Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Examples of social science

I've revised my Winch lecture in response to Matt's comments yesterday. Among other things I've cut out the part I was least happy with and added what follows. I wonder whether it would be better if I cut out the second example and replaced it with an expanded discussion of what Winch says about the Azande. Anyway, here it is:

A couple of examples might be useful to show how Winch’s ideas connect with actual work in the social sciences or social studies. I will give two examples, one that Winch discusses and one much more recent one. In his 1964 essay “Understanding a Primitive Society,” Winch responds to the work of E. E. Evans-Pritchard on witchcraft, magic, and the Zande people (who in the plural are referred to as the Azande).[1] Traditional Zande beliefs include belief in witchcraft and occult powers. Winch says of such beliefs and their related practices that “we cannot possibly share”[2] them, but he also wants to avoid both abandoning “the idea that men’s ideas and beliefs must be checkable by reference to something independent—some reality”[3] (thereby falling into an extreme relativism) and mistakenly thinking that our scientific beliefs and practices are more in accord with objective reality than the Azande’s. In other words, he wants to avoid treating our rejection of Zande beliefs and practices as something justified by reality itself, while also wanting to avoid relativism. And he wants to be able to understand Zande beliefs and practices without sharing or adopting them. Can this be done?
            Winch suggests that the main reason why it is likely to seem impossible is because we are so impressed by science and its methods. When we think of what reality is and how we can know it we are likely to think in terms of reality as described by science. But it is not by scientific means that we know (if we know it) the reality of God. The conception of God’s reality, Winch says, has its place within the religious use of language. It is not that God or the reality of God exists only within such language, but the idea of God belongs within such language, within a particular kind of thinking, talking, writing, painting, and so on. We show a misunderstanding of this idea if we treat it as belonging to scientific discourse and try, for instance, to test its validity using scientific means. This does not mean that the idea of God is immune from criticism. It does mean, though, that it is immune from a certain kind of criticism. The existence of evil might disprove the existence of God. Looking through a telescope cannot do so (unless the god in question is of a very unusual kind). Scientific, religious, ethical, and aesthetic discourse can influence and interact with each other, but they are not the same. And we often best avoid confusion if we keep their differences in mind. Nor does this commit us to relativism. If God has any reality at all then within religious language we cannot just say whatever we like. If anything goes then such language has no meaning at all.
            An obvious problem with this example is that many of us do not believe in God. The following are not Winch’s examples, but I think that he might accept belief in beauty or moral goodness as parallels to belief in God. If we believe in the genuine goodness of Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi, or the beauty of the Mona Lisa or Mozart’s third violin concerto, then we accept a kind of truth and a kind of reality that are not those of science. Science does not tell us that apartheid is wrong. But it is wrong. And the fact that this is not a scientific truth does not mean that you or I can say just whatever we like about it, regardless of reality. The reality is that it is wrong.
            But reality does not force us to think this way. It is possible to support apartheid. It is also possible to think or speak in completely different terms, so that questions of justice and injustice or beauty and ugliness simply do not, cannot, arise. If we only ever used the terms of scientific discourse, for instance, then such matters would be outside all our thoughts. Winch wants to say of the Azande that they have their own form of discourse, different from our scientific discourse. He does not say that it is just as good. But he does seem to think both that judging whether their discourse is good or bad is not the business of science and that making such judgments is likely to get in the way of trying to understand their way of living and thinking. Instead of asking why they do what they do, we start asking why they are so stupid. This is not only condescending. It is also a different kind of question. It is a question about causes, namely the causes of ignorance, superstition, irrationality, and so on. The question about why a certain group of people think and behave as they do, however, is about their reasons, about the rules that guide their behaviour. As Winch says on the first page of his essay:

            An anthropologist studying such a people wishes to make those beliefs and practices intelligible to himself and his readers. This means presenting an account of them that will somehow satisfy the criteria of rationality demanded by the culture to which he and his readers belong: …[4]     

