Sunday, February 19, 2006

Studying Philosophy

The effect (and therefore presumably the purpose) of the financial arrangements currently imposed on most UK university students seems to be to encourage vocational or "employable" courses, and discourage abstract courses such as philosophy.

Does UK Government minister Bill Rammell approve of this effect? He is quoted as saying "I don't see that as necessarily being a bad thing". [source: BBC News, Feb 16th 2006] However, in a letter to the Independent Newspaper (Feb 18th 2006), he denies having said that it was "no bad thing". Notwithstanding the subtle logical difference between these two statement, it would be reasonable to assume that he does approve.

Philosopher A.C. Grayling replies in the Independent (Feb 17th 2006), and is echoed by a number of Independent readers (Feb 18th 2006), including one who quotes Bertrand Russell's maxim: "Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed". The Independent also reminds us that some of our leading subversive comics (Matt Groening, Ricky Gervais) have degrees in philosophy.

If the effect of philosophy is to enable critical thought, it is not surprising that the Establishment should prefer kids to study nursing and social work. Meanwhile, the abstract subjects will continue to be studied by people with a fortunate combination of intellect, temperament and financial support. This looks suspiciously like a 2-tier education system reemerging.

The purpose of a system is what it does.

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Robin Wilton said...

Nice one, Richard. I know this is the old 'slippery slope' argument, but there's something depressing about requiring all university courses to be vocational.

How far back do we have to go, then... vocational nursery school?

Teaching should be about education, not inculcation..

'Vocational' has such an air of box-ticking, non-visionary, predeterminedness about it. It reminds me of a devastatingly elegant side-swipe I heard once:

"'Making a plan' is what people do instead of thinking."

Richard Veryard said...

"Philosophy students wear grey. They think a lot more than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m awfully glad I’m an engineering student and wear a nice yellow hard-hat, because I don’t have to think so much." (With apologies to Aldous Huxley, Brave New World).