The teaching of philosophy is anachronistic, paradoxical and contradictory, in the « hautes écoles » as elsewhere — but in the « hautes écoles » perhaps more than elsewhere. Why? 

Thetest of philosophy consists essentially in learning to think, that is to say, to formulate critical judgments on current problems, such as the accumulation of crises that we are undergoing (economic, financial, energetic, ecological, climatic, demographic, geopolitical, etc.), but also on fundamental questions such as the meaning of human existence. 

This provides a solid foundation for personal life, professional life and active participation in community and political life. Any education worthy of the name should be inseparable from this triple focus. Pretending that teaching is only about equipping students for their professional lives empties the very notion of pedagogy of its substance and makes the replacement of teachers by « intelligent » machines (even) more imminent. Training ready-to-use speakers has little to do with the « humanistic » education that our societies have claimed since ancient Greece. 

This being the case, the teaching of the « humanities » in general and of philosophy in particular, however crucial it may still seem, is no less anachronistic : we live in an individualistic society which is satisfied with the enjoyment of the present and which does not give any credit to the fundamental problems historically revealed by philosophy. 

The paradox is the following: even though the exercise of thinking is an existential, professional and civic necessity, thinking requires a « step aside » that tires and can even depress. Its practice therefore requires an initiation. 

Finally, the contradiction is rooted in the way the vast majority of institutional actors see such teaching: at best as a luxury that we can no longer afford. The philosopher has to face a doubtful organizing power, colleagues who are sometimes frankly hostile, and students who are completely unaware of the real stakes of their academic life and of their life in general. 

From all of this, it appears that the pedagogical choices are not easy. Traditionally, Catholic schools have relied on elitism; however, it should not be forgotten that the value of a community must be measured by the attention it gives to its most eccentric, if not weakest, elements. What is already unacceptable in civil society — the « weakest link » strategy staged by the BBC since 2000 — would be indecent in education. 

Michel Weber
Philosopher. Author, a. o., of L’Épreuve de la philosophie (2008), Éduquer (à) l’anarchie (2008), De quelle révolution avons-nous besoin ? (2013) and Ethnopsychiatry and attunement (2014).

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