Moving Outside the Cave


Academic philosophers frequently use Plato’s portrait of Socrates in the Apology as a model for our own pedagogical endeavors. Like Socrates, we value self-inquiry. We believe the “unexamined life is not worth living.” We practice Socrates’ maieutic art, helping others bring forth their ideas. We encourage our students to think beyond the received views of their contemporary culture, just as Socrates hoped to lead Charmides to a deeper understanding of temperance. We hope to lead others to see the philosophical limitations of cultural icons, to see the shadows on our own cave walls for what they are: manipulated images of a distorted sense of reality. Like Socrates, we see philosophy as the practice that aims toward wholeness, a practice that heals the wounds of embodied existence.

Most of us tacitly agree with John Henry Newman’s view of Liberal Education as an end in itself. In his famous set of lectures The Idea of a University, Newman boldly claims that “Liberal Education, viewed in itself, is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence.” As a means of reflecting on his claim that “Everything has its own perfection,” he asks the reader to consider

“Why do you take such pains with your garden or your park? You see to your walks and turf and shrubberies; to your trees and drives; not as if you meant to make an orchard of the one, or corn or pasture land of the other, but because there is special beauty in all that is goodly in wood, water, plain and slope, brought all together by art into one shape, and grouped into one whole.”

Newman’s point is clear. Just as we seek beauty in the world around us, we seek to cultivate the beauty of the mind itself. In doing so, we take Voltaire’s advice to “cultivate our garden” to heart. We see our pedagogical endeavors as an ongoing opportunity to engage in the intellectual practices that enrich our daily lives. We primarily do this work within the boundaries of our classrooms, doing our philosophical work as part of providing a liberal arts education to the young, and an education that often means much more to us than it does to them. As a result, we often focus on the private dimensions of our work, our academic publishing, our preparations for classroom lectures and discussions, as the main ground in which we hope our philosophical seeds will take root. We overlook the importance of planting philosophical seeds in the community gardens of the world, at least the world outside of the classroom.

I see two main problems with philosophers keeping their philosophical work inside the ivory towers: 1. People outside of academic circles often do not see the value of what we do in the classroom. As a result, the importance of education as an intrinsic good is consistently devalued in our society. 2. The public sphere is shockingly devoid of meaningful philosophical exchange about ideas. As a result, there is an increasing distrust of the public sphere as a civil space where citizens engage each other.

Moving Outside the Cave

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Numero 10 EDUCATION febbraio, 2014 - Autore:  Condividi


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