Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Alison M. Jaggar

Second Advisor

Michael E. Zimmerman

Third Advisor

Kenneth R. Howe


What is philosophical inquiry about, how does one do it, and what is it good for? This paper draws upon original empirical work and is, in part, an instance of what students of the social sciences, especially those engaged in qualitative approaches to research such as ethnography, will recognize as what Fred Erickson termed a “natural history of inquiry.” During the summers of 2009 and 2010, I spent about two months conducting research in collaboration with a small, independent community located in Itztapalapa, an impoverished neighborhood of Mexico City. I set out to test one possible conceptualization of a political philosophical problem (related to self--‐determination, though specifics of this stage of the research aren’t the focus of my paper) against the actual discursive practice of a community in conflict with powerful and often corrupt government institutions. I initially hoped that this empirical work would enable me to test a hypothesis concerning the usefulness of a particular conceptual schema in practice. When my initial research questions ran up against the constraints and exigencies of democratic inquiry, beyond the ordinary parameters of the (white, Anglophone) academic community, new questions emerged that concern philosophical methodology at its foundations. The unexpected turn my research has taken speaks to a contemporary struggle in the self--‐understanding of (again, mostly white, Anglophone) philosophers (including philosophers of education).

This paper reviews recent developments in nonideal theorizing as well as attempts to naturalize and democratize moral epistemology. Using my own experience in Mexico as illustrative, I assess the promise of attempts at naturalization and democratization for revitalizing philosophy as a professional discourse. I argue that efforts to naturalize and democratize philosophical methodology are necessary if we are to clarify what philosophical inquiry can and ought to be good for, in relation to educational issues and other academic disciplines. Ultimately, philosophical inquiry so understood provides an invaluable tool for addressing the pressing problems that motivate all of our best and most justifiable inquiries into the meaning and nature of things.