Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Introduction to Philosophy

I was always one of those who loved to sit up until the wee hours of the morning discussing the universe. So when I got the opportunity to go to University as a mature student in my mid twenties, Philosophy seemed like the ideal option for me. There were times when it was intensely frustrating and times when it was conceptually mind blowing, but on balance I’d have to say I loved it.

My frustration never came from trying to grasp complex ideas – that was the fun part – no, it came from appallingly written, pretentious, intellectual crap. There are some philosophers (Heidegger springs to mind) who are like wading through half-set treacle. I continually found it astonishing that I could comprehend each word individually, but make no sense whatsoever of a complete sentence. To me, it was completely unnecessary: if you can understand a concept, you can find a way to explain it. Any philosopher who uses overly complicated language in some form of intellectual elitism deserves to be head-butted in the balls repeatedly until they are prepared to climb off their self-built pedestal and talk to the rest of us on our own level.

A few years ago, up in Central Scotland, I taught Intro to Philosophy as an Adult Education Evening Class where one of the primary objectives was to make it as understandable and accessible as possible. It was great fun. The adult learners had varied social and educational backgrounds as well as spanning over 50 years in age from the youngest to the oldest member.

Dealing with different philosophical ideas each week, such as “What is the self”, “Free Will & Determinism”, “Existentialism” etc, I would introduce the concepts, give examples and get discussions going. One of the few rules was that if you disagreed with someone you were to attack their argument and not the person. It made for lively dialogue and I encouraged people to try arguing from viewpoints they disagreed with as it gave them a better understanding of the issues involved.

All in all these classes were a great success, but then I got too busy with the web design business and couldn’t spare the time to continue with them. However since changing my life and moving to Castle Douglas I now have more time available and entered discussions with the local Community Learning Assistant.

The new Adult Evening Classes leaflet for the Stewartry Area of Dumfries and Galloway came through the letterbox today and behold, there is my course being advertised. If there are sufficient numbers of people interested, then the class will begin in 4 weeks.

I’m all excited

Introduction to Philosophy course

23 comments:

Dr Maroon said...

I’m impressed in spite of myself. A sucker for academics me. However, are you sure this course exists or are you simply extrapolating from events as they impinge on your senses? I think you will get the numbers, I hope so. I’m tempted to enrol myself, if only to sit up the back with the troublemakers. I’m a little envious, that’s a lie, I’m quite a bit envious. Expounding is my favourite pastime.

Kim Ayres said...

Dr Maroon - set off slightly early from work on a Thursday afternoon and you could be here by 7pm. Might even have time for a fish supper on the way. A quick pint or coffee afterwards and you could still be home by midnight.

BStrong said...

Wonderful. I'm happy that you are able to go back to something that you are so passionate about. Good luck teach.

SafeTinspector said...

Web design, eh? And now I know what you did before...

Oh, as for the pretentious shit: too right! This happens in most fields of artistic study (I include Philosophy in artistic because, like most art forms, it is subjective and not really subject to any sort of testable hypothesis beyond a certain level.)
I have a friend who is a music proffessor at a local university. In music there are those who make these "challenging" compositions that are, to the untrained (read: pretentious) ear, unlistenable. Proponents of such claim that music is like any other science, the elite levels require special training to approach the subject matter.
Well, thats balony for both music and philosophy.
Unlike the hard sciences, humankind gets no benefit from the unintelligible levels of pretention in philosophy, music, paint, etc. They may enjoy it, and I'd never tell them they can't engage in this crap, but they should be under no illusion as to the worth of such work.

Kudos to you, man, for doin' it. Sounds like fun on a bun, and I'd love to be a fly on the wall. Get your students to agree to videotaping and post it on youtube or somesuch..

Nikki said...

That's great Kim!

Kim Ayres said...

BStrong - thanks :)

SafeTinspector - Philosophy is an art rather than a science - I have an MA, not an MSc, however at the edge of all sciences lies philosophy. Once you start questioning what happens at the speed of light (or beyond) or the nature of the Big Bang then you are into the heart of Philosophy, and no longer pure science. In order for something to be a scientific fact, for example, it needs to be repeatable, but no one is ever going to be able to repeat the big bang, so it stays as a hypothosis.

Nikki - thank you :)

Dr Maroon said...

