Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Tomorrow marks the start of the fourth annual Camp Zero, the philosophy camp that my friend and colleague, Stuart Smithers, from the University of Puget Sound organizes at his farm outside Arlington, Washington for former students, friends, and fellow philosophers, like me, among others.

In years past, we’ve explored concepts such as what it means to do nothing, or conceptions of the good life, or the value of different ways of knowing; all have provided excellent fodder for thoughtful reflection and have helped me to think about old ideas in new ways and vice-versa. This year, our broad theme is personal identity; we plan to take on a number of readings that explore what the self is and whether it makes sense to talk about it as an entity rather than as a process or merely a way of speaking.

We also do some sitting meditation and practice some yoga, in addition to eating great food and napping in the out-of-doors from time to time.

It seems to me that this is how philosophy is meant to be done; not that one can’t have great conversations even in windowless classrooms, but there’s just something about creating a community of inquiry in a pastoral setting that makes the discussion flow especially well.

Or perhaps it’s just the absence of grading that’s going on.

There is indeed something inimical to the philosophical enterprise to have it tied to evaluative assessments; I think the fact that the Philosophy for Children class I teach at the University of Washington is credit/no credit is a big part of why it’s consistently so successful.

Of course, one could argue that Socrates “graded” his interlocutors; he certainly assessed their answers and responded to them with constructive (and sometimes destructive) criticism; he wasn’t in the business, however of assigning letter grades or points to the answers others gave him.

That said, there’s no doubt the citizens of Athens failed when they voted to execute him.


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