Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Education Philosophy & Social Aspects

The Elective Mind

Philosophy and the Undergraduate Degree

by (author) Réal Fillion

cover design or artwork by Monique Fillion

University of Ottawa Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
Philosophy & Social Aspects, Higher
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


This book discusses the relevance of philosophy courses within the undergraduate curriculum as integral to the self-formation that is at the heart of a liberal education. The objective is to provide a historically layered view of what it can still mean to study for its own sake.  
The elective university classroom is important because the course of study is chosen out of personal interest and enthusiasm, as opposed to being primarily governed by predetermined disciplinary objectives. It engages the student’s mind directly and freely, and counters the overly specialized minds favoured by the contemporary university as well as the commodification of its degrees. 
The discussion builds on the distinction put forward by Raymond Williams between a dominant culture (in this case, university study as contributing to research and/or marketable degrees) and alternative and/or oppositional cultures that have both residual and emergent dimensions. The elective stream of university study is treated as alternative and oppositional to the dominant culture.  
The elective university classroom is examined as a combination of a classroom, students, texts, and professors. Each element is explored in terms of its alternative/residual significance as illustrated through the history of philosophy: the classroom and students through the life and death of Socrates; texts through the origins of the university in medieval scholasticism; the professor in the Humboldtian reform of the university at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Berlin.
Published in English.

About the authors

Dr. Réal Fillion, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sudbury, specializes in Contemporary French Philosophy; Ethics; and Philosophy of History. In addition to his teaching and research, he sits on various boards and committees, for example, he is a member of the University of Sudbury Senate, the Laurentian University Senate, the Faculty Affairs Committee, the Bursary Committee, the Community Engagement Committee, the University of Sudbury Board Ad Hoc Committee on Language and Culture, and currently participates on the selection committee for the new faculty position for the department of Culture and communication. Réal Filion published two additional titles at the University of Ottawa Press: La Dynamique multiculturelle et les fins de l'histoire (2009), and Foucault and the Indefinite Work of Freedom (2012)

Réal Fillion's profile page

Monique Fillion's profile page

Excerpt: The Elective Mind: Philosophy and the Undergraduate Degree (by (author) Réal Fillion; cover design or artwork by Monique Fillion)

“It is an odd space, this university classroom, where we meet. Its purpose is unclear. It looks like school but it isn’t, not really. It is a room before it is a class, a designated space where we can find each other. True, you look for this room because you have registered for a course and I show up because I have been assigned as its ‘instructor’ but those are really formalities … It stems from a choice we have both made to explore matters related to the course title, ostensibly out of nothing more than sheer interest, curiosity and, I hope, a shared enthusiasm.” 
“It is meeting place where students and professor … get together to discuss a number of readings, guided by the professor, to be sure, but for the sole purpose of exploring the significance of the selected readings as mapped out by the proposed course … all of these elements are equally important: no elective university classroom without a space to meet, students, a professor, and selected readings; all of it sustained by a shared interest and enthusiasm.” 
“ … as university education becomes increasingly instrumentalized, where the focus is on obtaining credits and credentials, on individual grades and grade point averages, all of it encouraged and fostered by the ballooning administrative framing of the ‘PSE (post-secondary education) sector’ and its widespread perception as a necessary means to the end of preferable employment, the elective university classroom as defined here is more and more difficult to sustain. And yet remains, as I hope to show, invaluable and worth defending.”

Editorial Reviews

“Free from the demands of program requirements and the pragmatic, societal pressure to reduce education to professional training and other such demands, …elective courses offer a unique opportunity, the author argues, to reflect on the human condition and cultivate the student’s human experience. The book intends not just to describe this predicament, but to exemplify the kind of text that can animate such learning.”

Chair of Philosophy and Liberal Arts, Full Professor, Bishop's University

Other titles by Réal Fillion