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Why isn’t philosophy taught in schools?
Posted: 05 March 2008 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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burt - 05 March 2008 02:01 PM

No, critical thinking is a subject on its own.  It involves things like how to break down an argument so as to identify hidden assumptions, how to make a rational argument, how to identify non-rational appeals to emotion, etc.

I agree. I’m asking why the concept of critical thinking would be a part of philosophy.

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Posted: 05 March 2008 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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burt - 05 March 2008 02:01 PM

No, critical thinking is a subject on its own.  It involves things like how to break down an argument so as to identify hidden assumptions, how to make a rational argument, how to identify non-rational appeals to emotion, etc.  The Center for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State University in California runs a conference every summer devoted to critical thinking and how to teach it at different levels in the school system.

Unless you can provide an example to the contrary, “critical thinking” that is not also scientific regards as an assumption the notion that evidence is the basis for argument. This is a rhetorical maneuver only, and is at its foundation an emotional appeal based on bygone conceptions of knowledge. The scientific approach identifies purely rhetorical strategies, hidden assumptions, and appeals to emotion better than non-scientific “critical thinking”.

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Posted: 05 March 2008 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Carstonio - 05 March 2008 02:09 PM

I’m asking why the concept of critical thinking would be a part of philosophy.

Because philosophy without critical thinking is worse than shit. On the other hand, critical thinking without philosophy is like a weapon without a safety catch.

[quote author=“Salt Creek”]Philosophy isn’t science. I should have thought this would be obvious.

Actually, philosophy is where science came from. Philosophy is the ripe field of dung in which all new sciences grow and flourish. It happened again and again in recent centuries.

Thanks to a rather old-fashioned British education system, I have four prestigious degrees in various branches of philosophy. Without a very critical approach (“90 percent of everything is crud”—Kurt Vonnegut) I would have sunk without trace. As it was, my prior background in math and physics saved me.

Plato put the words “Let no-one ignorant of geometry enter here” (or similar, with due regard for translation) over the portal of his academy. Updated, this means study math and physics before you even think of philosophy. Math and physics encourage critical thinking.

A cautionary tale. In Germany and in other European countries they teach philosophy in schools. To get a sense of what this means, read the 1991 (1995 in English) bestseller by Norwegian high-school philosophy teacher Josten Gaarder called Sophie’s World. Nice enough book, but philosophy for kids is about as much fun as religious studies. A bit more rational, and at least not offensively mad, but dull, dull, dull—unless, like me at a more advanced age, you’re passionately concerned to correct the obvious errors of all previous thinkers.

My advice to school boards: stick to math—but take care to teach it well!

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Posted: 05 March 2008 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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AtheEisegete, how are you defining philosophy? I don’t mean the dictionary definition, I mean YOUR definition. I had always understood philosophy to mean questions about the meaning of existence.

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Posted: 05 March 2008 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Carstonio - 05 March 2008 02:09 PM
burt - 05 March 2008 02:01 PM

No, critical thinking is a subject on its own.  It involves things like how to break down an argument so as to identify hidden assumptions, how to make a rational argument, how to identify non-rational appeals to emotion, etc.

I agree. I’m asking why the concept of critical thinking would be a part of philosophy.

The philosophy I’m talking about teaches students the basics such as the why we think things, not to take things at face value and understand that there is always an agenda behind the words.

As Salty points out this should by no means replace maths and science (and language?) because they are much more important to the student in becoming well rounded and successful adults.

Still, Philosophy, as long as it is not used to further religion is a great idea and doesn’t have to be boring.

Dom

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Posted: 05 March 2008 02:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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What you guys are talking about sounds like a classical, liberal arts approach to education. This was a method of education that intended to create a well rounded individual. It’s an approach that hasn’t really been taken in, oh, about 60 years. It certainly is a far cry from what is being taught in schools these days.

I have to tell you, teaching philosophy, let alone critical thinking, would be a hard sell in today’s education climate. Most elementary schools take an almost nuts-and-bolts approach to education. If it isn’t something that can be measured on a multiple choice style standardized test, it’s considered frivolous. That schools still have cultural arts class is almost surprising, and one wonders when these classes will become thing of the past. Hell, some elementary schools are eliminating recess!

