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UE: PHI 110RS: Encountering the Real: Home

Course guide for PHI110RS: Encountering the Real: Faith and Philosophical Enquiry

Course Description

This course examines definitions, assumptions, and arguments central to religious existence via the lens of several key classical and contemporary philosophers.  Students will develop and refine their ability to think impartially and objectively about personal religious commitments, understand alternative religious points of view, and formulate and defend informed arguments and objections with respect to the subject matter. Topics include faith and reason, arguments for the existence of God, the problem of evil, and responses to religious diversity.

PHI110RS Master Syllabus

Critical Thinking Resources

Letter for Instructors

Dear Instructor,

This course examines definitions, assumptions, and arguments central to religious existence via the lens of several key classical and contemporary philosophers.  Students will develop and refine their ability to think impartially and objectively about personal religious commitments, understand alternative religious points of view, and formulate and defend informed arguments and objections with respect to the subject matter. Topics include faith and reason, arguments for the existence of God, the problem of evil, and responses to religious diversity.

This course is organized around four objectives.  Students who participate in Encountering the Real will be expected to…

1. Discuss key terms, concepts, and ideas held by some of the most important figures contributing to Western philosophy of religion.

2. Reflect upon classical and contemporary philosophical arguments.

3. Read complex philosophical texts and develop excellence in the use of critical thinking tools and concepts.

4. Express multiple, critical philosophical points of view through college level writing.

As an explorations course, Encountering the Real is committed to bringing to life the original vision and impetus behind the recent University Explorations core curriculum development.  When Saint Leo faculty were first asked to design and submit course proposals for the new general education program, we were asked to develop courses that would not simply introduce our students to our discipline by means of an introductory survey of content, but to introduce the disciplines into the students’ lives in such a way that students learn how to think like practitioner of the discipline.  Accordingly, unlike a typical introduction to the history of philosophy course or a survey of the branches of philosophy, Encountering the Real, along with the other philosophy explorations course, Thinking and Doing Ethics, aims to present a focused experience in how to think philosophically rather than a broad, sweeping overview of the discipline as a whole.

The challenge for instructors of Encountering the Real, accordingly, will be to convey not only the what of philosophy of religion, but more importantly, the how.  Much more important than mastering the content-based objectives of the course, such as learning which philosopher held which position or who wrote which text, it is most important that students learn the how of thinking like a philosopher.  

For this reason, the overarching goal of Encountering the Real is most specifically reflected in the third of the four course objectives, to develop excellence in the use of critical thinking tools and concepts.

It is hoped that this course will facilitate develop and refine students’ ability to think impartially and objectively about personal religious commitments, understand alternative religious points of view, and formulate and defend informed arguments.  In keeping with Saint Leo core values and the Saint Leo Quality Enhancement Plan, this course will serve as an occasion for personal development in mind and spirit, respect for diverse points of view, and excellence in critical and analytical thinking skills.

The specific content of this course, while very important, is in one sense secondary to helping students learn how to think critically, analyze arguments, and make well-reasoned judgments. To be sure, the content is important.  What could be more important than pondering the questions of God’s existence, life after death, and the meaning of life? But the skills students learn in this class – how to think about controversial issues in a sensitive yet critical way, how to detect problems in arguments, how to see the world from multiple perspectives, and so on – these skills transcend the specific content of philosophy of religion and are applicable to every area of life, academic and non-academic alike.  So while Encountering the Real focuses specifically on one small slice of the discipline of philosophy, namely, the philosophy of religion, it is hoped that students will more generally be learning to think philosophically and to become excellent critical thinkers and, as a result, excellent critical decision-makers.

One small, but integral part of teaching students how to become better critical thinkers is embedded in this course in form of explicit introduction to critical thinking using Paul and Elder’s Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, which provides introduction to a university-wide “common language”, as well as discipline-specific resources devoted to introduction of basic formal logic and informal fallacies.

One of the most important skills that students can take from any philosophy course is the ability to analyze and evaluate complex arguments.  Developing this skill is particularly important when attempting to think objectively and critically about matters of faith and religion.  It is all too easy to "like" an argument when it establishes a conclusion that confirms what we already think we know and to "dislike" arguments that lead to conclusions that make us uncomfortable or put our cherished beliefs into question.  Accordingly, it helps to lay out the rules of good reasoning prior to engagement in the emotionally charged arena of the philosophy of religion. That way we can be sure that we are being guided by reason and not emotions or traditional prejudices.

Accordingly, the entire first module of the course is devoted to developing a toolbox of logic and critical thinking skills that will serve as a means of evaluating the arguments students will encounter in the course.

Of course, the explicit instruction of critical thinking is, again, just one small part of facilitating the formation of students into deep and critical thinkers and lovers of wisdom.  Likewise, it will be very important throughout the term that instructors model critical thinking and inculcate the kind of deep love of philosophy we want our students to have throughout the entire term, not just limit such instruction to the first module.  Accordingly, it is strongly encouraged that instructors continually bring students back to the lessons of critical thinking learned in the first module by, for example, holding them accountable to the universal intellectual standards and intellectual traits outlined by Paul and Elder, and holding them accountable to articulation of sound argumentation and the avoidance of fallacious reasoning.

One of the less tangible, unarticulated objectives of Encountering the Real is an appreciation for the value of philosophy for everyday life.  We have ready and available means of testing whether students have mastered the content objectives of the course and even whether they have demonstrated the attributes of critical thinking.  More elusive is an evaluation of whether students really “get” the importance of the issues we will discuss in the course. And even more elusive is whether they will truly inspire to inculcate the universal intellectual standards and intellectual traits conveyed through the study of philosophy. 

It is essential, though, that the instructors of Encountering the Real feel this sense of importance themselves and, each in their own way, seek to demonstrate and cultivate the value of philosophical enquiry. 

This might be achieved in an explicit and objective way by pointing out the instrumental value of studying philosophy – for example, that philosophy majors regularly outperform business majors on the GMAT and pre-law majors on the LSAT.  Alternatively, the value of philosophy might be communicated in a way that highlights its more intrinsic benefits, for example, the value of philosophy in sorting out the meaning of life and finding a sense of purpose.  In any case, though, it is essential that we instructors are convinced of philosophy’s value for forming the kind of responsible and well-rounded students that we, as a Catholic liberal-arts institution, aim to produce and just as importantly, that we are eager to transmit this sense of appreciation to our students.

So whatever else each of us seeks to accomplish and irrespective of whatever else motivates us to teach this particular course, it is hoped that one of the foremost goals of our teaching is to share the value of philosophy with others.  I have every reason to suspect that you, the faculty of Saint Leo University, are up for the task.

Thank you for your efforts,

Dr. Aaron Fehir

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, course developer for Encountering the Real: Faith and Philosophical Enquiry

 

Subject Guide

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