Meet the Faculty
Equity and Justice
80-335: Social and Political Philosophy
Featured Faculty: Dani Wenner
What do you love about teaching Social and Political Philosophy?
I love getting students to see that things aren’t always as simple as they assume. Many students come into this class thinking they have a pretty good idea about what the basic terms of our political debates mean – terms like “freedom,” for example. It is really fun to help them realize that these concepts that are ubiquitous in public deliberation are not as simple to define as they think, and that in many cases the central values our society is supposedly organized around are hotly contested!
What do you remember most from your educational journey and how has that shaped your teaching?
One of the things that really stands out to me looking back is how few women there were in my field, and how that shaped the kinds of philosophy that were considered “mainstream” or interesting enough to study or teach. Never having a woman professor also meant – for example – never being exposed to feminist theory. Almost all of the philosophy I studied through undergrad and grad school was written by white men – most of them long dead. The result was often political theory that was detached in many ways from my own experiences of the world. The most important impact this has had on my teaching is that I try and make my classes relevant to my students – and to students from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. I don’t think political philosophy needs to be so abstract as to be detached from the real world in order to be useful. On the contrary, political theory that is informed by our experiences – particularly the experiences of those who are marginalized in various ways – is often the most valuable in helping us to see where and how our existing social and political norms and institutions are problematic – and how best to address those failings.
What one piece of advice would you give your students?
You are more than a grade, and college is about more than the job you will get after. Take the time that you have here and use it to really explore and learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can. You will get more out of your time at CMU if you let yourself enjoy the learning for the learning’s sake than if you view it as merely a means to an end. You won’t get another chance like this in your lifetime, so make the most out of it.