Why “Do” Philosophy? Some Reasons and Resources for Music Educators

PlatoIn this post, I give some reasons  for the potential importance of philosophy in the field of Music Ed, and link to some helpful resources for those interested.

[This post was edited for brevity on 8/22/13 -SH]

You shouldn’t feel that you need a lot of specific, formal training in philosophy before getting involved as a music educator. It’s my belief that many in the profession could stand to benefit personally and professionally from increased exposure to the subject.

Here are some recent thoughts I’d like to share about why I think the practice of philosophy can be both useful and important to current and future students and practitioners in the field of music education.


Five reasons music educators may want to practice philosophy:

1. Developing and improving critical thinking skills – Constructing rational arguments, analyzing and critiquing the arguments of others, and responding to critique of your own arguments may be the single most effective way to improve one’s ability to think critically and rationally.
2. Exercising writing abilities – As distinct from other types of writing assignments and exercises, philosophy papers require logical arguments and clearly stated positions. This can encourage more thoughtful (and perhaps more creative and persuasive) writing.
3. Additional avenues for publication and scholarly discourse – Most scholarly writing and presentations are rightly focused on the presentation of empirical evidence. While this is obviously important, it does not always allow for the exploration of all possible interpretations of the evidence, nor does it always allow for alternate and possibly productive ways of forming questions or looking at questions already asked. As an added bonus, professional opportunities exist for scholarly publication of philosophically motivated work.
4. The development of a relevant voice in the profession – Throughout its history, our field has drawn its leadership at least in part from scholars who practice philosophy. Specific and obvious examples include James Mursell, Bennett Reimer, Estelle Jorgensen, and David Elliott, but that is obviously not the end of the list. Additionally, academics who engage primarily in research activities of an empirical nature may find themselves better able to defend or advance their own thinking through philosophical discourse.
5. The potential to develop more nuanced positions – Rather than valuing a simplified and mechanistic “right/wrong” way of viewing all questions, philosophy seems to be a particularly robust to the accommodation of multiple viewpoints and multiple ways of looking at the world. While intense disagreements can and do often occur, the discourse is typically more conducive to open-ended discussions.

This list comprises only a partial look at why students and practitioners both may want to dive in to the world of philosophical discourse, even without previous training –  you have to start somewhere, right?

Here are a few resources to help you get started:

The book “Doing Philosophy”, by Joel Feinberg, is written for the undergraduate-level student attempting her first philosophy paper. It is a very clearly written and useful text.

Here’s a pdf of some slides I compiled as a brief a summary of the above-mentioned book “Doing Philosophy”. It is very brief, as it was prepared for a 10-minute in-class presentation for non-philosophers.

Some important texts in the field of music education:
Democracy and Music Education: Liberalism, Ethics, and the Politics of Practice (Counterpoints: Music and Education) by Paul Woodford

A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision (3rd Edition) by Bennett Reimer

Pictures of Music Education (Counterpoints: Music and Education) by Estelle Jorgensen

Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education by David Elliott

The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Music Education (Oxford Handbooks)

Here are a few major journals publishing work pertinent to the philosophy of music education:

The Philosophy of Music Education Review (PMER)
The Journal of Aesthetic Education (JAE)
Action, Criticism, and Theory (ACT)

In the philosophy of education, the work of John Dewey remains very central, especially in North America. Here are two very good entry point into his thought:
Democracy And Education

Experience And Education

If you are interested in some introductions to the larger world of philosophy, here are some good places to start:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, by Will Durant

The Partially Examined Life is a very entertaining and engaging podcast dealing with seminal texts by a wide range of philosophers throughout history. Be mindful: it is intended for adults, so the language is often not appropriate for a classroom context or for children.

Here’s an interesting book for children:
Philosophy for Kids : 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything!, by David White