Saturday, December 31, 2011

Liberated Blogging

Andrew Sullivan from The Daily Beast and Matt Yglesias from Slate have liberated my blog voice. At a Public Philosophy Committee Session on Thursday at this year’s American Philosophical Association conference of the Eastern Division, these guys spoke about blogging emerging, as it were, from their philosophical training. But blog posts are not published papers. They are not always complete reports or essays or full arguments either, as I once thought. They are part of a dialogue. I like that. Philosophy is dialogue at its core. It’s risky, certainly, but dynamic, living, free and liberating at the same time. Ya ain’t gonna like everything I say. But I’ll say it from my intellectual and philosophical guts and I’ll put it out there for you. If it turns out to be good enough to provoke you, then pick up the thread. It seems to me that the best philosophers inspire others to ask their own philosophical questions. May the dialogue reign!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Bridge Between American Pre-College Philosophers and the International Philosophy Olympiad

IPO 2011 students in the quad at the University of Vienna.

I have just written a post for the PLATO-Pre-college Philosophy email list and its Facebook group page about the IPO Vienna 2011. I thought I’d put a version of it here, too. Since I lead the US Delegation to the IPO Vienna 2011 in May, I am seeing one of my roles as a pre-college philosopher as a bridge between American pre-college philosophy and pre-college philosophy outside the United States.

PLATO-P-CP was inspired by the first conference of the PLATO: Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization that was held at Columbia University last month. I will quote PLATO’s mission statement here as Jana Mohr Lone (Chair of the APA Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy) has stated it on the FB page:  

“PLATO (Philosophy and Learning Organization) is dedicated to being a national voice for advocating the introduction of philosophy into pre-college classrooms and to connecting the education and philosophy communities through programs, resource-sharing and the development of a national network of those working in pre-college philosophy.”1

After a ten year absence, the USA was represented at the International Philosophy Olympiad in Vienna this year. The IPO is a philosophical essay writing competition for high school students of philosophy from around the world. Each participating nation is permitted to send two students to compete. It was my great honor and pleasure to lead the US Delegation to the IPO Vienna 2011. With the support of the American Philosophical Association (, I brought two American high school students – Kelly Greiss and Andrew Loeshelle – to Vienna in May.

Early this year, I was thrilled to hear about the PLATO-Pre-college Philosophy conference to be held at Columbia University. It couldn’t have been more convenient for me since I live only about 20 minutes away from CU in Teaneck, NJ. I teach Philosophy and Ethics at Dwight-Englewood School where I chair the Ethics (and Philosophy) Department. During the summer, however, I lead a five week academic immersion trip to Spain. We left on June 24th. I am writing this now from Salamanca, Spain where I have 33 students studying at the third oldest university in Europe, the Universidad de Salamanca, founded in 1218. (By the way, both Kelly and Andrew did summer immersion programs at USAL in Cursos Internacionales.)

I asked my colleague at Dwight-Englewood, Ben Fleisher, to represent us at the PLATO conference. Ben is the linchpin from the D-E Ethics Department in our Middle School, where we have a budding HomeBase Ethics Program beginning its third year in September. Ben will give me his impressions in person in September, but in the meantime, he wrote two guest blogs from the conference, which you may find below in June 30th and June 28th posts in this blog.

There were thirty countries from three continents represented at the IPO in Vienna this year. Sixty-four students competed and there were at least fifty teachers and professors of philosophy leading students and organizing the Olympiad. My roommate was a Rumanian philosopher who also works at the Ministry of Education in his country. One night, another Rumanian philosopher, a Turkish philosopher and I went to an Austrian Kneipe for a beer. They were two of the original founders of the IPO. In our conversation I discovered that Matthew Lipman was a major inspiration of the IPO. It was an emotional moment for me to see major events in my life come full circle: I worked directly with Matt – he was my mentor – teaching Philosophy for Children in the mid 1970’s and now I was leading the American Delegation to the IPO in 2011, which he inspired.

