An earlier version of this paper, entitled, "Analysis for Consensus. A Case-Comparison Technique for Teaching Philosophical Analysis," was presented at the 1991 Spring Meeting of the Middle Atlantic States Philosophy of Education Society.

Teaching Case Analysis to Achieve Philosophical Consensus

© 2004 Edward G. Rozycki

 

RETURN
edited 7/28/09

See Philosophical Case Analysis Surveys among :
On Line Surveys

 

A technique is presented for teaching philosophical analysis using case examples. Although it begins with approaches long recognized in the philosophical literature as "conceptual analysis," the technique presented in this paper avoids major drawbacks to that tradition, i.e. the imposition of authority and the ignoring of problems of consensus.

Contents

Introduction

The Question of Consensus

Dismissing a So-Called Criticism

The Disipleship-Collegiality Tension

Coaching Analysis

How to Do it.

Constructing Worksheets

Endnotes

Introduction

Those of us who were trained in linguistic analysis when it still enjoyed the promise of panacea, we who read Searle, Austin, Ryle and Wittgenstein[1] with missionary zeal, will no doubt remember the sense of power and clarity that it gave us. But we should not forget that linguistic or conceptual analysis, as it was also called, was not universally recognized as a important technique. Nor has it retained the popularity it once had even within the English-speaking philosophical community. To begin with, it was never very clear to which community of speakers the language usage described via conceptual analysis pertained. The "we" of "what we mean" was more often left defined by presumption than by inquiry.

This vagueness as to what exactly defined our community of usage caused us no little dismay, particularly as we tried to impart to our students that sense of empowerment and objectivity about linguistic usage we had discovered could be achieved. They just did not believe it. To them, it was quibbling, just games, playing with words, or linguistic fiat. The same verdict was pronounced by no small number of people in other disciplines: philosophy had degenerated into a game of linguistic Trivial Pursuit.

The Question of Consensus

While we may have been concerned to offset the inroads Behaviorism had made in educational practice by showing that not all knowing that was a matter of knowing how[2], or that rewards were not necessarily reinforcers[3], our students harbored the suspicion that it was we who were special pleaders rather than those purveyors of neologism they had become comfortable with. Unfortunately, some philosophers, when asked about the consensus issue often dismissed it as "linguistic anthropology," or some kind of head-counting sociology. This attitude hardly helped our case that conceptual analysis does, in fact, provide reasonably objective information about language usage.

But the consensus issue remains: given that analysis gives us relatively objective knowledge about language usage, in what kind of community does such usage find a home? Let us examine this below.

Dismissing a So-Called Criticism

Let's get an annoying academic distraction out of the way. "There is no absolute objectivity!" is not infrequently proclaimed with a vehemence that obscures the banality of the point. Likewise, "the search for a universal metanarrative is doomed!" These assertions, often accompanied with gratuitous allusions to deconstructionism are often intended, it would seem, to have us concede to what is all too often special pleading. In fact, such assertions, i.e."There is no absolute objectivity!" or "the search for a universal metanarrative is doomed!" are themselves a kind of metastatement. Thus, it would seem, they proclaim themselves suspect.

Conceptual analysis can help us find objective metanarratives. But they are neither absolute nor universal. Their objectivity derives from the fact that they are what I would call "motivational invariants[4]," descriptions that hold across a variety of particular human intentions and motivations. They need be only "objective" enough to enable us to distinguish practically among such things as argument, special pleading, and propaganda.

However, the credibility of our analyses depends upon the extent to which we allow others to participate in our inquiry, not merely as spectators, but as inquirers, themselves. From a pedagogical point of view, appropriate training in conceptual analysis will generate the consensus that supports the objectivity of philosophical inquiry in education. This can be done without necessarily biasing the outcome in favor of particular educational ideologies. But the critical factor is this: the student must feel empowered enough to correct his professor, if the situation warrants it. If technique is to be considered "objective", its authority must supercede that of the rank of any practitioner.

One of the advantages of the approach I recommend to you in this paper is that it builds confidence in the dominance of the technique over the social or academic status of its user.

The Discipleship-Collegiality Tension

There is an age-old tension to be negotiated here that undermines confidence in the objectivity of method. It involves the tranformation of the student as disciple into a practitioner adept enough to be accepted as a colleague. I suspect that the inability -- maybe even lack of desire -- to deal with this is what has caused the eclipse of linguistic analysis. If a technique is objective, then tradition must bow to its results. No special class of initiates is required for its practice. There's the rub! One could learn to do linguistic analysis without having to take a philosophy course! The authority of older philosophical traditions upon which the blandishments of academic position depend would be undermined by widespread recognition of such a tool as linguistic analysis. Unlike doctors and lawyers whose simplest exercises are protected by licensure, philosophers protect their peculiar skills by making them esoteric: an academic pastime rather than a general tool of thought.

