Some Reflections on Teaching


Teaching in its core is a process of reciprocal character building. By reciprocal character building, I mean a lifelong process of learning from teaching. Character building requires high level of self-awareness and like any process; it requires time, therefore, patience. It is character building because to be a good teacher, one needs to internalize certain traits and values that only solidify through time. In fact, we can talk about a class of essential teaching traits and call them intellectual virtues[1]. To mention a few, virtues such as effective listening, clarity in speech, clear communications, ability to ask right questions, capturing students’ attention, analytical mind, and ability to synthesize information are some of the few intellectual virtues that an effective teaching requires. However, these virtues are obtainable through habitual long-term practices. Teaching for me is an opportunity to actualize these intellectual virtues in myself. There are other necessary intellectual virtues that I think are necessary for students to learn. A good learner needs also to develop certain intellectual virtues similar to the teacher’s virtues, to mention a few, open-mildness, curiosity, effective listening, and valuing learning. My teaching philosophy and method constructed so that I can develop these virtues.[2]

Theories and Methods

My teaching philosophy is centered on enhancing students’ abilities of thinking and understanding. As psychology of many of us indicates, thinking is a difficult task. From an evolutionary point of view, we are programed to think mostly when there is an immediate external threat. In a “normal” situation, we tend to go with the current and stay within our comfort zones. This is true also historically. As our historical experiences indicate, it is in the time of sociopolitical crisis in which thinking becomes a necessity. For instance, in the Late Medieval and early modern time, when an old world was dying and a new world was yet to be born, we are witnessing extensive intellectual activities. Regardless, the point is that despite evolutionary obstacles, we have certain obstacles against thinking that are exclusive to our modern time. In fact, teaching students thinking in a world in which there are many forces that encourage them to avoid thinking is extremely challenging. As a result, a teacher’s task to teach thinking is highly difficult, especially in today’s loud and distracting world. We are told that with the advancement of technology and science, we are able to employ computers and smart devices to think for us and solve our problems. There are some popular and attractive ideologies that discourage thinking by claiming that they have found ultimate solutions for human’s most complex problems. The media glamorizes some certain way of life that thinking is reduced to the skills of obtaining material goods only. Mostly, humanities are viewed as luxuries that student take in small doses. It is not a rosy time for teaching thinking. I think as teachers, we need to teach students to thinks about these trends of thoughtlessness.

Thinking partially requires acknowledging complexity of reality and avoiding the temptation to give up to the ideologies that offer oversimplified solutions. However, the question that every genuine teacher is facing is that despite all the obstacles against thinking and temptations that encourage thoughtlessness, how can we redirect our students’ attention toward genuine thinking? How can we help students to not only to avoid viewing thinking as a chore, but view it as a joyful intellectual activity? Furthermore, how can we help them to develop essential intellectual virtues? My teaching philosophy is an attempt to respond to the above concerns.

For me, teaching is turning students from passive recipient of information into active participants of learning through employing a Socratic way of conversation. I never have found transmitting “knowledge” to students as a sufficient condition of teaching.

To me, teaching is a multifaceted intellectual activity. What makes teaching exciting is combination of varieties of intellectual activities that happen at the same time. There is no doubt, that teaching new ideas should be an important component of teaching, but teaching should not stop there. It is about how to analyze and synthetize new ideas in the way that it provides better understanding of our surrounding, others, and ourselves.

Furthermore, another main teaching method that I use is to redirects students’ intellectual attentions by first employing a critical analysis of what they already cherish blindly and then to consider the alternative views. Our opinions are usually our judgments about facts or about other opinions. Judgments can be true or false, fair or unfair. Hence, making judgment needs to be learned, especially in our society that we have to engage in conversations with others, and sometimes with opponents, about a range of issues. Hence, I view teaching students how to think as a vital part of their individual and public life.

I view teaching my students intellectual humility as an essential way for their intellectual growth. One might argue that human beings are incapable of obtaining the truth due to their limitations in reason. However, one also can argue for a more obtainable goal, that is, possibility and desirability of acknowledging our false beliefs or opinions. We might grant that the truth is not obtainable; however, a collective collaboration for discovering falsehood is not only possible but also highly desirable. This optimistic epistemology opens the possibility of discovering falsehood and thinking as a collective collaboration for discovering flaws in our opinions. Teaching students this possibility is giving them intellectual hope to view thinking not only useful but also enjoyable.

