The Prospect of Guns on Campus: One Philosopher’s Approach


Larry Shapiro, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is taking a novel approach to addressing the prospect that Wisconsin’s state legislature may soon allow students (and others) to carry concealed firearms onto campus: he is offering his students a choice.

He is crafting two syllabi for his Philosophy 101 class. The first includes, alongside topics like Cartesian epistemology and Hume on causation, “issues concerning God, abortion and social justice,” which his students “are obviously more impassioned about.” The second replaces these topics, “about which [his students] are most likely to have some pre-formed belief that a good course in philosophy will seek to upset or challenge” with less provocative subject matter in epistemology and metaphysics.

Shapiro is worried about inflaming the passions of students who may be armed with guns:

While I am presenting an argument in favor of a right to abortion, or against the existence of God, or in favor of tax policies that would strip these students of their inheritances (I also present arguments on the other side of these issues), I will at the same time be worrying that a depressed or disturbed or drunk or high college student is in the audience, armed, and fed up with what I or fellow students are advocating.

So here’s the deal he is presenting to his students:

On the first day of the semester I will explain to my students that I have prepared two syllabi for the course. One they’ll find much more interesting than the other, but we’ll adopt it only if I receive a promise from the students that they will not carry weapons into my classroom.

You can read more about his proposal here.

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