A meeting of some of the Delegation leaders at IPO Vienna 2011
In a nutshell, the competition is a four-hour, blind essay writing contest. Students are given four topics from which to choose to write their philosophical essay directly in a language which is not the language of their state or nation. The languages in which a student may write are English, French, German and this year for the first time, Spanish. The students I brought wrote in Spanish. There is more about them in early posts in this blog.

There is much more to tell – about grading the essays, the students from 30 countries and how they got along, the winners, the languages, the topics, the philosophical walks through Vienna and Sacher Torte und Melange mit Schlag at Café Central, where the Vienna Circle used to meet – but I will do that over time in blogs and at the APA Eastern Division conference in Washington D. C. this December where the students I took to Vienna and I will present our experience of the IPO in Vienna to the APA community. In the meantime, take a look at the IPO website and read more in this blog, which will lead you to other sites and a world of information.

1You may click here to go to the PLATO site:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

PLATO Institute Pre-College Philosophy Conference: Part 2

It was amazing to see and hear all these professors and teachers speak for 2 days on the state of philosophy education in the country. It is an uphill battle, as it seems that many people in education don’t see the practical applications of teaching philosophy, but if this conference showed anything, it’s that there are many dedicated professionals out there with a passion for sharing big ideas and big questions with their students.

Today, Ethics did not come up in our discussions, but what was discussed were the mediums in which we could bring ethical, aesthetic, and metaphysical questions to students: children’s books. Though this theme was often repeated, it seems like a really good idea. Debora Tollofsen of the University of Memphis suggested the use of children’s books to discuss metaphysics, while Thomoas Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke) and Ariana Stokas (Bard College) suggest using art and the creation of art to spur students to think critically about what makes one piece of art good and another bad.

There was talk as well of developing models for the collaboration of middle and high school teachers with professors of philosophy. Also, the creation of Philosophy Outreach Programs seems like an interesting thing – philosophy grad and undergrad students going out to schools and discussion philosophy with students who would not normally encounter philosophy education in their everyday lives.

The trend here seems to be that we need to teach students about philosophy when they’re young and keep them reflecting on themselves and the big questions as they grow. This conference is hopefully the beginning of many. It is certainly an exciting time to be an educator.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PLATO Institute Pre-College Philosophy Conference: Part 1

Today was the first day of the PLATO institute’s first conference at Columbia Teacher’s College. The 4 panel discussions covered the applications of Ethics, Epistemology, and Social and Political Philosophy in the classroom, but also the idea of developing Philosophical Sensitivity in teachers. This is the ability to pick out philosophical questions from curricular material as a way to integrate philosophical ideas into content discussions and promote reflection.

Basically, the day boiled down to these main points:

1) Teaching students to think critically and philosophically about their world should be an important part of schooling

2) Certain teachers should look towards developing their “philosophical awareness” or the ability to pick out philosophical questions from the material in his or her classes. Consequently, philosophy can be attached to pretty much any subject taught in schools. It’s all about finding the right questions to ask.

3) Teachers must be guides and facilitate a discussion, but the topics should be dictated by the students and their interests. The big ideas and big thinkers of history are there for the students to find at their behest. We, as teachers, can help guide the students to those questions using the students' own experience as a platform.

Also, there’s apparently something called a Philosopher in Residence at some schools, which totally blew my mind. This is a person who helps students and teachers find and develop philosophical ideas within the curricula, and are a resource to develop these discussions in the class itself. I'd love to see how this works in practice.

All in all, a good day with some excellent ideas. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s discussions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Viennese Linguistic Polyphony

Barbara Conrad, Chair IPO Vienna 2011 & other IPO leaders
On our first day in Vienna, I walked into the IPO Meeting of the International Committee to a polyphony of languages. More than 50 philosophers from 30 countries gathered for our first planning session. Since I was in Vienna, I wondered what the 'official' language of the gatherings would be. German, French, English? Finally, Barbara Conrad, from the University of Vienna spoke up to begin the meeting. Now all the national languages  merged into a concert of major accents. I studied German in college and I can get by in French. I teach two philosophy courses in Spanish, but International English was music to my ears!

