One of the best bits about the IB Philosophy course is that it keeps philosophy ‘real’. I don’t mean that to sound quite as ‘street’ as it does but the arrangements ensure that the academic side will never become too separated from the real world.
Unfortunately SQA (Scottish) Philosophy does not have this link, although there are plenty of good teachers out there trying to forge it, and doing this despite massive time pressures. As someone who believes that philosophy too separtate from ‘real’ life is just plain boring I try to ensure that my students get this link better than their examinations authority.
Every year I ask my exam and core classes to find their own examples of musicians, filmmakers and artists ‘doing philosophy’. The sources they bring are invariably brillliant. Here are a few:
I’ll come back and add to this at some point but if you’re studying IB Philosophy of Religion it should be clear enough…
This stuff’? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic “casual corner” where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of “stuff.”
Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada.
Every year I get at least one email from a student that shows me they have really ‘got’ what we have been studying. Last year a guy found Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons and was adamant (completely correctly in my view) that the philosophy described a sort of Christian ‘Platonism’, an idea of the human’s essence that was rejected by Jean-Paul Sartre (this was what we had been studying).
Anyway there’s more about that on my ib philosophy page, but the email I got this year was about the experience of doing philosophy. IB philosophy is a wonderful course with an emphasis on doing philosophy rather than just learning about it.It takes two years and the entire structure of the course is about helping the students to become the IB learner profile rather than just gaining some knowledge in order to repeat it. It is far more academically challenging and philosophically useful than any of the courses I have encountered that are taught elsewhere in Scotland or England. Those students that choose to take the ‘higher level’ (HL) version of the subject complete and exam paper on the question of ‘What is Philosophy?’, reflecting upon their mounting experience of studying it, and all students of both HL and Standard levels are required to complete a unit on ‘what makes a person?’
Of course this question is central to almost every other philosophical foray and it has always astounded me how certain exam boards think they can simply ‘miss it out’ of their syllabi. What’s nice about the song the student above emailed me is that it includes both of these elements:
Imagine if the life that you thought you shared
Wasn’t really there.
It was made up in your mind,
Could be anyone/anywhere
As the dust clears and it all starts to disappear,
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.
And wherever you are, land on another star!
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.
I think people in my class might be a little surprised to see this on my blog. It’s not really the sort of International Baccalaureate Philosophy Internal Assessment stimulus I would immediately think of. Having said that, it is probably proof that you could write your essay using nearly anything as your non-philosophical text.
I more than appreciate that this might not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but it is a pretty beautiful insight into (at least part of) what it means to be a person. I was made to think of a whole lot of philosophy: Wittgenstiein on behaviourism, Sartre’s account of intersubjectivity but perhaps more than anything (and this will be less surprising to my students) I thought of Kierkegaard on consciousness.
This Danish philosopher used the word ‘despair’ to describe human existence that manages to fulfil our created potential of becoming a ‘self’. Some people describe this as the gap between the ‘me I am’ and the ‘me I could be’. But ‘gap’ is a problematic word… It makes you think of le Néant in Sartre. And it is clear to see this influence of the Dane on the frenchman but Kierkegaard is talking about the way the two relate together. It is the relationship that can constitute myself. This is the difference between atheistic and religious existentialism. We know that SK thought we were created with and for this relational ability – that it is part of our design but also our potential (Evans). In 1846 he wrote that
“people in our time, because of so much knowledge, have forgotten what it means to exist”*
This is perhaps more true now than then, but in this clip Sandra Bullock shows she is not one of (or at least knows people that are not) those people. ‘Despair’ is a word that ‘turns off’ a lot of new Kierkegaard readers but what he means is not what one might initially think.
The tension that SB talks about, the ‘struggle’, is very close to what SK is on about. Now Kierkegaard thought that we could either avoid this reality or tackle it head on but only ever in a ‘difficult’ way. It is only the struggle towards a goal, the ‘relationship’ with that goal, that refuses to bury oneself in an objective system and does not hide from the ‘torn apartness’ of subjective experience that allows a human to claim to be a self in any real way.
I used ‘Yellow’ by Nathan Sawaya as an IB Philosophy Core Theme Paper 1 exam Stimulus a couple of years ago. I didn’t know a great deal about him but having watched the short video on youtube, I’m more convinced that his work would be an excellent thing to discuss in ib philosophy as well as in ToK (Theory of Knowledge).
You could talk about the relationship between maths and art in ToK, and even discuss topics like determinism and Sartre’s understanding of nothingness in the ‘What makes is ‘us’?’ section of the course. Awesome.
That’s because she understands the way things are…. People work together when it suits them, they’re loyal when it suits them, love each other when it suits them and they kill each other when it suits them… She knows it. You don’t.
Awesome for an internal assessment… watch this whole episode for a fairly convincing exposition of social contract theory.
“You could have freed me yesterday, or tomorrow. I think you came to me now before this boy is put to the knife because you knew I’d counsel restraint. You came to hear me say it because you believe it yourself. You’re not a man who slaughters innocents for gain or glory.”
For those of you that have read Sartre’s Existentialism & Humanism (click below for this section) this advice may sound very similar to something Sartre wrote in refutation of traditional normative ethics. Sarte’s point was that all action originates in freedom, even if that freedom is used to convence oneself that on is not free. We’ll talk about it in class, but this could be a great IA stimulus…