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Engaging Students on an Attitudinal Level: Theory, Practice and Applicability


A. THEORY: From the perspective of philosophical pedagogy, an attitude is a basic, comprehensive, interpretive orientation toward the world and objects in general. So construed, an attitude internally coordinates affective, volitional, and cognitive components into a relatively stable and identifiable interpretive predisposition. Certain cognitive and moral developmental issues, as well as the contemporary cultural climate, dictate my decision to clarify and challenge several basic attitudes antithetical to the adoption and practice of philosophical attitudes. My pedagogical method for carrying out this task may be characterized as an updated application of Socratic decentering, which aims at inculcating an attitude shift. The following table represents some of these attitudinal transitions.

Anti-Philosophical Attitudes Philosophical Attitudes
conventional hypothetical
heteronomous autonomous
naive, pre-reflective    reflective, critical
concrete abstract
ethnocentric, provincial cosmopolitan
egocentric communal
superficial radical
relativistic universalistic
dogmatic skeptical

B. PRACTICE: The following are some of the teaching methods I utilize to decenter and destabilize basic attitudes resistant to the introduction of philosophical inquiry.

1.  Critical questioning designed to render problematic what is taken for or simply assumed.

2.  Recurrent references to the contextual contingency and historical conditioning of educational and cultural formative processes that are often unconsciously assimilated.

3.  Assignment of questionnaires that promote reflective insight into one’s basic belief system and scale of values.

4.  Practical exercises which disclose unrecognized habits of interpretation perception, valuation and action.

5.  Concrete illustrations of the philosophical perplexities inherent and implicit in what is familiar, obvious, and everyday.

6.  Use of thought experiments or hypothetical scenarios to engender the imaginative adoption of alternative roles and perspectives.

7.  Intermittently illustrating the theoretical relevance of a heightened historical sensibility by tracing the broad and basic intellectual traditions that condition our present cultural context.


1. History: Inculcates the transition to a distinctive historical attitude by effecting a historical distanciation from the present, which decenters the ahistorical attitude of immediate immersion in the contemporary historical moment. Historical inquiry puts the present into perspective.

2. Foreign Languages: Decenters the interpretive perspective, exclusivity, and naiveté of our native language and erodes ethnocentric tendencies by exposing us to cultural variation.