Lesson Objectives: To teach students to identify a conclusion in an actual piece of philosophical writing, and to distinguish it from other parts of an argument. This will force students to begin to use the concepts of premises and conclusions in their attempt to extract the conclusion from a piece of writing. Having students put the conclusion in one sentence forces them to be precise in their writing, a key skill in philosophical argumentation and writing. This exercise also alerts students to the difficulty of reading and writing philosophy and the care that must go into it: What seems like a short and easy assignment on its face is actually very time-consuming and difficult. In-class discussion usually reveals the extent to which students still failed to grasp the main conclusion, and understand its full meaning.
Total Time: 75 minutes
Coursework Underway: This lesson can be done with any piece of argumentative writing (scholarly article, op-ed piece, etc.). This lesson ties in nicely with the Lesson Plan on Dialectic. It is worth explaining the connections between these in class.
Pre-Lesson Homework: Read assigned readings in advance of class. Have students state the author’s main conclusion in one sentence.
Any piece of philosophical or argumentative writing
Gordon Harvey’s Brief Guide, Thesis
Sequence of Classroom Activities:
Introduce Harvey’s explanation of a thesis. Read the paragraph out loud and explain its key notions. Explain how it relates to a conclusion of an argument. (It is also worth noting the connections between theses or conclusions, and dialectic or motive, for Harvey.)
Have a few students read out their suggested answers in class. Write some of their suggestions for the main conclusions on the board. Discuss similarities and differences between them: they can’t all be right. Discuss how they do or do not satisfy Harvey’s requirements for a thesis. (10 min)
Return to text. Have students locate where in the text the author states (or intimates) her main conclusion. Draw students’ attention to the author’s statement of her main conclusion. Emphasize clue words or phrases that signal the author’s intention to state her main point conclusion (“therefore, I will conclude that…,” “I will argue for the conclusion that…,” etc.). (10 min)
Drawing on the readings, evaluate which best approximates the author’s main conclusion. As a class, construct a one-sentence conclusion that correctly states the author’s main conclusion. Note the importance and difficulty involved in being able to do this. (25 min)
What does the conclusion mean? Discuss scope and force of conclusion. Situate it with respect to stronger and weaker claims. Identify key terms and concepts stated in the conclusion and define them. Emphasize importance of being able to understand main point of an article. (25 min)
Follow-up: Have students compare these results with their own attempts, and note what they got right, and what they got wrong. Have students mark the ways in which their answers did or did not satisfy Harvey’s requirements for a thesis. (5 min) Can have them grade their attempt.