384: Brief Collective Feedback on Reading Response 1

This is an online copy of the handout posted to our lecture Blackboard, for PHL384 (Spring 2018), as a backup in case of any issues accessing Blackboard.


“Steinbock outlines several philosophical perspectives on the moral status
of human embryos. Which perspective do you find most convincing and why?”

Note: Not everything that impacted individual reading response scores is reflected in these comments, and not everything that is commented on here is something that affected any grades. Rather, the goal of these comments is to identify some ways that we can collectively improve more generally, both in our engagement with readings and with our future writing assignments in this course. Not everything here will be relevant every time, but I’ve tried to make the recommendations quite general so we can think about them over time. If you have further questions, you are definitely welcome to reach out and to ask them in TA office hours. The Philosophy Essay Clinic is also a great place to get assistance in planning and writing for philosophy courses. (info here: http://philosophy.utoronto.ca/st-george/undergraduate-at-st-george/philosophy-essay-clinic/ )

Brief feedback:

  1. Explanation: Sometimes, the answers we gave focused on explaining the view we thought was most convincing, but did not also explain why we found it the most convincing. Similarly, sometimes we picked one view and showed what it specifically says about the status of an embryo, but didn’t explain why we should prefer that view (is it because it comes to a conclusion we should think is right? If so, we can explain why that conclusion seems right). When thinking of how to describe why we find a view convincing, it can be helpful to assume that our audience has already read the view (either they did the reading too, or, in our longer writing assignments, because we’ve explained it to them), but that they still are not convinced by it. Re-stating the view won’t necessarily change things. What could we do to make someone more likely to agree with us?
  2. Focus: Sometimes, our answers focused only on fetuses or therapeutic induced abortions, and didn’t make any mention of embryos, or explain why that view is most convincing for embryos in particular. In the future, it can be helpful to make a list of the key terms in questions or prompts, and use those to guide our reading when we’re preparing our answers, to make sure we are working within the scope of the question.
  3. Formatting: In some cases, while we demonstrated good engagement with the questions, we didn’t follow the assignment instructions. Sometimes our answers were over the word limit, or were not otherwise formatted and submitted according to instructions. It is important to follow the word limit in particular for at least two main reasons: (i) part of the challenge and goal of our assignments in this course is to practice concise writing and clarity; and (ii) it is an initial principle of fairness, for writing and for evaluating assignments, that all students are being provided the same resources and word limit. In the future, it could be helpful to make a little checklist of the things our assignments should complete, including the questions we need to answer and the formats in which to answer them (C. does this in their own writing submissions to make sure they don’t miss things!).
  4. Accuracy/clarity: In some cases, Author’s names were misspelled, or they were referred to by the wrong pronouns. While this is important as a matter of care for other people, it could also be confusing at times to whom we were referring when the pronouns or names did not line up. And sometimes we confused the names of positions or views. For example: in the first paragraph of “The Person View”, it says that there are two distinct senses of ‘human being’: a biological or genetic sense, and a moral sense. Some of our answers called the moral sense a ‘genetic’ sense, or used other misleading terms. Finally, sometimes we misused words that have technical meanings in arguments (like ‘thus’, which is meant to indicate a conclusion or an implication), and this made it harder to follow the line of thought. In the future, we should be careful in how we represent the views in our readings, and upcoming TA office hours will be good opportunities for getting help with this for assignments, as well as the department’s essay clinic (link above).
  5. Arguing by objection: One style of argumentation that a lot of our answers shared, was to argue in favour of a view by explaining objections to the other views that were covered in the text (example, arguing in favour of the interest view by stating objections to the biological humanity view, personhood view, and FLO view). A stronger version of this style of arguing would also show why the view we prefer doesn’t suffer from the same sorts of objections. It would also help in future writing assignments, when arguing this way, not only to explain the objection but to explain why that objection is convincing. TA office hours and the Philosophy Essay Clinic are both good resources for getting feedback on styles of arguing for future writing assignments.
  6. Arguing by belief: Sometimes when we explained why we found a view most convincing, we said it was because it aligned with our beliefs, such as saying that we believe that embryos have some moral status and that a certain view fit this belief best. However, this can sometimes look like saying that we find a view most convincing just because we believe it, but doesn’t give other people reasons for believing it too. In the future, a stronger version of this argument would try to show other people why they should also find the view convincing, and we cannot always assume they share our beliefs. So, we might give a reason why we hold that initial belief, and then show how that initial reason connects to the view. If our goal in future writing assignments is to write a compelling argument, then we will want to make sure we are also writing for people who don’t share in our beliefs already.

If there are any errors or omissions, or if you have other questions or concerns about this assessment and feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me using the address listed on the Blackboard syllabus.

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