Teach philosophy to heal our ‘post-truth’ society, says Irish President

Teach philosophy to heal our ‘post-truth’ society, says Irish President November 25, 2016

This is exactly what i was talking about the other day to one of my colleagues. In British education, there is a movement called P4C – Philosophy 4 Children – and it is fab. I think it should be statutory in every school. In order to combat the post-fact reality that we seem to live in, something needs to be done. Some kind of mitigation of these biases and cognitive desires needs to take place. It seems that President Higgins is spot on, as reported in the Irish Times:

Mr Higgins welcomed the introduction of philosophy as an optional short course on the reformed Junior Cycle but suggested the subject should be further embedded in the Irish education system.

“This, of course, would be greatly facilitated by the inclusion of philosophy as a subject in the Leaving Certificate. Even an excellent version of ‘Politics and Society’ is not an adequate substitute for the teaching of philosophy as a standalone subject.”

Philosophy for children, or P4C, offers “an engaging path to a humanistic and vibrant democratic culture”, and a means of encouraging people to dialogue respectfully, he said.

“The emergence of those digital echo-chambers in which people are not allowing themselves, their beliefs, or indeed their prejudice to be challenged, has become a matter for considerable discussion as a response to recent events in the USA and Europe. There are nowadays so many ways of accessing information on the Internet without ever coming across the informed contribution of journalism.

“It is so important, then, that our children – all of our citizens – be encouraged to think critically rather than merely reproduce the information pushed towards them by proliferating media sources.

“It is so important, too, that they learn to articulate their thoughts and provide justifications for them, and that they find ways of disagreeing without resorting to violence, whether verbal or physical.”

He added: “I believe that those virtues of reflection, of critical reasoning and of ethical enquiry are ones that have gained renewed urgency in the present moment, as humanity is faced with unprecedented challenges of a global kind – from climate change to mass migration.

“If we are to achieve the delivery of, for example, what we have agreed internationally as to climate change and sustainable development, we need no less than a change in consciousness as to our interdependence and new shared vulnerabilities.”

He is quite right. I did a P4C session yesterday, playing out the trolley problem in the classroom with kids lying on the floor, thinking that this sort of thing should be requisite learning for every child in the land, not just an option given by teachers who just so happen to be interested in philosophy. As the article starts:

Teaching philosophy in schools, and promoting it in society, is urgently needed to enable citizens “to discriminate between truthful language and illusory rhetoric”, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking at a function at Áras an Uachtaráin to mark World Philosophy Day, which fell this week, the President expressed concern about an “an anti-intellectualism that has fed a populism among the insecure and the excluded”.

Amid claims that we have entered a “post-truth” society, he asked how we might together and individually contribute to a “reflective atmosphere in the classrooms, in our media, in our public space”.

“The dissemination, at all levels of society, of the tools, language and methods of philosophical enquiry can, I believe, provide a meaningful component in any concerted attempt at offering a long-term and holistic response to our current predicament.”

Let’s start tooling up our electorate to think critically.


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