I agree with Ratcliffe’s analysis of the bias view on rhetoric, which reduces rhetoric to teaching writing and reading. To her, this reductionist view sacrifices listening in favor of writing and reading while it is equally important as other important components of rhetoric. Therefore, she attempts to give a broader definition of rhetorical listening to respond to the flaws of reductionist composition studies. The main goal is to include a variety of ignored discourses. Traditionally, listening has been subordinated to writing and listening; it viewed as the less important component of rhetoric and something that we all always do and no need to be studied. According to her, biases against listening are deep-rooted in the history of Western theories of rhetoric. She maintains that although Aristotle discusses the importance of analyzing speech, he is blameworthy for not focusing on how to listen. To conquer these biases against listening, she tries to shift the focus of rhetoric toward listening.

She believes that rhetorical listening exhibits the communicative potentialities needed for a more comprehensive compositions inquiries in order to be friendlier to the cross-cultural discussions. Following Heidegger’s contention about the phenomenon of forgetfulness and failure to listen to the Being in the Western history of thoughts, she begins her inquiry by an etymological analysis of logos. The noun logos and the verb legein both mean “saying” and at the same time “laying.” The second sense of legein is laying someone’s speech before us, so it entails listening. It is this latter sense of listening in logos that has been neglected in the history of rhetoric, according to Ratcliffe. However, as the etymology of logos indicates, saying and listening are closely interconnected. Ratcliffe attempts to revive this forgotten aspect of logos.[3]

I think it is reasonable to think that listening dooms worthy only if we believe that a genuine conversation is possible. By the genuine conversation, I mean a conversation that is believed by the interlocutors as a way of pursuing the truth. For this reason, what authenticates listening and worthy of practice is possibility of objective truth. In the absence of truth, listening loses its value too. Hence, teaching rhetorical listening is insufficient if it is not paired with teaching the value of pursuing the truth. It is the area that ancients’ wisdom about the role of character building in education comes into play. What I have learned from Aristotelian pedagogy, and it is useful for rhetorical listening, is that one of the main goals in education should be character building so that students are able to appreciate the nobility of pursuing the truth.

In the end, whenever I teach, I always try to find an effective way to convey my ideas. For this reason, I think an effective teaching involves an effective self-reflection, too. After each class, I review my teaching retrospectively, what I have said, how I have said, what were students’ responses, what were my flaws, and how I can overcome those flaws? Keeping a teaching journal has helped me tremendously to accomplish these goals. Journaling about my teaching has helped me tremendously to think more clearly about my teaching skills and flaws.

Practices of Teaching

It has happened many times that my students called a particular idea false by calling it old. Often, my first response to this kind of misjudgment is to ask them whether ideas are similar to technology or not. We expect that the newer technology is more efficient and better the old one. In this context, old means less efficient and having more flaws. However, I try to show my students that this judgment is not applicable to ideas. New ideas can be false and even dangerous, and old ideas can be true and more useful. I ask them to imagine the time that fascism was introduced to people for the first time. For the contemporaries, this was a novel, attractive ideology. It claimed to be scientific, useful, open to employ new technology, and even liberating. It gave people a sense of identity. The opponents were considered as opponents of novelty and new science. Today, we know that these views were dangerous and were part of a dangerous ideology. If one was subscribed to their presumptions, that was equating the new with truth and advancement, then they would likely to disarm themselves intellectually and unable themselves to criticize fascism. I have found this line of arguments convincing to my students or at least provide them some foods for thought.

