CLASSROOM INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY
(Understanding the nature of Reality, Knowledge and Value)
It is often felt that teaching a course in ‘Introductory Philosophy’ is far more difficult than teaching a course on a specific philosophical area at a relatively higher level. The ‘introductory’ nature of Philosophy is not elementary in nature. Indeed, there is not ‘elementary’ philosophy with which one can begin as a way of introducing the student to Philosophy. Philosophy is, by nature, intrinsically ‘deep’ right from the beginning. The pool of philosophy is deep all over, with no shallow banks. Any enduring academic experience of teaching Philosophy surely testifies to this claim.
If a teacher has to introduce Philosophy as a specific discipline in an under-graduate class, how would he or she go about doing that? Are there basic chapters of a typical text to start with, in the way there are in other disciplines like Physics and Economics and Biology? Even if certain basic chapters are touched upon, how basic are the contents of those topics or concepts? It seems that the so-called ‘basics’ of Philosophy are far too dense in meaning to help the student make a smooth and easy entry into the subject.
It is almost pointless to begin the discourse with the etymological meaning of ‘Philosophy’, e.g. ‘Love of Wisdom’. After all, the term ‘wisdom’ itself is not too clear or free from ambiguity. Besides, wisdom is not what the teacher is going to teach in a professional academic discourse of Philosophy. The teacher would therefore do well to think of a more ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ way of accompanying the student in the journey
Perhaps the best strategy is to begin with the illustration of the central samples of philosophical discussion that have traditionally been the occupation of philosophers. Here the move would require making use of the traditional classification of Philosophy into three broad categories of discourse: Metaphysics or the Theory of Reality; Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge; Axiology or Value Theory. The introductory discourse of Philosophy ought to take up the principal concerns of these three sectors.
The two-week long WINTER SCHOOL IN PHILOSOPHY is conceived as an interactive
workshop for young philosophy teachers and doctoral students, who will be instructed by a team of experts on how to deliver effectively introductory lectures in the classroom. Attention is to be drawn specially towards the role of being a teacher of philosophy inculcating philosophical knowledge to beginners in Philosophy. But the teacher himself or herself needs to be sufficiently clear about the way one ought to unfold the conceptual story of Philosophy. That unfolding is to follow the principal issues and arguments available in the discussions of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology.
Metaphysical issues relate to the question of being, whether it is the “Being of God, the World, or the Self”. There are traditional “Arguments for the existence of God: Especially the Ontological Argument”, arguments of “Realism or Idealism about the existence of the World”, and both “Substance-essentialist and Anti-substantivist arguments regarding the existence of the Self”. Furthermore, there are subsidiary metaphysical questions concerning “Mind-Body Dualism”, “Causality, Determinism and freedom of the Will”, and about “Universals and Particulars”.
Epistemological issues that prominently figure in discussion include the “Platonic Definition of Knowledge and the Gettier Problem”, “Perceptual Knowledge”, “A Priori Knowledge”, “Internalist and Externalist theories of Epistemic Justification”, and the general “Problem of Skepticism”.
Axiological questions basically concern Ethics and Aesthetics. Some major issues include “Morality and Egoism/Altruism”, “Moral relativism/Absolutism”, Moral Theories like “Eudaimonism, Utilitarianism and Deontology”, “Virtue Ethics”, and the rise of “Applied Ethics”. Aesthetic problems related to questions about the “Ontology of Art”, “Aesthetic Detachment”, theories of “Artistic Representation/Expression/Form”, and the “Value of Art in Human Culture”.
The Winter School will consist of discussions on a chosen set of topics that relate to these three branches of Philosophy. It is presumed that a basic understanding of Philosophy as an intellectual discourse is an understanding of the principal problem of metaphysics, epistemology and value theory. This understanding is supposed to be uniform and wellintegrated, so that a teacher of Philosophy is capable of rendering that understanding in a format which conduces to a systematic and coherent grasp of the subject.
Emphasis will be laid on thematic discussion and understanding of Philosophy rather than a historical understanding. Reference to history of philosophy would be subservient to thematic relevance. The Indian/Western division of Philosophy would be circumvented by an attempt to tackle a given problem from different angles.
It is most important to realize that the young mind of the student is quite likely to be puzzled by the kind of questions that arise in Philosophy. That is because of the unique peculiarity of the discourse. The teacher must therefore be able to explain why at all such peculiar problems arise, and how they inevitably arise given human rational inquisitiveness. The Winter School will take special care to alert the participants to the utmost need of grasping the rationale of philosophical questions.
It is expected that the two weeks of rigorous philosophical training and interactive exercise of reflection will create enough confidence in the mind of the young teacher/scholar of Philosophy. Towards the final stage of the School, some particular sessions will be exclusively devoted to the demonstration of teaching by the participants.
This exercise will be accompanied by regular written assignments on relevant issues. It is hoped that the result of this exercise in the Winter School will eventually be a rough working paper that synoptically describes a fairly standard programme of ‘A Classroom Introduction to philosophy’. The urgency of such an outcome cannot be denied at least for one reason. Philosophy is certainly unlike other academic discourses because of its peculiar nature. The ‘justification’ of Philosophy is often demanded in view of its apparently ‘impractical’ and abstract character. A young philosopher therefore must be well-versed in the arguments that lend justification to the philosophical enterprise. And the ‘arguments for justification’ must be amenable to their grasp at the introductory level.
It is known that the patterns of courses/papers taught in different Universities are not always the same, and not all Universities have Semester-system method of teaching. But the Winter School programme is catered to a generality of pattern that would be compatible with these variations. In other words, a participant duly trained in the course of these two weeks can be reasonably expected to play a better role in inculcating philosophical ideas in any pattern in which he or she is supposed to adjust to in his or her home-institution. On the whole, the Winter School programme is supposed to have a tutorial flavour. In this respect, it is supposed to be rather different from the usual Refresher Courses in Philosophy. The level of interaction is supposed to be much greater, and constant attention is to be maintained towards improving the analytical teaching potential of the participant.
From the Circular of:
Winter School in Philosophy (December 30, 2008 – January 10, 2009)
Organized by Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati in association with Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Friday, October 9, 2009