Quotation Examination

January 24, 2007

Villanova University


Note to Instructors:   We use this format in introductory courses.   The basic idea is to give the students a study guide with a fairly large number of short quotations, virtually one from the material covered for each class period.   In the examination itself a small number of the quotations are selected (almost all students can finish 12 easily in a 50 minute period), and students are asked to identify the author, the context, and explain what philosophical point is being made. The best quotes are those that give an example, and the student has to say what the example is an example of.    This can be an entire exam, or it can be mixed with short answers or essay questions.  To increase the difficulty, the instructor may also promise some quotes not taken from the study guide.  I usually do not give a page reference for the quotes in the study guide.  Most of the students have no difficulty finding them, and, if they can’t, I don’t mind helping them.


There are several advantages to this format:




Instructions for study guide: Your final exam will be closed book, closed notes. The first part of the exam will include twelve quotations at least two thirds of which will be on this study guide.  You may, of course, collaborate with others in studying for the mid-term.    

Quotation section:  Each of the quotations will be worth six points in total, and you’ll be asked to identify the author (1/6), the context (2/6) and to explain the philosophical point being made (3/6.


Preparation: Here is a good way NOT to study for the quotations.  Some students try to memorize all of the quotations and the authors, then when they see the quotation on the test they try to explain the point by restating the quote.  You will get very little credit for this strategy.  The best way to study is to find the quote in the text (I’ve gone over many of them in class), and carefully reread the passage that it is imbedded in.  Once you understand the points being made, you’ll have no difficulty remembering the information when you see the quotation.  As far as the quotes you haven’t seen, the only way to study that is to review the texts and ideas that we have covered.  We really haven’t read many pages, so it shouldn’t take you too long to go through everything we have read. 


Here is a model question and answer for the quotations.

Question: “You would not deny that the man who made evil use of his feet, either for injuring another or for dishonoring himself, was using his feet wrongfully.”  [In case you want to look this one up, it is Augustine, II, 183]

Answer:  St. Augustine.  Augustine in Of Free Choice, talking about free choice of the will.  He is comparing feet to the will.  The fact that our feet can be used wrongly doesn’t mean that our feet are bad, likewise, the will is a good thing even though it can be misused.

Note:  Notice that the student not only identifies that the quote as something from Augustine, but also gives the context (discussing free will).  Then the student explains what point is being made, and note that the answer has new information that can’t be gleaned just from the quote itself.   [Note: just for fun, we don’t give you the answers.  See how many you get right.  Answers at the bottom.  We just identify the author and context at the bottom, so we only get 3 points].   Here are seven questions from the study guide (which had 40 such quotations on it).

1.      And if, said I, someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, do you not think that he would find it painful to be so haled along, and would chafe at it, and when he came out into the light, that his eyes would be filled with its beams so that he would not be able to see even one of the things that we call real?

  1. Can the Equal itself, the Beautiful itself, each thing in itself, the real, ever be affected by any change whatever? 
  2. If he traded plums that would have rotted in a week for nuts that would remain eatable for a year, he wasn’t harming anyone. 

4.      Consider the case of a man who does not have the opportunity to lie with another's wife; but nevertheless, if it is somehow obvious that he would like to do so and would do so had he the opportunity.    

  1. That [concern] does not apply to my belief that I am here, sitting by the fire, wearing a winter dressing-gown, holding this piece of paper in my hands, and so on. 
  2. How do I know that He has not brought it about that there is no earth, no sky, nothing that takes up space, no shape, no size, no place, while making sure that all these things appear to me to exist?
  3. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

1. Cave passage. 2. Phaedo. 3. Locke on money in the state of nature. 4. Augustine in Of Free Choice of the Will. 5 and 6 are from Meditation I.  7.  The Communist Manifesto. 

Copyright: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/

Author: John Immerwahr

Update:  January 24, 2008