I opened my mouth to complain, but only for the sake of sophistry, for you are correct. It’s partly for this reason that some universities prefer the term natural philosophy to physics. (and partly of course for some outdated meaningless snob value.) My own field, mathematics, suffers (philosophically) in that it is both a discovery and a language, having therefore the advantages and drawbacks that both circumstances exact. I realise suddenly that that is the most profound thing I’ve said in ages. I need another drink.

Dr Maroon said...

Waitaminute SafeT. Surely to say that the humanities are of no benefit to man just doesn’t make sense.
Kim thinks that the philosophers (or their translators) used complex language to keep their subject for an elite. An alternative explanation could be that complex ideas require complex language and the philosophers did their best with what was available to them. For them to compromise while defining their meaning, would reduce the impact of what they were trying to impart, not to say might smack of patronisation.
To some, especially those unfamiliar with your blog personality, your music might be considered challenging, however, because we think we know what you’re about, to us it makes some kind of pleasurable sense. (I like it. So help me God I do). In a sense we have been tutored to your way of thinking and therefore are able to meet you halfway.
I rest my case.
I'm on a roll here.

Gyrobo said...

Personally, I subscribe to the Yogi Berra school of philosophy.

Kim Ayres said...

Dr Maroon - I don't just think you should enrol in this class, I think you should tutor it.

Gyrobo - are you smarter than the average Berra?

Pendullum said...

Head butted in the balls repeatedly?

Now, Kim play nice at school...

Have fun in class and listen to the teacher...

Kim Ayres said...

...but I am the teacher...

SafeTinspector said...

Dr M:
An alternative explanation could be that complex ideas require complex language and the philosophers did their best with what was available to them. For them to compromise while defining their meaning, would reduce the impact of what they were trying to impart, not to say might smack of patronisation.

Humanities have benefit to people, but unapproachable and inapplicable contrivances with no independant or testable existance have none.
"Mystery" religions always try to capitalize on our gullible acceptance that unknowable truths can benefit us. They are, I posit, worthless.
Those complicated philosophies, if they have true complexity, should be approachable in a layered model.
First, understand A and B and C and D. Now build AA from A and B; build BB from C and D. Now understand that the complicated idea of AAA can be approached using the tools of AA and BB.
These jackasses want to show off by throwing the AAA at us without the underlying information, or they are pretending at the existance of AAA when it is but a wisp of smoke.

Foot Eater said...

Might as well admit it: I'm a psychiatrist, and work in a field that blends the humanities and the harder sciences. While I find psychoanalysis fascinating, I don't practise it myself because I see myself fundamentally as a scientist, and psychoanalysis is emphatically not a science precisely because its hypotheses aren't falsifiable.

What a lot of adverbs I've just used. Must work on that.

Paul said...

Fantastic. I hope you get enough people.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeTinspector - I have a battery charger and rechargable AA batteries, but no AAA ones, which is a pain as my son's MP3 player runs on them.

Foot Eater - you've done such a great job over the past year convincing me you work in the morgue that I now find it really difficult to get my head around the idea that you're a psychiatrist . Or are you both? Do corpses give you a more intelligent level of discourse?

Paul - thank you,and welcome to my ramblings :)

jotcr2 said...

I dabbled with the thought of studying Philosophy at university about 12 years ago. However, I am a very practical person, and rather action-orientated, so decided it wasn't for me. As a subject it does have a reputation for BS.

Good luck with teaching Kim.

Kim Ayres said...

Jotcr2 - there is indeed a fair amount of BS in Philosophy, as there is in most subjects. The difference is that in Philosophy part of the training is precisely how to become a BS detector :)

Attila The Mom said...

Woohoo! Great news!

One of the classes I'm taking is public speaking.

I have to do a philisophical speech about "why am I here?".

Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to it.

Why couldn't they pick an easy topic? I could speechify about boogers and smelly socks and dog poo all day long. LOL

Kim Ayres said...

"Why am I here?" is open to a vast array of possibilities, from "it was the only way to escape the boogers, smelly socks and doog poo for a couple of sane hours a week," through to the mating habits of your grandparents.

El-Branden Brazil said...

Good luck, Kim! Sounds like a lot of stimulating fun.

As you may know, I also studied Philosophy as part of my Humanities degree at university. Loved every minute of it.

What I want to know is can a man with a single hair on his head be truly classified as bald?

I am sure you will be touching on such profound questions and the like.

Kim Ayres said...

Actually it sounds more like a question for an agony aunt than a philosopher. Are you losing much sleep over this Branden? Have you thought about a wig?

;)

El-Branden Brazil said...

Well...