Over my time at Elon, I realized that the questions that had caught my attention in other disciplines were philosophical questions: What values did these people hold, and should we emulate them? What does language say about how we think? How can we learn from each other’s differences? The philosophy department at Elon also helped me form the vocabulary to frame new questions and hold space for difficult conversations… Whether over tea or at a senior seminar presentation, I was welcomed as a fellow member of Elon’s intellectual community. I’ve carried that community with me beyond Elon’s doors, and I know that it will take me far as a person and as a professional.
The Pursuit of (Practical) Wisdom
In both its etymological and historical roots, Philosophy is understood as the love of wisdom. To a large extent, Elon’s Philosophy Department agrees. But what does it mean, we continually ask, to love wisdom? Philosophic love is not the näive love of a casual crush but the deeper, rawer, and critical love of old friends who have seen and been through a lot together. Enspirited by such love, philosophy asks wide-reaching, fundamental questions. It asks: How did we become who we are and not become who we are not? How could our world have been otherwise? How might it be? How might ethical theories act as guideposts for grappling with conflicting values and priorities? Why these questions and not different questions? (These questions, too, could have been otherwise!)
Decades ago, we decided to reimagine our introductory courses precisely around these kinds of questions. More than simply deposit philosophical knowledge through canonical philosophical works, we formulated classes so that every student, whether they take one class with us or commit to the major or minor, engages in grappling with the deepest philosophical questions. And soon. And often. One does not have to have read Kant to ask about ethics, to have read Plato to ask about the good, to have read hooks to ask about gender justice. Though reading these philosophers may well inform how and what we ask, and how we find answers.
Our department has a vibrant, proud history of not teaching toward particular professional aspirations (although many majors have gone on to do many amazing things, such as law, psychology, social work, working in think tanks, going into the Peace Corps, education, politics, and more), but teaching toward a deeper recognition of and delight in humanity in all its difficult and diverse forms. Philosophy, after all, is about becoming better at being human together, a task that is presented to and relevant to all of us, at every stage of life.
In this spirit, we entitle our introductory courses How Should We Live? and What Can We Know? And this “we” is serious. We are convinced that to ask questions well and to attempt better answers to them we must enter into inquiry together. Unearthing better answers to the deepest, most urgent questions not only requires rigorous, careful, and creative thought (and it does!), not only the precise use of language and good faith (though it needs these too!). We say: loving wisdom requires community. By cultivating communities that honor differences our ideas are sharpened and enriched; inversely, by sharpening and enriching our ideas, our community flourishes. Neither the chicken of community nor the eggs of ideas come first; both co-emerge. Through honest and penetrating dialogue, we learn from each other that experience is always shaped by history, social forces, and political realities; though it is never reducible to those. It is also the choices and responses we (yes, we!) enact to these forces. Only together are we inspired by entirely new lines of thought or take on new actions that we could not have generated or accomplished individually. The “we” is at the heart of philosophy at Elon. The ‘co-’ is our assumption, our origin, our lodestar.
It is thus self-evident for us that philosophy isn’t something we know – it’s something we do. Loving wisdom is an action. As a department, we pursue a particular kind of wisdom, a practical wisdom that can serve to enhance the flourishing of all sorts of beings. Humans, yes, but also other-than-humans, as well as the complex political, social, and material ecosystems that support and sustain life. Such practical wisdom requires an honest assessment of the ways in which structural injustices have shaped social and political realities, and an unflinching consideration of the responsibilities that ethical persons have in the face of those injustices. This is why we have long viewed philosophy as an unfinished and unfinishable practice of becoming better at being human.
At Elon, students enjoy significant individual attention and build close working relationships with their professors. Faculty members take a personal interest in each student’s progress. And that relationship doesn’t end at the classroom door; professors are happy to meet with students outside class to answer questions, explore new ideas, offer advice or suggest new ways of thinking and unsuspected possibilities.
The philosophy faculty are recognized experts in the field, and their range of specialty areas is wide.
- Dr. Nim Batchelor’s work focuses on the philosophy of law, social justice, and helping students in their search for meaning in life. His discussion-oriented classes strive to enable student curiosity, productive reflection and philosophically informed, mindful living.
