Writing in Philosophy Lesson Plan: Dialectic (Motive)

Lesson Objectives: This is a crucial lesson. The introduction to students of dialectic, or motive, in writing shows students that philosophy, and argumentation generally, is not about taking a “side” in a debate, but rather about understanding the broad variety of competing factors that are at stake on a given question, and developing the ability to navigate and weigh them in a systematic manner. The aim of this lesson is to deepen students’ understanding of philosophical debate and argumentation, and to help them to develop subtle and nuanced positions of their own.

Total Time: 75 min

Coursework Underway:

Any (If Lesson Plan on Conclusions (Theses) has already been covered, then this lesson provides a good way to reinforce and deepen some of the main points of that lesson.)

Pre-Lesson Homework: Have students identify an author’s opponent (by reference to her conclusion) in the assigned readings. The readings can be the same as those assigned for a previous lesson.


Any piece of philosophical writing

Harvey’s Brief Guide, Motive

Sequence of Classroom Activities:

Read Harvey’s explanation of motive and explain it. Explain philosophical notion of dialectic, and how it relates to motive. Explain how an author’s motive relates to her thesis, or conclusion. (5 min)

Ask students to volunteer 2-3 candidates for the author’s opponent in the assigned text. (That is, have them volunteer candidate conclusions that the author is arguing against.) Evaluate these to see if the author really disagrees with them as stated. (15 min)

Return to text. Identify the author’s opponent(s): what conclusion(s) does the author aim to deny? Note strategies for identifying the author’s opponents. (15 min)

Situate the author’s conclusion within a debate. Outline the various positions that participants may adopt. Explain how the author’s position relates to these. Explain the various factors involved in adopting a position in a debate, and how they relate. (25 min)

Follow-up: Have students return to their homework and correct it in light of the classroom discussion. (5 min)

Have students write down candidate alternative positions in the debate just mapped. (5 min)

Have one student volunteer her candidate position. Discuss as a class how it fits into the debate. Reiterate notion of “taking a stand in a debate” or dialectic. (5 min)

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