It is not possible to make beliefs and practices intelligible if the beliefs and practices in question are taken to be irrational. The existence and persistence of irrationality can perhaps be explained, but the irrational itself, by definition, cannot be made intelligible. So the anthropologist cannot do what he (or she) wants to do if he makes the mistake that Winch attributes to Evans-Pritchard. If we want to understand practices then we must treat them as intelligible, as making sense. We will never succeed if we start with the belief that they are irrational.
            Another mistake here is a philosophical one. Reality itself no more justifies science than it justifies ethics or religion. I said earlier that apartheid really is wrong. That is true. But if anyone denies it then I cannot prove myself right by pointing to reality. What reality would I point to? The unhappy victims of apartheid, perhaps, but when I say that apartheid is unjust I do not mean that it makes people unhappy. Some injustices leave no unhappy survivors. Similarly, the best proof we have that science is true is that it works so well. But ‘true’ no more means ‘works well’ than ‘just’ means ‘makes people happy’. Not to mention the fact that science may yet lead to results that we do not consider useful at all.
            More relevant is the fact that science is a kind of procedure, a methodology, a practice, more than it is a body of knowledge. As a kind of enterprise it can be neither true nor false. It cannot agree or disagree with reality. In that sense, objectively speaking, it is neither good nor bad. And the same can be said of witchcraft. Zande witchcraft, Winch is suggesting, is best regarded as a kind of language, or at least better regarded as a kind of language than as a quasi-scientific theoretical system. Not a language that we ought to try to speak (indeed Winch rules that out as a possibility for us), but not one that can in any straightforward sense be judged to be right or wrong. The job of the anthropologist—that is, not the job that Winch thinks anthropologists ought to do but rather the job that the anthropologist sets for himself—is to make sense of this language. That cannot be done if we assume that it makes no sense to begin with. It can be done, or so it appears from all that is good in, for instance, Evans-Pritchard’s work, if we study carefully how the language, the nest of beliefs and practices, is used by those who engage in it.
            Now for my second example, which I have chosen almost at random. Sociology, Winch understandably says, has a special place in the social sciences. One of the leading journals in sociology is the American Journal of Sociology. When I was writing this the most recent issue of the journal available online was Volume 119, No. 4 (the January 2014 issue). One paper from this issue was available free, so I chose that as my example of recent work in social studies. The paper is “Job Displacement among Single Mothers: Effects on Children’s Outcomes in Young Adulthood” by Jennie E. Brand and Juli Simon Thomas. The paper finds “significant negative effects of job displacement among single mothers on children’s educational attainment and social-psychological well-being in young adulthood.” That is, the authors carefully confirm just what one might expect, that children of single mothers suffer when their mothers lose their jobs because of operating decisions by employers (such as downsizing, rather than when the individual employee is fired or quits), and they provide details of the nature and scope of this harm.
            Winch does not say that this kind of work cannot be done, nor that it should not be done. But it is doubtful that people who do such work would do it more successfully if they modelled themselves more closely on physicists. The paper involves sophisticated mathematics, but its primary interest is in children. Its key finding is that: “Children whose mothers were displaced have lower educational attainment and higher levels of depressive symptoms than children whose mothers were not displaced.”[5] Should it need saying, there is nothing wrong with gathering and analysing data in order to confirm such unsurprising but still deniable truths, if only because they sometimes are denied or at least ignored. But the nature of the authors’ project is more interesting than this. On the one hand, they describe their work as capitalizing “on a scientific opportunity provided by extreme economic change.”[6] On the other hand, the paper’s final paragraph is far from what one might expect in a stereotypical scientific work. Here it is in full:     

