This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here.
OK. You don’t really know what Philosophy is about and you are not remotely interested in starting a new academic subject from scratch. But, hold on a minute and consider the following: would you be prepared to say that you never thought about the difference between reality and fantasy or what you are doing on this planet? Obviously not, unless you’re happy to deﬁne yourself as an intellectual vegetable, which I doubt very much. By your reading the Harry Potter books or being acquainted with ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, you have already come across fascinating questions dealt with through ﬁctitious characters, instead of pipe-smoking academics. If you are curious enough, you can actually start looking for books dedicated to Harry Potter and Philosophy, not to mention the studies on the logical mind games proposed by Dr Dodgson in his universal classic.
Are you less apprehensive now and ready to take the plunge? Another thing: to ‘do’ philosophy, that is ‘to philosophise’, is very much an ‘activity’ and not something you absorb through copious but indigestible notes. Some years ago, a student of mine came to see me, a couple of weeks after the beginning of the new school year. She seemed embarrassed and asking her what was the matter with her, she confessed that she was considering dropping the subject, altogether. How could she give up so easily and so early in the course? I wanted to know what had put her off the subject. She gave me the following answer: ‘because you didn’t give us a deﬁnition of philosophy.’ I immediately understood that philosophy was deﬁnitely not for her as you do not read treatises on cycling in order to feel able to ride your bike. It is only your own repeated experience of trying to stay on the saddle and eventually feel the exhilaration of actually moving that will give you the answer to a question as odd as ‘what is it like to cycle?’ Thank God, there is no possible standard deﬁnition of philosophy!
In fact, Philosophy is hidden everywhere in everyday life as every single human action carries its own load of psychological motivation, moral purpose and social consequences. The IB Diploma demands of its students a sound knowledge of languages, science and humanities. Philosophy is not a compulsory subject but sooner or later, you will come across the Theory of Knowledge course, which will invite you to explore all your chosen subjects in a critical, that is, philosophical way. To philosophise is to be prepared to question long standing assumptions and dig deeper into the roots of language, history or mathematics. What is a true statement? Can history be described as a science? Are “being 1” and “being 2” basic concepts of our mind?
I leave you to ponder over these perplexing questions, and more, hoping that you will join the ranks of the IB philosophers as Philosophy will shed a new light on all the aspects of your IB preparation and will give you the conﬁdence to expand your mind in stimulating new directions.
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.