Last week I continued running sections for introduction to philosophy. We had, in theory, read Bertrand Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy.” I say “in theory” because in reality when I asked my students who had done the reading, not many people raised their hands. Turns out the bookstore hadn’t actually gotten the book in, yet.
No problem, though, really, since I put the important text in my slides. I got tired of having to find things in books because I’ve noticed in discussions that usually by the time everyone has gotten the text out and found the spot, the person sharing has already finished reading. Between that and just losing people spacing out when we turn our attention to the text, it’s easier for the screen to just have the text ready.
I first posed the questions “What is the main point of this text?” and “What argument is given for it?”. The argument goes:
- Philosophy is to be studied only if there is some value derived from doing so.
- There is some value derived from doing so.
- So, philosophy is to be studied.
The first premise is essentially the challenge posed by the imagined interlocutor. Since nobody really has a problem with 1, the main challenge is arguing for 2. I needn’t go into detail here on how he does so (see the link above), but I did challenge the students to then argue against it. I imagine that’s the only time in their academic careers they’ve been asked to provide reasons to leave.
We spent the most time then discussing whether the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. Discussions took off on their own pretty quickly.