Why Teach Deviant Philosophy?

The reasons for teaching deviant philosophy are several and not easily summarized.  However, here are a few that seem compelling to us:

  • Most basically, there is much philosophy outside the mainstream that is wonderful philosophy, philosophy that does all of the good things philosophy can do:  challenge unexamined assumptions, stimulate critical faculties, provide grist for developing analytical acuity, initiate processes of self- and social-examination, and enliven awareness and intellect. 
  • Neglect of deviant philosophy may give students the inaccurate impression that philosophy is an activity pursued in but one part of the world or by one type of person.  The mainstream is historically and demographically narrower than philosophy itself is or needs to be, so presenting the deviant can convey something of the breadth of the philosophical enterprise and resist artificially narrow conceptions.
  • Much of deviant philosophy provides a helpful check on too easy assumptions and stimulates awareness of contingencies in philosophical traditions.  E.g., most of mainstream philosophy historically emerges from a tradition that for generations rather reflexively assumed monotheism.  Some deviant philosophies provide access to philosophical reasoning that never made this assumption and thus developed without it.  More broadly, much of deviant philosophy can illuminate things mainstream philosophy historically did, or still does, take for granted, overlook, or simply fail to address.
  • Because of its cultural and historical features, much of mainstream philosophical history developed in a kind of intellectual poverty, without input from peoples whose identities or experiences differed.  Deviant philosophy can enrich the sources of input, including those from cultures outside the western lineage or those who are nominally within it but historically went unheard.
  • Students are themselves not all cut from the cultural cloth that mainstream philosophy represents.  Employing a catholic body of sources and perspectives thus better acknowledges the catholic identities and perspectives of students, helpfully encouraging all students to see themselves as the sort of person who can do philosophy. 

We could go on, and expect that many philosophers will have reasons distinct from these to want to incorporate deviant philosophy into their teaching.  However, perhaps it suffices to say that just as the possible sources of deviant philosophy are many, so too are the reasons for exploring it in your classroom.