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How to teach Objectivism

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ropoctl2
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We have a lot of newbies coming here asking questions about application of Objectivism, and I don't think the status quo way of dealing with them is very effective. Generally, the experienced members will lecture the new guy without any real participation by the newbie after he starts the thread. I am afraid that the newbies are simply acquiescing to what seem to them like intimidating arguments by authority. I have started an experiment in the debate forum http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=21794 where I am trying a different approach with one such student. I don't claim to be a very good teacher, but I think a style where the teacher asks more questions might help the student think through something for himself.

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I agree with the main point of the post, though I disagree with aspects of the proposed alternative approach (or maybe it's just the specific application?). While I agree that people don't ask enough questions, the alternative of asking too many can be just as bad. In other words, asking question after question of a person won't necessarily lead them in any kind of meaningful direction. Questions are a tool, like any other pedagogical instrument in your tool box. They don't necessarily fit every situation, just as one can't use a hammer on just any old task. Often, as I think is demonstrated in that post, a student* gets into the habit of just thinking of ways to shoot down the question without really thinking about it.

Of course some judgment is necessary to know what questions to ask, but often there are premises that need to be nipped in the bud or exposed. For example, at one point in that post you asked T-1000 if deceiving someone makes it impossible for them to act in their self-interest. He replied that "It makes it more difficult for him to act in his self interest but does not make it metaphysically impossible." The proper response here could be in the form of a question, but it shouldn't be one that keeps things on this highly abstract level (because of course he can just reply with an equally abstract response that shoots it right down, viz. one about Kant's categorical imperative). The problem is, who knows what anyone is talking about there?

There needs to be some kind of examination of the concepts used, and concretes that the concepts are scoping in on. What is 'self-interest'? Why should one care about the interests of others? These questions require a lot of thought in order to properly answer, and it's likely one can get stuck on them for quite a while. That's not a problem though; that's where things should be, especially if someone is new to these kinds of topics. But further, if the discussion seems like it's veering off into uncharted territories or if the answers to the questions appear to be too vague or unnecessarily polemical, then the blueprints need to be brought out to guide the discussion better. Sometimes questions won't work, and the person generally in the 'question-asking' role will have to state why they think a different direction should be taken, then ask if that makes sense to the person.

Just to tie things back together, the Socratic method is situationally useful. It can be used to make discussions more concrete, but like any other tool, it can be used in such a way as to cause further unclarity.

*Though the relationship doesn't necessarily have to be the student-teacher kind. It's a matter of communicating well in general.

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