SOPHIA: opening remarks
SOPHIA Network Meeting 2nd of September, 2016, Rethymno
Meeting theme: From Ancient Greece to the Modern Curriculum, where does philosophy fit?
“Where does philosophy fit?
I’ll begin by saying: philosophy resists ‘fit’. If you look for philosophy you’ll find it where you find, among other things, aporia, confusion, difficulty, paradox. It may not ‘fit’ anywhere, but it has a role. And maybe the role is informed by its lack of ‘fit’. Philosophy is something of an unwelcome guest at a party, an awkward, difficult child in a classroom, an ugly, brutal truth at a wedding.
I prefer to talk about philosophy’s reach. In the beginning ‘philosophy’ captured all learning and included geometry, mathematics, rhetoric, cosmology, physics, metaphysics, biology and more. And though each of these subjects has become, in the classroom anyway, independent of philosophy, philosophy still secures a corner for itself in each despite attempts to shake it off. When an historian asks, ‘What exactly is an historical fact?’ or ‘What exactly is knowledge of the past?’ and ‘What is the past?’ they are asking philosophical questions. Or if a scientist asks, ‘Does the notion of ‘before time’ make sense?’ or ‘How can we represent an object such as an atom if it cannot be observed?’ and ‘Can such a representation be accurate?’ they too are asking philosophical questions. And though they may be an historian or a scientist, they are philosophising. In most if not all subjects, any student of the subject will at some point fall into a ‘philosophical hole’ that the subject has been unable to remove, fill in or cover up. So, philosophy is able to reach within all subjects though it may fit none.
And this leaves us with a question about how it’s done: should philosophy be discrete or integrated? Done in addition to everything else or done within everything else? For my part, I think there is a case for both but I don’t have time to make them here. I’ll finish with a cautionary note: my concern is that philosophy in schools is perhaps made to fit too much. By trimming it, covering its naked truth, sweetening it to better ‘fit the system’ we betray it. If we over-emphasise the collaborative aspect or its democratic allegiance, and under-emphasise its subversiveness, if we sentimentalise its power to better the world, if we reduce it to a ‘no right or wrong’ exchange of opinions, wiping away its evaluative strengths, we castrate it. We must be more careful to present philosophy to children not only as milk; philosophy sometimes has a bitter taste.
Where does philosophy fit? Perhaps its virtue lies in not fitting.”
Peter Worley, President of SOPHIA