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What are the arguments for and against philosophy in high school?

Philosophy is seen as a dead science. However, how can we ignore the prevalence of philosophy in history. Whether it be the philosophy of science, language, or history, there has always been philosophical inquiry except near the middle of the twentieth century.

Should philosophy be taught at the high school level? Should there be a mandatory or elective class for philosophy? What are the merits of philosophy in High School? What are the draw back of teaching philosophy in high school?


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  • Aug 30 2012: There is a monumental distinction between "teaching philosophy" and leading people to understand why philosophers do what they do. As a teen I had awakenings that caused me to question everything I has been told up to that point. I then thought that by choosing philosophy as my major in college that I would be encouraged to think and find myself. On the contrary, either philosophy became a culture of hero worship where the objective was to compete on how much we could subsume from the works of published philosophers, or we spent ridiculous amounts of time splitting hairs on definitions and what I considered minutia. The fact is no philosopher comes to be a philosopher through study of other philosophers. Each philosopher is a student of the times in which they live where they are called want to stop the world and articulate a clarity they are not finding in anything else they see in the way of thinking and speech. Holding philosophers up on a pedestal and making the substance of their work a memorization contest is analogous to me of Jesus going to his death on the cause that acquiescence to blind authority is wrong only to have people come along and make him a good who must be worshipped instead of emulated. The distinction has to be owned in a way that can't be wishy washy. And I suspect that education will do the usual thing of diminishing the students whilst deifying the objects of their study. The whole thing should be about finding your engine of reason so you can know what you've created so that you never look at yourself as a "composite" of other people's philosophies.
    • Sep 1 2012: James McGuiness, I’m sorry your philosophy teacher didn’t make a good impression. But students of any discipline need to know where the current world knowledge is at in the field of choice is the basis of a good education; Its partly so people don’t waste their time re-inventing the wheel, and partly to be able to communicate efficiently to others in the same field, and partly as a bit of personal discipline in developing a bit of patience and losing a bit of hubris . I found the whole lot fascinating for a raft of reasons, and wish I had more critical analytical reasoning taught early in my education and less religious indoctrination. But on the other hand the religious indoctrinators were not realising what they were doing, as they themselves didn’t have critical analytical thinking taught to them.
      • Sep 1 2012: There is nothing of waste or shame in "re-inventing the wheel" if one has no knowledge of wheels. On the contrary, every person who is able to reason a solution conceived by their own wits needs to be "led" by the educational authority/ the society and culture around them to credit themselves with the capacity to do what the one we hold up so high as the original inventor has done. This is where it goes wrong so often--hero worship diminishes motivation and discourages further achievement. I have worked in education and industrial design for 30 years and I know it wasn't just my experience with a "bad teacher" that tells me that there are dysfunctional systems and attitudes still in place today which wind up discouraging or humiliating a potential achiever rather than leading them to believe in themselves and fulfill their potentials. Yes, we need people to get to the front edge of innovation quickly, but more will get there with greater enthusiasm if there are no dinosaurs in the way with stop watches and ratings systems and casual attitudes about writing off people who don't jump through the hoop the "right way" according to factory model prescription. The same is true of philosophy--you can make it a contest of how much you can memorize of other people's philosophies, but you can't "teach" maturity or perspective. You must do something entirely different to produce new philosophers. IMO what usually does that is facing arrogant, intransigent authority who has it wrong and risking stepping up to say "you're not seeing what I do. And here's what that is". But authoritarian systems dissuade people from risking that. If inspiration also happens to reinvent a wheel, that person should get the same credit as the other wheel inventor and should not be mocked and tossed aside. There is no shame or waste in duplicating greatness--there is only shame in dishonesty. My philosophy is called "facilitarianism" perhaps you'll read about it some day I hope.
        • Sep 12 2012: Since the wheel has got 'jammed' in the slush, we have to relearn/reinvent the wheel in the midst of all the mud - to go back to the design board - start from scratch by first of all finding the right questions that provoke people at an early stage to think about them and struggle with them.
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      Sep 3 2012: I admire your level of understanding in this area, James, especially of citing a difference between teaching philosophy and leading people to understand why philosophers do what they do. Brilliant. I think an unbiased curriculum would be essential and key in prevention of "hero-worship". No matter what past conflicts has arose, an empathetic view must be maintained for true teaching of the subject. I feel there is no "reinventing the wheel", more appropriate, for me, is creating new inventions that allow us to farther utilize the wheel. Facilitarianism? Yes. Let's make it easier and more effective. If in fact that is your meaning.
      • Sep 3 2012: Thanks Justin. "Facilitarianism" is the word I came up with to conventionalize a "successor" to the order we have long been born into which gives us no choice or contract called "authoritarianism". It's been said for a couple of decades now that information technology--even before the Internet took off where there were products like Lotus "Notes" that the PC revolution "flattens hierarchies". Nothing really "flattens hierarchies"--technology has only threatened to. Hierarchy is so pervasive and ingrained in society that to grow beyond it and "facilitate" all the human potential it currently and previously writes off, a successor must be formally engineered. Initially I called my facilitarianism an antithesis to authoritarianism but in writing it it became clear that hierarchy should not be abandoned or demonized--it needs to just be greatly tempered with new understanding of human potentials that we can now address with technology and especially the "cyberspace" metaphor which make for a "secondary plane" of reality in which time and space can be conventionalized more productively.The heart of my brainchild is the assertion that authoritarianism reduces human beings to units of "utility" and there is a range of capacity it fails to address I call "facility". This explains why the title of my philosophy--"facilitarianism".

        To supplant hierarchy means creating a culture and that demands the definition of new metrics, new politics, much improved scope of what we think of our own potential. I have long wanted to be perhaps the first philosopher to skip the linear book and instead synthesize my understanding and new language directly into the non-linear inter-active multimedia network to estblish it as a medium much more capable than being the electronic page turner it's been. But find compatriots has been a tough slog. I welcome engagement by anyone who wants to make the Digital Revolution a true revolution of design rather the evolution of defaults it has been.
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          Sep 3 2012: Great! I believe we have similar goals. I have no tangible credentials but I am open to new ideas and offer my assistance. If I may make a suggestion, there is a man by the name of Jacques Fresco who has an organization called The Venus Project whose lectures and ideas may be able to further assist your task.

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