Our course will emphasize asking "good questions". What constitutes a good question—and how to ask it—defies abstract definition. However, and more specifically for our purposes, academic fields of inquiry, like philosophy and STS, possess implicit criteria for what counts as a good question and a good answer. Yet, as scholars, we often face the problem that the criteria of what is, and what ought to be, a good question remains unrevealed or gets negotiated, in a frequently confounding process, in various settings, and in different ways, that both conflict and overlap.
In this assignment we will analyze what makes a good question. To do so, we will "go meta"; that is, we will ask, and answer, questions about the questions we will pose on the readings. A purpose of this assignment, then, is to sharpen our abilities to form, pose, examine, judge and revise questions to lend clarity, concision and, so, significance to our work.
Each class member will perform this assignment twice. Please refer to the Central Questions page as to when, and with whom, you will perform the assignment. The assignment is comprised of three parts.
Twice during the term—once individually and once as part of a pair (you will work independently, each pose a question, each provide an analysis, and each re-examine the question)—you will pose a single, concise question—a question that requires thought and analysis on the part of the inquirer and cannot be answered simply 'yes' or 'no'— on the primary reading assigned for the week.
You will write a 250-350 word analysis of your question and, in so doing, make an argument as to why this is a good question (however defined). Please post your question and analysis to the proper page on the wiki. Please post your question and analysis by noon on Tuesday—the day before we meet class on Wednesday.
Your question and analysis will initially frame our class discussion. For the first 10 to 15 minutes of class, or the first 20 to 30 minutes of class if you are part of a pair, you will present and discuss, based in part on your analysis, your question in relation to the assigned primary reading. For the last 10 to 15 minutes of class, or the last 20 to 30 minutes of class if you are part of a pair, we will return to, and re-examine, the question.
You will return to your question and analysis. You may revise, or choose not to revise, your question based on the class discussion and your further consideration. You will write a 250-350 word re-examination of the question and, in doing so, make an argument as to why—whether or not you choose to revise—this is a good question. Please post your question and analysis to the proper forum on the wiki. Please post your question and analysis by midnight on Friday—two days after we met class on Wednesday.
I offer the following prompts only as a preliminary way to think about, and analyze, the question you will pose, and will re-examine, on the primary reading. You need not answer directly any of these prompts.
How is the question posed structurally? A single question? Is the question short, long, vague, careless, precise, wordy?
What is the relation of the question to the reading? Does the question ask the reader to engage the text in a particular way? Is the reading the primary concern of the question or, perhaps, a platform for considering other, or related, ideas?
What kind of thinking does the question provoke? Does the question ask for a description? A judgment? An opinion? Data?
How might the question be answered? What resources might be needed to answer the question—additional reading, personal opinion, experience, expertise, experiment, close reading of the text, interpretation?
Who does the question ask the respondent to be? Fellow seeker? Expert? Novice? Dope? Collaborator? Believer? Cynic? Judge? Agent of change?
What is the goal, or agenda, of the question? Affirmation and Confirmation? Provocation? Knowledge seeking? Information?
When might the question be answered? Does the question assume an immediate answer? Does the question assume a certain vision of the future? Does the question assume a certain understanding of the past? Of current events?
What specific characteristics make this a good question?
Questions and Exams
Questions selected from the ones you pose for this assignment will find their way—directly as asked and/or with some modification—onto the mid-term and comprehensive exams.