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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Paste your essay in here...The Danger of Humanity without the Humanities

Uncomfortable suits, long days, endless research: this is the reality of being on a high school debate team. To outside observers, they would wonder why on earth anyone would put herself through this. Sure, my time on my high school debate team was plenty of lost sleep and ripped pairs of panty hose, but through this experience, I learned how to research thoroughly in order to build a strong argument, recognize my opponents’ logical fallacies, and think critically on my feet when my case was attacked. What was alarming though is that there was an apparent discrepancy in the critical thinking skills between those who were on the team and those who were not, and I saw this firsthand in many a class discussion. Many of my peers were struggling to successfully explain and defend their ideas, and this seems to be because our education system has deprioritized philosophy along with other areas of the humanities. Without children’s learning philosophy, they are denied from learning vital epistemological skills that fuel rational discourse, and as a result, this problem has extended far outside of the classroom and into our society as a whole.  

So what is epistemology? In the article “How Do You Know What You Know is True? That’s Epistemology” published in The Conversation, author Peter Ellerton defines epistemology as “the area of philosophy concerned with understanding the nature of knowledge and belief”. Ellerton states that epistemology also includes analyzing the processes that are undergone in order to ‘know something’, taking one’s claims and assessing how adequately they are defended or justified, and questioning our own approaches of reasoning. Epistemology is important because it is necessary for producing intelligent conversation and logical argument, and without being able apply epistemology, our conversations and arguments are anything but intelligent and logical.

The problem at hand predominantly stems from a failing education system that does not place value on the humanities. In an article on NPR titled “How (and When) to Think Like a Philosopher”, Tania Lombrozo brings attention to the common flawed assertion that “philosophy is a useless major” but quickly refutes this assertion by stating that it “teaches you to think, write, and speak.” Even still, the idea of studying philosophy, or any of the humanities, is sneered at by parents and schools, and society is as persistent as ever for kids to pursue STEM related fields. While this is not inherently bad, it becomes bad when science, technology, engineering, and math become the only acceptable areas of study. Ignoring philosophy is only denying oneself the opportunity to become a better thinker. Although many other fields can also improve one’s cognitive abilities, Lombrozo clarifies that “philosophy is unusual in its explicit focus on the structure of arguments across a broad range of topics.” It seems counterintuitive to promote STEM in order to bring innovation and change when a biologist cannot argue about stem cell research, when a mathematician cannot express justification for a theorem, or when an engineer cannot explain how manufacturing a certain product is affecting the environment. The ability to argue and communicate effectively is part of what drives and maintains society, yet the skills that spur quality dialogue are not taught sufficiently in schools.

Consequently, what we say and write is often filled with ignorance, irrationality, and, in some cases, foolishness because these vital skills are not “built into our cognitive machinery” or “acquired through our years of experience” (Lombrozo). By not getting adequate education, Ellerton explains that humans succumb to their natural biases. He elaborates by saying that we tend to think that our views are right and that those in opposition are wrong, never considering that we might indeed be wrong. We think our views are a result of our ability to see the world truly as it is and that our perceptions are not clouded (Ellerton). Along with this naivety, Dr. Lombrozo points out that humans often fall victim to confirmation bias and are inclined to subconsciously choose evidence that corroborates their belief and disregards evidence that would dispel it. Cherry picking creates faulty claims because greatly reduces the data. Jef Rouner from the Houston Press also discusses this issue in his article “No, It’s Not Your Opinion. You’re Just Wrong”, and voices his frustration in claims that are made “in a bubble”, especially claims that are deemed opinions. Rouner quickly clarifies what an opinion actually is, and he condemns using the term as an excuse in defense of being blatantly wrong. Until we all step out of our bubble and consider all the information, we will continue to “uninformed or just flat out wrong”, and “the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid…” (Rouner). In his farewell speech, President Obama goes as far as to say that living in a bubble is a “threat to democracy” because our democracy involves debating different viewpoints, but “without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we're going to keep talking past each other.” Having man’s innate, and flawed, form of reasoning dictate our beliefs is only promoting ignorance and irrationality, and this is adversely affecting the way we communicate with each other. This is especially evident in politics. Public leaders can barely participate in a civil and structured debate without bringing up irrelevant personal matters that are not valid forms of justification and merely deflect from the issues at hand, and one particular politician, to Jef Rouner’s disapproval, will give the phrase “believe me” as the only source of justification for his claims (Ellerton). Social media is also a prime example; just go look at the Facebook comments under any controversial news article. However, what seems to be most unfortunate is that many of us can’t even have a cordial conversation with a family member at the dinner table without things getting heated and turning nasty. Christmas doesn’t need to be ruined because you and your great aunt disagree on politics.

Since the education system is big reason why we are deficient in our ability to communicate, it needs to be part of the solution. In order to effectively tackle this issue, philosophy must be made a priority in schools, and The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss gives further explanation. In her article “Why Kids – Now More Than Ever – Need to Learn Philosophy. Yes, Philosophy.”, Strauss discusses a program founded by philosopher Matthew Lipman, who was driven to start this effort during his time teaching philosophy at Columbia University. He noticed that while his exceptionally bright students were fervent in their endeavors to contribute to society and make positive change, they struggled to think logically and make sound judgment. As a result, Lipman created the program Philosophy for Children, or P4C, which implements philosophy in schools mainly in the form of participating in arduous dialogue. Strauss supports Lipman’s approach to teaching philosophy and states that engaging in mentally stimulating conversation is the means through which “our assumptions, reasoning, and conclusions [are] challenged” and “we become better thinkers”. The method involves teachers’ monitoring and overseeing the discussions, and their main role is to ensure that the students are respectfully engaging in dialogue driven by rationality and logic. P4C resulted in success, and it also demonstrated that children could practice philosophy, and with enthusiasm at that. It has been said that children are the future of society, a cliché, but a true one, nonetheless. Our society will not flourish without individuals who are capable in talking about and working through the social and political issues that segregate us, and Strauss believes that “K-12 education [could] be the petri dish” in which our society can be nurtured and grown.

While I think integrating philosophy into our schools’ curriculums is key to repairing our broken means of communication, I do not believe we should be content with this being the only solution. Regarding his motivation to return philosophy to schools, Lipman introduces the idea that it is too late to instill new thinking habits in adults (Strauss). While Frederick Douglass’s quote that “it’s easier to build strong children than broken men” has a lot of truth to it, it should not be used as an excuse for adults to not even attempt to practice philosophy. The main focus needs to be on the children, but we have to do something to improve the epistemic ability of the older generation. Ellerton describes one technique to protect ourselves from faulty logic, and this involves our utilizing public reason. This concept just means that a claim is not sufficient alone; one must illustrate why others should agree with the claim. Whether it is your claim or someone else’s, practicing public reason includes recognizing arguments in defense of a claim, assessing the legitimacy of the arguments, and also considering how to demonstrate to someone why the case is important and deserves attention. Along with public reason, Lombrozo challenges the “philosophically untrained” to search for hidden assumptions and identify any counterexamples. It is not enough though to dedicate only ourselves to the cause; we must hold each other accountable to do the same, especially if we are part of the lucky few who have studied any philosophy. Having outgrown childhood and adolescence, it will be difficult to abandon the thinking patterns we have held for years, but because of where our society is headed, “epistemology needs to matter” (Ellerton).

Schools need to integrate philosophy in our children’s curriculum because humans do not naturally possess an inborne ability to apply epistemology in their everyday lives. Watch presidential debates, read Facebook comments, and consider that ranting relative. The lack of civility and rationality in conversations is evident, and without truly being able to connect with each other, a cohesive society cannot exist.

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