Roger Petry (Philosophy)

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A “Story from the Podium”

By Roger Petry (Philosophy)

Philosophy as a discipline has its roots in discussion. Many of the earliest philosophical writings are structured intentionally as dialogues to allow the reader to see a topic from multiple vantage points and explore relationships between ideas that naturally flow during the course of conversation. The Scottish philosopher David Hume once wrote that a dialogue composed on a “curious or interesting” subject carried the reader into the company of its characters, thereby uniting “the two greatest and purest pleasures of human life: study and society”.  As a student at the University of Oxford, I experienced the art of learning through conversation first hand through its tutorial system. Unlike a lecture based system, in Oxford I would meet one-on-one each week with my subject tutor  who would engage me in what I had written for that week, posing (often tough) questions and providing rival views, with the goal that we would collectively advance our understanding of a complex topic. It affirmed for me that good scholarship, at its heart, is always done in community. To this day, I encourage my students to engage in conversation in the classroom through small group activities, reviewing each other's work, or having focused discussions as a large group. Doing so requires a commitment to processes that embrace participation (talking circles, world café formats, and other structured conversations); these lead invariably in surprising, unanticipated directions. The capacity to listen intently, the courage to present one's own views, and the openness to constructive criticism by others naturally develops in such an environment and lays the foundation not only for the scholarly life, but also meaningful contributions as a citizen.