Mere Philosophy for Better Thesis Writing (Moving from “Whatever!” to “So What?”)

High school and college English teachers frequently admonish their students to get their writing to answer the question: So what? Mere philosophy can help in coaching students to make better thesis connections in their writing. There might even be healthy motivational side-effects for teachers and students as we compose ourselves in the process.

I’ve been tinkering with a mere philosophy approach to curriculum and instruction, and I’m finding it increasingly helpful for practical, conceptual, and relational effectiveness in my classroom.

I’ve shared my mere philosophy scheme with students as my “Philosophy Framework for Critical Thinking about Literature, History, and Rhetoric.” Here are five sets of basic categories and related questions of philosophy to know for learning and long-term flourishing (opposites, increments, and mixes may apply):

  • 1. Metaphysics: What is real? What is the context of our focus on reality?
  • 2. Epistemology: What is true? How do we know?
  • 3. Anthropology: What makes us human? How do humans flourish?
  • 4. Aesthetics: What is beautiful? How do we respond?
  • 5. Ethics: What is good? What should we do?

Having both junior and senior-level high school English courses, I’m typically coaching students to write better thesis, topic, and analytical support sentences by thinking about their writing as answering a recurring “So what?” question. Often, they’re struggling to do more than merely summarize. Likewise, they might be struggling a bit with a “Whatever!” approach to life and learning that makes the task even harder.

It’s not uncommon for a student to say, “I was just writing a sentence,” when I ask how some part of their writing connects to their thesis (or topic) sentence direction. With some friendly philosophical badgering, I coach them on how a good thesis direction will implicitly or explicitly address at least one of the branches of mere philosophy, ranging from what reality is to what we should do in response to reality. Sometimes, a good thesis will connect to several branches mere philosophy.

Often within a day or two, the struggling student can compose much better sentences and articulate how they work together to develop a thoughtful response to “So what?” This rewarding, recursive process relates to metacognition and mastery coaching.

Sometimes, I editorialize my students as I borrow from Ben Franklin when I tell them that we’re all getting better at composing our writing, but even more so, we’re getting better at composing ourselves when we develop our intellectual perseverance with writing and learning.

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