            As at least half of all children will spend some portion of their childhood raised by a single mother, the socioeconomic well-being of such families is a fundamental concern. We should protect disadvantaged children because they have not made the choices that have resulted in their socioeconomic conditions, or so goes the rhetoric on social class disparities in children’s resources. Such discourse implicitly assumes mothers have made such choices. But women are also subject to structural conditions largely beyond their control. Debates about social assistance should acknowledge that job separation among single mothers is at times involuntary and that such involuntary events are associated with long-term unemployment, socioeconomic and social-psychological decline, and significant intergenerational effects. We should restrict assistance neither to the most disadvantaged mothers nor to those mothers only displaced in economic contractions, as particularly deleterious maternal displacement effects on life trajectories of children may accrue among otherwise more advantaged single-parent families.[7]     
            We have moved from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ here, and are clearly very close to the domain of philosophy, particularly moral and political philosophy. The precise nature of well-being is a topic that has been discussed by philosophers since at least Aristotle, whose work informs contemporary debates about human capability. Whether we should protect disadvantaged children is a moral and political question, and the connection between this and whether or not these children need help because of choices they have made is an equally philosophical matter. The same goes for questions about what debates should or should not acknowledge, questions about what is voluntary and what involuntary, and questions about how the voluntariness (or otherwise) of actions affects what ought to be done. In short, there is nothing wrong with this kind of sociology, it seems to me, but it is not science in the sense of being like physics, and it is importantly related to philosophy. Winch’s major claim is that the social sciences ought not to try to be more like physics and other natural sciences, but should instead recognize their closeness to philosophy. It seems to me that this paper by Brand and Thomas supports this view.

[1] Peter Winch, “Understanding a Primitive Society,” American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 4, October 1964, pp. 307-324.
[2] Winch, p. 307.
[3] Winch, p. 308
[4] Winch, p. 307.
[5] Brand and Thomas, p. 972.
[6] Ibid., p. 987.
[7][7] Ibid., pp. 989-990. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Brian Leiter likes Spirit. I am surprised, although I don't know what I expected him to like. And I only really know this one song by them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The possibility of a social science

I'm not completely happy with this yet, but I need to have a final version by the end of the week. So if I'm ever going to ask for comments, it's now or never. I've been asked to give a public lecture on Winch's ideas about social science. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Comments welcome.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A kind of timeless present

In comments here Philip Cartwright rants writes:
This brings us to the link between history and philosophy. You've right that they're not the same thing, but the more I consider it the more I think it distorts philosophical ideas to suppose they can be studied as a single discussion taking place in a kind of timeless present. That notion (for me) is itself one of the ideologically-loaded assumptions of philosophy. 
On the one hand, I agree. I think it's relevant when studying Plato's thoughts on politics to know that a relatively democratic Athens executed Socrates and lost in a terrible war to the undemocratic Sparta. I think it's important when studying Aristotle to know that when he says plants have souls he doesn't mean by 'soul' what we might think he means. It's worth knowing who and what people are responding to when we read their works, and worth knowing the language they are writing in, both in terms of being careful about translation and in terms of knowing technical terms and so on.

On the other hand, what are you going to do? If we are interested in more, or something other, than intellectual history, then we have to read these works as part of a conversation with us. And we are stuck in the present. I can't make myself a 17th century Frenchman in order to understand Descartes. I can't make myself share his concerns. This limits the extent to which I can understand him and his work, if only in the sense that I will not be able to relate to it as a well educated 17th century Frenchman might. But it doesn't follow than I cannot get anything out of his work.

With (or even without) a little knowledge of the Reformation and the beginnings of modern science I can find concerns either of my own or at least that I can imagine myself having expressed in his work, and take seriously his attempts to deal with them. Understanding Descartes does not mean being Descartes, so I think it's a mistake to think either that we simply cannot understand him because he belongs to another time and place or that we can understand him if only we immerse ourselves sufficiently in that time and place. A field trip to La Flèche will do the trick! No, it won't. But it is worth keeping in mind that he comes from another time and place (though not, I think, another world) partly to keep ourselves alive to the possibility that we might be misunderstanding (especially if he seems to have made a stupid mistake) and partly to increase ourselves (to fend off smallness) by imagining ourselves in very different circumstances (increasing our sense of possibility) and by coming to see how like us temporal and spatial foreigners can be (yes Descartes lived a long time ago, no he wasn't therefore stupid). 

It's not so much that Plato thought as he did because of the history of Athens (after all, not every Athenian believed in his ideal republic) but that we might not think as we do about politics if our recent history had been otherwise. I doubt it's healthy to reduce others to mere products of their times, but it probably is healthy to see ourselves more that way, i.e. as products of our times. As long we don't just fatalistically and conservatively accept this as a destiny there is no point trying to overcome. It's also probably healthy to see others as others, not simply as easily 'relatable' versions of ourselves, but I imagine the strangeness is most effectively experienced after the familiarity or by way of finding that relatability breaks down here and there.      

