Volume 6, Issue 1, 2009
Laura Arcila Villa
On Teaching Philosophy
Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy raises two questions about the teaching of philosophy and its place in a liberal arts curriculum. First, Wittgenstein denies that philosophy is a body of doctrine, affirms that it is an activity, and assumes that the two alternatives are incompatible. This implies that teaching a body of content is not teaching philosophy and leaves open the question whether there is any relevant sense of "teaching" appropriate to the activity. On the other hand, Wittgenstein understands ethics to be an autonomous inquiry, separate from philosophy, into what is most valuable and important. This view suggests that concerns about our human condition and future are beyond the reach of philosophy, and leaves open the question whether insight into them through philosophy is possible at all.
I discuss central features of Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy to explore answers to these questions and to reject the suggestion that philosophy could turn out to be utterly irrelevant in the education and life of students. I propose that the value of philosophy resides in what we do and take Wittgenstein's eloquent metaphor from Philosophical Investigations as a point of reference: "what we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday uses". Philosophy, therefore, is not something we can teach, even though it is an activity we should encourage.