A Guest Post from Kings Norton: Was Philosophy what you expected?

In one of our final guest posts before the Summer, Eve M considers how her study of philosophy at A Level has shaped her view of the subject.

Philosophy wasn’t what I thought – a reflection: Eve M, Year 12, Kings Norton Girls’ School

If someone took me back to GCSE results day a year ago and asked me if I knew what Philosophy was really all about, the answer would be no.

With having no background knowledge of Philosophy I didn’t really know what to think of it, let alone having a pre-conceived idea of what I thought I knew. However, with studying Philosophy for a year now I can raise the question ‘do we really know anything?’ Take Plato’s cave analogy, for example, is what we believe and see to be true actually true? No one really knows how the world works, yet alone the ideas and beliefs of this world. I could say that I knew and understood philosophy 100% and there would no question you couldn’t ask me. Yet, that is incorrect. If Philosophy has taught me anything, it is that we can never fully know anything.

One thing that I can say about Philosophy is that I did not realise how much certain

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Still from Henri 2, Paw de Deux

theories/analogies could play with your mind. We have all grew up with knowing and sensing what we see to be real and for someone to say that it isn’t very confusing, to say the least. Going into Philosophy, I didn’t realise how challenging it would be to study in depth different Philosophical ideas when some people would look at them and straight up say that they were stupid and bizarre. I’m pretty sure if I were told before studying Philosophy that the world we live in isn’t real I would have laughed in their face. Yet, now I can reason why people may hold this view, as I understand the argument and the points it holds.

I would say that Philosophy is single handedly the most complex subject that I have ever studied. Why? Because it gets you to question things that you once wouldn’t have blinked an eye at. By studying Plato’s allegory of the cave, you are told that the world you live in is not the real world and the things you see and experience are simply shadow versions of the actual objects. Or, being told that as nothing comes from nothing and the universe exists, something must have made it, and this something must be God. For a non-religious person, this statement would be ridiculed. Philosophy gets you to debate things and question certain ideas, however, there can never be a right answer that everybody agrees on. Some people may see this as a bad thing yet because there is no firm right answer philosophy can be explored endlessly and newer philosophers and modern thinkers can come up with new ideas every day.

Philosophy wasn’t what I thought as I did not know what to think. My advice for people who are thinking of studying Philosophy is that you need to go in with an open mind. Pre-conceptions don’t mix well with Philosophy, as you need to challenge and analyse the world around you. I’m not saying that if you have a firm belief you shouldn’t study Philosophy, but you need to be willing to look at different ideas and accept what they are saying, not necessarily meaning you have to agree. With starting Philosophy not even knowing what The Cosmological Theory was or not being familiar with scholars such as St Augustine and St Irenaeus I would say I have come a far way. Philosophy is about ideas, not facts. So take into consideration that just because you believe one thing another person may not. Philosophy wasn’t what I thought; yet it is hard to have a pre-conceived idea of what Philosophy actually is.

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Philosophy wasn’t what I thought it’d be: A guest post.

A guest post on the blog today from Birmingham. Dina C reflects on what she found when starting to study philosophy at A-Level

Philosophy wasn’t what I thought – a reflection:

Dina C., an upcoming year 13 student attending Birmingham Metropolitan College, Sutton campus.

Words that we initially associate with the subject of philosophy may be: religion, debating, imagereasoning, morals, values and ethics. These were all immediate preconceptions that sprang to my mind when thinking of what I may study in the year ahead. But many captivating lessons later and I can now vouch that Philosophy is much more complex than simply studying the existence of God or arguing one side of a debate – the answers are never as straight forward as they primarily seem.

