Non-Philosophers Teaching Philosophy


Several years ago, during an era of relative plenty, I [a history professor] tried to persuade our philosophy department to credit a new history course I was teaching on the Enlightenment. Neither the reading list, bursting with texts from Bacon and Locke to Montesquieu and Diderot, nor the publication of my own book on Hume and Rousseau undid the suspicion that a professional historian simply didn’t have the requisite philosophical chops to teach such a course. The course was confined to the history department, and I found cold comfort in the thought that none of those 18th-century thinkers had a Ph.D. in philosophy.

Robert Zaretsky, a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, takes up the subject of cross-listing courses in a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He sees the refusal to cross-list as a department’s way of protecting enrollments (and the funds that sometimes accompany them). But he also notes (as in the quoted passage above), that sometimes there are concerns about quality. In my experience, the latter is more common than the former. Philosophers worry that those who aren’t trained as philosophers will approach the authors and their ideas with insufficient rigor or depth. Is this a well-founded worry or just ego-gratifying elitism or…?

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