The Philosophy that I like to Teach (3)

By Erasmo Calzadilla

 I think that philosophy should be approached only by those who feel the need for it.
I think that philosophy should be approached only by those who feel the need for it.

So concretely, what philosophy do I share and like to teach.

Philosophy, that is to say, the passion that moves people toward wisdom, is something mysterious and inexplicable to me. It is founded ultimately in the pleasure of feeling in communion with the infinite and the divine; at the same time it is a road toward this state, as well as a therapy with which one proceeds to gradually grow and free themselves from evils, especially the evil of being lost.

While all this seems quite religious, it differs drastically from the ignoble religion in which the main character of the entire process continues being the individual on the road toward self-recognition. On that journey though, the individual never winds up being completely dissolved by that which is transcendent, due to the constant exercise of doubt.

The exercise of philosophy will never free us from responsibility; to the contrary, it pushes us toward the bitter and distressing taste of recognizing the profound implication of all our acts. It is a form of happiness, but at the same time a kick in the balls: a pain like no other.

For that reason, for the sentimental implication that this possesses, I think that philosophy should be approached only by those who feel the need for it, and to make it a mandatory subject for all students in the university is a big mistake. Right now, having been plundered by the bureaucracy, the subject lies in ruin.

So what panorama did I find at InSTEC (High Institute of Applied Science and Technologies) when I began giving classes to freshmen students whose studies had nothing to do with the humanities?

I stood there everyday in front of a group of between 10 and 30 students-just kids, just coming out of adolescence-who came with the prejudice that philosophy was a completely boring class that distracted them from their true interests: to have a good time and to finish up being a good professional.

It was, in short, quite a pedagogic challenge. To make matters worse, in a few months those kids began to get terribly overwhelmed by the weight of the other subjects (like Mathematical Analysis), and everyday it was harder for them to “waste” time learning philosophy.

This situation sometimes got complicated in the classroom when some high-spirited youth became offended when matters they were sure of are questioned or criticized as philosophy does. When such a situation occurs in scientific classes, the problem is not so serious, but if it concerns political matters, then you can expect a complaint being taken by the offended student/s to the administration, as indeed happened.

That was the situation I faced, and given these circumstances, I couldn’t begin speaking of the mysterious side and existential anguish of philosophy, because very few would have been able to or wanted to follow me.

So where then should I begin?

3 thoughts on “<em>The Philosophy that I like to Teach (3)</em>

  • I too teach philosophy, not as a separate course but embedded in the teaching of ecology and mathematics for public health professionals. A special topic is error: historical errors such as the expectation that infectious disease had been conquered (in the 1970″s), or that high-tech agriculture would eliminate hunger, the idea that the “noble gasses” do not react chemically, the belief that the white matter in the brain is just passive packing material for the grey matter or that body fat…

  • Socrates was said to have inspired–and subverted–the youth of his day. Of course then the curriculum was far less specialized: preparing upper-class Athenian youth towards eloquence in public speaking and logic, so as to better plead their cases in a court of law, or before the Assembly. Still, Socrates believed within everyone–even slaves–there was something devine which, through questioning, could be uncovered. Once accomplished, the student would then discover WHAT HE/SHE ALREADY…

  • The best scientists are also philosophers, or at least have an awareness of this “queen of all sciences.” Ditto economists, medical doctors, lawyers and judges, etc.; in reality, all leaders of their professions. You are quite right in observing that whoever would study philosophy has to be motivated, hence the subject should be elective, rather than a requirement; however, can one be truly educated without having a philosophical conscience?

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