Title: "Diagramming Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics", Teaching Philosophy, 23/4, 2000, 343-352.
Author: Jonathan Powers
Date: April 2002
Reviewer: John Sellars
 The reasons for teaching Aristotle are manifold and obvious, but perhaps not so obvious to the new student who is unaware of his historical importance. The Ethics is probably the most taught text by Aristotle, yet its lack of any overall plan can put off students.  One way in which the various parts of Aristotle's argument can be brought together is via a diagram.
The author uses an assignment in which students must construct a diagram of Aristotle's ethics in whatever visual form they prefer.  The author lists twenty key terms that must be included. A brief explanation of the diagram can also be included. This assignment proved very successful and the author looked into precedents for this method.  The most obvious were to be found in logic teaching, where spatial representation of arguments is common.
[346-349] The author relates his experience to 'the VARK theory of learning' which claims that while some students learn best via reading or listening, others learn best via visual means. The use of diagrams is of especial benefit to this latter group of students. [...]
The author's intention is to make Aristotle less daunting and more interesting to new readers by giving a unity to the complex and occasionally disjointed material in the Nicomachean Ethics. So far so good. He intends to achieve this by making them supply an A4 size schematic diagram containing at least twenty technical terms summarising the entire content of the Nicomachean Ethics. This, to me, seems a very ambitious project to set any students, let alone those new to philosophy in general and Aristotle in particular. If a teacher of Aristotle could supply such a diagram I would be impressed, let alone a group of new students. No doubt it can be done, with time, patience, and an intimate familiarity with the text. But I doubt that the typical student will have enough of any of these.
The claim that some students may learn better by way of visual information such as diagrams is reasonable enough. But perhaps the best way to proceed is either by the teacher supplying schematic diagrams or by students working with short and carefully selected portions of a text, at least to begin with. One could, for instance, imagine a series of assignments devoted to mapping certain sections of Aristotle's argument which, only much later, might be brought together to form a more comprehensive blueprint. The author's basic pedagogical insight may well be of some value but his particular proposal here is, I think, far too ambitious.
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