The End Of Philosophy Classes (An Incidental Lesson On John Edward)

NOTE – Simon Taylor is NOW in Perth! Check out details of his comedy tour here – he’ll be catching up with the Perth Atheists and Skeptics tomorrow!

One of the many small surprises of the recession has been a significant growth in the number of philosophy majors, according the the Philadelphia Inquirer. It has slightly exceeded the growth of enrolments in the last ten years; many other humanities and social science fields have just kept up. At the University of California at Berkeley, despite or because of the state’s economic turmoil, the number of majors has increased by 74 percent in the last decade. – Edward Tenner, The Atlantic.

I forgot to mention yesterday (mostly because I was too busy doing my usual running-around) that I’m doing the final days of my Philosophy classes.

I really enjoy my classes and I rarely head-desk about anything, beyond my inability to find a working white-board marker anywhere in the building. Now lessons are more on an on-demand basis and I spent most of today talking about argument mapping with a student and discussing how to assess the strength of inferential moves.

I don’t know how many of my students will go on to study Philosophy, but I hope some of them will. There’s a number of articles that I often refer to when discussing the usefulness of studying the subject – usually Stephen Law’s ‘Why philosophy degrees are among the MOST useful. Evidence demolishing myths peddled by philosophy bashers.‘ More recently I discovered this article: Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?

What makes philosophy different? It can seem self-absorbed; philosophers themselves joke about Arthur Koestler’s definition: “the systematic abuse of a terminology specially invented for that purpose.” But it also is a tool (like history and religious studies) for thinking about everything else, and every profession from law and medicine to motorcycle maintenance.

I finished off a discussion during class about the fallacy of correlation and causation with an example about the proclaimed psychic, John Edward. Apparently some people aren’t aware of the disclaimer that appears at the end of John Edward’s show – probably because it appears and disappears quite rapidly at the end of the show.

I didn’t have to say anything about the ‘absurdity’ of believing in psychics or be rude about John Edward and the people who go to his shows. I simply read out what was on the disclaimer. You may note this part:

…are not meant or intended to be a form of advice, instruction, suggestion, counsel or factual statement in any way whatsoever.

A discussion then turned to whether it could be compared to World Wrestling Entertainment in terms of ‘entertainment purposes only’, and how it’s quite possible to believe that WWE isn’t staged – if you didn’t know what the techniques being used were.

At any rate, I thought it was a great way to finish off the lesson, by having people make up their own mind and work out what they thought about an issue. I think I’m going to miss these classes, after doing them for two years – but hopefully I can continue to create resources for them in the future.

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