Maria daVenza Tillmanns

APA Member Interview: Maria daVenza Tillmanns

Maria daVenza Tillmanns teaches a program that does philosophy with children in underserved San Diego schools in partnership with the University of California, San Diego.  In the 1980’s she attended Dr. Matthew Lipman’s workshop in philosophy for children and later wrote her dissertation on philosophical counseling and teaching under the direction of the Martin Buber scholar Dr. Maurice Friedman.

What excites you about philosophy?

What excites me about philosophy is that it is not only about life, the life of science, the life of aesthetics, the life of being, the life of how to live a good life; it is actually alive! And my purpose is to keep it alive–in doing philosophy with children. Their thoughts, feelings and opinions come from being alive in this world. It comes from trying to figure out what being here is all about. Doing philosophy with children is really teaching them the “art” of thinking.  I love to paint and dance with ideas.

What is your favorite thing that you have written?

A story, which is called: Why We are in Need of Tails. It is a short, whimsical, light story about how we were better off when we still had tails. Tails connected us to each other, our environment and provided us with a sense of balance in life. Through our tails we could sense the vibrations of life around us and to which we were connected. But in time we lost our tails and with that our keen ability to communicate with each other and the environment. Now we need so many words, and we so often still don’t understand each other. We seem to have lost our connection to ourselves even. The story shows us various ways we can reconnect. It is inspired by Martin Buber’s notion of dialogue in relationship.

What topic do you think is underexplored in philosophy?

For this I want to refer to Robert Pirsig’s book, LilaAn Inquiry into Morals. Indulge me with a quote of his:

He liked the word “philosophology.” It was just right… Philosophology is to philosophy as musicology is to music, or as art history and art appreciation are to art, or as literary criticism is to creative writing. It’s a derivative, secondary field, a sometimes parasitic growth that likes to think it controls its host by analyzing and intellectualizing its host’s behavior… Philosophologists calling themselves philosophers, are about all there are… Yet, ridiculous as it sounds, this is exactly what happens in the philosophology that calls itself philosophy… Can you imagine the ridiculousness of an art historian taking his students to museums, having them write a thesis on some historical or technical aspect of what they see there, and after a few years of this giving them degrees that say they are accomplished artists. They’ve never held a brush or a mallet and chisel in their hands. All they know is art history… Students aren’t expected to philosophize. Actual painting, music composition and creative writing are almost impossible to teach and so they barely get in the academic door. True philosophy doesn’t get in at all.

I have always maintained that we should establish an academy for philosophy, just as we have an art academy or music academy for exactly the reasons Pirsig points out. When you start with young children and give them the opportunity to philosophize they quickly catch on and not only learn to philosophize but to experience themselves as uniquely thinking beings.

What is your personal philosophy?     

One of my own quotes is: Life is to maintain the freedom given at birth. And to maintain that freedom, one needs to learn how to navigate life’s complex issues. It is much like learning how to sail your boat in the high seas instead of staying safely in the harbor. Maybe you have a beautiful yacht to show off, but do you have any true life experience of sailing your boat? You need to learn about the winds, the currents, what your boat is capable of, what your own limits are, etc.

Doing philosophy is, to me, learning the navigational skills to sail around the world we live in, experience its complexity, its intensity, its apparent randomness, and opaqueness. When philosophy is alive, it not only considers different points of view, it engages them. Things get messy then!

Who is your favorite philosopher?

Nietzsche, of course! He certainly teaches us the navigational skills to live – to live!

What is your poison?

Campari! Either on the rocks or with soda and a squirt of lemon juice.


This section of the APA Blog is designed to get to know our fellow philosophers a little better. We’re including profiles of APA members that spotlight what captures their interest not only inside the office, but also outside of it. We’d love for you to be a part of it, so please contact us via the interview nomination form here to nominate yourself or a friend.

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