I see teaching philosophy as the art of creatively unbalancing undergraduates. That is, philosophical speculation challenges the most basic presuppositions, beliefs, and values on which humans rely. Who you are is – in significant part – answered by what you value. Philosophy challenges such commitments. By doing so, philosophy cultivates the capacity for self-reflection. The ability to step back from one’s core commitments, evaluate them, and potentially revise them. This, it seems to me, is the ultimate purpose of any philosophy class. It provides undergraduates the opportunity to begin taking ownership of who they are.
In addition to this extremely lofty ideal, the cultivation of self-reflection also makes for better citizens. Individuals who make decisions informed by values they have critically reflected on and endorsed make better decisions!
I would add that getting students to ask fundamental questions is a delicate art. It has taken me two decades in the classroom to learn when to push and when to back off. Also, to be sensitive to the fact that many – if not all – of the students have never been engaged in such a way before. One must consistently remind them of the overarching learning outcome of such questioning. To become a more self-reflective person one must be forced to articulate one’s views and to attempt to defend one’s positions with reasons and/ or evidence. Here one must encourage them to feel comfortable in the classroom that it’s okay NOT to know the answer. Indeed, appreciating the questions is actually more important than the answers. I like to say I teach students to rest more comfortably in uncertainty.
"Laying bare the bones of the argument."