Philosophy is often seen as the product of a bygone era, a vestige of a classical education no longer relevant to the modern world. However, is this actually the case? I would say that Philosophy has a very important place in education. But why do I believe it to be so important?
So, it’s the first day of Philosophy and the teacher or professor walks in with a well-thumbed copy of Plato’s “Republic” in their back pocket. What could be so important about poring over a 2400 year-old metaphor for people in the 21st Century? Well, leaving aside the beauty and historical importance of books like “Republic” and Descartes’ “Discourse on Method”, dissecting these abstract ideas develops the ability to attack and support ideas from many different angles. This requires students to step outside straightforward mathematical-style logic and adopt different methods of argument. In fact, the whole Socratic Method encourages cooperative argument, teasing out presuppositions and implicit ideas.
This is clearly a useful ability. From spotting the nonsense (or presuppositions) put forward by politicians to dissecting arguments in law courts, examining ideas carefully is a key life skill. It helps us to fight for what is right, and prevent faulty logic leading to bad outcomes.
It is hard to truly appreciate history without an appreciation for the history of ideas. In many cases, philosophers defined the spirit of the age. Sartre fuelled the fire in the free radicals fighting for change in France in 1968. Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle created the classification of ideas which founded scientific thought as we now know it.
This is not to mention the influence of philosophers on other historical figures. In 1915, Einstein wrote to physicist Moritz Schlick saying that he had been reading David Hume’s “Treatise of Human Nature” “avidly and with admiration shortly before discovering the theory of relativity.” Well, the theory of relativity underpins most of our ideas about physics today. This shows the deep influence of philosophical works on modern life.
Read “Sophie’s World” by Norwegian Jostein Gaarder. It has a reputation as being a children’s book, and it is, but it is also relevant for adults. It won’t get you bogged down in details, and takes a wide-ranging look at the history of philosophical thought. It will take you from the ancient Greek pre-Socratics right up to the near-present day.
If you want to go high brow, consider Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy”, a book which influenced Russell winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and a great overview of the subject
Hi, my name's Phil. I am a Content Writer and Producer. My background is a mixture of education, social media and management. I've spent a lot of my career working in Latin America and Spain, and I have a love for languages and education.