Philosophy B.A. Assessment

Mission Statement

Since philosophical virtues lie at the core of a general, liberal education, our teaching mission is to help students develop into mature, rational, morally sensitive, independent thinkers. This means fostering their ability to think and to communicate their ideas clearly, cogently, and respectfully about the complex philosophical issues concerning ethics, knowledge and justification, human nature, and world conceptions that arise in all fields of study as well as in life. This includes the ability to appreciate and evaluate alternative points of view. In this role we serve all students who take our courses. In addition, we aim to produce majors cognizant of the main lines of historical and contemporary Western philosophical thought in such a way as to prepare them for a variety of positions in the work world as well as to enjoy an enriched life. Further, we aim to provide a route to graduate study or professional schooling, e.g., in philosophy or law, for students with those career goals.

Student Learning Outcomes

1. Students will be able to state a thesis about a philosophical problem or text, explain the thesis, and provide evidence and argument (including replies to counter-arguments) in its defense. 

Student Performance Indicators
  • Can read, interpret, and communicate complex material with (no, some, a great deal of) help from the instructor (depending upon the difficulty of the material).
  • Can recognize and communicate orally and in writing what is at stake in a passage--the central issues, problems, and outcomes--in such a way as to bring out the underlying tensions and perplexities; can get beyond superficial interpretations. Can discern relevant similarities and differences among issues and positions.
  • Can discern relevant similarities and differences among issues and positions.
  • Can discriminate arguments and evidence from other forms of discourse; can distinguish premises from conclusions and determine the kind of reasoning involved (deductive, inductive, a priori, a posteriori, etc.).
  • Can recognize assumptions, see their more straightforward consequences, and challenge them where appropriate, in the context of evaluating the cogency of a position or argument.
  • Can think independently; able to commit pro or contra a position and defend or attack it, whether or not it is endorsed by the text or the instructor.
Assessment Method
  • Specific example: experienced majors should be able to read the early dialogues of Plato, Descartes's Discourse on Method, and the Declaration of Independence on their own with a fair understanding of the problems and solutions offered and should be able to read and understand Kant's Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics with help from the instructor. [The following general Methods of Assessment (MAs) apply to all of the Learning Outcomes and their Performance Indicators, collectively.] a. The usual methods of class performance evaluation, as summarized by grades, including improvement (or the reverse) over time, and student evaluations. Grades in all philosophy courses except logic depend heavily upon the evaluation of student papers as well as exams. The exams are typically essay exams. Usually, oral performance in discussion is also a factor. b. Additional evaluation by all Philosophy Department instructors in the form of informal, personal notes on the performance of each major in their classes, with respect to our mission and goals (as a memory aid for c). Such multidimensional information is often more informative than grades. c. Annual review of all majors, with attention to their performance in the above dimensions and also to their choice of courses. d. Instructor reports to the department chair of names of students whose interest and aptitude identify them as possible majors or minors. e. Voluntary exit interviews of graduating majors by the department chair, structured to elicit information relevant to the department mission statement and learning outcome goals. f. Every two years conduct a curriculum review in which we compare the curricula and course schedules of a sample of about five comparable or better departments for comparison with our own and also determine how well our curriculum satisfies diversity, interdisciplinary, and other goals of the university's strategic plan. g. Occasional surveys of alumni, with the assistance of the Office of University Assessment. h. Occasional peer visitation of classes to evaluate instructors, especially in the case of TAs, LOAs, and postdocs.
  • E.g., can distinguish mere verbal disagreements from substantive disputes, can recognize major fallacies and attempts to evade the issue. (Please see also the general AMs listed above.)
  • E.g., depending on courses taken, should be able to distinguish Aristotle from Plato, empiricism from rationalism, late from early Wittgenstein, soft from hard determinism, pragmatism from positivism, being ready-to-hand from being ready-at-hand. (Please see also the above list of general AMs.)
  • (See the above list of general AMs.)
  • (Please see the above list of AMs.)
  • (Please see the above list of general AMs.)

2. Students will be able to explain and interpret the ideas associated with major figures and movements in philosophy, and analyze issues and problems in the different main branches of philosophical inquiry.

Student Performance Indicators
  • Is responsive to arguments and evidence, i.e., can think and communicate rationally.
  • Can invent appropriate examples, counterexamples, arguments, alternative positions, and reframings of the question.
  • Can make insightful observations (e.g., comparisons or contrasts) that go beyond what the instructor or teacher has said.
Assessment Method
  • (Please see AMs listed above.)
  • (Please see the above list of general AMs.)
  • (Please see the above list of general AMs.)

3. Students will be able to distinguish better and worse reasoning, and recognize relevant logical relationships and patterns of inference.

Student Performance Indicators

  • Possesses broad knowledge of the history of philosophy.
  • Displays familiarity with several prominent philosophical problems and positions, including some from each of the major areas of philosophy: epistemology, metaphysics, value theory, and logic or theory of rationality.
  • Is familiar with some important contemporary developments.
Assessment Method
  • (Please see the AMs listed above.)
  • (Please see the above list of general AMs.)
  • (Please see the above list of general AMs.)

4. Students will be able to show what is at stake in an abstract debate, historical or contemporary, and indicate how a philosophical view might have concrete implications or make a difference in theory or practice.  

Student Performance Indicators
  • Is sensitive to value considerations (especially moral but also political and aesthetic) and can discern value-laden discourse from other discourse.
  • Can appreciate other points of view and the concerns and situations of other individuals and groups.
Assessment Method
  • (Please see the above list of general AMs.)
  • (Please see the above list of general MAs.)