To answer a philosophical question or ‘discuss’ it, as examination papers invite candidates to do, is a skill which requires a previous knowledge of the issues at stake in the ‘discussion’ at hand. We have all marked scripts full of ‘some philosophers believe that …’ or ‘x is a topic that has been debated by many philosophers …’ Such weak introductions often flag a lack of strong, confident knowledge of major philosophical ideas. I personally came across an IB student who candidly admitted, from the very start of the course, that he had opted for philosophy, instead of a ‘real’ subject, as he had convinced himself that he could, literally, bluff his way through writing essays based on half-baked generalisations, irrespective of the questions ‘thrown at him’. He typically showed the same derogatory attitude towards his TOK studies.
To underrate Philosophy is, unfortunately, not the prerogative of students as it is too often frowned upon by English and Classics teachers who regard it as an ‘easy’ option, tailor-made for lazy intellects. The same colleagues would wax lyrical about their subject and ironically, miss out the most refined philosophical implications of the classics they have been teaching for the past twenty years, in the name (and light) of the examination specifications – be they applied to A or IB levels.
IB Philosophy, when embracing all aspects of the IB programme, clearly refutes the ill-founded accusations of its detractors. For one thing, aspiring young philosophers should always be encouraged to look into the philosophical issues lying just under the surface of the poems, plays and novels they are studying. It can only enrich their general knowledge AND understanding of the subject and the quality of their essays can only gain in substance and depth from their enquiring, critical approach.