I can tell Andy that he need not worry about math. Most of the kids I meet are quite well versed in math, certainly further along than I was at their age. Ever since the odious “no child left behind” reared it’s ugly head, math has risen to the utmost importance. But try to get these kids to think, to listen, to use language, well, then you’ll start to worry. Kids that so exceed my childhood achievements in math seem to fall far behind what I remember the unremarkable kids in my school achieved in language arts.

Frankly, I agree with you guys. A lot of what used to constitute a well rounded education was abandoned, not because it was of no worth, and not because the older methods didn’t work, but because of misguided notions of “esteem education” and political correctness.

I’m sure you folks have seen recent reports on the dismal knowledge of history possessed by teenagers. Some educators seem to feel that such reports are misleading because, they claim, they teach children how to access information (i.e.: the internet) and to see “conections” (whatever that means), not just parrot rotely learned information. My question would be, if children don’t have a grounding in history, how will they know what questions to ask to find that information? If they lack critical thinking skills, how will they know when to question what they read?

(Biographical interlude: My nephews middle school history teacher recently asked his class if anyone knew about the Confederacy. My nephew was the only one who knew anything about it, and told her that he only did because it was mentioned on an episode of South Park. This is education in America today, 13 year olds only know about history from TV. Just imagine the damage that will be done to them by 10,000 B.C.!)

I would love to see kids exposed to a more well rounded notion of education. But until we reassess what we want our kids to get from an education, I’m afraid all you’ll get is kids who are only good at taking test.

[ Edited: 05 March 2008 03:51 PM by Celsus]
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Posted: 05 March 2008 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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Celsus - 05 March 2008 07:41 PM

I have to tell you, teaching philosophy, let alone critical thinking, would be a hard sell in today’s education climate. Most elementary schools take an almost nuts-and-bolts approach to education. If it isn’t something that can be measured on a multiple choice style standardized test, it’s considered frivolous. That schools still have cultural arts class is almost surprising, and one wonders when these classes will become thing of the past. Hell, some elementary schools are eliminating recess!

Four words: No Child Left Behind. The policy actually does leave children behind because it encourages teachers to focus on borderline students, the ones who need just a little extra attention to pass the tests. The ones who get left behind are the students who need much more help to achieve. I’ve had numerous educators point this out to me.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Here in France all students in ‘Terminale’ (last year of high school) HAVE to take philosophy and there is an exam at the end of it.  It’s definitely not the same as being taught critical thinking, so I think the question ‘what kind of philosophy’ is a pretty important one.

The problem with introducing critical thinking is that it makes anybody (including young children and adolescents) well, more critical.  Most teachers and parents are afraid of not having their authority respected, of there being chaos.

Personally I think it’s a great shame.  Children who are taught to think critically will as gladly follow rules they think are sensible (after weighing up the pros and cons) as adults.  And should rules that aren’t sensible be followed by anyone, adults or children?

My class of 5 year olds make up their own class rules at the beginning of the year.  They are based on not harming people and on fairness, not on respecting my authority or fear of punishment. Far from things being a jungle, it is much calmer and happier than it used to be.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 07:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Carstonio - 05 March 2008 05:38 PM

AtheEisegete, how are you defining philosophy? I don’t mean the dictionary definition, I mean YOUR definition. I had always understood philosophy to mean questions about the meaning of existence.

Philosophy used to be about such things as what knowledge is and how you get it. Certainly people can still discuss values such as wisdom and virtue under the rubric of philosophy, but these are imprecise terms. Science is going to encroach on ethics more and more in this century.

Lately, much of philosophy consists in splitting semantic hairs. Semiotic precision is a good thing, and as far as primary and secondary students are concerned, learning how to avoid the worst sorts of semantic imprecisions and rhetorical appeals to emotion are of great value.

When a text is flexible, such as is the case with fiction and poetry, learning to read with flexibility is a good thing, but I doubt that students need to be exposed to a completely eisegetical approach before they are doing university work. Jobs as eisegetes will be limited until everyone learns to read, and until no one really needs to work to earn a living any more.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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Salt Creek - 06 March 2008 12:45 PM

Philosophy used to be about such things as what knowledge is and how you get it. Certainly people can still discuss values such as wisdom and virtue under the rubric of philosophy, but these are imprecise terms. Science is going to encroach on ethics more and more in this century.