Presumably quoting or paraphrasing Wittgenstein, Bouwsma says (September 14th 1950):
About this time we sat on a bench and he began to talk about reading Plato.  Plato's arguments!  His pretence of discussion!  The Socratic irony!  The Socratic method!  The arguments were bad, the pretense of discussion too obvious, the Socratic irony distasteful---why can't a man be forthright and say what's on his mind?  As for the Socratic method in the dialogues, it simply isn't there.  The interlocutors are ninnies, never have any arguments of their own, say "Yes" and "No" as Socrates pleases they should.  They are a stupid lot.  No one really contends against Socrates.  Perhaps Plato is no good, perhaps he's very good.  How should I know?  But if he is good, he's doing something which is foreign to us.  We do not understand.  Perhaps if I could read Greek!
That's one way to read Plato: you read and try to make sense, but in the end conclude that he is too foreign for us to judge his work. But Wittgenstein draws this conclusion because he can't find anything good in Plato's philosophy (he likes the myths, but not the arguments). If you can't judge something to be nice don't judge it to be anything at all. If you can find something good in Plato, presumably then, Wittgenstein would have no objection to your judging that Plato is good. Other things being equal, etc.

Here's more Bouwsma (on Wittgenstein on Descartes):
On Thursday evening we met at Black's. It was my turn to introduce the subject. I introduced: Cogito, ergo sum. After I had finished, W. took it up. "Of course, if _______ now told me such a thing, I should say: Rubbish! But the real question is something different. How did Descartes come to do this?" I asked, did he mean what leads up to it in Descartes' thinking, and the answer was: "No. One must do this for oneself."
I'm not sure exactly what this means. Presumably you couldn't ignore the text completely and still claim to know how Descartes came to do this. You need the text to tell you what this is. But you need more than just the text. You need to bring yourself in, your own thinking. Thinking of Descartes as a mere product of his times is a) irrelevant to doing this, b) possibly harmful, in the sense that it would undermine your ability to imagine yourself into his words (where imagining involves not picturing but actual thinking, i.e. meaning the thoughts you think), and c) the kind of bad faith that Sartre associates with Antisemitism and other kinds of racism (because it denies the free will of the person in question). Knowing some history, etc. might help in identifying the this but it won't help otherwise. You're on your own there. And in the present, always.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On last things

[The post's title quotes this but refers to dmf's comment here.]

This is a good response to one aspect of the bad stuff reported here. Selected highlights:
We know from reading the brief only that some future program shall exist, taking ‘the best parts’ from each of four programs: Religion and Culture, Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies and Modern Languages. Forgive us if we remain sceptical of the virtues of such a combination. The attitude of presumption that must be required for university administrators to suppose that they, and not the cumulative force of tradition, are sufficient to develop a new program from the base materials of these four programs is beyond us, and our understanding.
The problem with the creation of a such a unique program is that it is unclear what such a program could look like. The four programs that the university wishes to combine are not obviously similar in so many ways as to make their combination attractive. We must, then, suppose one of two things. Either we lack the imagination required to see the intellectual virtues of such a combination, or the administration lack the imagination required to see the intellectual vices of such a combination.
One gets the impression of an unguided flailing on the part of the university, as it responds to unhappy political decisions and poor financial ones by maintaining, as if hope could make it true, that all of these changes are beneficial for the university.
For more details it's worth reading the comments at Leiter Reports too.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Last Days of Kant

I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to read De Quincey:

On this occasion, whilst illustrating Kant's notions of the animal economy, it may be as well to add one other particular, which is, that for fear of obstructing the circulation of the blood, he never would wear garters; yet, as he found it difficult to keep up his stockings without them, he had invented for himself a most elaborate substitute, which I shall describe. In a little pocket, somewhat smaller than a watch-pocket, but occupying pretty nearly the same situation as a watch-pocket on each thigh, there was placed a small box, something like a watch-case, but smaller; into this box was introduced a watch-spring in a wheel, round about which wheel was wound an elastic cord, for regulating the force of which there was a separate contrivance. To the two ends of this cord were attached hooks, which hooks were carried through a small aperture in the pockets, and so passing down the inner and the outer side of the thigh, caught hold of two loops which were fixed on the off side and the near side of each stocking. As might be expected, so complex an apparatus was liable, like the Ptolemaic system of the heavens, to occasional derangements; however, by good luck, I was able to apply an easy remedy to these disorders which sometimes threatened to disturb the comfort, and even the serenity, of the great man.

