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Philosophy 385: Colloquium in Philosophy

Fall 2013

Tuesdays 12:00-1:50

Morse-Ingersoll 110

The Class:

The Colloquium is a forum for the discussion of issues in philosophy and serves as the capstone of the major. It is an opportunity for us, as members of a philosophical community, to research ideas that interest us, to take and support a position with regard to them, and to engage possible objections and questions in a friendly, spirited manner. There are no assigned readings or topics; instead, the topic for each meeting is set by the research projects that you choose, and our discussions are guided by the ideas and information that we share with each other.


You grade in the class will be based on:

1)     Research activity (approximately three-quarters of your grade)

2)     Capstone activity (approximately one-eighth of your grade)

3)     In-class activity (approximately one-eighth of your grade)


Your research project this semester—the centerpiece of Colloquium—will be comprised of the following components:


Your research project will begin this semester at our second meeting, where you will bring to class two ideas for research papers this semester. These should be in writing—at least a substantial paragraph each—for submission to the professors. You should expect to spend about 5 minutes describing each possible project, and as a group, we will offer suggestions and critical feedback. At the end of the meeting, you should decide on your research project for the semester. You will also be assigned a faculty mentor shortly after the projects are settled, with whom you are expected to meet periodically throughout the research process.


Research on a significant project does not happen all at once. Instead, it happens in stages, and the research roundtables are meant to help you in that process, oriented around the construction of an annotated bibliography that will, in the end, be attached to the final version of your paper. An annotated bibliography is a list of the sources you’ve consulted in the course of doing your research, together with a short descriptive and evaluative paragraph (125-175 words) describing the relevance and quality of each source. You’ll be assigned to one of two research roundtable groups (either group A or group B), and the research roundtables will proceed as follows:

RR1: You will bring to class an annotated bibliography of at least two sources. In class, you will spend about 20 minutes (including class discussion) presenting those sources, explaining and critically engaging the main arguments, as well as how they fit (or do not fit) into your research project. It is natural for your project to evolve as you engage material, especially early on; pay attention to that evolution, and if/when it happens, make that a part of your presentation. As with the project proposals, the role of the class is to offer suggestions and critical feedback to what you have presented.

RR2: Your annotated bibliography is growing! You will bring to class an annotated bibliography containing at least two new sources (bringing the total number of sources to at least four). Here again, you will spend about 20 minutes (including class discussion) explaining and engaging these new sources, as well as how they fit (or do not fit) into your growing research project. While your project still may be evolving here, it should be taking shape—you should at this point have a clear sense of your thesis, how you are arguing for it, and what you need to do to make that argument compelling. Again, the class will offer suggestions and critical feedback to what you have presented.

RR3: You will once again bring your annotated bibliography to class, containing at least one more new source (the total now is at least five). But this research roundtable will be focused most directly on your argument for your thesis. Instead of presenting sources to the class, you will here be presenting your own argument as clearly, directly, and compellingly as possible. With practice and preparation, you should be able to concisely and clearly present your project (with which the class should by now be familiar) in about 15 minutes, leaving 10-15 minutes for suggestions and critical feedback. While you may, if you choose, use powerpoint or a handout for the first two research roundtables, for this third roundtable, either a powerpoint or handout is required.


Your work for the semester will culminate in a research paper of approximately 12-15 pages in length (not including your annotated bibliography) on your chosen topic. A first draft of your paper is due in class on November 12th. Please bring two copies of your paper: one for a peer reviewer and one for your faculty mentor. At that time, you will be given guidelines for writing short reviews of your classmates’ papers, which you will give them at the beginning of class the following week on Nov. 19. On the basis of the feedback you receive on your own draft, you should make significant revisions to your paper. The final draft is due in class on November 26th. Bring two hard copies. Further details about the paper will be discussed during our Colloquium meetings.


Research is not an isolated process. Throughout the semester, we will be actively engaging as a community with each of your projects, raising questions and offering suggestions at each stage. Beyond this, each of you will receive peer feedback from one classmate who has read your draft closely—and, correspondingly, each of you will be required to be a peer reviewer for a classmate. These peer review will be due on November 19th.


Each of you will be assigned a faculty mentor based on your research project. Throughout the semester, you are expected to periodically meet with your mentor to discuss any and all aspects of your project as they develop. How often you meet, and what you discuss during those meetings, will largely be determined on a project-by-project basis. But these meetings should be happening, and you are expected to take the initiative in setting them up; at least two are required through the research process.


Beyond the research work that will occupy much of this semester, the Colloquium also serves as the capstone to your major in philosophy. The end of the semester will be an occasion for us, as a group, to engage in discussion around your major and what it means for you. As a part of that, we ask for the following:


Your philosophy major requires 9.5 departmental units, and 4 units designated as “supporting courses.” While in practice this may not be a requirement that you’ve thought much about thus far in your studies, we’ll do so together in Colloquium. On December 3rd, please bring a list of those four courses for submission, together with a substantial paragraph explaining how and why those courses serve as supporting courses for your philosophy major. Prepare to talk about these in some detail in class.


In order to assist us with the assessment of the philosophy curriculum and our methods of instruction, we ask that you submit on December 3rd, 1) a paper (preferably your first) from your Intro class, and 2) a paper from a 200-level class, preferably taken before your senior year, and preferably an ethics class. The portfolios are not to evaluate you—they are to evaluate us. We read through them to see general trends in how our majors are growing in their writing and reasoning skills, and hence what we need to pay more attention to in our teaching.

If you cannot find, for whatever reason, papers that satisfy these criteria, please do your best to get as close as possible.


The philosophical enterprise is one of discussion and engagement, and colloquium is designed as a forum for this activity. We expect students to take the lead in critically engaging with the material presented by your classmates. Accordingly, you need to come to each meeting prepared to play an active role in our conversations. You can fail to satisfy this requirement by either not attending—no more than one absence is allowed for the semester—or else by attending, but sitting quietly aside while the rest of us converse. If you are concerned about your ability to meet this goal, you ought to plan as a rule of thumb to try to ask at least one question during every meeting. On top of your in-class activity grade, expect your overall class grade to be reduced by one full letter grade for every absence after the first.

If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact us about it. Be aware that we will normally request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.


Note that this schedule is tentative; if changes are required, they will be announced in class. If you have a disability that requires accommodation, please provide the appropriate documentation from the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services Office to us early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met. Without this documentation, we are not authorized to make special accommodations.

Preparatory meetings

8/27:       Class introductions                 

9/3:          Research project proposals

9/10:       Discussion of the research process (in library)

9/17:       Research presentation & discussion

Research roundtables

9/24:       Research roundtable 1 (group A)

10/1:       Research roundtable 1 (group B)

10/8:       Research roundtable 2 (group A)

10/15:     No class, fall break

10/22:     Research roundtable 2 (group B)

10/29:     Research roundtable 3 (group A)

11/5:       Research roundtable 3 (group B)

Review, revision, completion

11/12:     First drafts due; reflections on peer review and revising process

11/19:     Peer reviews due; peer review discussions

11/26:     Final drafts due; closing discussions of your research project

Capstone meetings

12/3:       Supporting courses & writing portfolio due; discussions of philosophy & the liberal arts

12/10:     Going forward: life after Beloit with a philosophy major