Over the next few days we would wonder, wander and walk all over Vienna together. I felt like we were some kind group of late medieval scholars who spoke Latin at their lectures, but their own vulgar languages when they had more intimate conversation with their compatriots. That alone was a wonderful experience.

Over the next weeks and months, I will write more about the International Philosophy Olympiad Vienna 2011. In December at the APA Eastern Division conference, the American students from the US Delegation to the IPO and I will describe and discuss our Viennese experience and International Pre-College Philosophy. In the meantime, the Columbia University Pre-College Philosophy Conference is about to begin. It will take place at CU during the last week of June. Since, most unfortunately, I cannot attend -- because I will be in Barcelona leading a group of 30 American students on an academic immersion trip with the University of Salamanca as our final destination and home away form home for a month -- my colleague, Ben Fleisher, will attend in my stead. He will be a guest blogger in this space and write about the Columbia Conference. Good luck to everyone at CU and to Ben.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rathaus, Wien 26/V/2011

Kelly, Mr. Murphy, and Andy on Thursday evening
Posted by PicasaNo sleep today, but what an event at Vienna's City Hall. My native English speaking students of Philosophy are tired, but happy. On Friday they will write philosophy in Spanish -- a language they have only studied in school in the USA for about 6 or 7 years except for a one month immersion, academic, home-stay experience in Salamanca at the Universidad de Salamanca. Their competition will be students from 29 other countries, most of whom have been studying English for many years, some have an English speaking parent and some spend a substantial amount of time in their lives in English speaking countries. The great majority of these students will write in English on Friday.

Well, 65 kids from 30 countries. What do you think the lingua franca of the IPO is? It's not Latin, but I'll make an interesting analogy in a future blog. Some of the Philosophy teachers and I discussed it at some length here in Vienna this week. I'll leave you with this. Imagine what it must have been like for medieval scholars to travel around the major university circuit of the 13th & 14th centuries -- Bologna, Sorbonne, Salamanca, Cambridge, Dublin, Heidelberg, Cracow, Vienna.... Then imagine them all coming together once a year in one of the places mentioned to discuss philosophy with each other and with the star students they brought with them. There was a 'common' language. But imagine the accents.

Arrival in Vienna!

Here are our D-E pre-college philosophers upon arrival in Vienna.

Kelly and Andy are tired after just arriving on Thursday morning, 26/V/'11. But they're in Vienna! The day will be spent walking around near Hotel IBIS. No napping today because our rooms aren't. So we'll do the Olympic thing -- tough it out and fight exaustion with enthusiasm, anticipation and immersion in Austrian life in town. Tonight we will go to a reception with the Mayor of Vienna at the Rathaus (City Hall) at 20:00. Then sweet sleep before the essay tomorrow.

There are 65 competitors from 30 countries. We don’t know what the linguistic mix is going to be yet. It’s all very exciting. We did take a moment to rest at an outdoor café. Pastry and Viennese coffee -- Melange! We meet everyone at 16:00 today. Oh, wait… that’s in 5 minutes. Young philosophers on the run…. Bye for now.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Follow Me to Vienna

On Wednesday 25 May 2011, my students and I are leaving for Vienna at the invitation of the Austrian International Philosophy Olympiad (IPO) team. (I quote the text of the invitation below.) And here's a link for you to this year's IPO.

