A couple of years ago I became enamored of concept mapping, and did a lot of work to integrate concept maps into teaching political theory. I made diagrams of the argument in Book 1 of Plato’s Republic, of Hobbes’s account of the sources of social conflict, of Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, or Rousseau’s Social Contract. Here’s one that’s intended to capture the structure of Locke’s defense of toleration:
I found these maps very illuminating, but some (many?) of my students found them too confusing. “Couldn’t you simplify it a bit more, into a list of bullets?” Well, yes… but what fun would that be? It’s the complexity that’s interesting. Probably my mistake was to introduce the full complexity up front, instead of giving the students the elements and having them figure out the map (or the alternatve possible maps). As usual, too top-down, not interactive enough.
Like many other profs, I started using the internet by posting lecture outlines online – PDFs of PowerPoint slides. But a friend of mine who knows something about the web asked why I didn’t just email the files, since I was using the web purely as a distribution mechanism. Good point! The potential benefit of the web over emailed PDFs would lie in converting the slides into linked pages, so that students could navigate from one idea to a related idea, or between multiple instances of a single idea, rather than having stacks of slides organized in one linear fashion. The logical structure of the material is web-like, so why shouldn’t it’s physical structure online be web-like? So I started making webpages to go along with presentation slides.
I like to use slides in lecture because I think it can help students follow the argument – to see its logical structure. So long as there isn’t too much text on the screen, it can be helpful to be able to see how I distinguish the different points I’m making, and to note when I’m moving from one point to another, and to see that one point is a “level 1” point, while another is a “level 2” point. I also want to provide these slides to the students, because I don’t want them to feel that they have to furiously scribble down everything I say. If they have my slides, then they can have more time to listen and think and ask questions in class, because they only have to take notes to fill in the details, to make comments or indicate questions, and so on.
Following this fall’s graduate reading course on Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, I am considering doing another such course during winter term on Rawls’s Political Liberalism, plus some of the surrounding literature on public justification. Enrollment would be limited. If anyone in politics or philosophy is interested, please let me know. You don’t have to have taken the first course to take the second, but familiarity with the arguments of Theory would be helpful.
POLS 451 will be about religion and politics. The first third of the course will look at the history of debates about religious toleration in Europe. The second third of the course will be about the attempt of recent liberal theorists such as John Rawls and Charles Larmore to “apply toleration to philosophy itself” and so develop a “political liberalism,” based on the demand for public justification; the exercise of political power is justified only if justifiable to every member of society, which means reasonably acceptable by each without anyone having to give up the religious, philosophical or ethical doctrine they (reasonably) espouse. The last part of the course will involve debates about this idea of public reason or public justification in the context of specific policy debates, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. If you have any questions about the course, please let me know.