Santi Vila, 9 March 2022
PRAISE FOR PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy is a discipline and a tradition of thought, Marina Garcés recalled a few days ago on Catalunya Ràdio. Philosophy is not simply awakening curiosity and a taste for learning among students – what a bad mathematics or geography teacher would be one who does not always strive to achieve these goals in his or her field of knowledge. Nor is it just a version of Merlí or the teacher Bolaños on duty, encouraging debates on good and evil or the sex of angels, for the simple amusement of the soul. Now that the Department of Education is considering eliminating it from the secondary school syllabus, we must raise our voices in its defence.
If you don’t want to go around the world and watch your ears move from the side to the front of your head, until you become a selfish, anti-social fool, it is important to know who Aristotle was and how the Greek philosophers reflected on how we should try to lead a good life, a full life. Some were sceptics, others Epicureans or Stoics, but they all knew, as Josep M. Esquirol recalled in today’s words, that to live, to think and to love are the most capital verbs. Living and loving are perhaps innate conditions, which we develop intuitively. Learning to think requires method, discipline, study. And this cannot be done at home with parents, it has to be learnt at school and above all at secondary school, under the guidance of teachers.
As Ernest Lluch always warned, and as Victòria Camps continues to do in all her books, our modern societies would not be as they are without having learned and discussed Kant and reflected on the contributions of the Enlightenment to the achievement of the full moral autonomy of men and women, to their liberation from the chains of ignorance, fear and superstition. That is, to know how to decide, freely and responsibly, what to do and what not to do, and above all, to know the reason for the limits that cannot be crossed if we want to live in harmony.
I have no doubt that with philosophically educated citizens, no populism would take root in our societies, nor would any Western parliament have reached the moral degradation it has reached. Because by ceasing to recognise ourselves as rational and reasonable beings, we stop listening to understand and do so simply to replicate, we fall ill with the virus of sectarianism and simplification, and worse still, without realising it, we corner the power of reason in favour of feelings and emotions, which make us irascible and manipulable, sad beasts.
With philosophically educated citizens, no populism would take root in our societies.
Certainly, the curricular design of secondary education for our adolescents is complex for administrative and political reasons. The authorities of the Department of Education know that 50% of the content is set by the ministry and that the rest of the available hours must be used to guarantee the correct learning of Catalan, to teach the history of religions (a euphemism for continuing to teach the religion of a lifetime) and, on top of that, to facilitate maximum autonomy for the schools. As if that were not enough, many of us are also demanding space for philosophy.
Put like this, the challenge seems more difficult than squaring the circle. But to govern is to prioritise, and in a society in which the gap between material and moral progress is ever widening, in a world in which the foundations that favour maximum well-being for the greatest number are increasingly undermined, always respecting minorities and favouring civic friendship between one and the other, allowing future citizens not to learn to think philosophically, to distinguish between doing what is right and doing what is good, or to face the relationship between the I and the we with moral responsibility, seems a serious recklessness, with individual and collective consequences.
In a country like ours, shaken by the loss of the social bonds derived from the traditional family, neighbourhood, religion or homeland; in a Western world marked by an increase in diseases of the soul, narcissism and suicides, to have thought during youth about what we do in the world, why we were born and how to reach the end of our lives believing that the experience was worthwhile is surely as essential as knowing how to read and write, how to add and subtract or having read Shakespeare and Carner. Dostoyevsky wrote it and he was absolutely right: in life it is as important, if not more important than living, to know why one lives. Governments: philosophy in the classroom, please!