PWOL courses often create opportunities for students to put the theories they are studying into practice. And many PWOL courses aim at students completing assignments that not only demonstrate their mastery of the concepts, but also have intrinsic value for the students who produce the work.
A Fordham video-based immersion project
For example, a PWOL course at Notre Dame that is built on Greek conceptions of happiness asks students to compose a philosophical apology at the end of the course, defending their own core commitments in the spirit of Socrates. A PWOL course at Wesleyan focusing on East Asian philosophy has students live like one of the sages for a week, reporting back on the benefits and challenges of following their teachings in the 21st Century.
Students can participate in activities around the popular Stoic Week, comparing modern-day Stoicism with its Roman progenitor. Students can run campaigns to help local community causes, adopting arguments from major moral theories. Or they can do onsite research at local community and religious groups that are guided by philosophical conceptions of the good. Many classes incorporate debate skills, having students analyze current issues of social concern in light of philosophies of the good life. In every case, students have the opportunity to test the practical applications of philosophical theory and cultivate deeper reflection on their daily practices.
Designing these assignments requires formulating clear learning goals, rigorous standards of assessment, careful reflection on cultural identities, and creativity in accessing university and community resources. Mellon Network faculty share assignment designs in our Resources portal, and discuss best practices at sessions in the summer workshops.
“Ancient philosophy required a common effort, community of research, mutual assistance, and spiritual support. Above all, philosophers... never gave up having an effect on their cities, transforming society, and serving their citizens... It is one and the same wisdom which conforms itself to cosmic wisdom and to the reason in which human beings participate.” - Pierre Hadot, "Philosophy as a Way of Life"