We need more than ‘rhetoric’, we need ‘mind work’, says President

President Michael D. Higgins marked World Philosophy Day 2017 with a function at Áras an Uachtaráin where the Irish Young Philosopher Awards were announced. The scheme has been set up along the lines of the BT Young Scientist Awards as a showcase for original thinking for primary and secondary students.

In his speech, the President criticised what he called a “deep anti-intellectualism” in the media and a lack of critical thinking in schools and society. “The challenges of the next decade simply cannot be met with the old orthodoxies. We need mind work.” The full report is here.

There was also this Editorial in The Irish Times titled “Philosophy: in defence of mind-work”: “… It is easy to turn every discussion into a ding-dong, and every news item into an occasion for blame. It’s much harder to take responsibility for one’s own thoughts and actions.”

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We need to start talking about the ‘meanings’ of life

World Philosophy Day, which takes place this Thursday, is one of the more neglected anniversaries in the calendar.

Last year it fell on the same date as World Toilet Day, a synchronicity that might have insulted some philosophers but had a certain logic.

As UCD lecturer Dr Áine Mahon pointed out, when launching the new organisation Philosophy Ireland last August, philosophy can be seen as a type of “plumbing”.

Attributing the analogy to veteran moral philosopher Mary Midgley (97), Mahon said beneath the surface of our culture was a complex system of ideas and concepts that “sometimes goes wrong”.

Said Mahon: “If our concepts are working badly . . . begin to drip through the ceiling and swamp the kitchen floor it’s at that moment that we phone for the philosopher”.  Continue reading

Sabina Higgins backs campaign for teaching philosophy in schools

Teaching philosophy in schools is essential to prepare children for modern life, Sabina Higgins has said at the launch of a new organisation aimed at promoting “thinking time” in the classroom.

“If we believe that all our children, the citizens of the future, should be offered the opportunity of understanding the decisions that affect their lives then we must offer them the capacity to do so,” Mrs Higgins, wife of President Michael D. Higgins, told the inaugural gathering of Philosophy Ireland at City Assembly House, Dublin.

Secondary schools will be able to offer philosophy as an optional short course under the new Junior Cycle programme, being rolled out on a limited basis this year.  Continue reading

I’m a philosopher, get me out of here!

Two new books, The Philosopher: A History in Six Types and Philosophy and Practical Engagement, ask if an ancient discipline has lost its way

Philosophy is an odd pursuit in that its practitioners aren’t quite sure what it’s for. Scientists add to the stock of human knowledge. Medics cure ailments. Lawyers administer justice. Philosophers question, doubt and probe the underlying assumptions of others.

They ask open-ended, infuriating and perhaps unanswerable questions, like ‘Is it possible to know anything?’, ‘What does it mean to be just?’ and ‘Can suffering be meaningful?’ It’s no wonder a lot people find them annoying.

A selection of views about philosophy from a new book on the subject by Justin EH Smith gives a taste of the discipline’s ill-defined nature:

“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Philosophy is precisely that intellectual inquiry in which anything is open to critical challenge and scrutiny.” – Graham Priest

“I see philosophy not as groundwork for science, but as continuous with science.” – WVO Quine

“The myth-lover is in a sense a philosopher, since myths are composed of wonders.” – Aristotle  Continue reading

How the left can rise again – in three steps

Liberals and left-wing types are usually well-educated, yet, time and again, they show extraordinary ignorance about what motivates people to take one political stance over another.

The idea that voters calmly and unemotionally weigh up the pros and cons of Remain versus Leave, for example, or Clinton versus Trump, is a fantasy.

As the Scottish Enlightenment thinker David Hume wrote: “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

A hundred years of cognitive science has shown this to be the case: humans are intuitive creatures. Emotions come first, justifications for a decision or action come later.

It might be a welcome thing if we were all unflappable, reasoning machines, but if the political left is banking on this to achieve its goals, it will have to wait effectively until society is run by artificial intelligence.

So what should the left do? As someone who always self-identified in that camp, I humbly suggest three things:  Continue reading