- Dr. Stephen Bloch-Schulman works at the intersection of political philosophy and the scholarship of teaching and learning, with a focus on critical democratic pedagogy. He was honorably mentioned in 2012 and has won, in 2016 (with Ann J. Cahill) and 2020 (with three others), the Mark Lenssen Prize, awarded by the American Association of Philosophy Teachers for the best article in philosophy pedagogy. He won the inaugural (2017) American Philosophical Association/American Association of Philosophy Teachers/Teaching Philosophy Association Prize for Excellence in Philosophy Teaching and Elon’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching (2018). He is author of many articles and book chapters, often with students and alumni, and, with Anthony Weston, of Thinking Through Questions: A Concise Introduction to Critical, Expansive and Philosophical Inquiry (Hackett, 2020).
- Dr. Ann J. Cahill studies the intersection of feminist theory and philosophy of the body, and is the author of Rethinking Rape (2001), Overcoming Objectification: A Carnal Ethics (2011), and Sounding Bodies: Identity, Injustice, and the Voice (2021, co-authored with Christine Hamel). Her current teaching involves experimenting with “just-in-time” pedagogies, which allows for student interests to guide the specific content of a class.
- Dr. Martin Fowler’s academic work and community practice include restorative justice and ethical skills for critical thinking. He also teaches courses in Environmental Studies. He is the author of The Ethical Practice of Critical Thinking (2008) and You Always Belonged and You Always Will: A Philosophy of Belonging (2014).
- Dr. Lauren Guilmette’s courses regularly engage directly with efforts for social and environmental justice in Alamance County, such as “Health and Social Justice.” Her research as well as her teaching also take up questions of archives, who gets to tell the story, and the construction of feminist and queer archives.
- Dr. Ryan Johnson explores the productive encounters between contemporary continental, Modern philosophy, and critical philosophies of race. He is the author of Deleuze, A Stoic (2020), The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter (2016), and co-author with Biko Mandela Gray of Phenomenology of Black Spirit (2022).
- Dr. Yoram Lubling teaches American pragmatism and Jewish philosophy. He is the author of Twice-Dead: Moshe Y. Lubling, the Ethics of Memory, and the Treblinka Revolt (2007).
- Dr. Anthony Weston, professor emeritus, is author of a variety of widely-used textbooks, such as A Rulebook for Arguments (1987, now in its fifth edition) and A 21st Century Ethical Toolbox (2001, now fourth edition) as well as Jobs for Philosophers and numerous other books.
- Dr. John Sullivan, professor emeritus, is a beloved teacher and author of To Come to Life More Fully (1991) and Living Large (2004).
The Department of Philosophy prides itself on a distinctly practical orientation. In a co-authored piece that was published in the journal Bridges, the department’s faculty advanced a vision of philosophy — described as “transformative practice” — that “calls us to live with larger mind, to marshal our ethical intelligence, to uncover hidden dynamics and beliefs that inhibit our understanding and compassion, and to belong in our ever-widening concentric circles of relationships with kindly acumen and reconstructive flair. In short, the task of philosophy as transformative practice is to intentionally and unapologetically deepen experience and foster human flourishing.” To study philosophy, then, is not only to seek knowledge of texts and ideas, or to become proficient in a certain set of skills. It is to seek ways of living that are richer, more meaningful and more ethically sound.
The philosophy curriculum at Elon is designed to train students in three broad sets of skills:
- Critical and constructive thinking: learning how to identify, analyze and find solutions to problems
- Ethical practice: exploring ways to act wisely and effectively
- Interpretive understanding: bridging the meaning and value systems of diverse individuals, cultures and epochs.
Building upon the principles of critical thinking and ethical practice, philosophy students survey both ancient and modern philosophy. Each student then pursues a curriculum tailored to his or her interests, such as feminist philosophy, environmental ethics, or philosophy of education. The philosophy major is designed to allow students to double major. Many choose to pair it with a professional program, such as education or communications, or with a major in the arts and sciences.
Elon students are encouraged to build on their classroom knowledge by pursuing internships, service learning programs, study abroad opportunities and other experiential avenues. You might put your learning to work in the real world by volunteering with community organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or at a soup kitchen. Senior majors in the department’s integrative seminars partner with community organizations to explore philosophical perspectives on pressing social issues and actions.
You also will have the chance to conduct original research, working with faculty or on your own with their guidance. Philosophy students regularly present research findings at the Elon’s annual Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF).
Philosophy students established a chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the national philosophy honor society, which overlaps with the very active Philosophy Club called the Philosollamas. Members conduct engaging meetings, host public events (such as the Diotima Series), and make field trips to regional philosophical events, lectures, and happenings.