Once to draw my students’ attention to the role of presumptions in shaping our understanding of reality, I did a little of performance. First day of the class, I went to the class twenty minutes earlier than the class time. On the board, I wrote, “Professor Amin will be ten minutes late today,” then I sat on a chair in the area that students supposed to sit. Gradually, students entered the class, and they started to talk to me, thinking that I was one of them taking the class. I pretended that I was a student. When all students came to the class, I walked toward the front of class behind he podium. Then I told them that I was their teacher. They were all confused and did not know should believe me or not. Some of them laughed, showing that they thought I was kidding. I asked them how many of them thought I was a teacher and how many thought that I was a student. The class was divided. Some of them believed I was a teacher and some believed that I was a student; the rest just did not have any idea. Eventually, as a metacognitive practice, I asked each of them to review the reasons that made them to think either I was a teacher or a student. Through this metacognitive practice, they would see which presumptions led them to their judgments. The objective of this activity was to learn the role of presumptions in our judgments and how to reflect critically on presumptions. In the rest of semester, I drew on this activity and our concluding discussions.


Another useful and memorable class activities that I had this semester, and students responded positively, was about analyzing a picture. It was the rabbit-duck picture. This activity’s main component was metacognition practices and also involved critical reflections on belief formation. The picture is very simple and represents a duck and at the same times a rabbit. However, the simplicity of the picture introduces complex puzzles.

We look at the picture, and we see a rabbit, and we look at it again at we see a duck. We see two things while the picture is the same. We even do not need to change our perspective to see two things. The picture remains the same, and our perspective remains the same. However, we see two different things. How can we explain that? Every adequate explanation needs to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. In fact, an issue that seemed so simple in the first glance becomes extremely puzzling. From students’ responses, I could tell that it was engaging. I liked the fact that they were puzzled and tried to solve the puzzle. My point was to show them that things, even though they might appear simple to us, are not that simple. Hence, seeing the complex reality that we live in requires deep thinking.


            As I tried to indicate above, as a teacher, I define my job as an attempt to teach students thinking. I view thoughtlessness as the most dangerous thing that can happen to a person or a culture. Unfortunately, in our today’s world there are powerful forces that reinforce thoughtlessness. Teaching, for me, is a way of life to fight the forces that tried to push us down to the level of sub-humans by promoting thoughtlessness.      


[1] I borrow the notion of intellectual virtues from Aristotle in his book Nichomachean Ethics, where he discusses four classes of virtues, one being intellectual virtues.

[2] I cannot help to remember a humorous story from a class that I taught on Iranian cinema at Spring 2013 at OU. In the beginning of the semester, I explained to students that understanding Iranian culture in general and classical literature is essential to have a good grasp of Iranian cinema. So since Persian classical literature is heavily influenced by Sufism, I explained Sufism whenever in the movies there were references. Several months after the end of semester, a student from the class emailed me and told me that he had converted to Sufism because of my class. I did not know to view this as an accomplishment or as an instance of failure. First thing that came to my mind was that I was not preaching Sufism in my class and tried to explained things objectively as mush as it was possible for me. However, by character building I do not mean to pursue students to adopt certain doctrines. Education will suffer if it is replaced by indoctrination.

[3] I agree with the sprit of her criticism about the traditional rhetoric, but I cannot agree with extent of her criticism. Socratic dialogues-based of philosophizing is operates on active listening. Furthermore, Plato’s modification of Socratic dialogues where he tries to imitate a form of writing that is closer to the form of dialogue, listening is at the center of learning and teaching. I think the Socratic way of teaching can responds to the problem of abandoning listening in composition studies.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Trans. David Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press.        1998. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. Language, Poetry, Thought. New York: Harper Perennial Modern       Classics. 2013. Print.

Ratcliffe, Krista. “Rhetorical Listening: A Trope for Interpretive Invention and a ‘Code of           Cross-Cultural Conduct.’” Vol. 51, No. 2. Dec., 1999, pp. 195-224.

Vivian, Bradford. Being Made Strange: rhetoric beyond representation. New York:           State University of New York Press. 2004.Print.

Wardy, R. The Birth of Rhetoric: Gorgias, Plato and their Successors, London:        Routledge. 1996. Print.

Plantinga and Problem of Horrendous Evils (2)


In fact, Plantinga’s logical solution of evil reinforces addressing the problem of the evidential evil by pushing the problem of evil to realm of what God can actualize. However, since Plantinga’s solution does not account for horrendous evils, I think it is necessary to test his logical solution in the face of horrendous evils.

However, one may ask how much and what types of evils may diminish the value of free will? Does the value of free will always outweigh regardless the potency and intensity of evil? I think there are some evils that diminish the value of free will. In the next section, I give my reasons why I do think free will is not value that can justifies the existence of evil always.