My decision to study Philosophy as an A level was a very spontaneous one due to a very indecisive mind of mine, but there could honestly not have been a more perfect subject for me to choose. Not only is this subject great for improving your debating skills, making it almost impossible for you to lose any kind of argument against a friend or family member, but it also gives individuals an extensive insight to the surrounding world around them – why it is that people perceive the world differently, what it means to have knowledge, the history behind how topics such as maths and logic emerged, or whether our actions should be influenced by our duty, consequences or benefit of the greater good; a wide range of issues to refine and develop on. A personal benefit that I gained from studying this fascinating subject was a broader understanding of the human mind and the philosophy behind how it works, thus equipping me with the correct stance to communicate, in a considerate way, with varying personalities. Philosophy evidently does not only help students in the academic department but it is of great assistance in the social department as well.

Although Philosophy definitely is a challenging subject which some may find difficult to grasp at times, it is perfect for those who would describe themselves as characters with bold personalities full of passion and diverse ideas, for those who are willing to accept that there will always be differences in opinion no matter the issue at hand or merely for those who would like to further their knowledge and understanding of everyday matters that may or may not be relevant to current social affairs. As the legendary Descartes mentions, “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well”. And this is exactly what philosophy seeks to do. It gives individuals a deeper understanding and analysis of life’s most basic but difficult questions.

Prior to entering a classroom of eager students ready to face any question or issue that may have been thrown at them, I myself had quite a partial way of thinking. With an insufficient amount of knowledge on social, political, and economical issues some could say that before philosophy became a part of my life I was unaware of basic things that a teen of this day and age should be aware of. With the immense impact that the future world will have on not only our lives but also the lives of our future children and the generations to follow, I believe it is obligatory for all students to have at least a basic understanding and appreciation of the philosophical views of modern life. This subject truly has challenged and improved my method of thinking, giving me a greater awareness of the world that surrounds me.

It’s safe to say that Philosophy wasn’t what I thought; it is far better than my preconceived notion.

My Favourite Philosopher – Nietzsche: A guest post by Victoria G.

Another guest post about a favourite philosopher. This one should meet the approval of our resident Nietzsche expert Dr Roy Jackson! The author, Victoria G, is a year 10 pupil at Malcolm Arnold Academy, and she makes a strong case for why everyone should like Nietzsche – I am sure Roy will agree..

My Favourite Philosopher: Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic and one of the most influential of all modern existentialist and postmodernist thinkers. He is intermittently enchanting, wise and very helpful. Though a paradoxical thinker, he is riddled with many problems which he struggled with throughout his life. He didn’t get on with his family; women kept on rejecting him; his books didn’t sell; at 44 he had a mental break down; and at the age of 56, he died insane and infected with syphilis.

His philosophy was full of heroism and grandeur- he wanted his work to teach us how to become who we really are. He is the father of Nihilism which teaches that there is no ultimate meaning to human existence. Personally, I consider Friedrich Nietzsche to be a Nietzschemagnificent philosopher who is born ahead of his time or as he expresses it, he is one of those happy unfortunates who are doomed to a ‘posthumous birth.’ Despite many of his works being strongly conflicting to my fundamental beliefs on life and religion, I still consider his written critiques about human existence, religion, morality, modern culture, and science to be very instrumental in questioning the value and objectivity of truth and how life should be interpreted. Nietzsche is not primarily a philosopher but also a poet. A poet with the task to preach a new philosophy in accordance with reality and science.

Notably, his thoughts can be centred around 4 main recommendations: Own up to envy; don’t be a Christian; never drink alcohol; and God is dead. Moreover, Nietzsche thought envy was a big part of life however the lingering effects of Christianity (Nietzsche was anti-Christian) teaches us to feel ashamed of our envious feelings. We hide them from ourselves and others in fear that they are an indication of evil but Nietzsche proclaims that there is nothing wrong with envy as long as we use it as a vehicle to what we really want. People should strive to be an ÜBERMENSCH (superman) which would mean facing up to our true desires, putting up a heroic fight to honour them, and only then mourn failure with solemn dignity.