Linguistic analysis also suffers subversion also from those philosophers who prefer inculcating their students in an ideology to empowering them with tools for inquiry. The rhetorical mechanism of their justification is to call everything "ideology" so that any criticism must be ideological. Having reduced (or exalted, if you prefer) every difference in perspective and attitude to ideology, other means must be chosen to distinguish among ideologies. Not the least of these is the complacent self-assurance of being right, such self-assurance apparently being - pace Descartes - the clearest and most distinct of ideas.

However, if we take ideology to be something historically and communally situated - conceding the deconstructionists an important point - then, clearly, not all criticism and inquiry need be ideological.

Coaching Analysis

The trick to achieving consensus through analysis is to be a coach, a mid-wife, not a dictionary or some other kind of absolute authority. You must allow for the possibility that the most novice may "correct" you. This has several benefits. First, the technique gains credibility; there will be consensus on the results. Second, easily as important, you will discover interesting, sometimes important, things about the linguistic communities you are dealing with.

In effect, a conceptual analysis is a theoretically intricate empirical hypothesis, e.g. if people in fact make such and such distinctions in practice, then they commit themselves, on pain of practical contradiction, to certain other distinctions. What is interesting about such a hypothesis is that it is not based on some statistical analysis of the language patterns of many speakers, but can be majorly researched by consideration of one's own behavior. Because language behavior is embedded in a variety of social forms, deviations from what is indicated by a technically adequate analysis are not necessarily counterevidence to the hypothesis, but rather indications of a variation in the social matrices of the language usage. But this train of thought is much too complex and peripheral to the purposes of this paper. Let's get back to the main path.

You may begin by despairing that anything can be done with the ideologically-charged slogans your students emit with such thoughtless ease. However, you will end up not only having convinced them to "amend" their discourse, but to become more observant in the process: observant in that peculiar way we recognize as philosophically sensitive. It may turn out, as we noted above, that certain kinds of dissensus define boundaries among speech communities. Yet the analysis can help practitioners from each community, yourself included, become aware of the discursive costs and benefits of their commitments.

How to Do It

The basic technique is this:

a. Working with a group of students, present them with a set of carefully constructed contrastive cases relevant to the distinctions at issue. (A set of examples is provided below.)

b. Have them examine the cases for similarities and differences.

c. Prior to discussion, have them vote by show of hand how to categorize each case with respect to a given category: yes, no or maybe. Keep a tally of these choices. (See the form given below.)

d. Direct individual students to explain to the others why he or she differs on a specific case. (Don't ask for explanation for why they agree!)

e. Act as a moderator, pointing out how and maybe why they might differ, or where they may differ not, say, on criteria but only degree, and the like. Let the students do the criticism! Nonetheless be prepared to introduce other considerations as you see necessary.

f. Do case profiles and adjust the case-profile chart (also given below) so that there is consensus on points of agreement, disagreement and uncertainty. (Recast the profiles in definitional form if it is useful.) Very often all will agree on the reasons for the consensus - or lack of it.

Shortly, we will look at a set of contrastive cases. However, some immediate comments on the procedure are in order:

1. Let whatever antagonism is generated to be done so by group members among group members. There will not likely be any deference to rank as there might if you, the professor, were to comment on their choices. Nor will there be any logically irrelevant concessions made.

2. A small group (4-10) works best both in order to assure everyone a chance to explain and in order to make individual ideological commitments vulnerable to group pressure.

3. Examine conceptual contrasts that bear on cogent issues of practice! Any current slogan will suggest something. Some exciting ones are "punishment-cruelty-infliction of pain", or"race-ethnicity-class". Save more technical distinctions until your class understands the process, e.g. "reward-reinforcer".

4. For practical reasons, use triads of concepts, unless there is an abundance of skill and time available. We will see that this is a consideration in constructing the case examples.

5. Pursue good pedagogy and good philosophy will eventually follow. Your attempting to impose "correctness" is self-defeating.

Figure 1 below illustrates a set of cases for examining the distinctions among punishment, cruelty, infliction of pain. These distinctions are crucial to practice in our public institutions because there is substantial sloganeering to the effect that

a. punishment is morally undesirable because necessarily cruel;

b. sports where pain may be inflicted is morally wrong;

c. prohibiting corporal punishment abolishes cruelty.

These slogans not only exaggerate to the point of confusion but they tend to do a disservice to the concerns that underlie them.

Clarifying Concepts: A Case Study Approach:

Punishment, Cruelty, Infliction of Pain


CASE EXAMPLE

punishment?

cruelty?

infliction of pain?

