Circus and Philosophy

How is juggling like being a good person? What can the trapeze tell us about truth? What does circus have to do with the self?

In 2017, I started a novel project of combing physical movement, performance, and the circus arts with philosophical study with the creation of my course PHI 193 Circus and Philosophy. Intended for the philosophical novice who is also cirque-curious, this course uses circus as a springboard for philosophical inquiry.

This innovative course is ​FULLY participatory. Students don’t just learn about the circus, they learn how to circus. The course is divided into two kinds of classes: one in which students learn a specific circus skill, such as aerial arts, juggling, or acro-balancing, and another in which students investigate various philosophical topics in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and more.

Don’t know how to juggle? Don’t know who Aristotle is or what he said? No worries. No background in either circus arts or philosophy is required. A sense of wonder, a healthy curiosity about the world, and an appetite for adventure are strongly encouraged.

Recently, I’ve helped organize (and fund) structural upgrades to a large gym space on campus that now includes 6 aerial dropline points ready for use with various aerial apparatuses – silks, trapeze, lyra, rope, etc. – as well as ground and other circus equipment. This “Circus Lab” will allow UK students greater room for movement and artistic exploration. It will also be the hub for future interdisciplinary research and educational projects involving the circus arts.

You can read a bit more about the class here and here.

(If you are interested in circus generally, check out UK’s Circus Club – and get more info here and here).

PHI 193: Circus and Philosophy will next run Spring 2024 in the Circus Lab (Barker 104).