Teaching Philosophy

I think that being a good teacher is integral to being a good philosopher. The reasons why I value philosophy are ultimately the same reasons why I value teaching. These are summarized by three attitudes I cultivate in myself and want to impart to my students: wonder, courage, and freedom.

My starting-point in teaching is wonder.  Wonder is no superficial curiosity, cannot be satisfied with a Google search or easily forgotten, involving fascination, respect, awe, and compulsion. Lots of things can arouse wonder: a starry sky, a delicate spider-web, the people around us, or our own consciousness. Wonder depends on a deep conviction that the world – or some relevant part of it – is good, and inherently worthy of interest. I encourage my students to seek wonder whenever possible, in the classroom and outside it.

I see progress in my classes as courage. The objects of wonder are nothing to be trifled with, after all! I call on students to embody a particular attitude: thinking rigorously, taking what’s said to be important and thought-out, arriving at conclusions not because they are easy, convenient, or expected, but because they command our assent. But I can only reasonably demand this of students if I place the same demands on myself: I make every effort to take understand students charitably and value their contributions, with specific focus on methodologies, narratives, and perspectives which have been systematically under-represented in the Western academic paradigm.

I think philosophy’s ultimate end, and what I hope that my classes leave students with, is freedom. A rigorous thinker is no fool – for others, and, more importantly, for herself – because she can easily catch and defuse unexamined assumptions, gaps in reasoning, equivocations, confused distinctions, or falsehoods. This helps students succeed at writing papers, understanding and convincing others. Most importantly, it helps students discover the truth. Nobody can tell us we’re wrong about convictions which arise out of genuine, honest, and true attention to the world, and which lead to conclusions through a rigorous, self-reflective, courageous process. I want philosophy to be empowering, controversial, and, sometimes, threatening. Philosophy – understood as sober, rational, courageous thought – is the greatest threat to corrupt, morally bankrupt, or unjustified systems of oppression. Or at least it goes a long way to subverting them.

I think it’s important to be awed by the world, to be brave, and to be free. I don’t think you have to do philosophy to do these things, but I think that each is an integral feature of the philosophical project, at least as I want to carry it out. I don’t guarantee to my students that they’ll be happy with my classes if they’re looking to do the minimum amount of work to pass, avoid risks and stay in their comfort zone. But I do my very best to empower and encourage students who think that the world and its inhabitants are worth asking questions about, or who like personal and intellectual challenges.