Leabharlann na Meán


Remarks by Sabina Higgins at the newly formed Education Network Philosophy Ireland Inaugural Meeting

City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2, 27th August 2016

I am so pleased that we are gathered together to take an initiative on behalf of philosophy becoming available to as wide a number of people as possible and particularly to advance the case for it being taught as a second level subject.  My encounter with philosophy has convinced me that it would be of the greatest benefit for it to be taught as part of our second level curriculum and a subject in the Leaving Certificate.

To become truly conscious of one’s own dignity as a human being one has to become an authentic person with self knowledge.  A person needs to know how to get to know one’s self, how to go about the search for truth, and how to be truthful about one’s self to one’s self.  A person needs to be able to observe one’s self and one’s feelings and interpret them.  One needs to be able to think for one’s self.   

A person needs to occupy a space where they know their own dignity as a person and their human right to that dignity.  They need to be conscious of the great privilege of having life and being responsible for caring for that life.  They need to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of life and flourish in it.  They also need to know that the privilege of life and its right to dignity and care is shared by every other person on the planet. 

This is a space from which goodwill is extended and where one respects every other person and one’s own right is respected and not violated by any other.  However, if this space is violated, that one has the ability to ably defend it with adequate tools of analysis, argument, logic and action. 

A good fortunate education of teaching in the home and in school or other establishment or place can be the route to that conscious awareness and of the wonder and privilege of life.  Where the creative self becomes conscious through the development of all the senses, and of the imagination, and where analytical ability and power of reflection are developed. Deep emotional development and intelligence are an important foundation.

I think that the exposure of young people to philosophy in the educational system would be of immense worth in their acquiring ability for developing conscious tools for thinking, as they try to gain understanding and meaning of life.

That state of consciousness of the value and privilege of life can come to some people from traumatic experience, intensity of feeling, from a tragic or joyous event.

The biggest and saddest truth we have to acknowledge in life is Death, that we die.  It is often an acute awareness of that fact, or a close encounter with death that brings a person to a state of conscious living.  The unique privilege and wonder and happiness of being alive is revealed to them.

Reflecting on and coming to a decision as to what their priority for a meaningful life is, what they would consider is a good life, what their values would be, can lead to a commitment to a super objective in life that will be their guiding light and inspiration and strength.

At different stages of one’s life, and in different ways, we all are moved to reflect on some fundamental questions as to the meaning of our existence.  What makes us human?.  What can we do?.  Philosophy helps us answer these questions not only in terms of offering us a meaning for our existence but it can offer us, and others, who share our space and time, the opportunity to flourish.  In contemporary times there is a shared search for authenticity. 

We make this search often in a hap hazard way but, had we the tools that Philosophy can provide, we could do so with so much better results.  It offers us a path to a deeper and wider consciousness to both our personal lives and the lives we share together.  It helps us celebrate the joy of our shared humanity, and gives us practical critical capacities.  These capacities for knowning ourselves and society makes us be more knowledgeable and better citizens.

Philosophy deals with the question of how does one, and by extension  humanity, lead a good life.  It suggests that one asks the questions

What is there:

What can I know:

What can I believe:

What ought I to do:

It also give you the benefit of bringing you through the processes of thought that was used by the great thinkers philosophers in their particular search for wisdom, in their time.

Philosophy invites us to be thinking people immersed in our time.  To be aware of past history and present circumstances and to ask questions of what may be presented as certainties.

The history of Philosophy -  The history of thought

The exciting thing, about the study of Philosophy is the way the philosophy from the early Greeks wondered about aspects of reality and asked questions about it and set about trying to find answers to those questions and came up with many different answers and more questions.  Philosophers through the centuries have continued this work in the different branches of philosophy – The Theory of Knowledge, The Existence of God, Metaphysics, Ethics, Political Philosophy and Modern Philosophy.

What I find so exciting in attending lectures was how some lectures could have it all happen there and then.  They would put themselves through such exertions as they grappled with the problem and made their way through from one stage of the thought to the next as they tried to solve the problem.

As students, one could think this is the final answer, the truth of how this problem is solved and life should be lived or at least that our lecturer firmly believed that this philosopher had got the answer.

The amazing thing was the next philosopher’s theories the lecturer dealt with, the experience would be the same, he would put himself through the hoops of thought and come to a truth, and this was the philosopher, we thought, that he believed had got to the truth.

It took a while for us to realise that it was the lecturer’s way of showing us how thought was done and having us come through the process with him. 

Philosophers have come down though history to become known to us because of their great intellectual work as they grappled with a problem and held on until they came up with the best solution they could.

What is so great about Philosophy as a subject is that the dynamic in the room is of such a participative kind.  I remember one memorable lecture by Prof. Worner on Ethics were he almost tore his hair out.  Living out, amongst others, the thinking of Jeremy Bentham and Stuart Mill and ending up with Aristotle .  I remember him saying to us on one occasion I am not concerned with our exams my job is to teach you to think.

Everyone wants to know how should I live my life?  There probably comes a time in everyone’s life when they are caught up in moments of reflection about how they are living their life and how they should live.

They may get suggestions from great literature, theatre or music or maybe from some song or singer who inspires them.   

In philosophy they have the greatest minds of all time telling them of the questions they asked and the answers they found.

They will have Aristotle – Doctrine of the Mean.

They will have Plato telling them in the Symposium how they can through their senses come to recognise and enjoy beauty and how they can evolve to seeing the beauty in all people - and come to love all people.

They can have Kant advise them that they should treat others as you wish them to treat you” – to treat others as an end not a means and also to hear his categorical imperative advice, of how to test if an action is moral or not by checking if they would wish it to become a universal law.  They can have so many of the other great philosophers including Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre with their great commitment to humanity.

They have so much wisdom available to them.  These can help them develop a value system that can be their inspiration and motivation to inner and outer action in their lives.

Philosophy enables a really meaningful participation in life.

It is a powerful took for critical understanding, for placing things in context, for seeing how life can be renewed, of the values that matter.

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.  Being able to test proposals, different policies, make choices requires a preparation in thinking.

Philosophy is a powerful preparation for the journey upon which young people, from wherever they come will embark.  They will be better able for that  journey empowered by the understanding, a training in philosophy will give them.