Andrew Emanuel says:

Andrew Emanuel PHH 3400 Don’t be so hard on the philosophersI agree with a lot of what has been posted here. I am taking a philosophy class (Modern Philosophy) and not a religious teachings class; however, I believe the skills needed to study either are the same. Indeed, I believe the two subjects are the same. So, even though, my comments are directed more towards the study of philosophy in general, I hope someone is able to gleam some useful information from my posting. With that said, here are some skills that I feel are useful when studying philosophy.1. Place the philosopher in perspective. 2. Read with sympathy for the philosopher. 3. Suspend doubt, and assume the philosopher is correct. Most philosophers are merely building upon the foundations laid out by previous thinkers. One philosopher makes a claim, and other philosophers reply; indeed, many have suggested that all of philosophy is a “conversation” stretching across the ages. So, in order to understand what a particular thinker has to say, know what his predecessors said. Undoubtedly, the best method would be to begin, perhaps, with Greek myth and continue studying each philosopher in chronological order; however, that being impractical for most, at least understand that much of what philosophers have to say is a reply. Also, it helps to understand a philosopher if you think sympathetically about his teachings. Think of him as someone who is trying to help you, a friend even. All philosophers are trying to achieve something through their teachings. At the root of their pursuits is an attempt to make life better for human kind. If you think about each philosopher in this context, it helps you open up to their teachings. Finally, suspending doubt is very useful when grappling with philosophy. The teachings of some philosophers can seem pretty bizarre when only given a cursory review; however, they make more sense, whether you end up agreeing with them or not, if you can delve deeply into what they are saying. Suspending doubt – or maybe even believing full-heartedly – helps you get deeply into the material Take George Berkeley for example. He would have you believe that there is no such thing as matter and that the computer screen you are viewing, the table upon which it sits, and even the ground upon which the table stands is all imaginary, existing only in your brainless thoughts because God placed them there. This seems pretty weird, and it is human nature to avoid fools. But if you toss Berkeley you end up tossing some pretty useful insights as to how our bodies work and how we interpret the world around us. Dispite his seemingly preposterous notion, Berkeley actually presents some astonishingly good examples to prove his points, and it leaves a deft reader thinking, “hmmm?” So, understand that each philosopher has his own place in a much greater context. Realize that these thinkers are trying to arrive at truths which will bring about a better life for humanity. Finally, don’t be so quick to think that they are wrong. Even if a philosophy isn’t fully correct, most contain valuable wisdom of concrete merit. -Andrew Emanuel – The pursuit!

Lawrence Venney says:

I am not going to go into great detail on how I think of this subject, but I would like to say that RPE students should focus on justification.I think the key to any good RPE students work (RPE related) is completely to do with justification. And a good RPE student will be able to listen to other peoples justifications. It doesn’t matter what context anything is in. After all, isn’t everything relative?If someone is arguing that Apples are now shaped like fish and are blue, then that’s good as long as they can justify what they are saying!!! If anything, an outrageous argument can sometimes be even more interesting than a straight forward one! I personally have a problem with dismissing people too quickly (if there justification sounds whack)! And it is something I am working on.

Anonymous says:

Skills needed to do philosophy – I think the organisation SAPERE (they can be found on the net) have some good guidelines for the skills required for students of philosophy/ethics. They recommend a Community of Enquiry method. The community part means that people agree to practice together in ways that foster and nurture certain principles, which are caring and collaborative.The enquiry part means that people try to develop their ability to listen, think and express themselves, through, spoken or written words, or in images and models, in ways that are both critical and creative.The critical and creative suggests to my mind a need to understand the formal methods of philosophy, e.g. the advantages of understanding logico-linguistic analysis. I think there are obvious benefits to operating with an understanding that emphasises the importance of clarity over obfuscation, ambiguity and pseudo-profundity. This entails a modification of a preceding comment, i.e. an understanding of informal, as well as formal, methodology.The creative side is being able to identify and use or identify the successful use of; analogies, thought experiments, paradoxes, examples and counter-examples and even anecdotes. This linking or paralleling of one thing with another thing, sometimes quite diverse and contrasting pairings are employed for this purpose, can come from life, the arts or the imagination.The above seem pertinent to prior engagement with the subject, academically, or early preparation within the subject. But once studying academically the difficulties that i have found, as have many other students, might be seen of a more general nature and not specific to philosophy, though they are useful to briefly touch upon. Firstly, the subject specific lexis, it can take quite some time before one comes to appreciate the subtleties of what is meant by what is being said; it’s virtually impossible with out a good working knowledge of the technical terms being employed in texts and lectures. Until one grasps this understanding in an adequate way it is hard to know whether you agree disagree or whether you’re even interested in the ideas and arguments being expressed. The other general point is to do with writing within a scholarly framework. I think with support and guidance this comes, with time and practice, you get less stressed with this as you, eventually, become familiar with the conventions.Hope this is of help to someone out there!Best,Rob

I don’t specifically want to comment on the skills students need, but I have some tried and tested techniques and resources which have helped in teaching philosophy, which approach the subject from the perspective of the learning agenda.There’s nothing exactly mould-breaking there, but the techniques demonstrated are ones which students can usefully employ in their own learning and study. There are also some more general articles about the issue of learning there.Daniele

Anonymous says:

I believe in order for a class to do well, the students must comprehend the material. The levels are different though. For example, In my class I see young students that are probably taking like 3 or 4 other classes and also work during the day, while older people, closer to graduation can focus more on their work. I believe that all could benefit from extra study sucessions. In a previous pyschology class we had a graduate assistant come and do study sessions before tests and periodically throughout the semester. These study sessions will give the others a chance to actually break down and interpret the material. The class size would also be relatively smaller than the main class so there could be more interaction. I was helped in my first couple years of college when this was available but some agree that only an hour and a half, two times a week isn’t not enough to get everything you want said and done. This extra classes would provide more time.Just a little input,Lewis Fitzgerald

Em says:

I’m taking rpe with english, and I see a clear difference in the type of skills needed for the two subjects. With rpe, there is the necessity to form a response, or at least reflect, on anything that is taught in lectures or researched. I find that I also need to focus completely on any work with rpe, rather than switch between different work, which I can do for english. The one major skill I had trouble with last semester was finding enough research to reference, what I thought was enough really isn’t, so wider reading is vital for rpe.Reading through the other comments, I can see that I have some way to go before my skills are developed for this course!

janie h. says:

all i can add is that a sense of humour, especially the ability to laugh at oneself, and a sense of proportion are helpful.

Beth G says:

I think within Religion, Philosophy and Ethics it is important to:1) Be open-minded in regards to other people’s beliefs, morals, values etc, and be readily available to accept (even if you don’t agree with) them.2) Be able to analyse logically.3) To not be biased towards a certain viewpoint, but open to both sides of the discussion.4) The ability to do a range of background reading, even if you don’t want to!5) To accept that everyone’s beliefs are subjective.6) Be able to think analytically.7) Be able to critique almost anything/any argument (I am good at this!).8) Be prepared for a LOT of assignments !!:D

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