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Enlightened citizens vs moral sheep

My latest CFI blog post...

Here's the text from my talk at the British Academy in London tonight (I am one of six panellists that also include Rebecca Goldstein. I wonder what she'll say? The event is called 'What's the point of philosophy?' )
As I’m both the author of several popular philosophy books - including three philosophy books for children - and also editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK which is aimed at the general public, I thought I would talk a little about why I think engaging young people with philosophy, especially in the classroom, might be a good idea.
Two of Britain’s best-known philosophy for children organisations are called Sapere and Aude. It’s no coincidence that ‘Sapere Aude’ - dare to know - is also the motto of the Enlightenment. But how might the Enlightenment and philosophy for children be related?



Philolinguist said…
"our best defence is not to get our own indoctrination in first, but rather to give each of them some immunity to that sort of indoctrination."

Prior knowledge of indoctrination techniques helps to inoculate against indoctrination. Ideally, children (at a suitable age) should be taught about the effects of such techniques (e.g. effort justification, authority figures, group conformity, persuasion strategies) through case studies (e.g. Milgram, Asch, Aronson & Mills, and Stanford Prison experiments). This should be part of a broader government-sponsored information literacy strategy that includes educating the public at large through the media, etc.

But such a strategy will never be (and has never been) implemented anywhere by governments, because the powers-that-be find such indoctrination techniques too useful.

As for the value of teaching philosophy in schools, I think you're conflating 'philosophy' with 'critical thinking skills'. The two overlap, but they're not synonymous. Critical thinking is a great idea (and is already taught indirectly in most school subjects). But the traditional problems of philosophy are a time-consuming puzzle of little practical usefulness, and the purely discursive philosophical method is prone to undetectable semantic vacuity (the 'ivory tower syndrome'). So you need a lot of plain dumb luck, or divine inspiration, to make any progress (if it was simply a matter of intelligence, all intelligent philosophers would arrive at the same solutions). For more on that, google 'Why Philosophy Fails: The Underground Notes'.
Philolinguist said…
Some people do feel a 'calling' to do philosophy, but the discipline shouldn't be foisted on children, who are better off without the distraction. Nor should we idealize the Age of Enlightenment, by drawing a false inverse relationship between freedom of enquiry and interest in the occult. The two are not mutually exclusive.

In fact, the Enlightenment was fertile ground for a range of esoteric movements, in which many Enlightenment 'exemplaries' were actively involved. For more on that, read 'Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment' by Paul Kl├ęber Monod. It is hard to believe that so many scientifically-minded people would engage in occultic practices if they didn't derive some tangible benefit from it (and not just from social networking).

BTW, our very own age is the zenith of esoteric activity (particularly among elites, who barely hide their involvement), despite being the most scientific age. This activity includes the performance of unconscionable acts of wickedness by its practitioners, either to prove their fealty or to celebrate it. Some of that is starting to leak out in the media.

For anyone with a conscience, it is better to hope (however faintly) in the saving grace of a good God, against the evidence of our senses, than to ally ourselves with the son of perdition even if he performs wonders in our sight. A mustard seed of faith in the Savior (and that is all that is needed) is better than absolute certainty of (transient) material rewards in return for 'selling one's soul'.

If it is, metaphorically speaking, a choice between drowning and clutching at straws, anyone who hears the call of conscience will automatically choose the latter, rather than succumb to moral cynicism (including that engendered by one's failure to live up to one's own moral standards). 'Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.'

To those who would respond that an atheist can have a conscience and not give in to moral cynicism, I would reply that a self-professed atheist has saving faith if he truly obeys his conscience and does not surrender to nihilism.

After all, we don't always know our own minds. If someone who professes to believe in God can lack faith and be thereby mistaken, I don't see why it is impossible for someone to have faith and yet mistakenly claim to be an atheist. In either case, the truth will be revealed in their life trajectories.

I would argue that faith and conscience are inextricably mutually embedded. Nihilists are often the most consistent empiricists, as are a lot of religious fundamentalists (within the parameters of their chosen dogma. Hence, they go to great lengths to try and 'prove' that their religious beliefs are 'scientific').
Edward Ockham said…
You gave the wrong link. Link should be
Stephen Law said…
thanks - I fixed it.
= MJA said…
We are what we are taught Stephen. Education is not only the cause of our self-destructive Ways, it is the solution.

I wrote this parable some time ago and thought to share it here:

The truth of everything is less than an inch, it is only equal and the lion One. One is free when the door is open, education is the key. =

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