Philosophy’s Kelly Dean Jolley recognized with Auburn’s highest teaching award

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Kelly Dean Jolley doesn’t have a teaching philosophy on teaching philosophy.

“The word ‘philosophy’ means love of wisdom,” said Jolley, the Goodwin-Philpott Professor in Auburn University’s Department of Philosophy. “I try to get students to fall in love. And I try to remind them that loving wisdom is the first step to being wise but is not the same thing as being wise.

“Socrates used to say that humans can love wisdom but the gods alone are wise. Seems about right to me.”

Jolley has been awarded the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching for 2018.

“I am very pleased to win this award,” he said. “It is particularly meaningful to me because I think of it as a tribute to the gifted teachers I have had, men and women, who taught nobly and who were such moving examples.”

Jolley began teaching philosophy at Auburn in 1991. He said he was exposed to philosophy as a freshman in high school. Over the summer before ninth grade, he said he composed nearly 50 essays, which he bound and brought with him on the first day of school.

“I gave them to Fay Sauer, who taught me creative writing the year before,” Jolley recalled. “The next day, she brought the essays back to me, vetted in red ink. She also gave me a copy of Plato’s Collected Dialogues. She told me it was what I should be reading. I read the first page of Plato’s Lysis, his dialogue on friendship, and I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’ And I never changed my mind.”

Jolley works in theory of judgment, philosophical psychology, metaphilosophy, the history of 20th century philosophy, ancient philosophy and philosophy of religion. He has written on Plato, Aristotle, Montaigne, Kant, Emerson, Thoreau, Frege, Wittgenstein, Austin and Merleau-Ponty. He is also interested in skepticism and aesthetics.

He is the author of “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” (Ashgate), the editor of (and contributor to) “Ludwig Wittgenstein: Key Concepts” (Acumen/Routledge) and the author of many essays. His book of poetry, “Stony Lonesome,” was published by New Plains Press, and he has recently finished a book on the popular NBC television show, “Chuck.” He is past chair of the department and past Alumni Professor.

“Kelly Jolley has a long and impressive history of receiving recognition for his research and teaching, and I’m pleased he can add the illustrious Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching to his storied career,” said College of Liberal Arts Dean Joseph Aistrup.

The Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Awards for Excellence is a $10,000 award to honor teaching excellence by Auburn University faculty who have demonstrated a commitment to student success through effective and innovative teaching, and through advising and mentoring inside and outside the classroom.

Jolley’s commitment to teaching philosophy begins in the classroom, but extends far beyond, even past the boundaries of campus.

“Part of what I want students to see is that I’m not just interested in this stuff from 1 to 2, Monday-Wednesday-Friday,” he said. “That it’s something that has some kind of discrete temporal boundaries, like the boundaries of a class time. My view is, of course, the classroom matters, but so much of what matters in becoming a philosopher is the time you spend outside of class, trying to actually do something with the things that you’re learning in class.”

Jolley said he often goes to the coffee shop with his students, “trying to get them to see that time spent just talking about football or joking with one another can be time that’s informed by philosophical distinctions, by a kind of attentiveness, by trying to be careful about things. That’s just another way of trying to model and motivate and inspire students to get them to see that this isn’t something that you can clock-in and clock-out. As a philosopher, it just doesn’t work that way.”

In 2008, Jolley was featured in The New York Times Magazine in an article called, “The Thinker.” The author, Jonathan Mahler, traveled to Auburn and spent several days in May with Jolley — attending his classes and talking about philosophy and Jolley’s approach to teaching. The article,, published that September was nearly 3,000 words in length.

In addition to philosophy, Jolley enjoys poetry, literature and football. He and his wife, Shanna, are the parents of two children, Eli and Sydney.

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