The Dennes Room

Undergraduate Student Learning Goals

Undergraduate Student Learning Initiative

Statement of Learning Goals

Department of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley

(Last revised March 2009)

The Undergraduate Student Learning Initiative (USLI) is a campuswide project that has been under development at Berkeley since Fall 2007. This initiative is designed to promote and facilitate learning for undergraduates across campus. In connection with this initiative, the Philosophy Department has articulated the following goals for our undergraduate majors.

The primary goal that we expect our undergraduate philosophy majors to achieve is to become capable of engaging with the main topics and issues in contemporary academic philosophy and with the historical tradition by which contemporary philosophy is informed. Students who graduate from our program should be able to think both analytically and creatively about philosophical issues and texts. They should be able to analyse and raise objections to philosophical views and arguments that are presented to them, and to develop and defend their own views on philosophical topics. They should be able to do this both in writing and in oral discussion with other students and with instructors. Achieving these objectives requires that students acquire more general skills in writing, reading and oral argument: they need to be able to organize their ideas, express them clearly both in writing and in speaking, and construct plausible arguments in their defence.

This primary goal includes the following more specific goals:

  1. A broad general understanding of the work of major figures in the history of philosophy, including Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and Kant.

  2. A deeper and more detailed understanding of the work of at least two historically important philosophers.

  3. Familiarity with the most important topics in a range of areas which are typically regarded as lying at the center of contemporary philosophical thought, including metaphysics, theory of knowledge, philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

  4. Familiarity with the most important topics in ethics and the related field of political philosophy.

  5. Familiarity with formal logic, including both the ability to understand the logical symbolism used in many contemporary philosophical texts, and to carry out logical proofs and derivations within a formal system.

  6. The general capacity to think analytically and creatively about philosophical texts and issues.

  7. The general capacity to express philosophical ideas and defend them effectively in argument, both in writing and orally.

Students’ attainment of these goals is measured by assessment of their performance in the courses required for the major. All philosophy undergraduate courses, with the exception of those in logic, require students to write several essays over the course of the semester; many of them also require a final exam where the questions also take the form of short philosophical essays. These essays are evaluated by the instructor with an eye both to the student’s mastery of the specific subject matter covered by the course, and to the student’s mastery of more general skills in philosophical thinking and writing. A higher standard of thinking and writing is required for upper-division than for lower-division courses. More ambitious students have the option of taking graduate seminars as electives, where the standard for philosophical writing is higher still.

In logic courses, students’ competence in formal logic is evaluated through assessment of their performance in weekly problem sets and examinations (typically including a mid-term and a final).

All of our courses, again with the exception of those in formal logic, require students to engage in oral philosophical discussion, typically during sections taught by graduate student instructors. In many courses, students’ contributions to discussion are assessed as part of the overall assessment of their performance in the class. We recognize it as a shortcoming in our program, however, that our courses are often too large to allow much discussion, and as a result, we are not confident that all of our students do in fact become proficient in this aspect of the primary goal of the program. We think it very important that students have the opportunity to develop their skills in oral discussion of philosophical issues, and we are hoping to be able to introduce as a requirement that students take one undergraduate seminar which offers ample opportunity for discussion with a faculty member and with their peers. So far, the small size of the faculty compared with the large size of enrollment in philosophy classes has prevented us from doing this, but we hope that faculty size will increase to a degree that will make this change in the program feasible.

Students are required to take twelve courses overall, including a number of required courses; these required courses are selected and designed with reference to the specific goals from the numbered list above, as follows:

Goal 1: 25A and 25B (both required)

Goal 2: Courses in the 160-187 sequence (two of these required)

Goal 3: 122, 125, 131, 132, and 135 (two of these required)

Goal 4: 104, 105, 107, 115 (one of these required)

Goal 5: 12A (required)

Goal 6: All of our courses, except for those in formal logic

Goal 7: All of our courses (except for those in formal logic), but especially 100, which is a dedicated course in philosophical writing

The goals described in this statement will be communicated to our undergraduate students by posting a prominent link to this statement on our department website, on the same page that is used to inform students about the course requirements for the philosophy major.