Philosophy Majors Research Skills

Writing Intensive Classes

For a description of basic information literacy skills required of all students before entering upon work in their major, click here.

Philosophy 100 Level Courses

Students in 100 level classes are not usually expected to conduct research or consult texts outside of class material. Rather, emphasis is placed on developing critical reasoning skills, especially the abilities to identify philosophical issues, clarify concepts, and to analyze and to defend the soundness and validity of arguments in the readings assigned for class. At this stage, no specific research skills are expected.

Philosophy 200 Level Courses

PHI 200 is a required ‘methods course’ for philosophy majors. This course is intended to:

a) provide students with intensive practice in reading and writing philosophy;

b) acquaint them with a representative sample of scholarly work of the members of the Smith College philosophy department; and

c) introduce them to the authors of that work.

This is a writing and oral intensive course. Attention will be given to the proper use and citation of sources. Students are formally introduced to the physical and electronic library and internet resources via a visit to the Neilson Library for an informational session with the library liaison to the philosophy department. Other courses at the 200 level undertake this introduction to the appropriate informational resources for philosophy more directly and informally.

By the completion of a 200 level course, we expect students to be able to search for literature relevant to an essay they are reading, using scholarly databases and bibliographies and to select appropriate scholarly material for attention in a paper.

Philosophy 300 Level Courses

Writing Seminar Papers

Students should be able to:

  1. To identify a research topic that is focused but sufficiently open ended to warrant further discussion and analysis (designed with the help of the adviser.)
  2. To locate and effectively use scholarly philosophical sources (journal articles, primary texts, secondary sources, book reviews, review articles, philosophy encyclopedias, electronic databases such as Philosopher's Index, Humanities Index, J-STOR etc)
  3. To construct and develop a strand of argument through the essay, making effective transitions between paragraphs.
  4. To anticipate and articulate some of the objections that could be made to the argument in question and to develop a response to them as much as one is able
  5. To use specific devices such as footnotes where necessary in order to mention issues or questions that might be related to the argument in the main text but of secondary importance to its main thrust.
  6. To compile a bibliography that takes note of both the historical development of argumentation related to the topic in question as well as current discussions.

Students should at this point be able to assemble a broad bibliography of relevant material, and to identify the most important primary literature and to develop an account of the history of the exploration of a philosophical problem.

Oral Presentations in Seminars

Students should be able:

  1. To give a cogent summary of the essay or essays that are topic for class discussion
  2. To identify and present to the class clearly, coherently and confidently, the main argument of the essay/essays as it is understood by the student
  3. To be prepared to answer questions of clarification from class mates
  4. To be prepared to answer critical questions from classmates
  5. To be able to lead classmates in discussion by asking a set of relevant questions about the material under scrutiny.

The Honors Project

Writing an Honors Project

Students should be able:

  1. To identify a research topic that is focused but sufficiently open ended to warrant further discussion and analysis (designed with the help of the adviser.)
  2. To locate and effectively use scholarly philosophical sources (journal articles, primary texts, secondary sources, book reviews, review articles, philosophy encyclopedias, electronic databases such as Philosopher's Index, Humanities Index, J-STOR etc)
  3. To construct and develop a strand of argument through the honors project, making effective transitions within and between chapters.
  4. To anticipate and articulate some of the objections that could be made to the argument in question and to develop a response to them as much as one is able
  5. To use specific devices such as footnotes where necessary in order to mention issues or questions that might be related to the argument in the main text but of secondary importance to its main thrust.
  6. To compile a bibliography that takes note of both the historical development of argumentation related to the topic in question as well as current discussions
  7. To contact and to engage in scholarly discussion with philosophers whose work is central to their research project.

Orally Defending an Honors Project

Students should be able

  1. To give a cogent summary of the honors project;
  2. To recognize and be in a position to articulate the limits of the investigation; what falls inside and what outside the purview of the honors project;
  3. To answer specific questions from the Honors Committee clearly, coherently and
    confidently.

Ethical Issues

For Smith College's policy on the ethical use of information, click here.

March 14, 2007