1. 5 year-old Arnold falls into a hole after pinching his sister and running out into the backyard.

yes / no / ?
/____/

yes / no / ?
/____/

yes / no / ?
/____/

2. Mrs. Smith vigorously slaps her 5-year old son, Arnold, 3 times on the buttocks because he pinched his little sister after having been warned not to do it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

3. Mrs. Smith vigorously slaps her 5-year old son, Arnold, 70 times on the buttocks because he pinched his little sister after having been warned not to do it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

4. Mrs. Smith vigorously slaps her 5-year old son, Arnold, three times on the buttocks because she enjoys doing it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

5. Mrs. Smith gives her 5-year old son, Arnold, a cookie after he pinches his little sister.


/____/


/____/


/____/

6. 6-year old neighbor Jeffrey vigorously slaps 5-year old, Arnold, three times on the buttocks because he pinched his little sister after having been warned not to do it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

7. Mrs. Smith says to her 5-year old son, Arnold, "I wish you would die, you bad, bad little boy! I hate you!" because he pinched his little sister after having been warned not to do it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

8. Mrs. Smith vigorously slaps her 5-year old son, Arnold, three times on the buttocks because he pinched his little sister three years ago after having been warned not to do it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

9. Mrs. Smith sends her 5-year old son, Arnold, to his room because he pinched his little sister after having been warned not to do it.


/____/


/____/


/____/

10. Arnold vigorously slaps his mother three times because he is angry at her.


/____/


/____/


/____/

figure 1

Additional contrast exercises are hyperlinked in footnote [5]

Constructing Worksheets

The worksheet of case examples is constructed from your own hypothesis as to how certain concepts compare and contrast. Your analysis is based on your speech community and the literature you draw on in making the contrasts and comparisons. The group you work with may not make the same conceptual cuts. You may attempt to get them to understand how the distinctions you find useful could be useful to them. Or, as a consequence of this activity, you might abandon a distinction as pointless. Or you and your students might discover an even more interesting way of looking at them.

Constructing a set of case examples for contrast and comparison is a matter of logic and a little narrative ingenuity. You take all the logical combinations of variables and construct a narrative for each combination. So two concepts give you four combinations, e.g. TT, TF, FT, FF; three give you eight and so on in powers of 2. A triad of conceptual contrasts is most convenient. Note that in figure 1 there are 10 narratives: two are redundant.

So for the group, "punishment-cruelty-infliction of pain" we construct narratives that exemplify the following:

a.something that is punishment, cruelty and infliction of pain simultaneously;

b. something that is punishment and cruelty but not infliction of pain;

c. something that is punishment but not cruelty yet infliction of pain

Thus we continue for all logical possibilities. Once you have constructed all your narratives, mix them up on your presentation sheet.

Case Profiles: the chart

A case profile chart (see figure 2) merely lists both the concepts into which the cases are typed and the criteria identified as relevant by the group against the cases considered. Each typed case can then be correlated with criteria it satisfies. The items given in figure 2 are from an actual class sample.

figure 2: CASE PROFILE CHART

(partial chart for "punishment" etc.)

**TYPE\CASE #

1

2

3

4

5

etc

Punishment

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

...

Cruelty

No

Yes/No

Yes

Yes

No

...

Infliction

No/Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

...

*****CRITERIA

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

Agency

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

...

Recompense

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

...

Authority

No

Yes

Yes

Yes/No

NA

...

etc.

...

...

...

...

...

...

It is important not to make this profiling too analytic a process.[6] Note that each case is typed first and then constitutive criteria are considered. This is because most people can say what a thing is even when they are unable to articulate why. It is possible that a review of the criteria in the profile chart may necessitate a retyping of the cases. This is to be expected.

Having experimented with this approach for several years, I recommend it to you for several reasons. The first is that students like it: they feel they are involved in discovery (they are, indeed), rather than merely bowing to authority. Another reason is that the level of discussion becomes amazingly sophisticated after a short period of time, particularly if you take pains to mark the distinctions they discover with the traditional vocabulary as it pertains.

Beneath the veneer of conflicting slogans lies an often amazing consensus on criteria and/or authority. Once the group agrees that a distinction is useful you may want to point out how certain slogans obscure it and generate inconsistencies in parlance or practice. In those rare cases where dissensus persists and is stable, you and your class will have discovered a real boundary among linguistic communities. Exploring its dimensions and the form of life that supports it is a particular challenge.


ENDNOTES

[1] See

John Searle, Speech Acts. An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge U Press 1969

J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words Edited by J. O. Urmson. Galaxy Books. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.

Gilbert Ryle The Concept of Mind University Paperbacks. New York: Barnes & Noble. Seventh Printing, 1965

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1967.

[2] See, for example, G. K. Clabaugh, "What is Worth Knowing about Values?" at http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Values Education.html

[3] See E. G. Rozycki, "Rewards and Reinforcers" at http://www.newfoundations.com/EGR/RewRein.html

[4] Metaphor based on Klein's conception of geometry as the theory of invariants of a transformational group. See "Chapter 4. Introduction: Klein's Erlanger Programm"in Annitta Tuller A Modern Introduction to Geometries Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand 1967

[5] More contrastive case exercises can be found in the Catalog of Materials for Philosophy of Education at http:/www.newfoundations.com/MATCAT/PhiloCat.html

[6] For a more engaging, more recently developed set of group activities to use with case analysis, see Models for Case Analysis at http://www.newfoundations.com/CaseModels/CaseIntro.html

 

 

TO TOP