Keeping It Real: a workshop

Thursday 7th July, University of Hertfordshire, 9.45-4.30

Room: N205 de Havilland Campus

‘Professionalism means caring for someone else’ – Legal educationalist Clark Cunningham.

Many ethicists claim that sound ethical judgment requires the development of virtuous dispositions. What does this mean for the education of client-facing professionals such as teachers, lawyers, psychotherapists and police officers?  What virtues do such professionals need, and how can they be developed in professional education?

Most work on virtue ethics goes on within the academic discipline of philosophy.  What insight can this work offer these professions and their trainers? And what insights can philosophy gain from encountering the realities of training professionals to engage with the public?

The Manifest Virtue project – led by Dr Brendan Larvor and Professor John Lippitt – seeks, through a blog and planned workshops, to explore these issues.

Our first workshop, Keeping it Real, will explore how various virtues (and, unintentionally, vices) are modelled in the education of certain professional groups.


09:45 Arrivals and coffee/tea/Danishes

10:00-10:30 Introduction and setting the context (BL, JL)

10:30-11:30 Professor Nigel Duncan (Legal Education, City University) “Playing the Wild Card”

11:30-11:45 Coffee/tea/water/biscuits/fruit

11:45-12:45 Chief Supt Jane Swinburne (Chair of the Ethics Committee, Hertfordshire Constabulary)  Embedding the Police Code of Ethics in the Hertfordshire Constabulary – just common sense?

12:45-1:45 Lunch

1:45-2:45 Professor Joy Jarvis and Dr Elizabeth White (Education, University of Hertfordshire)  “Teacher education – a context for modelling professional virtues?”

2:45-3:00 Coffee/tea/water/biscuits/fruit

3:00-4:00 Karen Weixel-Dixon (Psychotherapy, Regent’s University) “Humility as a necessary quality for authentic relationships”

4:00-4:30 Plenary discussion

Attendance is free, but please register in advance by e-mailing Andrew Smith, School of Humanities Research Assistant (

University of Hertfordshire Accident Simulation Centre
Professional Training

Manifest Humility

This week’s guest writer is Andrea Kenkmann, editor of Teaching Philosophy (2009)

There was a time when I thought of philosophy as some kind of arrival for myself. It was a space where one was still allowed to ask those big questions ‘What is a good life?’ or ‘What does it mean to be?‘  Whereas previously people often gave me funny looks when I started to ask questions about our underlying assumptions, the philosophers took them seriously. With colleagues and students, but also with friends one could have passionate discussions about questions that mattered to me; there was a shared sense that what we were talking about was important.  However difficult it was to read philosophers like Heidegger and Levinas, I always felt their ideas related to my own life, and shaped my thoughts and actions.

I think students notice that passion and that personal investment in the questions one asks; it makes them listen (although I might be misguided in my belief here) and think about the questions for themselves. I love teaching philosophy or sociology or really anything I care about, because I see it as an opportunity to learn from the discussions with students. Some of my fondest memories from my own time as a student are my Old English seminars where the old professor who had an international reputation for excellence came into the seminar room with such humility and the clear expectation that he wanted to learn from us. Funnily enough, I always thought we, the students, rose to the occasion with some brilliant ideas.

Yet whenever I venture into academia I see a big business that stifles all passion. The passion to think and ask questions suddenly needs to be translated into publishable manuscripts, churned out at regular intervals, and with high impact please. Ideas need to lead to funding proposals and the syllabus needs to be covered, never mind whether I’m passionate about Brentano.  And of course you need to think full-time, no time to dip my toes into the sea, watch clouds drift by, write children’s stories or play some Stravinsky.

The risk in such an environment is that research seminars, or, indeed, any seminars become merely meaningless intellectual exercises, rather than passionate debates connected to something that matters. Students can tell the difference. So maybe the question that those full-time professional philosophers running around in the academic treadmill need to ask themselves, is whether they are still passionate about those questions raised in their debates. If yes, then show and tell.

The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’

As a thoroughly unrigorous experiment, BL posted this Facebook status:

Let’s have a list of bad behaviours during Q&A sessions. The invitation to discuss the questioner’s stuff rather than the speaker’s. The venomous clarification. Etc..

Within a couple of hours, it garnered the following suggestions:

  • Hostile criticism based on something you never said (or would ever have said given the context of your talk).
  • “I have a couple of comments then maybe a question…” <10 minute lecture> “Do you agree?” [That’s the advertised question]
  • The “look at my massive dick” questions that insist on references to such obscure texts that there’s no chance anyone has a clue what the question is actually getting at. But slow clap for being *so* well read…
  • The questioner’s speech disguised as “I have just a couple of points here”
  • “Clearly”, “obviously”, “LOOK!”
  • “You’re not serious right?”
  • Sniggers and ‘private jokes’ amongst the audience
  • Over the top gestures and looking at the people around you rather than talking to the guest speaker.
  • Saying ‘can I just ask…’ And then regurgitating a whole paper in order to show how clever I am
  • “I have the greatest respect for your views of course, and I’d just like to add …” [trans: “listen, fuckwit …]
  • “I understand that we are pressed for time and will keep my question very brief. I’m sure the panel will be aware of the paper published in [X], which I will begin by summarising …”
  • The questioner who raises a finger to indicate they have a follow-up point, then says “I agree with what [previous questioner] said, and would like to add…” before raising a completely unrelated question.

Most of these came from University of Hertfordshire philosophy alumni.