Sunday, August 28, 2016

Studying Philosophy... and Philosophical Grammar

Recently the article "Teaching Kids Philosophy Makes them smarter in Math and English" came across my desk. It describes an Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) study (pdf) of the effects of teaching philosophy to young people.  The study concluded
Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains...
Although I am willing to glance at them occasionally, I am not very interested in such studies. The article, however, does prompt me to report some related observations concerning pedagogy and the nature of philosophy.

I have found teaching the fundamentals of grammar in remedial college composition courses has not only clarified my own philosophical understanding, but--when combined with enforcing a strictly formal approach to rhetorical organization in writing essays--has also done much to get students focused and "on the step" for tackling their other academic chores.

Preliminaries aside, we next have the consideration of the nature of "Philosophy" itself--both as an activity and as a discipline. As an activity, I begin with a consideration of Logic, where I lean towards believing the field is little more than the parsimonious and candid study of grammar--but, even more precisely, Logic is the practice and the use of grammar. From here it then seems reasonable to call the field of Philosophy "thinking about thinking"--but I am not altogether satisfied with this, as the most practical way to do this (thinking about thinking) is to consider the discipline as something along the lines of "gossiping about what the school teachers are saying and doing." Of course "schoolmen" is the more traditional phrase (or, adjusted for inclusive language, "schoolwomen" or schoolpersons") but the slight condescension implicit in "school teachers" makes a useful and important point, and places students (and philosophers) in a strong position for formulating accurate and appropriate descriptions of the discussions that animate--and confuse--the field.

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