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Test Poster Info


Location: Meeting Room A

“Against the ‘He Said-She Said’ Method: How to Teach When the Experts Disagree”

– J. John

Philosophy courses cover complex issues on which there is rarely any expert consensus. Instructors seeking to inform their students of all sides in ongoing debates while remaining neutral in their presentation of the material typically resort to a “he said-she said” (HS) method. They present arguments for a view; then arguments against the view; and then they move on to the next view. Every position receives this for-against treatment. Nothing is ever resolved.

Use of this method, I contend, can instill problematic attitudes in students. Some become cynical, believing that philosophy is just a game. Others become facile relativists, believing that no view is better or worse than any other. Yet others fall into intellectual despair: if the experts can’t agree, they ask, what is one to believe?

This is problematic because philosophy courses should educate and inspire, not corrupt or demoralize, and because instructors risk driving students away. Indeed, since use of the HS method is not confined to philosophy but widespread in the liberal arts and sciences, perhaps it is partly to blame for recent enrollment declines in such areas, especially in the humanities.

I will argue, drawing on recent work in psychology, that the HS method’s commitment to strict instructor neutrality is its flaw and that, when teaching controversial topics, we should strive instead for what Thomas E. Kelly calls “committed impartiality.” I will explain how I implement committed impartiality in my philosophy teaching and how it fits into a more general learner-centered approach to pedagogy.