A while back, I read about how one professor introduced philosophy to the class. I can’t find the original blog post, but I use the exercise most semesters and all credit goes to the original blogger.

The idea is to bring in a strange object and have students come up with as many uses for the object. It usually works best in groups, where they get creative with their answers. The weirder the object the better.

After having a good laugh about all the responses, I introduce the various branches of philosophy. Admittedly, it isn’t perfect, but the activity does allow for good discussion and a start to understand the various branches of philosophy.

When addressing what the object is, we get to ask metaphysical questions. We talk about questions of reality and the objects of reality. I usually highlight different perspectives or topics that we cover is more detail later in the semester.

We then talk about how we came to this knowledge. This leads to a discussion of epistemology, with a simple talk on empiricism and rationalism.

Inevitably, every group says the object can be used as a weapon. I take the opportunity to talk about ethics. Just because it can be used as a weapon, should we? This leads into a discussion about the differences between descriptive and prescriptive and relativism and objectivism.

If time allows we also talk about philosophy of religion, as there is an occasional group who says the object can be worshiped. Also, the issue of aesthetics comes up as some groups say the object can be a work of art.

While the activity has its limits, I have found that if you are trying to paint broad strokes, this activity is a good introduction to philosophy.


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