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Department of Philosophy
Last updated 10/13/1999

Knowledge and skill goals for this undergraduate degree program are recorded in the most recent CU-Boulder catalog.

In some summaries of assessment activity, goals are referred to by number (e.g., K-2 is knowledge goal 2).

The department's 1989-90 assessment program tested the approach of embedding questions developed by faculty committees in exams of selected courses. The faculty did not consider this satisfactory and, in 1990-91 switched to evaluation of course materials, final examinations and course grades in required courses related to particular knowledge and skill goals. Each course is evaluated by faculty members familiar with its content area, who write a joint report of their findings. Courses evaluated have included PHIL 2440 (Symbolic Logic), PHIL 3000 (History of Ancient Philosophy), PHIL 3010 (History of Modern Philosophy), PHIL 3100 (Ethical Theory), and PHIL 4040 (Twentieth Century Philosophy).

Departmental expectations are that 80-85% of majors attain A or B level performance in these required courses. This has been the case each year except for PHIL 2440 (Symbolic Logic). In 1990-91 only 39% of the majors in this course attained these levels. The faculty reexamined the place of symbolic logic as a requirement for general majors and agreed that the symbolic logic course is an important part of the major. Details of the course structure and the students' performance on final exams suggested the nature of the students' problem and a potential solution. In 1991-92 the department experimented with placing students in small problem solving groups early in the semester. In subsequent years a higher proportion of each year's majors performed at A or B levels than before the change. The improved grades suggest that the change in procedure helped, although it has not completely resolved the problem. The faculty note that this is a problem course at many schools and CU-Boulder majors do as well in it as majors anywhere, but do not feel this is reason to accept poor performance. Further modifications of the syllabus are planned.

During 1996-97, the Philosophy Department considered the performance of majors in four required courses: PHIL 2440 (Symbolic Logic), PHIL 3000 (History of Ancient Philosophy), PHIL 3010 (History of Modern Philosophy), and PHIL 3100 (Ethical Theory). Eighty to ninety percent of majors performed at A or B levels in all courses except Symbolic Logic, but the 57% A or B in this course is well above the 39% observed in 1990-91. The department reports that these assessments "indicate that there are no serious problems in the philosophy major. In general, philosophy majors met or exceeded the Department's expectations as outlined in its official policy statement for each course."

Activity in 1998-99

Philosophy 2440 (Formal Logic)

This course is required for the major in Philosophy. Philosophy 2440 provides a rigorous introduction to formal logic, beginning with propositional calculus, through predicate logic, and into the basics of meta-theory. The emphasis is on translation into formal languages and proofs in first-order logic.

The course was taught in the fall of 1998 by Professor Steve Leeds, with 48 students enrolled. The grade distribution was: A=14, B=15, C=10, F=2, IF=7, IW=3. Of these, 32 were philosophy majors. The majors' grade distribution was: A=5, B=6, C=3, D=5, F=4, IC=7.

Of the 46 majors who completed the course in 1998-99, close to 60% received an A or B. This distribution of grades for the majors is fairly typical. The grades are calculated on the basis of homework assignments and examinations (quizzes, midterms, and finals). Because of the difficult nature of the material, we made an effort to be accessible to students for individual consultation. Students at the low end either failed to attend class regularly or waited until the very end to seek help, at which time there as little that could be done for them.

Philosophy 3010 (History of Modern Philosophy)

Three sections were taught during the academic year 1998-99, two in the fall semester (one for majors only by Wayne Waxman and one by Robert Fowler) and one in the spring semester (by Wayne Waxman).

The three sections had a combined total of 140 students, of whom 49 were majors. Both courses emphasized the development of skills or argumentation and the close reading of historical texts. Grades in Waxman's class were based on performance on exams and in papers, which were graded on the basis of scrupulous attention to the texts. Overall, the 49 majors in the two semesters received the following grades: 20 received a grade of A- or better; 21 received a grade of B+, B, or B-; 6 received a grade of C+, C, or C-; 2 received a grade of D+; 4 received an incomplete. The average course grade for majors was a B-.

