This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here.
The IB Philosophy course is the most eclectic introduction to a subject wrongly considered as reserved to the most academically inclined students. On the ﬁrst lesson of the new school year, I usually ask my group of Philosophy students their reason for their choice of this particular subject. On one occasion, a student candidly replied that he didn’t really know why he had chosen Philosophy and that, in any case, he would probably prove useless in the subject. Faced with such an unfounded and defeatist attitude, I retorted that by the simple fact that he was sitting in my classroom, he had de facto opted to become a ‘philosopher’. Of course, beyond his early apprehension regarding his ability to philosophise, this student went on to do extremely well in all his different philosophical papers.
The main qualities required of a Philosophy student are to think independently and to appreciate the diversity of philosophical theories from different perspectives. The Core Theme will enable you to analyse and discuss a variety of perspectives on the notions of ‘person’ and ‘identity’. Entitled ‘What is a human being?’, this part of the course will encourage you to explore what characterises our human nature in its biological, psychological, moral, social and cultural dimensions. Being introduced to the world of reason and emotions will enable you to acquire a better understanding of the human condition, which will become an essential tool in your approach of the Theory of Knowledge programme.
The study of one (Standard level) or two (Higher level) optional themes invites students to focus on one more speciﬁc areas of Philosophy, like the nature, scope and limits of human knowledge
(‘Grounds of Epistemology’) or the study of the moral world and concepts such as freedom, social and environmental responsibility in the ‘Theories and problems of Ethics’ course. The latter are the most popular optional themes, along with ‘Philosophy of Religion’. There is, however, another choice of four optional themes which may or may not be on offer at your own school or college.
The second paper dedicated to the thorough study of one (SL) or two (HL) prescribed text(s) is more likely to focus on the critical analysis of Plato’s Books IV-IX in ‘The Republic’ or Descartes’
‘Meditations’ than on any of the ten other texts on the list. This paper demands a thorough knowledge and critical understanding of the work(s) under study. On the other hand, a sound understanding of Plato or Descartes’ philosophies can easily be applied to other aspects of the course.
The most original and fun part of the IB Philosophy preparation is the Internal Assessment consisting in the personal research and writing of a critical essay on one or more philosophical issues, chosen from non-philosophical material. The choice of topics is vast and can range from a philosophical reading of a song, a scene from a play or ﬁlm, a photograph, a cartoon, or any reasonable support you can ﬁnd to substantiate your thesis.
The High Level paper entitled ‘Unseen text – exploring philosophical activity’ is the icing on the philosophical cake as it invites candidates to react to a passage taken from a philosophical source. It is, in fact, an exercise which is the direct opposite of the Internal Assessment. it gives you the unique opportunity to show off your, by now, wide ranging knowledge in the subject and to hone on your best critical skills.
Every IB subject is rich in content and challenging in more ways than one. Philosophy is no exception, However, to embark on the IB Philosophy course will bring you more lifelong intellectual satisfaction than most other courses. For one thing, you will take away from it an open-minded and ﬂexible way of thinking which will serve you well in both your personal and your professional life.
If you wish to know more about the IB Philosophy course, read the ofﬁcial IB Philosophy guide.
Want to get ahead in the IB? Attend a Pre IB Summer School in Oxford, UK or Boston, US to meet students from all over the world and be taught by world-class IB teachers.