MOOCed out

I've been watching and enjoying John Holbo's video lectures for his course on reason and persuasion. But I think I've finally given up, despite making it all the way into the last lesson. And finding another course to watch instead has proved challenging. So I've temporarily given up on that too.

What's the problem? First Holbo's course. It's a funny course because it's not about how to reason and persuade, nor about the difference between reason and persuasion, as the title might suggest. It's more a reading of the Euthyphro, the Meno, and Book I of the Republic, followed by Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis. Holbo is clear and funny, and he makes good use of cartoons that he draws himself. Watching a couple of parts of one of the eight lessons is a pleasant and mildly (for those who've already read the books he's talking about) educational way to spend half an hour or so. If you've read his posts at Crooked Timber, though, then you'll know that he can sometimes ramble a little. The seven parts of lesson 1 add up to about 75 minutes of lecture. The ten parts of lesson 8 add up to about 3 hours or so. And he's less clear on Haidt, which might be why he doesn't seem to get right to the point. So I quit.

I enjoyed the experience enough, though, that I recommend it and want to find another course like it. But without Holbo's sense of humor and cartoons I'm finding that watching lectures online is painfully dull. I would much rather read. Students must surely feel the same way. Of course, if you have to attend lectures then your pain is, arguably, irrelevant. But I don't have to do this. And it's hard to imagine anyone having to take a free online course.

Bottom line:

  1. I don't see much of a future for MOOCs unless lecturers as entertaining as Holbo (and Sandel) can be found in sufficient numbers (or a lot of arm-twisting occurs), and 
  2. if you know of any other good online philosophy courses I'd be very glad to hear about them.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Corrupting the youth

[There's more on ethics and corrupt thinking here, if you're interested.]

Over at Orienteringsforsøk, vh has a nice post on the value of studying philosophy. It's refreshing to see someone question the value often attributed to it by philosophers. As he says:
reading philosophy and acquiring the analytic and argumentative tools on offer is, as demonstrated by Erasmus Montanus, not the same as becoming a clearheaded thinker. Mastering a philosophical style, may even -- if it is true that certain philosophies offer nothing but fashionable nonsense -- have quite pernicious effects on one's judgement. Not even (mainstream) analytical philosophy is what Hacker has in mind when he hails philosophy as "a unique technique for tackling conceptual questions". Judging by his many heated debates with colleagues, mainly from the anglo-american tradition, it is reasonable to interpret the quote with which I began as deliberately echoing a sigh by his friend, Bede Rundle: "Whatever their limitations, earlier analytical philosophers had at least a nose for nonsense. Sadly, so many philosophers today have only a taste for it."
While Anscombe may be right that Oxford moral philosophy does not corrupt the youth because they already think as badly as Oxford moral philosophers, I do think that studying philosophy can have pernicious effects. This applies not only to the studying of fashionable nonsense and the worst kinds of mainstream analytic philosophy but to studying Hacker's work too. I say this as a former closed-minded Hackerite (without meaning that it's Hacker's fault that anyone ends up like that).

In a word the problem is dogmatism. If you teach your students that utilitarianism is true then you are really not teaching them moral philosophy, even though you might make them better people and give them a useful tool that helps them think better about some issues. (Think of what a course or two by Peter Singer might do in a best case scenario.) The same goes for any other theory or position in philosophy. Including Wittgensteinian ones, of course. And you can teach dogmatism without doing so explicitly or consciously. In fact it's probably almost impossible to teach philosophy without encouraging some kind of dogmatism about something. The best you can do might be to minimize this kind of harm while, of course, maximizing the beneficial encouragement of careful thinking. It's a difficult act to pull off. And it is an act, a kind of behavior or activity, as many people (not just Wittgensteinians) like to point out. So there aren't philosophical findings that we teach our students. Just, or at least primarily, certain habits of mind that we try to develop and maintain in ourselves and others.

