By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
22 April 2018
Philosophy has never been an ally of education, despite the fact that philosophers have taught philosophy for over two and a half millennia. Education paralyzes philosophy’s progress and freedom, but it is important to teach philosophy despite all the limitations it entails for making it a successful educational experience.
A few days ago, Abdulrahman al-Shoqair tweeted a page of the philosophy syllabus taught in Tunisia’s secondary schools.
The topic was about the importance of awareness in history, and quoted Schopenhauer’s notable book The World as Will and Representation, with a quote that reads as follow: “The will is the knowledge a priori of the body, and the body is the knowledge a posteriori of the will.” I immediately remembered this phrase in Schopenhauer’s book, which is taken from page 195.
How Schopenhauer Sharpens the Mind
The text expresses a fundamental premise of Schopenhauer’s book, which is one of the most important philosophical books of the 19th century and to this day. It is known that the majority of Schopenhauer’s writings were aimed at completing the shortcomings of his favourite philosopher Kant.
In his work Critique of the Kantian philosophy, Schopenhauer said: “An age of fearful abortions, was, as we all know, introduced by Kant, it may be concluded that the services he rendered were not complete, but must have been negative and one-sided, and burdened with great defects.”
He states: “For a purely individual characteristic of Kant’s mind is a remarkable love of symmetry, which delights in a varied multiplicity, so that it may reduce it to order, and repeat this order in subordinate orders, and so on indefinitely, just as happens in Gothic churches.” Thus, choosing this text in the secondary curriculum of philosophy is a boost to sharpen and awaken the mind.
Tunisia and Arab Philosophy
Dr. Salah Mosbah, a professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Tunisia, considers that the teaching of philosophy in Tunisia precedes the dawn of French colonization, citing the syllabus taught in al-Zaytuna Mosque since the era of the Hafsids, generalizing this standard as similar to what was taught in the al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt, the Umayyad Mosque in Syria and al-Qarawiyyin Mosque in Marrakech.
On teaching philosophy at the secondary level, he writes that people responsible for the syllabus “selected philosophy and scientific texts, texts of thinkers and some novelists who are affiliated with classical as well as contemporary Arab culture. They specifically focused on the thinking methods of Avicenna, Ibn al-Haytham, Al-Ghazali, Miskawayh, Averroes, Ibn Hazm, al-Farabi, Al-Kindi, Ibn Khaldun and other classical Arab writers such as Mikha'il Na'ima, Naguib Mahfouz, Samir Amin, Abdelkebir Khatibi as well as intellectuals, epistemologists, economists and visual thinkers.”
This is the experience of Tunisia in teaching philosophy in high schools, which is one of the most successful Arab experiences. Some North African countries have yielded to the demands of radicals, and have revoked the teaching of philosophy.
Others mix two contradictory fields, such as naming philosophy syllabuses “philosophy and Islamic thought”, which is an association between two different disciplines and sources of knowledge. But as the debate on how to start teaching philosophy in Saudi Arabia is still raging, we can be inspired by the Tunisian experience of teaching philosophy at secondary schools since it is enlightening and modern, and it has proven its utility over time.
A Generation with Critical Skills
A few days ago, I was having a discussion with a Tunisian editor-in-chief who studied the curricula and is well-acquainted with it. He even recalls the time when French philosopher Michel Foucault came to Tunisia to teach. He told me that teaching philosophy was the virtue of the late Habib Bourguiba.
Two names such as Lamin Chebbi and Mahmoud Messadi had enormous impact on bolstering Tunisian education, he added. He said that the power of education was responsible for saving Tunisia after the events of 2010 and that the state, following the departure of Ben Ali, appointed philosophy professors as heads of institutions before going to the Constituent Assembly elections. Philosophy contributed to strengthening education thus protecting the state. Teaching philosophy does not appear to be a luxury at all; it creates a generation of youth, with the minimum requirement of critical outlook or existential experience.
We can walk in the footsteps of others and start teaching philosophy, then periodically test the curriculum for additions and modifications, while complying with the requirement of freedom of discussions and debates, appealing to the minds to learn, to have a desire for knowledge and perseverance to ask questions and to search for approaches to find answers.
This is not impossible. States have undergone this experience and it has served them for generations and enhanced the minds of societies while increasing national morality and existential vitality. Here I say that philosophy is the antidote against ideology.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts.