Discussion Guidelines

Discussions are held in Blackboard. As shown in the syllabus, each weekly reading assignment corresponds with a discussion. Each discussion assignment will focus on a set of quotations from one of the assigned readings. For your first post, please choose and discuss one of the listed quotations using the guidelines below.

Unless otherwise stated, your first post is due at the end of Thursday of the discussion week, and your second post (i.e., your reply to another student) is due at the end of Friday. Partial credit will be given if your first post is late. However, no credit will be given for posts submitted after a discussion closes. Each discussion closes Friday at midnight.

First Post:

Your first discussion post should comprise two sections: (1) your interpretation of the quoted passage that you have chosen and (2) a critical discussion. Guidelines for each section are as follows.

1. Interpretation (1 paragraph): What is the main point of the passage? In this section, you may wish to answer one or more of the following questions:

If the quote is from a dialogue, who is speaking (e.g. Socrates, Meno, etc.)?
What role does the passage play in the text as a whole?
What is the main point of the quote — i.e., what message does the quote convey?
What are some of the key terms or concepts in the passage?

For example, in the Apology, Socrates states the following: “...I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul...” (p. 34). Why does he say this? What do you think he means by “the best possible state” of the soul? Use the context to determine the answers to these questions.

2. Critical Discussion (1-2 paragraphs): Do you agree with the quotation? For this question, feel free to completely disagree. In any case, please explain why you agree or disagree; i.e., give some specific reasons for your position. If the passage presents a particular point of view or a set of values — e.g., a personal remark made by Socrates — do you agree with the point of view or the values being expressed? In addition, you may wish to answer one or both of the following questions:

What are some of the limitations or weaknesses of the claim being made?
Are there any unanswered questions that the quotation raises?

Using the quotation above as an example, you could disagree with Socrates by arguing that wealth and physical health are important aspects of living a good life. One could argue that Socrates is wrong to value the soul so highly — indeed, one could argue that the soul does not even exist. Even if you agree with the claim, you may wish to briefly discuss an opposing point of view.

Second Post:

Please reply to at least one post with which you disagree. By disagreeing with another student, you are teaching them that other points of view are viable. Also, pointing out specific weaknesses or limitations in another’s post is a good way to think outside the box. Disagreeing will help prevent repetition in the discussion — i.e., by disagreeing, you are interpreting the text differently and providing a new perspective. You are free to choose any post (including posts written by the instructor) with which you disagree. Your second post should comprise at least one paragraph.

Please note that there is a difference between disagreeing with a quotation on the one hand, and disagreeing with a student's or instructor’s interpretation of a quotation on the other. The latter is what I would like to see. In short, I ask you to disagree respectfully with your classmates and to provide specific reasons for your disagreement.


Discussion posts will be evaluated using a five-point scale. Here are my criteria:

The following are especially important:

Sample Discussion Posts

First post (discussion of a quotation):

A student, we’ll call him Ralph, writes the following for his first post (note how he uses additional quotations with page numbers from the assigned reading to support his interpretation of the quote that he chooses to discuss):

28. “...there is good hope that death is a blessing...” (p. 43)

Socrates gives us two reasons for making this claim. First, he states that it is possible that death is “like a dreamless sleep” (p. 43). In this case, death would be “no more than a single night” — this would be like an endless state of rest. Second, Socrates describes another possibility: death is “a change from here to another place.” (p. 43). In this case, Socrates would have the opportunity to talk with “true jurymen” (p. 43) — people like Orpheus, Hesiod, and Homer (p. 44). Socrates is enamored with this possibility; he states that “I am willing to die many times if that is true” (p. 44). He hopes to continue his dialogues even after death! This shows his commitment to learning, knowledge, and wisdom. Even death does not dissuade him from practicing philosophy.

In one way, I agree with Socrates. There is indeed hope that death is the beginning of a new life. However, for the most part, I disagree with Socrates. First, if death is “like a dreamless sleep,” why should we hope for this? It would mean that death is annihilation, or the end of life. But I would prefer that life continues after death. Anyone who loves life would not want life to end. So, the possibility that death is a “dreamless sleep” is not at all hopeful. Second, why does Socrates mention only two possibilities? There is also the possibility of reincarnation, for example. In this sense, his argument is incomplete. He should have considered many other possibilities.


Second post (reply to another student):

Another student, we’ll call her Sally, chooses to write a reply to Ralph (note how she disagrees with Ralph, and gives specific reasons for disagreeing):

Ralph, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I disagree with your claim that Socrates’ argument is incomplete. I believe that Socrates has discussed the most likely possibilities: either death is the cessation of life, or life continues after death (pp. 43-44). Reincarnation, the possibility that you have mentioned, is a variation of the latter. Socrates was simply giving us a few reasons why we should be hopeful. We should remember that he was just sentenced to death at his trial — he is not giving us a lecture. We cannot expect him to discuss every possibility. Instead, he is giving us a few reasons to be hopeful. He is also giving us reasons not to fear death — earlier in the dialogue, he states that it would be unwise to fear death (see p. 33). I think he is being very consistent, and in the main, he is persuasive. For these reasons I disagree with your claims.