Bloomsbury Philosophy Library - Some conceptual points

Some Conceptual Points

by Luvell Anderson and Verena Erlenbusch, based on their 'Modeling Inclusive Pedagogy: Five Approaches.' Journal of Social Philosophy 48.1 (2017): 6-19


The approach we take when diversifying our syllabi might depend on how we understand the nature of the problem. Below, Luvell Anderson and Verena Erlenbusch (Memphis) discuss four ways to approach the diversity problem as a conceptual problem, all of which might be useful in appropriate circumstances.

The Critical Model

Canonical texts are flawed but contain valuable insights for all. In order to unearth that value, a corrective must be applied. This can be done by incorporating texts that offer a critical perspective on canonical texts.

Pros: Makes visible the experiences that are disregarded by canonical texts.

Cons: Merely offering marginalized voices as a critical perspective still makes the questions and concerns of canonical philosophy determinant of what counts as legitimate philosophical inquiry. Legitimate philosophical inquiry, including legitimate critique, addresses the concerns driving the inquiry, which is, however, exclusionary. Marginalized perspectives continue to be excluded.

The Reform Model

The presentation of critical perspectives is not enough. What is needed is a reform of the standard picture of philosophy: disrupting the canon and placing marginalised perspectives in the center.

Pros: Gives a broader picture of what counts as legitimate philosophical inquiry, which can accommodate marginalized voices and concerns.

Cons: Still seeks to create a unitary philosophical tradition with boundaries. While it is more inclusive, it nevertheless excludes things that some might want to include.

The Pluralist Model

Different traditions are so conceptually incompatible that we cannot hope to integrate them in a unitary tradition. To avoid the risk of exclusion, we have to juxtapose different philosophical traditions.

Pros: Shows important differences between the various traditions.

Cons: The pluralist model is impractical as it is difficult to adequately present multiple traditions in a single course. If the pluralist model presents a tradition and alternatives to it, then it is hierarchical and thus exclusionary. If the pluralist model presents various traditions as equally valuable, it relies on an anarchist assumption that is not obviously warranted.

The Abolitionist Model

The very idea of a canon is conceptually exclusionary. The conceptual problem is so entrenched that the very notion of a philosophical tradition must be abandoned altogether.

Pros: Offers a maximally inclusive view of philosophy.

Cons: Even on this model we need to make decisions about which sources, themes, or questions to include. These choices are determined by judgments of what is valuable and what is not. Moreover, over time these choices may lead to the appearance of a canon.

This teaching guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, and is made available here with thanks to the authors and the Diversity Reading List.