Philosophy in action

Armed with their laptops, the police department in Baltimore, Maryland has been utilizing them as part of the training that involves the philosopher Plato and his many teaching as part of their annual training. Some may consider this approach unconventional, but in actuality, it has been proven over the years and incorporated by many departments nationwide over the last few decades as it has been proven to aid cities. Gillespie is an instructor that encourages his students to dissect cases by applying Plato’s tripartite model in regards to police misconduct, which theorizes that behavior is controlled in part by the appetite, the spirit, or the intellect.


For those that are not aware, philosophy applies to everything, even cooking, with studies indicating that officers with more education are less likely to use deadly force. Philosophy offers more than that, however, and the following are some books that are suggested for any policeman’s reading list.


Søren Kierkegaard – Fear & Trembling

Søren Kierkegaard statue

Policemen searching to understand the manta behind ‘just following orders’ should read this book as the author illustrates the ramifications of sacrifice, using the story of Abraham and his son as a learning tool. In the book, Kierkegaard shows how Abraham questions obeying God absolutely and if the same should be done by police officers to police chiefs.


Aristotle – The Nicomachean Ethics


Of course, having laws are good, but sometimes being a good judge of character means following them and having the foresight to interpret fairly. Good police officers should utilize practical wisdom and this novel goes a long way in helping them develop it.


Onora O’Neill – A Question of Trust

Onora O’Neill with umbrella

In the United Kingdom, the principle to police by consent is practice and O’Neill argues that transparency, audits, and procedures can only achieve so much. In order to earn trust, police officers should be trustworthy.


Nietzsche – On the Genealogy of Morals


We don’t need police officers that consider themselves superheroes as this leads to police officers abusing power when they believe they are the divide between the forces of good and the forces of evil.


Confucius – The Analects


Police officers should read up on many various forms of philosophy for a more inclusive approach, which entails more than knowing everything about western theories. Police can get greater awareness than the majority of academic philosophers when it comes to cultural diversity as they are more likely to interact with a society that encompasses all ethnicities, creeds, and nationalities.


In The Analects by Confucius, readers are reminded that all cultures have core values that may be distinctly different from one another, but that the use of force should always be the last resort when it comes to enforcing the law. In the novel, Confucius says that civil suits are easy to execute, but it is even wiser to avoid all types of suits and solve problems on a more interpersonal level. The application of these theories can only help police officers become better at their job and more open to solving problems in a more humane manner.