From his 4 main thoughts, I find ‘don’t be a Christian’ to be the most fascinating and rigorous teaching mainly because I myself am a Christian. He calls into question our human ideals as embodied in our ordinary morality, as expressed in Christian civilization. His views on Christianity were harsh, raw, and surprisingly gratifying. ‘In the entire New Testament, there is only person worth respecting: Pilate, the Roman governor.’[1] At first sight I thought it so bizarre, so absurd and the epitome of blasphemy but Nietzsche true target was more subtle and more thought-provoking: he resented Christianity for protecting people from their envy. He believed that Christianity had emerged in the late Roman Empire in the minds of timid slaves, who had lacked the courage to get hold of what they really wanted and so had clung to a philosophy that made a virtue of their cowardice. In the Christian value system, sexlessness turned into purity; weakness became goodness; and submission to people one hated became obedience.

Another aspects of Nietzsche which intrigues me is his views on education. He believes universities are killing the humanities, turning them into dry academic exercises rather than using them for what they were always meant to be; guides to life. Nietzsche to me is a liberator. A divine poet. A great philosopher. He remains an endearing guide, endlessly fascinating, and obscure in his concepts.

References

[1] The antichrist 1888

My Favourite Philosopher? Charles Darwin, by Zaima K.

Here, a Year 10 (age14-15) pupil from the Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton, has written a piece about their ‘Favourite Philosopher’. The choice of Darwin may make some of you think ‘he is not a philosopher’ – but I’d just say: read the piece below, and see the case the students makes!

My Favourite Philosopher: Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin is my favourite philosopher for the reason that his work is the most unforeseen, and as a result the most inspiring that I have encountered. This is darwinpredominantly an outcome of the fact that Darwin is such a significant figure in the atheist world, yet at the same time, he believed in the existence of God and the fact that there is a greater entity who created the universe. Darwin demonstrated through his work
that it is possible to believe in both science and religion. An example of this in his work is in “The Origin of the Species” where biblical cadence is used when describing the beginning of life. Both the Bible and “The Origin of the species” state that life was “breathed” into the world. The fact that Darwin chose to reference the verb used in the Bible was significant to myself as it connotes that he agreed to some extent with the religious scripture. This inspired me, as I initially believed that religion and science were complete opposites and it was impossible to believe in both, yet I still had a strong passion for both. I found that Darwin expressed the fact that neither religion nor science alone are completely correct, and it is possible to use one to fill in the gaps of the other. I’m sure this helped many other young, confused, religious teenagers like myself, to feel more confident in embracing their opinions without feeling blasphemous, thus a reason why Darwin is my favourite philosopher. Studying Darwin stimulated innovation in the way I compare science and religion, and helped me to start looking for links rather than contradictions, and alternative ways of interpreting “contradictions”.

The fact that he was confident enough to publish his blasphemous theories makes him an inspirational figure, it shows that you shouldn’t be afraid of expressing your opinions, even if other people don’t agree.

Face critics

Another reason behind my immense respect for Darwin and why he is my favourite philosopher is because during the times of his work (the 1800’s) society was very religious and was not willing to accept non-religious concepts or theories as they were seen as blasphemy. Despite this, Darwin was sanguine and confident in his opinion, and was not pusillanimous about publishing his work, even though it lead on to people despising him and others criticising him and his work. This makes Darwin a very inspirational figure as it demonstrates to people of all ages that they should not be sceptical about expressing their opinions, even if others do not agree, because nobody’s opinion is

Should Everyone Study Philosophy? A guest post from Malcolm Arnold Academy

Another guest post. Nadia is a year 10 (age 14-15) pupil from Northampton, and has chosen to tackle the issue of whether everyone should study philosophy…

Should everyone study philosophy? – from Nadia A., Year 10, Malcolm Arnold Academy.

The word ‘philosophy’, from the Latin word philosphia means “Love of knowledge, pursuit of wisdom; systematic investigation”.

Many, however, think that philosophy is all about religion, and people’s beliefs regarding the existence of God and the existence of humans. Indeed, philosophy does pursuit the knowledge of how we came to be– however, philosophy is much more than just looking into ideas about our existence.

Philosophy is the key to revealing humanity. A love of knowledge, is not just something you are taught like you are in subjects such as maths, science or English. When we talk about philosophy, this love of knowledge is acquired as you learn how to look at the world critically and discover yourself what you think about it. In a philosophy class, a student is given freedom and the power to choose what to think about certain things, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why everyone should study philosophy.

