What's the Use of Philosophy? Democratic Citizenship and the Direction of Higher Education

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Philosophy and Religious Studies

Publication Date



In order to justify the discipline to administrators and prospective majors, many philosophy departments have begun to emphasize the "transferable skills" that students can develop in their courses — problem-solving and communication skills, the ability to argue and write well, and the capacity to engage in systematic analysis. However, designing the study of philosophy around job preparation reinforces a particular conception of the good life and undermines philosophy's primary goal: to invite us to question the values we already hold and to ask whether those values should govern our lives. Philosophers should encourage students' capacity to question conventional norms and to engage in the rational pursuit of the good life. Education then becomes a social activity of holding ourselves to certain values. This shift in subject matter and teaching methods will serve the larger political purpose of better preparing students to be democratic citizens who are able to participate in public dialogue about questions of justice and morality.


This article was originally published in Educational Theory. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Educational Theory


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