In this essay Hacker refers to philosophy as a technique. That doesn't seem right. He also says that philosophy gives us techniques, which is closer to the truth. But this still makes it sound more mechanical than it really is. You don't sniff out nonsense by applying a technique. The practice of philosophy seems to me to be more like the application of ordinary critical intelligence, asking questions like "What do you mean?" and "What are the grounds for that claim?" But it's the application of ordinary intelligence informed by familiarity with certain patterns of thought (both particularly good examples and particularly difficult examples of bad thinking) and lots and lots of practice. In short, philosophers don't really do anything that non-philosophers can't do, and they don't necessarily do it better, but they ought at least to do it better than they themselves did it before they started studying and practicing philosophy, and they ought to do it without some other mission. Every good teacher teaches critical thinking, but non-philosophers usually have some facts, theories, techniques, or dogma that they aim to teach as well. Philosophers do usually want their students to know who Plato was or how to define anti-realism, say, but this kind of thing is, I think, less central to philosophy than it is to any other subject. Philosophy is (even) more about questions than any other subject is.

(Am I falling into fantasy or thoughtless repetition of stale ideas here? I don't think so.)

Which brings me to the question of non-philosophers teaching philosophy. There is no reason why a non-philosopher could not teach philosophy well. Statistically it seems more likely that a philosopher, i.e. someone who has had years of philosophical education and practice, would do a better job, but there are no guarantees either that a philosopher defined this way will be good at philosophy or that a non-philosopher will be bad at it. History professor Robert Zaretsky does little to allay the fears philosophers might have about his teaching a philosophy course, though, when he writes that: Neither the reading list, bursting with texts from Bacon and Locke to Montesquieu and Diderot, nor the publication of my own book on Hume and Rousseau undid the suspicion that a professional historian simply didn’t have the requisite philosophical chops to teach such a course.

A philosophical reading list does not a philosophy course make. And the intelligence it takes to publish a book need not be the kind primarily associated with philosophy. Indeed, a quick look at amazon's page for Zaretsky's book suggests it is more a history book than a work of philosophy. Which is not to say that philosophy is better than history. It's just not the same thing. And recognizing this fact is not the same thing as political protectionism, as Zaretsky implies.

(There's a danger that this could be read as a failed attempt at subtly criticizing some of my colleagues. That's not what I mean. I do reject, though, the idea that the humanities are all more or less the same thing focusing arbitrarily on different texts. That's one thing that I think I disagree with Rorty about.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tractatus translation

My translation of the Tractatus with notes is online here (as a blog) and here (as a pdf).

The blog version has the advantage that people can comment, which allows for corrections to be made (which has happened) and discussions to break out (which hasn't so much). It also has the words of Wittgenstein in a different colour, which might be helpful at times. But it isn't as polished as the 'book' version. A couple of times people have pointed out mistakes in the blog version and I've found that they did not occur in the 'book' version. So that's the one to read if you have to choose.

Unfortunately the 'book' version seems to disappear from from time to time. I don't know why this is, but I uploaded it again yesterday and it seems to be there now.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on the blog or emailed me about it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How to teach

Rebecca Schuman gives good advice about deskside manner here. Relatedly, the Daily Nous links to an article that encourages:
professors who “made me excited about learning,” “cared about me as a person,” or “encouraged my hopes and dreams.”  
Making students excited about learning what you teach seems both good and a good sign. It suggests that you actually care enough about it to convey this to students, and even to infect them with it.

I'm less sure about caring about students as people. They are people, and professors who neither recognize this fact nor care accordingly are doing something wrong. But surely our job is primarily to care about them as students, not as people. Professors' relationships with their students should be professional, which does not mean heartless, I would think.

And as for encouraging hopes and dreams, I think I disagree. The last students I talked to about their hopes and dreams wanted to go into academia and did not want to hear that this was a bad idea. I didn't press the issue, but I don't think that encouraging hopes and dreams that cannot equally be described as realistic plans does anyone any favors.