Does Elvin Plantinga’s solution solve the Problem of Evil?

            Plantinga’s solution to the problem of evil explains away some of the evils, but leaves horrendous evils out. In fact, his solution is insensitive to the distinction of non-horrendous and horrendous evils. He does not distinguish between these types of evils, or he does not think that this distinction impacts his solution. However, in my opinion since his solution relies on the contention of God’s goodness, it cannot be indifferent to the problem of horrendous evils, since it is a threat to the goodness of God. First about the distinction between horrendous and non-horrendous:

After all, not all evils created equal. In my morning jogging, I might step on broken glasses that negligent drunkards throw on the sidewalk last night. That is an evil that I would suffer. However, although I will suffer from a bleeding wound, this might not cause me to question the value of my life and makes me to think that I would prefer never have existed rather than facing this suffering. I might not even come to conclusion that if those drunken people had no free will, the world would be a better place. In fact, it is possible that those drunken people have used their free will for good purposes too and their right doings exceeds their wrongdoings. In this situation, no matter how much I suffer from my wound, I can agree with Plantinga that it worth it that God gave us free will even though one of the byproducts of it was irresponsible drunk people behavior to throw their bottles on the sidewalk.

On the other hand, horrendous evils rob the meaning and worth of someone’s life, either from the life of those who suffer from horrendous evils or of those who cause them to others. Horrendous evils are defined, Adams explains, “as evils the participation in (in the doing or suffering of) which gives one reason prima facie to doubt whether one’s life could (given their inclusion in it) be a great good to one on the whole… Nevertheless, that very horrendous proportion, by which they threaten to rob a person’s life of positive meaning, cries out not only to be engulfed, but to made meaningful through positive and decisive defeat.”[4] Horrendous evils, as Adams definition suggests, “doubt the positive meaning of their lives.” For instance, if a child witnesses the massacre of their parents and this tragedy impacts its brain development irreversibly that influences his entire life and people close to him is an example of horrendous evil. Or if people starve to death and only possible way for them to survive is cannibalism can be another instance of horrendous evil. These instances of calamities that have not been isolated instances in human experiences, are intrinsically bad and regardless of the contexts that created them or the possible of good results that they might produce are bad in themselves. Therefore, contrary to what Adams maintains, the reasons that they give for losing life of its value and meaning is objective and not prima facie. Hence, an utilitarian view of evil cannot justify them, since it fails to see the potency and intensity of horrendous evils.

Some theologians have argued in favor of the merit of suffering for spiritual growth and character building so that in the end of suffering, the person will eventually appreciate the goodness of suffering. However, as the definition of horrendous evil entails, since it casts doubt on the value of life, the value of free will or hope and faith in a benevolent or omnipotent God diminishes too. Needless to say that faith and hope in a benevolent and omnipotent God are necessary for a person’s spiritual growth.

The worst thing that can happen to a person is that because of experiencing horrendous evils, he thinks that his life has lost its value and he preferred he never has born. He, also, has not only lost his hope and faith in goodness of God, but perhaps he no longer trust in that God. On the other hand, because of his mistrust in goodness of God, he fears the wrath of a vengeful God against himself as a nonbeliever. It is the worse situation to be in, suffering from the trauma of horrendous evils and at the same time fearing God’s revenge for lack of faith that seems impossible to gain. “For God cannot be said to be good or loving to any created persons the positive meaning of whose lives He allows to be engulfed in and/or defeated by evils—that is, individuals within whose lives horrendous evils remains undefeated” (Aadms). However, how the goodness of God is compatible with this sort of sufferings?

What horrendous evils imply is the lack of a natural justice in world in which devoid of a global force to overbalance of evil by good.[5] Here it is important to make a conceptual distinction between two meanings of natural justice in the world. The first meaning is that the world is such that there is no mechanism to prevent horrendous evils happening against innocent people. The second meaning of the lack of natural justice is that there is no mechanism to overbalance of evil by the good or punishing the evil for their wrongdoing. The first meaning of the lack of natural justice means that Plantinga’s notion of God “as a producer of global good” is questionable and the second notion of the lack of natural justice in the world questions the validity of the contention of the goodness of God.

