As Plato’s famous image in Republic has it, those untutored in philosophy are like people in chains, bickering about mere shadows dancing on the wall of a darkened cave. Philosophers have somehow freed themselves, made the long and difficult scrabble out, only to suffer the pain of seeing the bright sun for the first time. But even as they squint, they finally see real things for what they are. Armed with the truth, the philosopher returns to the cave, endures the ridicule of those still spellbound by shadows, and finally Plato gives us his enduring image of what education is all about: it requires the teacher to drag the student, kicking and screaming, into the light.
You’ll be pleased to learn that things have moved on since Plato’s day. In this issue’s forum, people who not only teach philosophy but have thought long and hard about what teaching actually means, weigh in. You’ll hear philosophy described as not just critical thinking, but the means the disadvantaged have to make the world a better place. You’ll find an argument for the claim that grading students is itself bad for philosophy. There are good questions too. Is education now a business, and if that’s a bad thing, what should it be? What’s the difference between doing and studying philosophy? In what sense is learning philosophy transformative? How does it change us? And is that change always good?
Thinking about what it means to teach philosophy can helps us understand what philosophy itself is and what it does to us when we study it. This reveals much more than a part of the value of philosophy – it tells us something about what it means to be a human being.