To give oneself, the capability of evaluating, accessing, analysing, discovering and
acknowledging ideas about the universe, is to give oneself the freedom to think to the fullest, without any influence from others. As Descartes said, “I think therefore I am”, we shouldn’t underestimate the thinking that takes place in our minds. The world has made enormous progress; but could this really had happened if there weren’t great thinkers and philosophers that shaped our knowledge of the universe? If the Greek and Roman philosophers, have influenced us greatly, how do we know that by teaching everyone philosophy we will not find the next Plato who will shape our thinking? Our future, lays in our capability of thinking, of analysing situations, of searching for knowledge and wisdom. And if this desire to pursuit wisdom is not seeded in everyone, then how will we be able to progress in many different fields such as science, mathematics and politics?

Philosophy to me, is the power of thinking. A power that perhaps, doesn’t necessarily allow us to have a qualification in other fields such as engineering but a power that remembers us that we are all humans. That’s what I think is the core of philosophy: humanity.

At the external layers are: religion, ethics, morality, politics, aesthetics, logic and metaphysics; but all of these fields or branches relate to one to another, they all gravitate around the same central aspect which is humanity.

What truly, would a human have achieved in their lifetime, despite various successes, if they had never really stopped to think what is their purpose in life, or why are things being done in a certain way instead of another? A thinker, by definition, is a person with highly developed intellectual powers, especially one whose profession involves intellectual activity.

Therefore, philosophy is the study of what we see around us, of our emotions, of our history and our reality. A study that leads to a critical and analytical thinking, making oneself therefore a thinker who is given inevitably intellectual powers. So why not give everyone these powers? Especially, when all they can do is enhance humanity…

The number of people, that do not even know who Socrates is, or do not know anything about the cosmological argument is ridiculous – how can they possibly make an opinion of their own about the universe if they are not taught to pursuit wisdom and the knowledge of love?

Philosophy is like liberating a bird within someone, allowing his wings to spread, to take him to higher places.

Without any doubt, this bird has to be liberated in each one of us.

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Guest post from Shrewsbury High School: Women in Christianity, particularly the 4th Gospel

Today, we have have a guest post from Cece W.

Cece is a Year 12 student at Shrewsbury High School, and chose the ‘what were you surprised to learn while studying RS?” topic:

When studying a religion, what I was surprised to learn was: the major role women are presented as having in Christianity and especially the Fourth Gospel.

During my recent studies looking at Christianity, I was surprised to learn of the major role women play in the Fourth Gospel and the importance Jesus and the Blessed Disciple places upon them.

One of the earliest examples of the power and importance that John places on women takes place by the well of Jacob in Chapter four where Jesus begins a dialogue with a Samaritan woman. The fact that the woman was unaccompanied and unmarried immediately highlights Jesus’ disregard for social prejudices and the respect and dignity he held for women. Moreover, he later reveals to the woman that he is the Messiah saying ‘I who speak to you am he.’ It is highly relevant that Jesus should disclose this vital fact to an unknown woman of uncertain status and even though he had not then disclosed it to his disciples.

FCH campus at the University

Furthermore, during the first century, this level of respect was not reciprocated in other areas of society- such as in the Jewish communities where women were treated with scant respect and viewed as being less intelligent than their male counterparts. For example, the rabbinic Toseffta includes a prayer by a Jewish man giving thanks that he is not a woman; and in the Sotah 19c it is written ‘the words of the Torah shall sooner burn in the flames of hell than be taught to a woman.’ In the words of Schreinder ‘Jesus treats women with dignity and respect and elevated their position in a society where they were often mistreated.’

Critically, in relation to the role of women in the early foundations of Christianity is Jesus’s resurrection and the subsequent episode with Mary Magdalene. Here Mary is cast into an ‘eminent role, as first to discover the empty tomb, first to witness the risen Christ and first to spread the good news’ (Kysar). John depicts Mary in an extremely prominent role that emphasises the importance of her being present at the early foundation of Christianity.

