Precollege Philosophy and Public Practice

Volume 3, Spring 2021

Erik Kenyon
Pages 21-39

Philosophy for All in Augustine’s Dialogues

The philosophy for children (P4C) and public philosophy movements seek to extend philosophy to traditionally marginalized groups. Yet public perceptions of philosophy as an elite activity provide an obstacle to this work. Such perceptions rest, in part, on further assumptions about what philosophy is and how it is conducted. To address these concerns, I look to the early philosophical dialogues of Augustine of Hippo (Contra Academicos, De beata vita, De ordine, Soliloquia), which present an experimental philosophical community composed of teenagers, illiterate adults, and Augustine’s own mother. I begin with the question, “who can do philosophy?” and walk through the dialogues’ discussion of race, gender, educational background, age, and class. I then turn to teaching techniques on display in the dialogues’ discussions, which flesh out what philosophical study looks like for nonelite students. I close by using my own experience of teaching nonelite students to reflect on how Augustine’s experimental philosophical community can help reframe thinking about P4C and public philosophy today.