Having talked with Waxman about his course and the performance of his students on their paper assignments, the curriculum chair, Diane Mayer, was convinced that majors acquired a broad and detailed knowledge of modern philosophy. They gained both a general understanding of the main philosophical movements in 17th- and 18th-century Europe (Rationalism and Empiricism) and a detailed understanding of the central doctrines of a number of major figures (Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant) in these movements. They also improved their ability to extract, analyze, and evaluate philosophical arguments.

The combined final grade outcomes for Philosophy 3010 indicate that our majors exceeded the Philosophy Deparment's expectations that 80-85% of our majors attain A or B level performance in the required courses; 86% of the majors (42 students) received a grade of B- or better.

Philosophy 3100 (Ethical Theory)

This course is required for philosophy majors. It covers main traditions in ethical theory such as Aristotelian virtue theory, Kantian deonotology, and Mill's utilitarianism. We make a concerted effort to connect the works of these historical figures with contemporary debates in moral philosophy.

Majors are required to read original texts as well as some secondary material. Numerous essays are assigned both to improve students' philosophical writing skills and to evaluate their comprehension of the material. We combine writing assignments that are geared toward a critical assessment of particular passages in the text with assignments that ask for a broader exegesis of the material.

During the academic year 1998-1999 two sections of this course were offered. The section taught by D. Mayer had an enrollment of 36 with 22 majors, and the section taught by D. Boonin in the spring had an enrollment of 39. The performance of the majors in the classes ranged from adequate to outstanding. Some majors showed an improvement in their philosophical writing skills. In general, it may be said that their papers showed stronger expository than analytical skills, although many of the papers showed good critical potential. The review of their essays showed that the majority of our majors had a clear understanding of the material presented in class, and that they had a acquired a solid background in the history of Western philosophy. Major grades were distributed as follows: Fall -- A=8, B=10, C=2, IW=2 (total=22 majors). For Spring, the grades were A=10, B=17, D=1, IW=4 (total=32 majors). Over 90% of majors received a grade of A or B.

The instructors concluded that this course was executed in accordance with departmental standards, and they were satisifed with the performance of majors.

Philosophy 3000 (Ancient Philosophy)

This course is also required for the major in philosophy. It provides a thorough grounding in the history of classical Greek and Roman philosophy, beginning with the pre-Socratics, through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and into the primary Hellenistic schools (Epicurianism, Stoicism, and Academic Scepticism). The emphasis is on examining the principal views of the philosophers studied in a critically engaged way.

Students are required to read and digest a great deal of material so that they may be exposed to the broad sweep of Greek and Roman philosophy. At the same time, they are expected to display an in-depth knowledge of some of the more important facets of ancient philosophy. Our methods for assessing their knowledge come in two forms: examinations and essays. The examinations are designed with an eye toward both breadth and depth of knowledge, and the written essays require exegetically thoughtful and critically reflective discussions.

Overall, 49 majors took this course, 48 completed it, and 77% (37 students) received an A or B grade. The course was taught in the fall by Richard Cameron. Forty-six students took the course. The distribution of grades was: A=9, B=27, C=6, D=2, F=0. Of these, 29 were philosophy majors. Their grade distribution was A=8, B=16, C=4, D=1.

The course was taught by Prof. Gabriela Carone in the spring. Forty students took the course. The distribution of grades was A=8, B=19, C=4, D=1, F=5, IW=3. Of these, 14 were philosophy majors. Their grade distribution was A=4, B=9, C=2, F=4, IW=1.

This distribution of grades for the majors is fairly typical, though the department noticed a slight improvement among the majors over previous years. The grades were calculated on the basis of research papers, together with preliminary and final examinations. Given the extremely demanding nature of the course material, the instructors have made every effort to be accessible to the students for individual consultation; they have also provided significant feedback throughout the term, by means of full written comments on all assignments.



Last revision 07/12/02

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