The article I quoted above also says that:
Graduates who had done a long-term project that took a semester or more, who had held an internship, or who were extremely involved in extracurricular activities or organizations had twice the odds of being engaged at work and an edge in thriving in well-being.
But later points out:
It’s not clear whether the respondents who are thriving in the workplace do so because of some internal drive, and whether that internal drive had led them to find internships, proactive mentors, or long-term projects.
So it doesn't strike me as very helpful. 

I prefer stuff like this, this, and this, although it's clearly aimed below the college level. It does at least bring out the value of repeating an activity, retrieving a memory, and reviewing material in a variety of ways. There's not much more there that isn't already obvious and that seems relevant to the teaching of philosophy, but even this is good to know. So far as science has spoken about how to teach it has not found much to say. 

Abusing morality

There's something odd about immoral uses of morality, something striking about the brazenness involved. Is there a general name for such abuses? 'Moralism', perhaps, but the dictionary definitions I've just consulted don't seem to be talking about exactly the phenomenon I'm thinking of. Here are some examples of what I have in mind:
  1. it is sometimes said, or at least implied, that nurses and teachers ought to do their jobs from the goodness of their hearts and that therefore they should not be paid more (because that would attract the wrong sort of person into these professions)
  2. someone involved in the drone program once said that he told the men under his command that he didn't care how they did it but he wanted them to get their job done. When I asked him whether this might lead to the use of immoral means he reacted indignantly, with moral outrage, at the suggestion that his men might behave immorally
  3. unrealistic ideas about what morality requires can lead to the abandonment of moral concern as unrealistic (see Anscombe on pacifism)
  4. sentimental ideas about morality or goodness can lead to people's regarding moral behavior either as unrealistic for them (it is something for saints or for women or for civilians, perhaps) or as something that applies only in a very limited sphere
Sentimentality is a theme here, but so is cynicism. Case 1 involves implicit sexism but also sentimentality, cynicism, and a kind of self-righteousness. The people who do these jobs (traditionally mostly women, of course) shouldn't be soiled or insulted by giving them the money they are asking for! Morality is used here to promote political interests. The second case is not sexist, but it does involve a fantasy of the military as incorruptibly honorable, and a use of morality as a kind of weapon to be resorted to when faced with a particular kind of attack. It also involves righteous indignation. The third case is different, and tricky (and Anscombe was close enough to pacifism that she opposed even World War II), but it too involves a failure to be realistic, as well as, perhaps, self-righteousness and/or sentimentality. Case 4 is really at least two different cases. I'm thinking of men whose ideas of morally good behavior are incompatible with their ideas of manly behavior, of people who believe that someone (i.e. them) has to "get their hands dirty" so that others can live "good" lives (self-righteousness about their own immoral behavior, in other words), and about people who focus on virtues such as not swearing and being courteous toward women in response to criticisms of their violent racism, for instance. Another example is the song about Jesse James that emphasizes his wife's having been a lady, his children's having been brave, and the cowardice of the men who shot him. Murder and robbery are outward, superficial things. If his wife was a lady then he must have been a gentleman, and that's what really counts. 

In each case there is a lack of realism, an indulgence in fantasy, and (which is part of the same thing) a division or compartmentalization that enables evasion. But in the very idea of morality (or ethics) as a thing, or of values as things, there is already division (of morality from everything else). And the solution might be to dissolve morality into everything else. This is related, I think, to Anscombe's and Wittgenstein's philosophical projects, although I wonder how far the dissolution has to go. (Heidegger has things to say about 'values', too, as I recall.) It seems as though it would have to be all the way. And then I find it hard to see how Anscombe's Christianity, for instance, could survive. Not that I see clearly that it could not. Nor do I have an argument here. It's just a sort of intuition. And what it would mean to dissolve ethics into everything else is hard to say, but I suppose it would mean dropping certain 'moral' concepts. Especially the thinnest ones. That alone wouldn't obviously make any of the abuses I listed above impossible. Sexism, sentimentality, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy are always going to be possible.