Why do horrendous evils diminish the value of free will?

Horrendous evils by definition not only rob the victim’s meaning of life, it also diminishes the value of free will. Hence, the fact that free will is the greatest good for humanity is questionable. In fact, in the face of horrendous evil, free will loses its values. Plantinga’s free will defense grounded on the greatest good that free will produces and God could not deprive human being from this greatest good. However, in the face of horrendous evil, free will undercuts its own merits as the greatest good, since a greatest good cannot cause horrendous evils. Free will can be defended as a conditional good, like power or wealth that can benefit some and corrupt the rest. So it is tempting to ask that, could God bestow some people free will, but deprive others form it due to its potential dangers? At least, logically it is conceivable to think about an alternative world in which some people had free will and the other did not.

Plantinga maintains that if God had good moral reasons, he might allow evil in the world. God in his account is a producer of global good who has distributed free will evenly to the whole human beings, and the evils that have occurred and will occur are investable byproduct of this global good. However, horrendous evils are exactly those evils for which we cannot give a good moral reason. In other words, those are evils that outweigh the value of freewill. One may grant Plantinga’s view that free will is one of the greatest goods. The problem of evil is deeper than existence of some evils that are byproduct of a global good. The problem of evil is that we live in a world that contains horrendous evil. Natural justice is not constitutive of the world. By this I do not mean that if there were a natural retributive justice to punish the evil and prevailing good. Even in this case, the suffering that the innocent people went through can compensate for the horrendous evil that they went through. By the lack of a natural justice in the world, I mean that the world is such that horrendous people happen to good innocent people, and there is not mechanism to prevent that.

Plantinga’s response to horrendous evil is that because of our inherently limited rational capacity, we cannot understand God reason. Even this acknowledgement in our human understanding is praiseworthy, but this acknowledgement of ignorance of God’s reasons cannot be used as a reason for the goodness of God. These divine inaccessible reasons for allowing horrendous evils can be possibly good or bad; we do not know. And since the existence of horrendous evils cast doubts on God’s goodness, we know that those inaccessible reasons neither can be used to confirm the goodness of God nor can be use to falsify His goodness. It can be for no reason at all except the fact that He has an extraordinary power and He is such exceptional being who is allowed to treat all creatures whimsically. Or it can be for good reasons. However, using this intrinsic ignorance as a reason for God’s goodness is a circular reasoning, since in the face of horrendous evils, God’s goodness is questionable.[6] The fact that our humanly perspective sees the horrendous evils incomprehensible is sufficient to cast doubt on the value of free will, and it does not require a godly perspective to see its possible merits.

I did not find Adams’s suggestion to the problem of horrendous evil satisfactory. On this she maintains, “It is enough to show how God can be good enough to created person despite their participation in horrors—by defeating them within the context of the individual’s life and by giving that individual a life that is a great good to him/her on the whole”. This suggestion is unsatisfactory because it ignores what horrendous evils entail. If, as Adams admits, horrendous evils robs someone’s live of its values and make him to think that he would wish he would never was born, then because of this belief, he is not justified to think that God by giving “a life that is a great good to him/her on the whole,” he is better off now because as a result of suffering from horrendous evil, the victims already have formed a belief, perhaps justifiably, that their lives have lost its values. Therefore, they cannot be grateful for such a meaningless life. However, if we think that this belief-formation is valid and legitimate, then we must acknowledge the validity of their beliefs.                   



Even we grant Plantinga that it is a logical impossibility for God to give people freedom of will without granting them the capacity to do evil, the problem for a theist is the avoidable evils.[7] It is within God’s power to prevent these contingencies. God’s foreknowledge coupled with his creating power can prevent contingent evils. Furthermore, Plantinga’s logical solution makes considering horrendous evils investable while his solution does not takes the problem of horrendous evils into account. In fact, Plantinga’s generic solution is silent about how the goodness of God can survive in the face of horrendous evils.

