philosophy in prisons, CoPI, transformative learning, dialogical philosophy, public philosophy


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 we 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 Bio

Mog Stapleton is currently a visiting researcher at the Department of Philosophy and Institute of Wisdom in China at East China Normal University, Shanghai. She was involved in several ‘philosophy in prisons’ projects at the University of Edinburgh and has experience running public philosophy sessions in both prisons and community youth contexts.

Dave Ward is a senior lecturer in philosophy in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. He has experience running public philosophy sessions with both children and adults in the community in a variety of settings.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Bovill, M., & Anderson, C. (2020). Changing the subject: A community of philosophical inquiry in prisons, European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 11(2) 183-198. http://dx.doi.org/10.3384/rela.2000-7426.ojs981

Huber, C. R., & Kuncel, N. R. (2016). Does college teach critical thinking? A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 431-468.

Kennedy, D. (2012). Lipman, Dewey, and the community of philosophical inquiry. Education and Culture, 28(2), 36-53.

Pritchard, D. (2019). Philosophy in prisons: Intellectual virtue and the community of inquiry. Teaching Philosophy, 42(3), 247-263.

Stapleton, M. (2020) Enacting Education. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-020-09672-4

Szifris, K. (2017). Socrates and Aristotle: The role of ancient philosophers in the self‐understanding of desisting prisoners. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 56(4), 419-436.

Williams, S. (2016). A brief history of P4C, Especially in the UK. [Article]. Retrieved from https://p4c.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/History-of-P4C.pdf

First Page


Last Page