The Lessons of Philosophy as Reasons Why Study Philosophy

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Philosophy is a course that should not only be included in your high school curriculum, but is a course that should be mandatory for all students. Philosophy is a course that teaches you to think critically, analyze material and to consider all points of view. Courses such as Science and Math are important but are classes in which you passively receive information that is proven to be true. Unlike these courses, philosophy encourages the student to question, to challenge and to consolidate theories and viewpoints, and create their own thoughts, opinions and ideas. Philosophy is the course that ultimately teaches students to think. We live in an era filled with “fake news” and it is important for students to be able to critically receive information because the danger of the future generation passively accepting all information or news could be catastrophic.

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Philosophy offers many concepts that encourage students to think about notions that they had previously taken for granted, forcing them to live an examined life. Three concepts that would enhance the life of a high school student are, the enduring self, dualism and theodicy. Each of these concepts will force students to think rigorously and to re-evaluate the way they approach their lives and their academics.

The enduring self, explores the idea of what makes us. This concept forces us to think about how we can know for sure that we are today, the same person we were earlier on in our lives. In other words, what part of ourselves makes us ourselves? Is it our body, our thinking, our relationship to others, or some other factor? We ourselves feel confident we are the same person we were ten years ago, but philosophy forces us to question how we know this for sure. Rene Descartes believed that our soul is our enduring self. He argues that our soul is from where we think and if we don’t think any more than we stop existing. John Locke insisted that our memory is what creates the enduring self. Locke suggests that the very fact that we remember who we were ten years ago is proof that I am the same person. Finally, Hume suggests that all real knowledge is only from what we can experience. He continues that we can’t perceive the self so therefore there is no such thing as the self. There are also counter arguments in philosophy. For example, what if a woman is in a car accident and has no memory of herself before the incident? According to Locke, this would mean that the woman is now a different person. Even the counter arguments force the students to reconsider what they have just learned. These contradictory but equally powerful, thought provoking questions, force students to consider different viewpoints, consolidate the different points, carefully analyze them and come to a conclusion about something we took for granted, for example that we are just ourselves; now we have to ask what exactly makes us ourselves.

Philosophy also teaches students about metaphysics. One example in this category is the theory about dualism. Dualism is introduced by Descartes, he states, “the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from body, and is even more easy to know than is the latter.” The concept of dualism is another lens to examine our lives through. When you think of yourself, do you think of yourself as your body or as the soul or “thinking” part of yourself? What really makes you, you? Is it your physical body, or is it your soul? We are made up of two very different things, the physical body and the soul, but which defines who you really are? Descartes brings in to question whether the physical world really exists, but stood strongly behind his famous saying, “I think therefore I am”. In other words, he felt we could question if the physical world existed, or even if our own physical bodies existed, but he could not doubt his own self, because he was thinking and therefore, he was alive. The fact that his brain had the power to even doubt the possibility of a physical world meant that he did exist because it had to be himself that was doing the doubting. You might think this is all very abstract and difficult to understand. If this true, then I am making a great case for why you should have philosophy in schools. Learning new information, and receiving that information in a critical way is imperative for our future. We must take confusing, abstract, controversial news and be able to critically receive it and come to our own theories and conclusions otherwise the rise of “fake news” makes us all gullible consumers.

Finally, the concept of epistemology is introduced in Philosophy. Epistemology looks at how we know what we know. It focuses on how we gather our knowledge and how we can differentiate between truth and false claims. Epistemology deals with the nature, sources, limitations and validity of knowledge. Two main theories exist about how we gather knowledge. Rationalism insists that knowledge arises from reason without aid from the senses. Empiricism, on the other hand, claims that knowledge arises from the senses. It argues that the only thing in the mind is what experience has placed there. Rationalists explain that the process of gaining knowledge happens only in our minds and the empiricists claim the process is only through our sensory experiences. Locke argues that when we are born we are a blank slate or a table rasa, and only senses can place knowledge into our mind. Locke is therefore an empiricist. Descartes introduces the idea of skepticism and goes on to explain the three waves of doubt. Descartes claims that he has been deceived by his senses in the past therefore, cannot rely only on perception. For example, objects in the distance looks smaller than their actual size, therefore we cannot rely on senses to gather knowledge. Descartes is therefore a rationalist. Students studying philosophy are hence taught to always question their knowledge, and to try to understand how they gathered knowledge, synthesized it and came to a conclusion. This process creates critical thinkers that are vigorous in their understanding of information that is provided to them. These are the type of students we want graduating from our schools.

Personally, my philosophy course has been rewarding and altered the way I think about things. In fact, it has taught me to actually think about everything. In the past I took things at face value and took for granted information that was provided to me. For example, it never would have occurred to me to question what part of me is the true me. I would have never thought to distinguish between my soul and my physical body. However, the question is one I continue to throw around my brain. I also am left wondering, what factor about myself ensures I was who I was ten years ago and will be the same human in ten years from now. Finally, the very fact that I am thinking and considering these things, stem from the concept of epistemology. I now have to closely consider how I receive and digest new knowledge. Ultimately these new concepts and theories have made me a more critical thinker, a better writer, a better debater, a more open minded student and instilled in me a desire to learn more abstract concepts about human existence and thinking. This course has caused me to expect people to prove how they know something, I am not just a blind receiver of knowledge and information.

I truly hope you will consider introducing philosophy into your curriculum, and further, making it a mandatory course. Especially in the New York State Education Department, which obviously is located in the USA. You are living in a time where the term “alternate facts” actually became a term. You live with a president that provides “fake news”. It is more important than ever to have philosophy as a course to ensure your students can critically receive information, question its source, question its validity and draw their own conclusions and then move forward to respectfully debate their opinions. If you do not produce students like these you are at risk of your country not being a democracy anymore because the people can’t think and therefore lose their say. 

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