| Let us imagine that Plato's Academy, considered by many to be the first university, was re-opened. This is not simply one of those thought experiments for which philosophy is notorious. Dora Bakoyianni, the former Mayor of Athens, proposed the re-opening of the Academy as part of her election platform, and is now pursuing this possibility with an international group of scholars [VALASKAKIS]. The Academy was opened in 387 B. C. and closed in 529 A. D. In the intervening 1500 years, traditional philosophy evolved into "natural philosophy" (the original description of science), which splintered into the many specialised sciences. The re-opening of the Academy is an excellent opportunity for a re-thinking of the teaching of philosophy in the light of its intervening history. |
It would seem obvious at first that the scholars participating in the new Academy should be philosophers, particularly those who are experts in the philosophy of Plato. However, the discipline of philosophy tends to focus on philosophers rather than on philosophy. The expertise of the academic philosopher is on a particular philosopher rather than a particular phenomenon. Thus one philosopher may focus on another philosopher's interpretation of a third philosopher's thesis. The curriculum is thus organised around philosophers, and the philosophy section of the bookstore is arranged alphabetically according to philosophers.1 If the participating scholars are philosophers, there is a danger that the Academy will re-open, 1500 years later, with a pyramid of philosophers riding piggy-back down a cul du sac. They will be arguing about the same answers to the same questions. I would thus like to argue for a more eclectic group of scholars.
| 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
1 Most discussions of the crisis in the humanities focuses on what Joseph Weizenbaum calls "the tyranny of instrumental reasoning". Certainly the slogan of my own university "Real Education for the Real World" (perilously close to "Learn to Earn") does not bode well for our various humanities departments. Students see little prospect of getting a job in for example - philosophy. At best, one could imagine a long period of study followed, if lucky, by a low-paying job as an assistant professor in one of the dwindling (and in some cases disappearing) departments of philosophy in our universities. However, this conservatism of philosophy may play a larger role. Alan Watts says "The word is to the world as the menu is to the meal. Don't eat the menu." Academic philosophers are menu-eaters. Students come hungry for the meal and we read the menu to them. Students are fascinated by the Big Questions Where do I come from? Who am I? What am I doing here? Where am I going? and professors answer with the brilliant but tentative answers provided by Plato and Aristotle and their subsequent footnoters.