Dr. Joel J. Kassiola

College of Arts & Humanities, San Francisco State University

About Me


he Socratic admonition: "The unexamined life is not worth living," has been the hallmark of the 2400-year tradition of political philosophy and the driving force for all of Kassiola’s teaching, as well as in his personal life. Throughout his entire professional career, he has always felt extremely privileged to have his intellectual and academic life as well as his administrative career as an academic dean all inspired and fundamentally shaped by this Socratic ethos for the rational examination of one’s life in society. No matter what the specific topic of the particular course may be: whether the standard Plato to Marx history of political thought course; or courses in: Contemporary Political Theory, Politics through Literature, Politics and the Environment, Contemporary Political/Moral Issues, a senior seminar on a specific topic, an introductory course in American Government or Understanding Politics within General Education, Kassiola has always attempted to convey to his students the political, moral and personal imperative to critically examine their lives as individuals, as part of the body politic, and members of the human species. This critical examination consists of reflecting philosophically about students’ lives, and by engaging in rational dialogue with others about the nature of the politically and morally good life and how to live it. All of this thinking, teaching, and writing have been focused upon attempting to examine systematically and achieve an understanding of the most basic and important aspects of our lives in order to learn how to live well, and, thereby, living a life worth living by developing one’s analytical and philosophical reasoning skills to reflect upon the human condition and the good life.

Thus, in Kassiola’s teaching of political philosophy, he always strives to pose for his students the most fundamental questions about life and to provide proposed answers from the grand political philosophical tradition as well as from contemporary philosophers. he tries to help them form their own answers Socratically through extensive class discussion. This aim also assists him in structuring the content of his courses and in selecting the readings. Furthermore, as Socrates discovered, this approach to self-reflective, critical teaching and living can be difficult to achieve as well as dangerous to carry out within a social setting not similarly committed. Indeed, this dangerous tension between the powerful social forces for the maintenance of a particular social order and the quintessential political philosophical goal of critical social thought is immortalized in the martyrdom of Socrates.

This point is captured in Albert Camus’s assertion that thinking is subversive and not supported by society. This basic conflict at the heart of political philosophical discourse is also evidenced by, on the one hand, the conflict between politics and the search for power, and, on the other hand, philosophy and the search for goodness and truth. Clearly, successful teaching in this field must reflect its complex and conflictual character between continuous inquiry and the need for social order.

Class discussion and research have been interrelated and have cross-stimulated each other throughout Kassiola’s teaching career. In addition, the close relationship between his teaching and research has enhanced both as well. His courses and the spontaneous discussion within them are always relevant to what he is thinking at the time, and his research has been stimulated and developed as a result of interacting with articulate, enthusiastic, and incisive participants in class discussion. His students force him to see the problems through their own eyes and demonstrate the need to improve the clarity and persuasiveness of his arguments.

The struggle to achieve the Socratic goal of rational self-examination and self-knowledge over the more than 30 years of teaching, research and administration has produced a truly rewarding experience. Kassiola has examined his own life philosophically, shared the wisdom of Socrates and the other members of the two-and-a-half millenia, Western political philosophical tradition with thousands of students whose lives he hopes have been changed for the better as a result. The Socratic approach to teaching political philosophy and decanal academic administration has made his own life worth living: what more can a teacher rightfully expect?

Education and Professional Experience
Teaching and
Research Interests
Teaching Philosophy
Academic Honors
Message for the College of BSS (link)
PLSI 353 - Political Theory of the Twentieth Century  
PLSI 354 - Politics, The Environment, and Social Change
PLSI/PHIL 150 Contemporary Moral and Political Issues
PLSI/PHIL 355 - The Politics and the Ethics of the Consumer Society
PLSI 275 - Introduction to Western Political Theory
College of BSS
San Francisco State University
Contact Information

Phone: (415) 338-3463
Fax: (415) 338-1980
Office: HSS 353
E-mail: kassiola@sfsu.edu

Dr. Joel J. Kassiola
College of Arts & Humanities
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Ave
San Francisco, CA 94132





Last updated November 30, 2006