There are so many ways in which one could begin to describe the reason, purpose, benefits of studying Philosophy. I could quote studies of business leaders who have said that Philosophy students do better in business (whatever that means…) overall because of their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. I could, alternatively, talk of how useful it is, whatever students subsequently go on to study and/or do, given that it equips young people with the same critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. I could attempt to ‘sell’ the study of Philosophy as a utilitarian handmaid to other things, which it also, but not exclusively, is, but that would be to reduce the study of Philosophy to the status of ‘transferable skill,’ and that is not what Philosophy is.
We were 12 when we began [email protected]; three decided that their paths lay elsewhere, and now we are nine. It is immensely gratifying to see students decide to choose a subject, in such an ‘important’ stage of their educational trajectories, that has not been offered to them before, that has not been on offer, as it is not in most educational systems, and about which they may know next to nothing, or very little, apart from the connotations the word ‘philosophy’ conjures up in the popular imagination. That, in and of itself, displays philosophical wonderment.
It was important to me that, in studying Philosophy, we also did Philosophy; in the DP syllabus, students have certain optional themes to choose from in one part of the course, and so I handed over that choice to them, collectively. The whole group chose the option Philosophy of Religion, and the higher level students chose, in addition, to study Philosophy and Contemporary Society. The core theme is called Being Human, and we look at those philosophers who have written about human nature, freedom, free will and responsibility, and identity. In this latter, the work of Kwame Anthony Appiah will be an interesting addition to our readings, especially given that he is Ghanaian, and African. Other non-western philosophers will also be read.
Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy and Contemporary Society will, to my mind, provide an excellent intellectual training ground for us; to learn to understand arguments on their own terms, not to mention learning about what the various epistemological problems are, to analyse without judgement, for example, Edward Said’s writings about the ideology of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, or the ontological arguments both for and against the existence of God, or about the human rights implications of social media algorithms or the moral incompatibility of the UN SDGs, to learn to understand and follow arguments that one may disagree with is to be on the way to being a philosopher. As the writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was believed to have said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
It’s not easy, studying Philosophy, but then nothing worthwhile ever is, they say. From what I have experienced so far, we are well on the way to becoming [email protected]