Transaction or Transformation: Why do Philosophy in Prisons?

Journal of Prison Education and Reentry 7 (2):214-226 (2021)
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Why do public philosophy in prisons? When we think about the value and aims of public philosophy there is a well-entrenched tendency to think in transactional terms. The academy has something of value that it aims to pass on or transmit to its clients. Usually, this transaction takes place within the confines of the university, in the form of transmission of valuable skills or knowledge passed from faculty to students. Public philosophy, construed within this transactional mindset, then consists in passing on something valuable from inside the academy to the outside. In this paper, we reflect on our experiences of taking philosophy into prisons and argue that making the case for public philosophy in general, and philosophy in prisons in particular in these transactional terms risks obscuring what we take to be a distinctive and valuable outcome of public philosophy. Importantly, it risks obscuring what those who participate in a particular kind of public philosophy – including the professional philosophers – experience as valuable about the activity: its transformational potential.

Author Profiles

Dave Ward
University of Edinburgh
Mog Stapleton
University of Edinburgh


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