Towards a Philosophy of Open

Below is one of a series of posts by participants in the 2020 Open Pedagogy Fellowship. Fellows will share their unique insights to the process of converting a syllabus to open or zero-cost resources, and/or review a workshop from the Open Educational Resources Bootcamp held in mid-January 2020.

Maria Victoria Salazar is a PhD student in Philosophy focusing on Ancient Greek Philosophy. Her dissertation is about the relationship between metaphysics, politics, and eros in Plato’s philosophy. Her academic interests also include Philosophy of Archaeology and Philosophy of Education, though she understands her interest in Philosophy of Education to be personal as well as academic. She is currently teaching Philosophy of Religion at Queens College, CUNY. She is also a proud Hunter College, CUNY alumna.

Towards a Philosophy of Open by Maria Victoria Salazar

If ever a time has arisen in which there was an urgent need to radically transform the way academia engages with online resources, it is now. The push for Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Access (OA) has never carried more moral or political weight than it does as we stand at the precipice of an economic crisis initiated by COVID-19, which threatens both the lives of individuals and the stability of educational institutions. Access to education can no longer be seen as a marginal issue – it is not only morally unconscionable, it is also impractical to continue to participate in a political society in which only the few have access to the most basic educational tools. Philosophers – perhaps not uniquely among academics but certainly manifestly among them – must, for the moral well-being of society at-large, and for the continued health of the discipline we love more specifically, lead the charge to make education accessible to all for whom it is a right, which is to say, to all persons. Here, I offer a brief report on my own experience developing an OER syllabus and speaking to senior members in my discipline about the importance of publishing in OA journals.

In January, all Open Pedagogy Fellows created websites for a Spring 2020 course which they planned to teach. I was incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, not only because it taught me more than I expected about OER and OA and because it strengthened my engagement with open pedagogy, but also because the website I developed came to be the platform on which I teach my class now that we teach remotely. My OER Spring 2020 course was focused on Metaphysics in the Philosophy of Religion, beginning with Plato’s Parmenides (an admittedly bold move) and reading through a few selections from Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist philosophers.

For this reason, my own challenges in developing a syllabus are slightly idiosyncratic; I often found myself clicking questionable links, with bated breath, or scrolling hopelessly through 1990’s-style religious websites, hopefully searching for a Creative Commons license. Especially in the latter case, I feared linking to a website with other questionable affiliations, regardless of how they might feel about Creative Commons. The more general problem in finding OER material is one which extends beyond the History of Philosophy, and that is that the translations that one would prefer to teach are often not in the public domain. Additionally, when there are “workable” translations in public domain (such as the regrettable Jowett translation of Plato’s Parmenides or the Edghill translation of Aristotle’s Categories), there were no Stephanus or Bekker numbers, respectively. This made class communication particularly difficult, as one could imagine.

There are, however, OER textbooks which are rather good, especially for logic – since logic doesn’t rely on translation in the same way that History of Philosophy does. My happiest find, in terms of books, was The Intelligent Troglodyte’s Guide to Plato’s Republic by Douglas Drabkin. It is a very well-organized guidebook for the Republic, as the title suggests, and which I will certainly be assigning my students in the future.

Aside from History of Philosophy, a great hurdle to OER and OA in philosophy courses is that philosophers tend not to publish in Open Access journals. Because philosophy, these days, tends to happen mostly in journals, asking established scholars to publish in OA journals seems to be the first step towards making syllabi accessible, further down the line. Some philosophers do publish versions of their papers on their own websites or in repositories. The problem with this, of course, is that we are all left using different versions of a text, and citations become difficult to track. For citation purposes, the “official” version is always preferable, and so I would be doing my students some disservice should they decide to write a paper worth pursuing for an undergraduate conference or application. I’ve seen some philosophers overcome this obstacle by soliciting for official versions through social media or listservs, but the underlying problem remains, and when persons are left to search for official versions of their own work, surely, we can all agree that there’s a problem.

In my experience in talking with senior philosophers, while they are sympathetic towards the idea of Open Access, they see no real urgency. I attribute this simply to a misunderstanding of the problem, but in this I am perhaps optimistic. They seem to think that the problem is that the public is unable to read their new article, and not that companies are gatekeeping essential knowledge for enormous profits. Philosophy blogs such as DailyNous and LeiterReports are enthusiastically reporting on new movements towards Open Access, and I see this trend only increasing, as we become collectively more aware of new avenues for change.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.