Developing a Place-Based Political Philosophy Class
Over the summer of 2015, I aim to develop the materials, resources, and relationships necessary for a place-based class in Political Philosophy to be taught every two years at Sewanee.
Political philosophy is focused on the fundamental questions underlying our relationships to each other as members of a political community. How should our common resources be allocated fairly? What kind of liberties should we be guaranteed as citizens? What is the proper role of government in our lives? I want my students to learn about the way these questions are addressed in the work of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill, but I also want them to be aware of the immediate practical significance that questions about justice and the role of government have for the lives of people in Southern Appalachia. The class that I am hoping to design would leave students with an understanding of the fundamental issues of political philosophy that is sensitive both to history and to the realities of daily life in the place in which they are studying.
Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies
The project lines up very closely with the goals of the Collaborative in the following ways:
1) Combining humanistic inquiry into “big questions” with attention to local contexts;
2) Cultivating interdisciplinary connections around community engagement;
3) Exploring the possible benefits of humanistic inquiry to local community organizations.
There are 17 students in my current class, and I expect similar numbers each time I teach the class, which will be every two years. Since this class is a requirement for most philosophy majors, it is likely to impact virtually all of these students, and a number of others who take the course (more than half of the current group are majors in other departments, including political science, economics, and English). Students who take the class will have a direct experience of how abstract philosophical questions can inform (and be informed by) our understanding of concrete local contexts.
Currently, the impact of the class on the community is relatively small, although beneficial. Students are giving their time to volunteer with established organizations (such as Blue Monarch and Food with Friends) that provide clear and defined benefits to members of the community. They are there to help out in small, practical ways, and to use the experience of doing so to challenge their own philosophical preconceptions. One of the ways in which I hope to develop the class is to build relationships with local organizations with a view to discovering ways in which the class might be of greater benefit to them.