Professor David E. Schrader, Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association, had the initial inspiration to propose that the IPO include Spanish as one of its official languages of competition. – A student must compete in the essay writing at the IPO in a language that is not his or her own first language and which is not the main language of the country where he or she is a citizen. Before this year, the only languages sanctioned by the IPO for the competition were English, French and German. – Professor William McBride, Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University and President of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie (FISP) has been of invaluable help taking David Schrader’s suggestion to the right people at the IPO. Both Professors Schrader and McBride have guided me in the steps that eventually led to our invitation to compete in the IPO.

Here's the US Delegation to the IPO Vienna 2011.

Teacher / leader

Joseph A. Murphy, Ethics (Philosophy) Department Chair, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood NJ 


Kelly Greiss, June 2011 graduate from Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ. Kelly will be a freshman at Pitzer College in CA in 2011/2012.

Andrew Loeshelle, June 2011 graduate from Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ. Andy will be a freshman at Bucknell University in PA in 2011/2012.

Both Kelly and Andy have been studying Spanish for years. They also joined me in one of the five week academic immersion programs I lead every year to the University of Salamanca in Spain. Kelly studied there last summer. Andy studied there two years ago. Both of them have also studied Philosophy with me in courses I teach at Dwight-Englewood School: a required Ethics course for all sophomores and one or more of our major electives; Intro. to Western Philosophy, Intro. to 'Eastern' Philosophy, Bioethics, Ancient Philosophy taught in Spanish and Modern Philosophy taught in Spanish.     

I’ll be blogging about our trip throughout our stay in Vienna. You may follow us virtually to share the experience, to form questions about the IPO, to think about how to create a national American competition leading up to the IPO 2012 and beyond, and just for the fun of it.

Follow us through our days in Vienna. Come on along.

Here's the text of the IPO invitation.

"April, 18, 2011

To  Joseph Murphy

It is a great honor for us to inform you that the XIXth International Philosophy Olympiad will be held in Vienna, from May 26-29, 2011.

The Olympiad will take place in accordance with the Regulations of the IPO. (See the attached IPO Regulations.) The Vienna IPO 2011 Event will be organized by the Austrian National Organizing Committee. The website of the Vienna IPO 2011 contains more useful information. You find it at
We would like to invite Joseph Murphy and two students to participate in the Vienna IPO Event.

Each country may send a delegation which consists, at the maximum, of two upper secondary /high school students, who are selected through your National Philosophy Olympiad (or through another process consistent with the IPO Statutes), and similarly one or two teachers / professors who take responsibility for the philosophical activities of their students. So far it can be guaranteed that the costs for two students and one teacher are covered.

The Austrian National Organizing Committee will provide accommodation and meals for the official days of Vienna IPO 2011 and cover the cost for all activities in the official program of Vienna IPO 2011, while the participants from abroad will have to bear their own travel cost to Vienna, Austria. For the accommodation, see Hotel IBIS at

The day of the philosophical essay contest will be Friday, May 27. The theme of the Vienna IPO 2011 will be Power and Powerlessness of Philosophy.

All delegates are expected to arrive in Vienna no later than Thursday, May 26, 5 pm. You have already received a draft program of the Vienna IPO 2011 Event, an updated program will be sent to all delegations later.

In case you have any questions concerning the Vienna IPO 2011 Event, we kindly ask you send your queries to Barbara Conrad (

Cordially Yours,

Ms. Barbara Conrad
on behalf of  the Austrian IPO team"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The XIX International Philosophy Olympiad

The XIX IPO is being held in Vienna, Austria between May 26th and May 29th, 2011. I am leading the U.S. Delegation with high school students, who will be competing in Spanish.

Each nation may send two students to compete at the international level after a national competition or other IPO approved method of entry. The 2011 American team is supported by the American Philosophical Association. The official languages of the IPO are English, French, German and, for the first time ever in 2011, Spanish. Students must write in a language that is not their native language or the main (or official) language of the nation from which they come.

Students who compete must be secondary (high) school students of Philosophy and be sufficiently competent in one of the official languages to be able to write philosophy in it.

I am overjoyed to lead this pioneering American delegation!