Moreover, although I knew of Mary’s role in the resurrection scene I had not until recently fully appreciated the importance of the dialogue between Jesus and Mary where Jesus clearly highlights the respect in which he holds Mary and how much dignity he believes that she has. For example, ‘I am returning to my God, your God, my father and your father.’ This clearly exemplifies the personal relationship that Jesus is offering both Mary and women as a whole and the equal footing on which he is putting himself and Mary. Also, this personal relationship is highlighted at the beginning of the dialogue when Mary calls out ‘Rabboni’- ‘my master’ rather than ‘Rabbi’- ‘master.’ This again emphasises the equality Jesus and Christianity advocate and how the faith is ‘affiliative’ (Stibbe).

In addition, within that dialogue Jesus also tells Mary to ‘Go and tell my brothers.’ This technically puts Mary as the founder of early Christianity and once more portrays the image of the importance of women in Christianity.

Overall, I consider that the position of women in the Fourth Gospel and within Christianity itself is a major and remarkable factor. I was surprised to learn of the dignity and respect with which Jesus treated women and how much that contrasted with the more patriarchal influences that prevailed in Judaism at the time.

Guest post from Kings Norton Girls’ School: To Study Philosophy?

A guest post again. Emily G. from Kings Norton Girls’ School in Birmingham. Here she considers the issue of whether everyone ought to study philosophy, or not?

Do I think everyone should study philosophy? Well I think that that’s a question not too dissimilar from one like do I think everyone should watch football. I love it, I think it’s interesting and there are so many different sides to take with the potential for debates ready around every corner. It’s fascinating and can both bring people together and divide them. Then there are people who would really rather do anything else than even broach the idea of the subject; for them the debates can get too heated, too politically charged, they can’t make up their mind what side they want to stand on or understand what even is the point in taking sides and they just plainly don’t see the ‘point’ in investing time into it. There are also those who sit on the fence, neither here nor there, disconcerted with such conversations. It’s mainly with them in mind that I give my answer to the original question, and that is that everyone should at least give it a go. Philosophy is a subject that I think you really have to enjoy in order to be able to fully sink your teeth into – in a similar way to how if you find football boring you really aren’t going to care about why it’s a big deal when a referee gives (or doesn’t give as the case may be) a penalty at a certain moment or why derby matches are so enthralling so no, it’s not for everyone but testing the waters of interest wouldn’t hurt – maybe you just need to find your niche in the same way you have to find your favourite team.

The reasons why philosophy is a subject that I think everyone who can, should at least b5ce1-img_5030try are endless. Philosophy is one of those subjects that can be applicable in all walks of life, allowing us to not only be able to ask vast questions about our existence as humans on this planet of ours, but it helps us to find our footing when it comes to knowing how to go about answering these questions. It’s a subject that can fit with so many others – if you’re academically minded. For instance, maths; the necessity of logic bridges the gap between these two disciplines. Mathematics is fundamental to wrestling with quantifiable problems and philosophy enhances analysis skills and articulation of reasoning. Again for the academically minded, philosophy supports tangible exam preparation – a platform for perfecting critical thinking and argument presentation. Philosophy isn’t only useful in an academic sense, it can encourage a more open-minded view of the world, encouraging consideration of different opinions and facilitating personal development. This subject can lead to more appreciation for life and the origins of ideas and practises, many of which have effected and shaped what we know today. In philosophy, we seek not only to know but also understand; frequently questioning why, how, who, fashioning our own questions and views. This can lead to an exploration or our own belief systems, suggesting platforms for modifications and developments. As Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living” and whilst I’m not going to say life isn’t worth living because it doesn’t incorporate something that I find fascinating, Socrates does have a point. Without examination of our lives and lives before ours, we won’t have a broad enough understanding of where we’ve come from – both physically and in terms of our ideas and practises – and we won’t know where to go next. Philosophy appreciates detail, history, growth, and knowledge. I say everyone should give it a go.