This definition I pulled from another board seems similar to yours:

Historically, philosophy was the process of attempting to answer questions via the application of reason. However, following the Enlightenment, science took over the business of answering the answerable questions, and left philosophy to deal with the questions that cannot be answered. Hence, modern philosophy, the process of reasoning from arbitrary assumptions to arrive at answers to questions which would work if the arbitrary assumptions were true, but we can never tell whether they are or not, and so we’ll never actually know. The resulting disagreements are great for sharpening your mental faculties, though.

Obviously that definition still allows room for such notions as the God of the Gaps.

Salt Creek - 06 March 2008 12:45 PM

Lately, much of philosophy consists in splitting semantic hairs. Semiotic precision is a good thing, and as far as primary and secondary students are concerned, learning how to avoid the worst sorts of semantic imprecisions and rhetorical appeals to emotion are of great value.

I appreciate the value of that precision. But what concepts or ideas do instructors use in teaching semiotic precision? Couldn’t one simply use political or social controversies as material? A band or orchestra needs a set list before taking the stage, otherwise they might as well play random scales.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Carstonio - 06 March 2008 01:05 PM

I appreciate the value of that precision. But what concepts or ideas do instructors use in teaching semiotic precision? Couldn’t one simply use political or social controversies as material? A band or orchestra needs a set list before taking the stage, otherwise they might as well play random scales.

Exactly. Or should I say, precisely? More or less.

Controversies are about values. History and some literature can also show us that the same controversies, dilemmas, and so on have been happening for a long time. Questioning whether they are soluble even in principle is worthwhile. There is room for discussion of religion in that context as a failed fraudulent system purporting to solve all problems.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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AtheEisegete - 05 March 2008 04:47 PM

(“90 percent of everything is crud”—Kurt Vonnegut)

Mis-attribution: This is known as Sturgeon’s Law after science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon.  Told at a party that 90% of science fiction is crap, he replied: “90% of everything is crap.”

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Posted: 06 March 2008 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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Salt Creek - 06 March 2008 12:45 PM

Lately, much of philosophy consists in splitting semantic hairs.

In the beginning, philosophy was a way of life.

Then it became talking about ways of life.

Then it became talking about how to talk about ways of life.

Then it became talking about how to talk.

Today it is talking for the sake of talking.

Not entirely true, there are still serious philosophers out there, but way too many of the other kind.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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Carstonio - 05 March 2008 05:38 PM

AtheEisegete, how are you defining philosophy? I don’t mean the dictionary definition, I mean YOUR definition. I had always understood philosophy to mean questions about the meaning of existence.

Philosophy is the search for truth in all matters of importance. It splits into epistemology (the theory of knowledge), ontology (the theory of what is or exists), ethics (the study of the good), aesthetics (the study of the beautiful), and perhaps a few oddments (such as metaphysics and the history of philosophy) besides.

Much of philosophy devolves eventually to the exact sciences. Mathematics was part of philosophy from Pythagoras to Euclid. Physics was part of philosophy from Aristotle to Newton. Biology was part of philosophy from Aristotle to Darwin. Psychology is just separating from philosophy now, with the emergence of the exact methods of neuroscience. And so on.

The main philosophical breakthrough in the last century has been the realization that many apparently substantive philosophical questions are at least in large part questions of language. The search for truth and meaning is transformed when you separate off the linguistic aspect of the story. Here is the new theory of truth:

A sentence “S” is true iff S.

For example, “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white. Here is the new theory of meaning:

Meaning is use.

More exactly, the meaning of a chunk of language is to be elucidated by examining the usage of that language in the relevant linguistic community. The meaning of an indicative sentence may be defind in terms of its truth conditions.

As for the meaning of existence, this is a phrase that lacks truth conditions and binding usage precedents.

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Posted: 06 March 2008 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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burt - 06 March 2008 02:12 PM

Mis-attribution: This is known as Sturgeon’s Law after science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon.  Told at a party that 90% of science fiction is crap, he replied: “90% of everything is crap.”

I hate to split hairs and hence fall into an unfortunate philosophical stereotype, but I first read the quote with the word “crud”, not “crap”, in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle about 40 years ago (if I remember rightly—I don’t have the book here to check). I’m happy to accept that Sturgeon got there first, as you say, so thanks for the trivium.

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