Article: Why does France insist school pupils master philosophy? (BBC)

From the BBC:

“Why this emphasis on philosophy in France?

Other countries have school-leaving exams which cover the history of ideas and religion and so on. But the French are very clear that that is not what theirs is.

The purpose of the philosophy Bac is not to understand the history of human thought but to leap into the stream that is the actuality of human thought.

If you learn about what Kant or Spinoza once said, it is not so much to understand their argument as to use their argument. …

So the purpose of teaching philosophy was – and remains, in theory – to complete the education of young men and women and permit them to think.

To see the universal arguments about the individual and society, God and reason, good and bad and so on, and thus escape from the binding imperatives of the now – by which I mean the dictatorship of whatever ideas are most pressingly forced on us in the day-to-day by government, media, fashion, political correctness and so on.”

600full-simone-de-beauvoirDuring my schooling (excluding post-secondary), philosophy was never touched upon. Even in university, it was not a required part of any degree that I can recall (excluding of course the Philosophy major or minor). I chose to take several philosophy classes while at uni, my favourite being Philosophy of Literature, where I was introduced to the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre (and through him, to Simone de Beauvoir, which was pretty well life-changing), as well as reading works by Andre Breton, Plato, and Edmond Jabes, among others.

Though often philosophical subjects were difficult to understand, reading and discussing concepts like existentialism, where each individual must give meaning to their life, and not rely upon outside sources, such as religion, pushed me outside my everyday thoughts. It was also very different view from my Introduction to Philosophy course, which seemed to focus almost exclusively upon the question of whether or not God exists. Part of that course, though I had no real interest as to the existence of God, was meant to teach the basics of argument, and formulating a concise statement of belief. It wasn’t quite a class in rhetoric, but it helped.

I think that it would be useful for everyone, but here it seems that degrees in subjects like Philosophy are derided as useless, while exalted are those degrees which provide the greatest financial gain–engineering, business. I wonder that we’re losing something in focusing upon financial gain at the expense of other things, of thinking beyond the immediate events, learning how to step back from the clamour and rationally consider our lives.

Have you taken philosophy courses? What did you think of them? Did they help you consider the world in a different way?

Article: Don’t Write What You Know

From The Atlantic, by Bret Johnston. (read the full article here) He writes:

Instead of thinking of my experiences as structures I wanted to erect in fiction, I started conceiving of them as the scaffolding that would be torn down once the work was complete. I took small details from my life to evoke a place and the people who inhabit it, but those details served to illuminate my imagination. Before, I’d forced my fiction to conform to the contours of my life; now I sought out any and every point where a plot could be rerouted away from what I’d known. The shift was seismic. My confidence waned, but my curiosity sprawled. I was writing fiction, to paraphrase William Trevor, not to express myself, but to escape myself. When I recall those stories now, the flashes of autobiography remind me of stars staking a constellation. Individually, the stars are unimportant; only when they map shapes in the darkness, shapes born of imagination, do we understand their light.

I highly recommend going to read the entire article. It made me think about how I should be using my own knowledge and experiences (or not) within my writing.