philosophy and pedagogy

In the comments to my previous post on clarity, a number of good points were made, especially about the relevance of teaching and teachers. It seems to me that we need to emphasize more seriously the relationship between philosophy and pedagogy, and I don’t just mean the educational institutions and the threats they are under in terms of public funding, their corporatization, etc. (although these are certainly important and relevant points), but rather I mean the essential relationship between philosophy and pedagogy itself. One of the consequences of the German university reforms of the early nineteenth century was that it resulted in a split between teaching and research. This split is manifest in our very academic institutions, as we academics know all too well. We have the research one institutions where there is a reduced teaching load and where much of the teaching and student contact hours is transferred to graduate students, and then there are the universities that emphasize teaching, and where teaching loads are such that it is not expected that one would be able to produce the same type of research as a colleague at a research one institution. But even at the teaching institutions (and I teach at one of these) the split is still apparent and is integral to tenure and promotion decisions, for example, or it is reflected simply in the general attitude of professor themselves, many of whom would rather be researching than grading exams and papers.

Perhaps this split is an inevitable consequence of the emergence of science and the growth of disciplines and sub-disciplines that have followed in its wake, but as I see it it is a historical split that can be largely credited to the German university reforms themselves. From my admittedly limited knowledge of these reforms, philosophers were initially given the task of legitimizing knowledge within the curriculum, a legitimacy that is reflected in the fact that one can get a doctorate of philosophy in a particular discipline and not others (one cannot, as far as I know, get a Ph.D. in paranormal psychology). The task of researchers, therefore, is to contribute to the body of legitimate knowledge, and perhaps thereby create new forms of legitimate knowledge along the way. The task of teachers is to impart this knowledge to students. Pedagogy is thus separated from the processes that create new forms of legitimate knowledge. Moreover, as this process has developed since the German reforms, it is scientific knowledge that has emerged as the hegemonic possessor of legitimacy (this has even appeared recently within the discussions of speculative realism with people like Brassier calling upon the legitimacy of scientific knowledge as a counter to other unclear, potentially illegitimate philosophical discourses).

My point is not new of course. Foucault claimed to be anti-scientific, and for much the same reason—namely, he was not opposed to the findings of science or to its benefits (he certainly did not deny himself medical treatment in his final days), but rather to its hegemonic, centralized power as the sole arbiter of legitimate knowledge. However, by rethinking the relationship between pedagogy and philosophy, one consequence will be that one need not begin with a clear sense of what is or is not a legitimate practice, a legitimate knowledge. One need not begin with a clear lesson plan. Even my claims here, paradoxically, do not offer a clear mandate that legitimizes one practice over another. In other words, we need not begin with a Kantian critique whereby the legitimacy of our metaphysics needs to be determined before we get down and dirty doing our metaphysics. This is not to say, however, that legitimacy is unimportant, or that we should be promiscuous in our philosophizing. To the contrary, if philosophy is inseparable from pedagogy then one does not begin with the clearly defined limits to what is or is not legitimate knowledge, what is or is not a legitimate pedagogical practice, but only by working through the pedagogic process itself, a process that may render previously clear points obscure and obscure points clear, may we then achieve some clarity and legitimacy, if only provisionally so. By separating teaching from research, the German university reforms were initially beneficial to philosophy since it was the task of philosophers to determine through their critical apparatus the legitimate bounds of knowledge. In the end, however, these very reforms have been, in my mind, a detriment to the health of philosophy in contemporary society. The continuing impact of these reforms is thus an important subplot to the other important discussions regarding the institutional support, or lack thereof, we currently find in society for philosophy and the liberal arts in general.


5 responses to “philosophy and pedagogy

  • bell on philosophy and pedagogy « plastic bodies

    […] I love a good post on the link between philosophy and pedagogy. Jeff Bell has some insights on the link here. […]

  • Mandel Cabrera

    Thanks, Jeff! I had the good fortune of being taught as an undergrad at UCLA by philosophers who took having good pedegogy to be *essential* to being good philosophers. David Kaplan once told me (I paraphrase – this was many years ago): if you can’t teach it to someone who knows no philosophy, then you probably don’t understand it yourself. He took this attitude when teaching, for example, Frege’s “Sense and Nominatum,” which was one of the very best classes I have ever been in.

