Circus and Philosophy: Teaching Aristotle Through Juggling

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Circus and Philosophy: Teaching Aristotle Through Juggling

Here’s something you may not know about academic philosophy: subjects such as philosophy of art, philosophy of sport, or philosophy of the performing arts are often taught without having the students engage in the activities or artforms that are being philosophized about. Students talk about paintings, but don’t paint; they talk about sports, but don’t play – in short, they theorize about an activity they don’t participate in. This approach is unfortunate and in desperate need of change. My course, Circus and Philosophy, is designed to explore the gap between thinking and doing.
I divide the course into two kinds of classes: activity-based days – when guest instructors teach circus skills such as juggling, aerial arts, and acro-balancing – and more traditional, discussion-based days, when we read, think through, and discuss philosophy. Students don’t just learn about the circus, they learn how to circus.  But why circus, specifically? Surely the participation/theorizing gap could be explored just as easily through painting, singing, acting, or running. For those brand new to circus, attempting circus skills is playful, not competitive. No one cares if you can actually do the skills or not, or if you can do them well. The fun is in the trying...
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Meg Wallace

Meg Wallace is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky. Her primary areas of research are metaphysics, mind, and language. Her teaching interests include finding various ways to get students to love philosophy through spectacle and play, such as circus and video games.