John Lawless

I am a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Writing Program at Davidson College. I work in political philosophy, with broad interests in ethics and economics, the philosophy of law, and feminist theory.

​ My research focuses on the relationship between individual freedom and our interpersonal relations. I argue that human agency (in one crucial sense) emerges from our relationships with the other members of our communities. These relations construct us as particular kinds of persons: as owners of property, as members of families, as participants in various market relations, as citizens of our cities and states. I argue that a political concern for individual freedom targets the structures of these relationships, and the kinds of people they make us.

Office: Dana 263
Writing Program • Box 7052
Davidson College
Davidson, NC 28035



Any teaching philosophy reflects the instructor’s sense of the value of her courses, and of the roles that they can play in her students’ lives. Of course, philosophy’s values are myriad. Those of us who teach philosophy believe that the kinds of curiosity we cultivate and knowledge we pursue are intrinsically valuable. And our method is, at its heart, nothing less than the method of clear and precise reasoning, which has abundant instrumental benefits.

But in addition, I believe that the skills essential to philosophical reading and discussion are as crucial to our freedom as the right to vote. In our classrooms, we practice open, honest, and respectful engagement with views that challenge our own. We learn to read both charitably and critically, and so to push ourselves and our interlocutors to look beyond our own conceptions of the world – to think our ways out of our current assumptions in order to recognize in one another’s words unfamiliar and yet compelling content. These are the very same skills that good citizenship demands of us, and philosophy classes are uniquely suited to their development.

I strive to make acquisition and use of these skills the primary concern of the courses I teach. This guides the way that I structure class time, select and arrange readings across a semester, and construct students’ writing assignments. Continue reading “Teaching”