First, the unusual news (to me at least) that the French require high school students to do an essay on philosophy as part of their graduation requirements. A piece in The Week offers some praise, but much dismay as well.
Finally, the essay. The Bac Philo is a four-hour essay test. But not just any kind of essay. You have to write a very specific kind of essay, une dissertation. The dissertation is a form of essay writing that is so deeply and artificially codified as to make kabuki look like an epileptic fit. Taking a stand — answering one of those questions with either “yes” or “no” — is absolutely prohibited. Instead, the author must restate what other thinkers have said about the issue, even when they contradict each other, and try to reconcile their differences (without seeming to do that).
The best essay I wrote for AP English in my senior year was an argument for offering philosophy classes in high school. Looking at some of the questions from the Bac Philo (listed by teaching and learning expert Grant Wiggins) and pondering what my 18 year-old-self would have made of them is an interesting thought experiment. I’m sure I would have been engaged by them, whether my answers would have been coherent and reasoned…probably not so much.
- Is man condemned to create illusions about himself?
- Can we prove a scientific hypothesis?
- Is it our duty to seek out the truth?
- Would we have more freedom without the state?
- Can natural desires exist?
- Is the only purpose of working to be useful?
- What does one gain from working?
- Is every belief contrary to reason?
- Can desire be disinterested?
Probably not a one of them on the Google employment exam!
Second, tipped by Brian Leiter’s great blog, I’ve been enjoying a series called “What’s it Like to Be a Philosopher?” Fascinating people, straightforward but illuminating questions, appealing website. An excerpt of the one with Berit “Brit” Brogaard,
What do you think the goal of philosophy is or should be? How do you see the future of philosophy? Do you find any trends disconcerting?
I think the goal of philosophy should be what it always has been: to shed light on topics that cannot be fully empirically explored yet. I don’t think philosophers need to be concerned with how the heart is capable of pumping blood, because we have good scientific theories about that, theories that have been explored and tested. But there are many other problems that science has not yet been able to revolve fully, e.g. various normative issues and elusive scientific topics, such as consciousness. I don’t find any trends in philosophy disconcerting. I love variety.
What, if anything, would make you stop doing philosophy? What are your hobbies nowadays?
Nothing could ever make me stop loving philosophy. It’s my job and my hobby. I am still writing poetry, and I just wrote the script for a graphic novel. The graphic novel is about Freud. It’s semi-biographic. It’s just the script. My illustrator will have to do the illustrations on the side, and those can take a long time (a day per panel), so this book is not going to be finished anytime soon. But I am very excited about the script. My favorite graphic novel of all times is Logicomix, and our book is not unlike it.
Finally, a radio show and podcast (also discovered via a comment on Leiter Report), Philosophy Talk.
Seems unlikely, I know, but the two hosts are a sort of “Click and Clack” of philosophy; there’s a lot of friendly banter about topics that vary wildly (including going past their particular specialties.) The series has been going on a while, and is free during the current week, with many shows in the archive and a lively community. It can be hit or miss, but the best of the shows definitely give you something to chew on.