There was a lovely article today (9th Jan 17) in the Guardian arguing for philosophy to be taught in schools. It is from the point of view of enabling and teaching the young to think in preparation for a working life that will increasingly need flexibility, due to many factors including the computerisation of so many jobs.
I’m enthusiastic about philosophy generally because I see it as being about taking responsibility for ourselves on the intellectual level. By this I mean it points towards the possibility of understanding ourselves, our lives and the world as a creative process, one that integrates with our physical and emotional perspectives into a meaning whole. Philosophy separated from these connections becomes sterile and meaningless, it loses its way disappearing up its own backside in over-intellectualisation.
It is through understanding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our functioning, through seeing what it is that drives to do what we do and be the way we are, we start to understand our nature and its developmental potential. So, I don’t see philosophy as separate from self-reflection, we can only understand human nature and how societies work by understanding our own nature.
When we get down it, our ability to live with understanding and purpose and intelligence and consciousness, is about finding our way to living ever closer to this present moment. The alternative is to live un-aware and asleep caught up in lots of mechanical compensatory compulsive processes which come from our conditioned past with its fear of the future.
If we are to live free from self-justification, self-recrimination, making the other or self ‘good’ or ‘bad’, living as a victim always wanting more, or something else, or always wanting to escape from our lives, living in fantasy or regret, unsatisfied and defeated, then we need to find a way of changing. And change only comes through the paradoxical process of support and challenge, or self-awareness and taking self-responsibility, of desperately wanting to change but finding ourselves almost powerless to ‘do’ change. The forces which keep us away from living in the here and now are powerful and it only through deepening our awareness of them, of facing them, that we slowly work our way to the freedom of living here and now.
Through this process, we see that all our experience is meaningful, that there is cause and effect, that every difficulty can be used to make another step towards greater consciousness, that we do have the potential to develop towards freedom and that life is amazingly meaningful as we more and more glimpse the possibility of ‘Being’.
An essential part of this process is the need to live in question, to live questioning our experience and challenging our assumptions and pre-conceptions and our attachment to them. This is where a training in philosophy can be so beneficial. Being challenged to think for ourselves is such an exciting and liberating process. Instead of schools being about learning boring ‘known’ facts it has the potential to be a wonderfully creative force in adolescent’s development.
We relate to the world through our head (intellect), heart (feelings and emotions) and through our bodies. School could provide a training in using all three and especially in how to connect them up. Each needs the other two in order for the experience to be full and meaningful. What is the value in physical training without understand and feeling, emotional development without understanding and embodiment, intellectual training without feeling and practicality? Philosophy is interesting when it relates to our experience of living, to real questions that affect how we live and relate and how the world is structured.
When ideas are studied in this way they have the power to change us. We are inherently hugely powerful meaning making machines and given the resources of a holistic joined up self (i.e. not too much trauma which splits the connections between our parts in its need to maintain unawareness), development in one area will affect the whole of the self.
So, I am all for joined up, thought provoking, philosophy in schools. How can we have a well-functioning democracy without people being able to think for themselves? We are currently seeing the danger of moving towards a “post-truth” world of prejudice and reaction. We need more leaders who openly engage in this task of philosophy, in attempting to articulate what the meaning of human existence is and how it relates to our social priorities and to our amazing potential for development. The West needs to develop a culture that is more passionate about philosophy than it is about consumption.
As Maslow made clear, this is only possible after our basic needs for security, food and shelter have been satisfied, and for too many the basics are not safe enough. But there is also a chicken and egg problem here, as there is with any process of change, where because of our trauma we mistake life difficulties for emergencies, which then causes us to get stuck. I just hope that our inherent Goodness will find a way through.