Philosophy and the City

My friend and colleague in philosophy, Sharon Meagher, is starting up a really great project on philosophy and the city. The premise is that philosophy is at its best bound up with the public affairs of a particular place. Meagher argues that the philosophical pretense to adopt a “view from nowhere” ignores the ways in which philosophy is entangled with the problems of the world, and the problems of our own communities, increasingly large urban places. One of the innovations of Meagher’s work is the idea of a philosophical walking tour of a city. Imagine taking your students on such a tour, pausing at the places that caused major social upheaval, other places in which new social relations and ideas were worked out. Meagher’s site is still under construction, so check it out now as well as later for new ideas on how to engage philosophy students in the problems of the world.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. Although I find your post fascinating, I wonder whether what is most needed is a walking tour of the city, but one done in intense reflection on the political. For instance, I truly believe one walks the city much more fully by reading Aristotle’s Politics, than by simply waking the city itself. Though, of course, one must walk ones specific city in order to see what reflection can find that is not found elsewhere.

    Fascinating idea.


  2. Thanks for your interest in my project. As for the walking tours, it’s not a question of either walking tours or philosophical reflection. My students take philosophical walking tours as part of a course in which they do extensive reading and philosophical reflection on the history of philosophy and its relationship to the city. SUNY Press is publishing the anthology of these works: “Philosophy and the City: Classic to Contemporary Readings”; it will be available in the next month or so (and interested instructors can obtain an exam copy by requesting it on the SUNY Press website: ) The walking tours are keyed to various philosophical texts, e.g., we think about panopticism in the city when touring and noting various types of surveillance systems in the city after having read Foucault; we walk to see how social class divisions are marked in the city after having read Engels. And, yes, we read Aristotle and others and reflect on the nature of the political. The point of the tours is to bring philosophy to the streets, but also to help students understand how and why philosophy matters by giving them a sense of place.

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