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The Humanities Conference 2003

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On the Use and Abuse of Philosophy for Life: Exploiting the Pedagogical Potential of the Protreptic

George Heffernan.

The current pedagogical state of philosophy presents a provocative dilemma regarding the rationale for teaching and learning this humanities discipline in formal and informal settings. For most contemporary professional philosophers earn their living by teaching philosophy as an academic discipline at institutions of higher learning, whereas many of the students who take courses in philosophy at these institutions might not do so if it were not required of them.

So, first, should teachers require students to take philosophy courses, and, if so, then why? Furthermore, what valid and sound arguments can be given to justify the study of philosophy as a formal field of inquiry? Finally, why should — or why would — anyone occupy themselves with philosophy at all? To philosophize or not to philosophize, then, that is the question. It is the decisive philosophical question, and therefore it is necessary at least to seek and perhaps to find an answer to it. This is the issue in this paper.
Thus the paper articulates pedagogical reflections on the role of philosophy in school and in life. It then issues a plea for the revival of a neglected genre of philosophical literature, namely, the protreptic or reasoned exhortation to philosophy. Finally, it presents a sample protreptic that aims to be exemplary.


George Heffernan
Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
Merrimack College

Please see curriculum vitae.

  • Philosophy
  • Pedagogy
  • Protreptic

(30 min Conference Paper, English)