WHAT'S THE POINT OF PHILOSOPHY? (DISCUSS) ; Learning about Real Life Teaching Single Skills Is One Thing, but If Your Teach People to Think, and Show Them Wide Horizons, They Can Acquire Many Skills, and the Understanding to Be Able to Train Others. Tomorrow's Employers Will Value Them More
Grayling, Ac, The Independent (London, England)
Bill Rammell, the Education minister, said this week that it was no bad thing if students were dropping philosophy and classics in favour of more vocational courses. Here is why he is wrong.
If you train people to drive buses or operate lathes - the vocational option - you get skilled workers who can do particular jobs. But if you teach people to think, and provide them with wide horizons, they can do many things' they can train and retrain in different positions, they can be flexible and adaptable in exporting their mental skills from one job to another, and in general they can provide their employers and the country at large with the advantage of being an educated, and not merely a trained, workforce.
Mr Rammell seems not to know that employers like philosophy graduates for exactly these reasons. Employers might wish to train new employees themselves, and would like their new staff to be alert, well-informed, able to grasp ideas and techniques, and good at working things out for themselves.
They especially want their employees to be able to move with the times and to reskill when changes come.
This is why education is a more extensive and valuable thing than training. Training relates to a specific job, education makes a person. This implies a more general objection to Mr Rammell's view. He seems to think education is only about the eight hours a day we spend at the workplace. In fact, it is (or should be) about the whole character and quality of our lives.
Aristotle said: "We educate ourselves to make noble use of our leisure". His remark can be extended across the spectrum of what we are as individuals.
We are citizens, lovers, friends, parents, consumers, enjoyers of culture, travellers, and much else besides, as well as (and for many more hours a day than) being employees.
In all these respects, the idea of living a life that is satisfying and flourishing, in which we add value to our relationships and bring thoughtfulness to our civic responsibilities, is to the forefront. And it is these things that abroad liberal education fosters. Central to such an education is an opportunity to think about and debate the great questions that lie at the heart of being human.
This is what philosophy is concerned with, and the astonishing growth in recent years of philosophy A- level studies at schools across the country testifies to the intense interest felt by young people in its questions.
Philosophy asks, "What is goodness? What is truth? What is the nature of right and wrong, the right way to get and evaluate knowledge, the ultimate nature of the world and humanity? How do you analyse arguments, spot fallacies, reason responsibly, see other points of view, think for yourself?"
All these are obviously important - and obviously valuable - matters. A society which encourages its school and university students to take them seriously and to profit from engagement with them does itself a very large favour. Mr Rammell thinks otherwise.
In the course of the past two and a half millennia, the civilization of the West has produced a great tradition of philosophical debate. Since its origins in classical antiquity, philosophy has started from the idea that the pursuit of truth and knowledge must be free, open-minded, and independent. It is therefore different, in its very essence, from the way people standardly acquire their views about the world, which is by accepting conventional belief sat the behest of others, mainly parents, church leaders, and the like.
Philosophy's aim is to encourage independence of mind and a critical ability to sift good things from bad things. Many of the problems that beset the world arise from unreflective acceptance of dogmas, which prompt knee-jerk reactions and polarisation of views. Obviously enough, a little more reflectiveness would go far to making the world a better place. …