    It was this attitude which, probably more than anything else, led me to choose philosophy over literary studies at the time. In the grad seminars I took in literary theory, too much erudition was presupposed, and the pace of reading (Kant’s 3rd Critique one week, Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” the next, etc.) was intolerable. The grad students I knew were drowning in it all. but taking up jargon nevertheless to save face.

    Aside from such personal matters, I would also say that my impression is that research and teaching are not quite so segregated in the U.S. as they are in other places. I’ve often wondered whether the difficulty and magisterial tone of certain renowned European philosophers is the result of the fact that prominent faculty in Europe aren’t required to teach – or to teach undergraduate students directly. Yes, I do have in mind some of your favorites – the folks who give lectures at the College de France and never have to field questions from the audience. But I also have in mind the Oxbridge crowd of analytic philosophers, about whom many American analytic philosophers complain almost as much as they do about folks like Derrida, Foucault and the like…

  • Innes

    Another interesting post Jeff.

    Does the general question refer also to the much travelled notion of the ‘educated public’, and (distantly) the project of Thomas Reid, proselytised for the British imperium in the early 19th century by Dugald Stewart?

    George Davie, for one, seemed to imply an otherwise (perhaps) unlikely agreement with Foucault about the hegemonic capture of knowledge in the institutional state apparatus (a view, incidentally, that James Kelman took from Davie’s writings on the Enlightenment, & explores in his novels, especially the booker prize winning ‘How Late It was, How Late’).

    It was suggested (by Paul Wood) that in respect of the historiography of the Enlightenment, Davie’s view was the precise (indeed self-conscious) equivalent of Dugald Stewart for the 2nd half of the 20th century (and Wood found himself slightly disturbed that it doesn’t seem possible to move forward from it). MacIntyre also claimed in an interview that the problem of the alienated public was the problem of the democratic intellect (albeit Macintyre was just jumping on what he thought was a bandwagon at that time, when he found out his supposedly lifelong reading of the Scottish enlightenment was narrower than he had imagined, and needed a get-out).
    Etc.
    Good post though, eh.
    p.s. are you perhaps tending in the direction of Husserlian phenomenology (very influential on Davie; I also recall you’ve got a long section on Husserl at the beginning of The Philosophy of Difference) when you say:
    ‘…if philosophy is inseparable from pedagogy then one does not begin with the clearly defined limits to what is or is not legitimate knowledge, what is or is not a legitimate pedagogical practice, but only by working through the pedagogic process itself, a process that may render previously clear points obscure and obscure points clear, may we then achieve some clarity…’?

    • Jeffrey Bell

      Thanks for this Innes,
      I suppose my general question does refer to some extent to the notion of the ‘educated public’, though I hesitate to move in that direction for I want to avoid the Lippman-Dewey debates which I think entirely miss the point of pedagogy and philosophy. The question for me is not one of whether or not the public is capable of learning certain truths (about itself for instance as with Dewey) or whether there is a limit to this capacity and hence the inevitable need for experts (a la Lippman). There is still a tendency within this debate to highlight the knowledge claims rather than the pedagogic process itself, and the power relations inherent in such processes. In light of these processes there will be those who have the capacity to attain clarity in matters that others cannot, and some claims will be more easily achieved than others; however, where I think I agree with your point about Davie and Foucault is in the hegemonic power some claims receive over others, or, to put it differently, the ease with which some forms of knowledge gain for one power and status to the exclusion of others. Whether I’m tending in a direction of Husserlian phenomenology I may be. I’m certainly influenced by Husserl, as you know, and so no doubt that shows, though the texts that keep coming to mind as I’m working through these issues at the moment are those of Leibniz, Spinoza, and Hume (but I can see Leibniz, by way of his understanding of concepts, leading to Frege and Husserl – so indeed I think you are right in your observation). Thanks again Innes.

  • Nixon Teis

    Thanks for an informative arguments, as an educator that went through resent curruculum reform, I have certain concerns pertaining the legitimicy of subject content to address our national imparatgives. The argument of philosopical understanding of subjects to “influence” pedagogy and more spesifically, subject content has influenced my research the last two years.
    Nixon Teis

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