Philosophy for Prisoners
Sun Lee

12 March 2018

Can prisoners benefit from engaging in philosophical thinking?

Research associate Kirstine Szifris spent six months teaching philosophy to prisoners held in two male prisons. She claims that philosophy lessons can mitigate prison violence and the pervading feeling of drudgery. Specifically, she writes, philosophy helps prisoners question and dismantle macho identities that the prison environment instils upon them. Through asking philosophical questions such as "what is morality" and "how should society be organized" prisoners are able to engage in deep self-reflection, getting closer to the ideals of rehabilitation. 

If indeed philosophy classes can provide transformative experiences to prisoners, maybe we should consider having more of them as part of the ongoing conversation about prison reform. 

Read more about Szifris' research here:

Also, check out "Philosophy Behind Bars," the episode we did with philosopher Jennifer Lackey, who teaches philosophy to prison inmates:

Comments (1)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 -- 11:57 AM

Szifris may have something

Szifris may have something here. I have wondered if there were any such efforts, past or present.The only caveat(s) may be: 1. this may not be for every prisoner---the truly bad guys are smart enough to play along and feign interest, if they perceive a good-behavior effect in the offing. 2. The really dense crooks who are strung out on violence and/or drugs are unlikely candidates because they are probably damaged beyond rehabilitation of any sort. 3. Some are simply not likely to get it at all. Still, I do not disparage new ideas out-of-hand: Douglas Hofstadter (spelling?) called this sort of outre thinking JOOTSING, 'jumping-out-of-the- space'. A bit akin to thinking outside the box, but going beyond how that is usually done. Ideas of this sort need our support---the old ways of rehab are woefully inadequate and have been for a long time. Indeed, the notion of criminal rehabilitation is as tired as our justice and prison systems are antiquated. So, jootsing? Go ahead...