Philosophy Philosophy of Higher Education
Thaddeus Metz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0014


This article aims to minimize overlap with the Oxford Bibliographies article Philosophy of Education by concentrating on education in a public university setting (hence there is no mention of, for example, Rousseau). In addition, this article aims to achieve still more focus by discussing mainly Anglo-American philosophical literature since around 1985 while complementing it with sprinkles of contributions from African, Continental, and other traditions. Such a narrow purview is apt, at least given the great amount of germane theoretical literature that exists not only in philosophy but also in many fields in the social sciences and humanities. In addition, such a focus seems appropriate in light of the expected readership of this article (viz., English-speaking philosophers who seek to contribute to current debates). Note that while the headings below do highlight relatively discrete areas of research, there is some artificiality to them in that there are often substantive and even logical relationships between them. So, for example, discussions of proper curriculum content cannot be complete without consideration of the proper final ends of a university. This article should put the reader in a position to see these kinds of connections, despite the fact that cross-referencing in it is infrequent.

Handbooks, Anthologies, and Collections

The following are texts that would be useful for those getting started in the field of philosophy of higher education, some of which are not unique to that field and also address philosophy of education more broadly. Curren 2003; Siegel 2009; and Bailey, et al. 2010 are handbooks that sketch (sometimes opinionated) overviews of current debates. Carr 2005, Barrow and Keeney 2006, and Curren 2007 are anthologies of key papers that address a wide array of topics, and Cahn 1990 and Cahn 2011 are collections that focus on clusters of related issues regarding professorial obligations or institutional policies, respectively.

  • Bailey, Richard, Robin Barrow, David Carr, and Christine McCarthy, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Philosophy of Education. London: SAGE, 2010.

    After thirteen chapters that address education in general and some historical figures on the topic, there are an additional twenty-one that take up topics of particular relevance to higher education. Chapter topics include aims in education, assessment, moral and citizenship education, and the value of knowledge, as well as more neglected topics such as art and aesthetics, environmentalism, and indoctrination.

  • Barrow, Robin, and Patrick Keeney, eds. Academic Ethics. London: Ashgate, 2006.

    Divides forty-eight previously published articles among eleven different topics that include the idea of a university, the university and business, administration, and professors and students, as well as routinely overlooked issues such as plagiarism, credentialing, and a code of ethics for academics. Expensive but well rounded with solid, contemporary essays exclusively focused on higher education.

  • Cahn, Steven M., ed. Morality, Responsibility, and the University: Studies in Academic Ethics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

    Fourteen philosophers, many of them distinguished (although not necessarily in the philosophy of higher education per se), take up the same number of topics, with some focus on the duties of lecturers. Topics and authors include graduate teaching (Robert Audi), business–university partnerships (Norman Bowie), sexual harassment (Nancy Davis), paternalism with respect to student life (David Hoekema), and free speech (Judith Wagner DeCrew).

  • Cahn, Steven M., ed. Moral Problems in Higher Education. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

    For each of ten topics, which focus mainly on institutional policies, two influential philosophers or thinkers (not always specialists in higher education) offer competing perspectives or address different facets. Key areas are affirmative action, free speech, restricting research, sexual harassment, tenure, and truth-telling. Note that a few contributors are the same as those in Cahn 1990, but additional ones include Richard De George, Philip Kitcher, George Sher, and Laurence Thomas.

  • Carr, Wilfred, ed. The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Philosophy of Education. London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2005.

    This anthology focuses on contributions to the philosophy of (higher) education that go beyond analytical approaches as characteristically undertaken, and so it includes a wider array of styles, methods, and topics than many of the other sources in this section. Includes substantial discussions of aesthetics, care, communitarianism, deliberative democracy, feminism, identity, postmodernism, and pragmatism. Among the contributors are Robin Barrow, Terence McLaughlin, Shirley Pendlebury, Paul Standish, and John White.

  • Curren, Randall, ed. “Higher Education.” In A Companion to the Philosophy of Education. Edited by Randall Curren, 549–626. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996454

    This section of this large handbook includes seven chapters on higher education, with some leading applied ethicists addressing topics such as affirmative action (Bernard Boxill), research ethics (Michael Davis), and professor–student relationships (Peter J. Markie). Several of the other thirty-eight chapters are also of relevance and are informative.

  • Curren, Randall, ed. Philosophy of Education: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

    Includes sixty chapters that address a wide array of issues relevant to primary, secondary, and also tertiary education. Some of the major section headings are: “The Commercialization of Schooling,” “Diversity and Nondiscrimination,” “Grading and Testing,” and “Moral Education.” Includes both classic and contemporary philosophers of education; among the latter are Harry Brighouse, Randall Curren, Maxine Greene, Nel Noddings, Israel Scheffler, and Harvey Siegel.

  • Siegel, Harvey, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195312881.001.0001

    Comprised of twenty-eight chapters by a mix of influential general philosophers and philosophers of education (e.g., Robert Audi, Lawrence Blum, Harry Brighouse, Randall Curren, Amy Gutmann, Philip Kitcher, Nel Noddings, Martha Nussbaum, and Michael Slote). Six major sections address the topics of the aims of education, proper pedagogy, moral education, curriculum content, political issues, and alternative approaches to the philosophy of education.

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