Grayling weighs in on the new A-level philosophy curriculum

Yesterday I posted about the proposed changes in the UK’s A-level philosophy courses, in which a lot of good secular philosophy was going to be replaced by a curriculum that included two coequal areas: epistemology and religious studies. I also noted that I’d ask Anthony Grayling (who was given Massimo Pigliucci’s seal of approval as “The Right Kind of Atheist”), about these changes. Here’s Anthony’s response, posted with permission. I’ve included the final encomium just to cheer myself up.  Note his observation that a lot of philosophy already taught in UK secondary schools is religious philosophy:

Unfortunately this pigheaded idea has galvanised us all at last to take action. I’ve been meaning to campaign about the current situation, which is bad enough, in which what masquerades as ‘philosophy’ in schools is already half religious studies and almost exclusively taught by religious studies teachers—which is why universities don’t take this A Level very seriously. The new move will make ‘philosophy’ unashamedly a religious studies course. Along with a number of colleagues at universities & high schools I’m looking at the creation of a new proper philosophy-only course for schools, starting earlier in the curriculum & going right through to A Level, leaving religious studies to fend for itself. Hope you’re well: you are a necessary being, Jerry, flashing your sword in defence of us all! Anthony

Umm. . . isn’t “necessary being” a term that theists like Alvin Plantinga use in their contorted proofs of God’s existence?

Shrek-Puss-in-Boots (3)

25 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Nice.

  2. Greg Esres
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Anthony Grayling is one of those people that I just love to hear talk, much like Steven Pinker. They’re careful, precise, and eloquent regardless of what they say. I’d listen to them reading the phone book, or even the Bible.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Reading the Bible with their free-running comments would be a terrific idea.
      But it also could be a pretty long job.

      How about them reading only a few selected pieces from the Bible, say
      - the extraordinary Koheleth (i.e. “Ecclesiastes”, better than Camus, Sartre, and Kierkegaard;
      - Sirach, perhaps the most remarkable (and still appropriate to our modern times) “Wisdom” book;
      - and Mark’s Gospel, more breathtaking than any full-speed Hollywood script.

      Perhaps Pinker or Grayling will get to hear about this suggestion, and just go with it. With their free-flowing comments, this would be a terrific work.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted February 2, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        A NOTE ON “SIRACH”

        I forgot to mention that “Sirach” or “The Wisdom of Sirach” is called in the Christian version “Ecclesiasticus” — a very boring name, hiding the burning passion of the book — because its “wisdom” was thought so profound and universal by the early Christian priests and the Catholic Church that it became recommended readings in services, hence “ecclesiasticus”, short for “ecclesiasticus liber” (book for the church), from “ecclesia” (assembly, gathering, then “church”).

        Like Proverbs, Sirach sets on stage the female figure of Wisdom, the delegate and representative of God, charged to enrich the brains of the Hebrews. She was the equivalent of the Greek “Sophia”. But the Jewish Wisdom was continually rejected by the ancient Hebrews. Her final avatar became Jesus Christ.

        The original Hebrew name, “The Book of ben Sirach” was amplified into “The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira” by the Christian “Fathers”, which became in the Christian bible ” The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach”, since “Joshua” was considered an ancient form of the very common name “iesous”, “Jesus”. (Josephus, the historian, lists more than 20 “Jesus” in his books.)

        So, in fact, “Sirach” was the name of the the writer’s grand-father, who was the original author of the Hebrew book, the grandson being only the translator
        into Greek.

        Surprisingly, Sirach was not accepted into the Hebrew canon. It is the only book of the OT where the Greek writer clearly identifies himself with a date of composition (132 BC). But it was included in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, which was the effective OT for all the Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora.

        As a note, I much prefer the original names from the Hebrew, Koheleth, and Sirach to the Christian names of “Ecclesiastes” and “Ecclesiasticus”, which sound abstract, pompous, administrative, and lifeless, while the Hebrew names refer to a person and his passions.

  3. NAY
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Professor Ceiling Cat is a “necessary being” in that he is the “creator” of this website, without whom it would not exist!

  4. francis
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    //

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Thank goodness for Anthony Grayling’s efforts. It’s indeed a shame that philosophy courses are taken over by the religious; isn’t world religions studies enough? Oh of course not, world domination is barely enough. How silly of me to have slipped! At least universities don’t take the courses seriously (a detriment to the individual, but a benefit to society).

    I think the sword flashing metaphor needs a meme! :)

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    If it’s largely front for trying to persuade students of the importance of religion, it’s certainly bad.

