Vol. LXXV (2017) - No. 266 Diotima o de la dificultad de enseñar filosofía [Diotima or the difficulty of teaching philosophy].
Orden Jiménez, R. V., García Norro, J. J., and Ingala Gómez, E. (Eds.) (2016).
Diotima o de la dificultad de enseñar filosofía [Diotima or the difficulty of teaching philosophy].
Madrid: Escolar y Mayo. 367 pp.
Although philosophy seems to be indivisible from how it is taught and communicated, a sufficient distinction is not always made between research into philosophy and the processes of teaching it. Consequently, an explicit reflection on the methodology of learning philosophy is sometimes missing. This is precisely during a period when the discipline’s position in syllabuses has been reduced to the extent that it is now almost absent. It is increasingly necessary and relevant to study how it is taught and its importance as a subject.
This book, coordinated by Rafael V. del Orden, Juan José García Norro, and Emma Ingala, includes many of the papers presented by speakers at the Jornadas Internacionales de Innovación Didáctica en la Enseñanza de la Filosofía [International philosophy teaching workshops], held in late 2014 at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Complutense University of Madrid. This conference brought together academics, secondary-school teachers, philosophers working in non-formal teaching settings, and students on the master’s degree in teacher training to share their reflections on questions relating to the teaching of philosophy at present, such as the implementation of the European Higher Education Area in the fi of philosophy, the move from knowledge-transfer to teaching competences, the problem of evaluating philosophy learning, the position of philosophy teaching in Spain and other countries, philosophy competitions or debating contests, and experiences of teaching innovation, among others.
Accepting Kant’s famous adage that philosophy can only be learnt by philosophising, many philosophy teachers have traditionally been aware that, above all, they teach their students competences rather than content, anticipating how the EHEA insists strongly on the value of competences, as though calling for a fundamental change of approach the teaching-learning process.
Diotima o de la dificultad de enseñar filosofía, the title of which refers to Socrates’ teacher who taught him all he knew about love, contains four sections: «The role of the philosophy teacher», «Philosophy’s place in teaching», «Philosophy teaching by country», and «Didactic ex- periences and innovations». Although the book contains almost thirty papers, here we will limit ourselves, on grounds of space, to four of them.
In «Transformaciones didácticas» [Didactic transformations] Johannes Rohbeck, from the TU Dresden, takes as his starting point philosophy teaching as a process of mediation of knowledge that involves the teacher’s effort to explain philosophical ideas and concepts, and arguments from the philosophical tradition, without forgetting the ultimate aim of teaching how to philosophise. He distinguishes three basic types of mediation between philosophy and teaching, that correspond to three philosophical focuses and involve their respective didactic theories.
When starting from philosophy as an academic and theoretical speciality that is shaped by the philosophical tradition and the current system, the teacher’s role involves a sort of reproduction of philosophy. Consequently, a mere didactic of reproduction that uses the deductive meth- od is debated.
When the essence of philosophy is defined as dialogue, focussing on the practice of teaching, the teacher’s task entails discussion with the students. A thesis of constitution is discussed here that would use the inductive method.
If we distinguish between philosophy and the teaching of philosophy as two autonomous and independent spheres, the didactic potential of the practice of teaching under the assumption of a productive distance from philosophy increases. Rohbeck therefore proposes his trans- formation model, to which an «abductive» method (in the sense of the American pragmatist Charles S. Peirce) would correspond.
Rohbeck understands «didactic transformation» as a strategy in the didactic discourse that shapes the choice and modification of what is transmitted: «That which is regarded as fundamental in academic philosophy (for example, formal logic) might have a secondary role in teaching practice. In contrast, that which is regarded as something very specifi and particular in philosophy (for example, certain methods), might become a fundamental procedure in teaching practice. And, finally, topics that for university philosophers are merely marginal (like certain textual genres, beyond the habitual treatises), might be the centre of attention in a school» (p. 15). He assumes, therefore, that concepts and arguments acquire their meaning through the context in which they are positioned within certain discourses, as the discursive field decides the semantic function.
This «didactic transformation» involves extrapolating and reformulating the currents of thought of contemporary philosophy in the philosophical procedures or practices that are learnt in class and that students can apply autonomously, such as analytical philosophy, con- structivism, phenomenology, dialectics, hermeneutics, deconstruction, or experimental philosophy, among others. In this case, philosophical competences are vital, and must be transmitted in the classroom through dialogue, conversation, reading texts, or writing essays.
Ultimately, it is a matter of «extracting the living implementation from a directed methodical philosophical practice and turning it into achieved competences» (p. 18), bringing philosophical theories into habitual, everyday practices. Methods are not just technical skills but instead a fundamental attitude of philosophy, and so their transmission helps fulfil the objective of students learning to do philosophy for themselves.
