A Philosophy of Teaching (or, My Reluctant Manifesto)

The professional genre we call a "philosophy of teaching" is a rather curious creature, especially when it inhabits a teaching culture that, like ours, gives little attention to the philosophical dimension of teaching. To my mind, the most important aspect of a "philosophy of teaching" is that it retain a dual sense of the word philosophy: (1) a set of guiding principles that (2) is not fixed but remains open to inquiry. Thus, I regard my teaching philosophy as a set of principles, but principles that function as "topics," or places for further thinking. A statement of "teaching philosophy" is something of a manifesto; but in my case, it is a reluctant manifesto.


  1. For John Dewey's naturalistic epistemology, see his How We Think (1910; Mineola, NY: Dover, 1997).
  2. For Hans-Georg Gadamer's account of Bildung, see his Wahrheit und Methode (1960), revised and expanded 5th German ed., Gesammelte Werke, vol. 1 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1986); translated as Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989). For Gadamer's more recent thinking on the central role of Bildung in a philosophy of education, see “Education Is Self-Education,” ed. and trans. John Cleary and Pádraig Hogan, Journal of Philosophy of Education 35.4 (2001): 529-38.
  3. Although O'Connor's statement is often quoted (especially by writing teachers), I have not been able to identify the source.
  4. Georges Bataille's comments on the masonry of thought come from the opening paragraphs of his Théorie de la religion (Paris: Gallimard, 1973). The quotation comes from Robert Hurley's English translation, Theory of Religion (New York: Zone-MIT Press, 1988).
  5. For Susan Stewart's diagnosis of the current state of the humanities, see "Thoughts on the Role of the Humanities in Contemporary Life," New Literary History 36.1 (2005) 97-103.

Last update: 28-Jun-12

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James Comas (James.Comas@mtsu.edu)
Department of English
Middle Tennessee State University
Murfreesboro, TN 37132

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