    I’m also concerned about what has been discarded. One subset of philosophy is about alleged transcendent metaphysical realities, but another area of philosophy is human community, politics, the various basises of government, and so on. In modern times, this should be thought of as the more important philosophical enterprise. What about philosophy of art, etc.??

  7. Posted February 1, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    When I was 13 I asked my parents to allow me enroll in the local public junior high school. The didn’t resist; I was too much of a pain in the ass for them attending the Catlik school in which they had me attending to grade 6. I simply could not stand to listen to the nuns or the monsignor another miserable day.

    I started my undergraduate studies in 1965. In ’66 I enrolled in my very first philosophy class and quickly discovered that the philosophy department was under the purview of the local Catlick diocese. Many of the classes were actually taught by priests while wearing their Catlik garments!

    Holyfreakinshitbatman! You can’t imagine the fright.

    It probably explains why some today say I’m in desperate need of Viennese-strength psychotherapy.

    • merilee
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      the Cat licks its patootie…

    • Posted February 1, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      It probably explains why some today say I’m in desperate need of Viennese-strength psychotherapy.

      Might try the Viennese-strength coffee instead. At least it’s tasty!

      b&

  8. Kevin Alexander
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Umm. . . isn’t “necessary being” a term that theists like Alvin Plantinga use in their contorted proofs of God’s existence?

    You could probably prove your existence apart from any claim to necessity.
    When god gets a website I’ll check it out.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Richard Dawkins when seeing a fan with a T-shirt that said “Richard Dawkins is God” replied “Oh, dear. I suppose that means I don’t exist”.

      • Posted February 1, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        But Anthony Grayling is Fred!

        /@

        • Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know about that. Fred doesn’t explain anything. Grayling can explain rather a lot.

          • Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

            Not so sure about that. Fred actually did a pretty good job at explaining why you should be my neighbor.

            And, for that matter, what the brass quintet is all about, too.

            Cheers,

            b&

            P.S. I’m absolutely serious. That episode I linked to is probably one of the more important musical performances in all of history. b&

            • Posted February 1, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

              They’re tight. (Are those still the current members?) Those ascending chromatic triplet scales in thirds in Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy couldn’t have been more together.

              Awesome.

              • Posted February 2, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                (Are those still the current members?)

                Nah; Empire’s membership is in constant flux. Sam (the tubist whose apartment Fred first goes to) has been the professor at Arizona State University for ages, and it had been many more ages since he had played with Empire.

                They’ve always been one of the best chamber ensembles, though; their standards have never waned, even as their membership has.

                b&

              • merilee
                Posted February 2, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                Might I ask how Fred Rogers entered our illustrious discussion (and put on his cardigan and slippers)? Not that I have any objections to OT and OTW;-) au contraire…

              • Posted February 2, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                Well, Ant Allan revealed to us that AC Grayling is Fred. I was just giving him the benefit of the doubt on that claim….

                b&

          • Posted February 2, 2014 at 2:36 am | Permalink

            Touché!

            /@

            • Merilee
              Posted February 2, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              And what does Grayling say to be mistaken for Fred?

  9. religionenslaves
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    “Along with a number of colleagues at universities & high schools I’m looking at the creation of a new proper philosophy-only course for schools, starting earlier in the curriculum & going right through to A Level, leaving religious studies to fend for itself.”

    I am prepared to bet a large amount of cash that Anthony Grayling’s attempt to revise the Philosophy curriculum will fail completely.

    A few years ago I sat on a committee for the revision of the outdated (and utterly boring) curriculum for A-level Economics. Even though the proposed changes were uncontroversial and unambiguously for the better, they were not implemented, because of the built-in resistance to change of the education system.

    No change to any curriculum is ever going to be introduced unless it is driven by the political will of the Education Secretary. The current incumbent (Michael Gove), who devised the brilliant idea of sending to every UK school a personally-endorsed Bible, is never going to approve the sort of (very reasonable) changes proposed by Grayling.
    A slightly greater chance of success could be achieved by a campaign to dissuade students from taking the Gove-inspired new Philosophy A-level course, e.g., by UK Universities not recognizing it as a valid qualification for all degrees (except perhaps Divinity).

  10. Sastra
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately this pigheaded idea has galvanised us all at last to take action. I’ve been meaning to campaign about the current situation, which is bad enough, in which what masquerades as ‘philosophy’ in schools is already half religious studies and almost exclusively taught by religious studies teachers…

    I’m pleased to see this as it clarifies the issue. I’d speculated in the earlier thread that perhaps the move towards studying religion from a philosophical perspective was a good thing and Grayling might be very pleased. But it isn’t and he’s not and so I was wrong.

  11. sambricky2013
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Ha! Jerry you’re a god.


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