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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912


KIENSTRA, Natascha; KARSKENS, Machiel  and  IMANTS, Jeroen. Doing philosophy in classroom teaching. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.4, pp. 753-771. ISSN 2224-7912.

Great philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Wittgenstein have indicated that teaching philosophy can focus both on learning philosophy as well as on actively philosophizing. The latter activity can be called doing philosophy, to contrast it with learning philosophy. Dutch philosophical education in secondary classroom has as an important aim to learn philosophy by doing philosophy. Thus in classroom teaching philosophical skills (namely doing philosophy) are linked to substantive philosophical domains. Examples of these domains are philosophical anthropology, ethics, social philosophy, theory of knowledge and philosophy of science. Doing philosophy is about skills such as (1) selecting, transforming, structuralizing, and interpreting material; (2) analyzing; (3) testing; (4) producing criticism; and (5) reflecting. The so-called typically philosophical part is reflecting on the terms and (logical) argumentation used and the problematizing or questioning of hypotheses and/or preconceptions. In this paper we concentrate on the questions what doing philosophy in the classroom is and which philosophical exercises can be used. A philosophical exercise can be described as a complex standardized manner of doing philosophy, in which philosophical knowledge and skills are combined to exchange thoughts by paying explicit attention to philosophical (meta)concepts in a lifelike context in such a manner that a person or several persons first realize that they are actually ignorant and subsequently continue to inquire on a metalevel with the aim of constructing a true belief. To foster doing philosophy by students various philosophical exercises can be used in classroom teaching, such as writing a philosophical essay, philosophical reading of primary texts, using classroom talk, doing a thought experiment, using the Socratic method, giving a speech, organizing a symposium, role-playing, discussing a dilemma, and having a debate. We provide an overview of 30 exercises which can be used for teaching philosophy, that we classify in three approaches to doing philosophy. The three approaches have in common that they all relate to truth-finding. The first approach, doing philosophy as connective truth-finding or communicative action, is illustrated by a classroom talk and by a discussion of the Socratic method. Second, doing philosophy as test-based truth-finding, is illustrated by a discussion of community of philosophical inquiry. Third, doing philosophy as juridical debate, judging truth-value and concluding judgment (truth value analysis) is illustrated by a discussion of philosophical debate. We discuss relations between, on the one hand, these three approaches, and, on the other hand, theoretical, practical and pedagogical elements of the definition of doing philosophy in the classroom. The exercises seem useful for learning to do philosophy in the classroom. To judge the exercises on their usefulness we asked the following questions: a) What are similarities and differences with our working definition of a philosophical exercise? b) In which approach or approaches to doing philosophy can an exercise be classified? c) Can we analyze a negative case? d) Can we find general exercises that also fit our definition of a philosophical exercise? When a philosophical exercise is part of an educational design, this does not necessarily have to lead to doing philosophy by students. But when in classroom teaching this philosophical exercise is actually used, students should in principle start doing philosophy. Our recommendations are that: (i) in his/her exercises teachers should make use of all three approaches, (ii) teachers should be aware of their preferences for certain approaches, and be able to use all approaches, (ii) teachers should be able to use more than one exercise for each of the three approaches, and (iv) during the learning of students, teachers should be explicit in which approaches students are doing philosophy.

Keywords : classroom talk; debate; doing philosophy; philosophical exercise; philosophical inquiry; producing criticism; reflecting; Socratic method; teaching philosophy; truth-finding.

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