The problem of horrendous evils challenges Plantinga’s solution on two levels. The first is his contention about the goodness of God and the second the value of free will. For this reason, his solution cannot be indifferent to horrendous evils, since they cast doubt on the value of free will as the greatest good. Plantinga argues that free will is so vital for our moral character that it justifies the existence of evil. However, horrendous evils cast doubts on the value of free will. Plantinga’s solution attempts to rescue God’s responsibility from all sorts of evils, while it does not explains away the problem of horrendous evil and its threat to the goodness of God. That is why I think his global approach is ineffective to address the problem of horrendous evil.



[1] Plantinga has Mackie in mind here who believed that it is impossible for (1) and (2) both to be true. Mackie’s thesis is known as the logical problem of evil. To Mackie, (P) a perfectly good God always would eliminate evils as much as he could and (Q) there is no limit to what an omnipotent God can do. Unlike Plantinga, Mackie believes that (P) and (Q) are both necessary. To Plantinga, a perfectly good God can sometimes permit evil if it is morally justifiable, like in the case of free will, and there is, in fact, a limit to what God could or could not do. Therefore, Plantinga maintains, there is no inconsistency between (1) and (2).


[2] Plantinga’s view of God is a caring Being that cares about human sufferings. He even suffers when we suffer. In his autobiographical essay, “Self-Profile,” he states, “The chief difference between Christianity and the other theistic religions lies just here: the God of Christianity is willing to enter into and share the sufferings of his creatures, in order to redeem them and his world. Of course this doesn’t answer the question why does God permit evil? But it helps the Christian trust God as a loving father, no matter what ills befall him. Otherwise it would be easy to see God as remote and detached, permitting all these evils, himself untouched, in order to achieve ends that are no doubt exalted but have little to do with us, and little power to assuage our griefs. It would be easy to see him as cold and unfeeling – or if loving, then such that his love for us has little to do with our perception of our own welfare. But God, as Christians see him, is neither remote nor detached. His aims and goals may be beyond our ken and may require our suffering; but he is himself prepared to accept greater suffering in the pursuit of those ends” (36).

[3] The example of Hitler is not an isolated case or an evidence of particular evil; it is in fact a paradigmatic evil.


[4] Despite what Adams thinks, I do not think that the reason that horrendous evils give are Prime facie. In fact, those reasons can be objective or legitimate.

[5] In the eve of modern world, this worldview had extensive consequences in moral and political thought. For instance, Machiavelli’s main concern is that how one must live his live while there is no natural justice. In a world that good people will suffer and evil individuals will live happily. His solution was creating a political environment in which predators by fighting each other would cancel each other’s destructive ambitions.

[6] Adams acknowledges that we possibly cannot know about those divine inaccessible reasons, but at the same time it does not prevent her to use this as a reassurance for God’s goodness. She compares our ignorance of God’s reason to a two-year-old heart patient who does not know why his mom agrees to surgery. She states, “Nevertheless, if there are variety of ignorance, there are also varieties of reassurance. The two-year-old heart patient is convinced of its mother’s love, not by her intimate care and presence through its painful experience. The story of Job suggests something similar is true with human participation in horrendous suffering: God does not give Job His reasons-why, and implies that Job isn’t smart enough to grasp them; rather Job is lectured on the extent of Divine power, and sees God’s goodness face to face! Likewise, I suggest, to exhibit the logical compossibility of both dimensions of Divine goodness with horrendous suffering, it is not necessary to find logically possible reasons why God might permit them” (Adams).

[7] It is also when we assume that free will is a desirable value under all circumstances. Due to the vast amount of evil that occurs in the world, it is doubtful that free will can justify this vastness of evil. As Rowe states, “Someone might hold, for example, that no good is great enough to justify permitting an innocent child to suffer terribly. Again, someone might hold that the mere fact that a given good outweights some suffering and would be lost if the suffering were prevented, is not a morally sufficient reason for permitting the suffering” (“The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism 3”).

Works Cited

Adams, Marilyn McCord. “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.” Aristotelian Society. Vol. 63. 1989. pp.297-310.

Hasker, William. “Providence and Evil: Three Theories.” Religious Studies, Vol. 28, No.1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 91-105. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. New York: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2002. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. “Self-Profile.” In Profiles. Edited by James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company. 1985. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1974. Print.

Rowe, William L. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” In The Evidential Argument from Evil. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1996. Print.