Re-opening the Discussion (part 5 of ?)

Alterego said…Luís,I compare Philosophy with History because I think that both are equally important components of a “liberal education.” I have never seen anyone debate whether History should be mandatory in High School. I do not see why things should be different with Philosophy.

High School in Brazil is not like in other countries where the student gets to choose which subjects to take. Every component is mandatory for everyone. Of course the discussion between mandatory vs. electives is a good one. So what I’m celebrating is not so much that Philosophy has become mandatory, but that it has been admitted into the High School curriculum, with the same status as History or Math. It’s simply the joy of going from sleeping on a mattress in someone’s basement to having a place of one’s own.

Not that this all of a sudden solves all the problems of the world, or of Brazil. But it is a small victory, an accomplishment. What’s the harm in celebrating? Even though this isn’t much, getting excited about it gives me energy to work on what is still lacking, which is quite a lot. Maybe I’m the only person who thinks this is cool, and I really understand those who do not share my optimism. Even the paralysis of the pessimists I can understand. Now to spend energy preaching active anti-optimism is something I really can’t see the use of.

Necessary vs. “helps a lot”

If instead of History or Philosophy I had said that literacy is necessary for the active exercise of one’s citizenship, perhaps my argument would have been clearer.

Of course someone could still say that “many illiterate people exercise their citizenship well, that they change reality, that they make History.”

If this is a proof that literacy is not necessary for active participation in society, the fact still remains that not knowing how to read or write makes such participation much harder. One could thus say that literacy is, if not necessary, then at least extremely useful for exercising one’s citizenship. But I still prefer to round it up and say that it is necessary, period. It gives it a more dramatic rhetorical flourish.

But what is this “active exercise of one’s citizenship” business, and what does philosophy, literacy or education have to do with it?

In the preface to “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, Hume uses the Aristotelian definition of “human being” as “rational social animal” to say that if one of these three aspects (animal, rational, social) gets too much or too little attention, then the person is not fully living his/her potential. For instance, if the social aspect is so dominating that one has no time to philosophise, one to eat or sleep properly, then there is an imbalance. On the other hand, if philosophy ties us to the armchair and we forget the animal or the social side, then we also have an imbalance. Likewise, if we only eat and sleep, and neither study or have relationships, another imbalance.

Maybe Aristotle was wrong when he said that man is a political animal. Or Plato, when he said that the difference between the individual and the state are merely one of scale. But these questions are in themselves philosophical.

That’s not all. To decide to become apolitical is in itself a political decision. Any discussion of this nature is a political discussion, and also a philosophical one. And I think it is just the kind of discussion a high school student can and should engage in. And why not encourage them, give them some theoretical tools? I don’t think it’s only philosophy teachers who gain. Everyone gains. It’s a win-win situation.

End for now. But it doesn’t end here. What do you think about all this?

What do you think: does philosophy have anything to do with citizenship, or not?

Is it necessary, sufficient, useful at all, not at all?

Teaching being the way it is, are we better off without it?

Your opinion is super important!


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