Why Study Philosophy?
What course would you add to enrich the high school experience for the 21st century? Engineering? Computer Science? Coding? How about philosophy? Yes, philosophy. Learners in the 21st century need the sound reasoning and thinking skills offered by this classical discipline. Even if not offered as a separate course, the study of philosophy woven throughout and across disciplines offers great potential for deepening high school education.
The term philosophy means "love of wisdom." As a discipline in the humanities, philosophy offers similar benefits to the traditional subjects of English and history--to deepen and broaden our understanding of the human experience, and in turn, to make us better humans and better citizens. Indeed, many of the essential questions we use to frame English and history courses are philosophical in nature. These questions require us to draw logical deductions, solve ethical dilemmas, and make aesthetic judgments.
Philosophy introduces us to the various worldviews that shape human actions across the world. Political philosophy helps us understand the intellectual underpinnings of governments and ideology. These understandings allow us to better engage in meaningful civic dialogue and take informed action.
Of course, these are just the philosophical reasons for studying philosophy. Most of us will need practical justifications. (How does this help our students on the test?) Here we can turn to the sub-field of logic. In all disciplines, students are expected to evaluate and construct sound arguments using claims, evidence, and reasoning (warrants). Understanding how to construct logical syllogisms, and avoid logical fallacies, is particularly important in the use of reasoning. Reasoning uses rules of logic to show why the facts and data presented count as evidence. Consider the sampling of standards below drawn from the core academic disciplines to illustrate the importance of logic.
English Language Arts (Common Core State Standards)
- Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
- Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
History (National Center for History in the Schools)
- Distinguish between unsupported expressions of opinion and informed hypotheses grounded in historical evidence.
- Interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.
- Support interpretations with historical evidence in order to construct closely reasoned arguments rather than facile opinions.
Math (Common Core State Standards Mathematical Processes)
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
Science (Next Generation Science Standards, Understandings about the Nature of Science)
- Scientific inquiry is characterized by a common set of values that include: logical thinking, precision, open-mindedness, objectivity, skepticism, replicability of results, and honest and ethical reporting of findings.
- Science arguments are strengthened by multiple lines of evidence supporting a single explanation.
- Scientific argumentation is a mode of logical discourse used to clarify the strength of relationships between ideas and evidence that may result in revision of an explanation.
Resources for Getting Started with Philosophy
- Crash Course Philosophy - The popular Crash Course YouTube series is now developing an introductory philosophy course.
- Logic in Argumentative Writing - This site from the Purdue Online Writing Lab unpacks the vocabulary of logic, and includes a full list, explanation, and examples of logical fallacies.
- Love is Fallacy - Max Schulman's 1951 short story uses a humorous love story to teach logical fallacies. A good video adaptation is available on YouTube.
- The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy - Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon take us down the winding of river of philosophy with graphic novel chapters on logic, perception, minds, free will, God, and ethics.
- Wi-Phi - Wi-Phi uses entertaining and engaging videos to teach a range of topics in philosophy including metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of religion, and epistemology.
- Justice with Michael Sandel - In 12 video episodes, Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to current issues and ethical questions we confront in our everyday lives.
- World History: Traditions and New Directions - Even if you don't teach world history, it's worth getting a used copy of this 1991 textbook on Amazon for the step-by-step directions on how to: recognize relevant information, distinguish facts from value judgements, recognize stereotypes, identify evidence, determine credibility of sources, detect bias, identify unstated assumptions, recognize point of view, and determine the strength of an argument.
For Further Reading
Barry Beyer, "What Philosophy Offers to the Teaching of Thinking."
Michael Shammas, "For a Better Society, Teach Philosophy in High Schools."