García Norro, of the Complutense University of Madrid, complains that teaching focusses exclusively on aptitudes and that teaching of attitudes of has been neglected, as while aptitudes give students knowledge and power, they do not give them the will without which action is impossible. One mindset that has become pervasive is «the conviction that, all things considered, we do not have the right to implant attitudes and that we do not know how to verify whether we have achieved this if we do try it. To a moral inability (I have no right to do this) is added an effective inability (I would not know how to do it, above all because I lack the resources to verify whether I have achieved it)» («Aptitudes y actitudes del profesor de filosofía» [Aptitudes and attitudes of the philosophy teacher], p. 28). This condemns teaching to failure. We all teach each other continuously, even without intending to, as it is a necessary consequence of personal interaction. The teacher is not the only educational agent and society creates a series of attitudes in the student that might not be the most desirable ones.
García Norro suggests teaching six fundamental attitudes for future secondary school teachers: reflexivity, research, respect for the law, collaborative work, civic commitment, and professional conscience. The two complementary ways attitudes can be taught are through re- flection (ever since Plato’s dialogues, philosophy has reflected on the virtues, their definition, purpose, and nature) and by example (in other words, exercis- ing these virtues). In the same way that the theoretical teaching of aptitudes is complemented by exercising them, in the realm of attitudes it is also necessary for students to see them fulfilled in the behaviour of their teachers.
Enrico Berti of the University of Padova argues for using the history of philosophy, not just to teach philosophy but also to teach other disciplines such as history, literature, physics, or biology. This does not mean that it is necessary to give oneself over to a merely doxographic, relativistic, and sceptical form of teaching, but instead that a philosophical method must be adopted that involves evaluating the internal coherence of systems, of the attitude for facing the problems in which their origin and their truth or falsehood reside. In other words, a critique of the systems and a proposal of alternative solutions.
We must, Berti warns, be conscious of the limits of this position; a completely impartial presentation of philosophy is impossible, in order to create a history of philosophy it is always necessary to have a concept of philosophy, in other words, to have a philosophy, whether elaborated by oneself or by someone else.
A complete and homogeneous knowledge of all of the history of philosophy is also impossible.
For his part, Tomás Calvo Martínez reflects on the «Funciones formativa e informativa de la Historia de la Filosofía» [Educational and informative functions of the history of philosophy]. He notes that historical interest in philosophy is usually associated with a culturalist vi- sion of philosophical thought that sees it as another cultural manifestation, while most philosophers reject this reductionism and defend the specificity of philosophy, even if they do see it in different ways.
«Doxography» (exposition of differing opinions), the «philological history of philosophy» (based on the rigorous study of texts and materials), and the «philosophical history of philosophy» (that seeks its meaning and is based on different moments of the systematic unfolding of reason itself) would be the three main ways of conceiving the history of philosophy.
Calvo argues for a certain integration between the philological and philosophical concepts of the history of philosophy, eliminating their deficiencies and strengthening the educational and informative aspects of the discipline. «Harmonically integrating both perspectives will make it possible to discuss philosophy in its own history, and more broadly, the different historical-cultural contexts in which philosophical reflection has developed. And it will also serve to educate students in argumentation and critical reflection on the ultimate and most fun- damental philosophical questions that humankind has historically raised and continues to raise» (p. 90). To do this, he proposes reconciling doxography and the history of philosophy with the moment of «appropriation» and reconciling philological history with the moment of over- coming estrangement and «distance» as constitutive moments of the hermeneutic task of comprehension.
From the other papers in this book, the following ones are particularly noteworthy: Ignacio Pajón Leyra’s paper on the recovery of rhetoric in the teaching of philosophy, Javier Gracia Calandín on the systematisation of experiences in ethics based on a Comenius exchange, Annalisa Caputo on the laboratory experience of Philosophia ludens philosophy didactics at the University of Bari, and Gemma Muñoz Alonso on the impact of the digital environment on philosophy teaching.
Ultimately, Diotima o de la dificultad de enseñar filosofia is a very interesting book that helps us think about philosophical education and provides guidance on the challenges this sets us for the future. Although the distinction in philosophy between the mode of discovery or research and the mode of exposition or transmission of knowledge is not as marked as in other areas, philosophy teachers must reflect on how they teach their discipline without delegating this task exclusively to the figures of pedagogues or experts in didactics.
Didactic reflection belongs to the essence not only of teaching philosophy but also to philosophy itself. Philosophy that includes a reflection in other areas of knowledge and consequently establishes itself as a metaknowledge (philosophy of science, philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, philosophy of art, etc.), must also by definition include a metaphilosophy. In a manner of speaking, both the teaching of philosophy and didactic reflection are integral parts of philosophy.
Ernesto Baltar ■