Monday 3 June 2013

I think, therefore I’m French

The BBC’s Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield has written a fascinating report about the central place of philosophy in the French education system. Why do the French consider philosophy so important?
The purpose of the philosophy Bac is not to understand the history of human thought but to leap into the stream that is the actuality of human thought.
If you learn about what Kant or Spinoza once said, it is not so much to understand their argument as to use their argument.
...the purpose of teaching philosophy was – and remains, in theory – to complete the education of young men and women and permit them to think.
To see the universal arguments about the individual and society, God and reason, good and bad and so on, and thus escape from the binding imperatives of the now – by which I mean the dictatorship of whatever ideas are most pressingly forced on us in the day-to-day by government, media, fashion, political correctness and so on.
This is a very liberating idea – in theory.

You can see the effects if you compare voxpops on French TV news with those in Britain. In France, a person stopped in the street at random and asked for their opinion on an issue of the day always starts off by setting out a premise before explaining a logical thought process and arriving at a rational conclusion. In Britain, you get an incoherent jumble of anecdote, supposition and emotion.

Mind you, the French way can create rigidities in thinking. There is a story (possibly apocryphal) about an EU meeting, where a British representative put forward a proposal. His French counterpart replied, “That’s fine in practice, but will it work in theory?”

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