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Taiwanese scholars call for more philosophy education

2017/12/02 18:04:46

Lin Ya-ping (林雅萍, center, standing)

Taipei, Dec. 2 (CNA) Scholars in Taiwan have called for more emphasis on philosophy education, saying that the country has long fallen short in encouraging critical and independent thinking and would benefit from such training.

Speaking to CNA on the sidelines of a World Philosophy Day event recently, Shei Ser-min (謝世民), a philosophy professor at National Chung Cheng University, said he hopes elective courses in philosophy can be offered at the senior high school level in Taiwan, because this would help sharpen students' thinking skills.

"The unique thing about philosophy education is that it trains people to question accepted views," Shei said. "It could broaden one's perspective and invigorate one's mind."

He said Taiwan has long lacked such training, which is important to building a robust civic society.

"If ordinary people can receive philosophy training, politicians will have to respond to the trend and will not always be able to resort to emotions to win votes," Shei said. "They will have to use reason to defend their political ideas."

He added that the news media will also improve if audiences and readers demand better and more critical news coverage.

Shei suggested that Taiwan learn from European countries such as France and Ireland in implementing philosophy education in high schools.

However, he also acknowledged that a lack of teachers could be a problem, and suggested that Taiwan should train philosophy master's graduates to teach at the high school level.

An event celebrating World Philosophy Day concluded in Taipei Nov. 17. It was the first time that the World Philosophy Day, established by UNESCO in 2005 to promote critical and independent thinking, was observed in Taiwan.

The two-day event comprised 16 salons and featured over 20 speakers on a variety of topics, ranging from the localization and popularization of philosophy to debates on freedom, labor rights and social media.

Lin Ya-ping (林雅萍), an associate professor at Chang Gung University's Department of Medical Humanities and Social Sciences who also spoke at the event, also said it is best to implement philosophy education "as early as possible."

Philosophy education not only facilitates critical thinking ability; more importantly, it helps individuals form their values and ethics and ultimately practice moral behavior, Lin told CNA.

But she also said that the teacher shortage can be a problem and that it is crucial to train competent teachers.

"(Philosophy classes) depend heavily on the instructor, who needs to be able to guide students in asking questions," Lin said.

In addition, she said, it is important to adjust the way exams are administered in Taiwan.

Taiwan exams are focused on multiple-choice questions, but schools should consider adding questions that do not have definitive answers into their tests, and should evaluate students based on their reasoning process, Lin said.

Meanwhile, Hsieh Sheng-yu (謝昇佑), founder of the social enterprise How's Food and a scholar who specializes in Marxist philosophy, said intellectuals have to bear a great responsibility for the lack of interest in philosophical thinking among ordinary people in Taiwan.

He said intellectuals often speak in jargon and are too quick to dismiss the thoughts and wisdom that ordinary people derive from their everyday experience.

Intellectuals need to emulate what Greek philosopher Socrates did and begin talking with ordinary people and seeing the world from their perspectives, Hsieh said.

Even though he believes it is still important for young people to read philosophy classics, he argued that it is more important for students to grasp the philosopher's spirit, rather than to merely read books.

When teaching Immanuel Kant's philosophy, for example, Hsieh said he would ask students to imagine that they are making a film about Kant and ask them to play the role of Kant.

To play Kant, students have to figure out how he speaks, his physical and mental state, or even how he goes about his daily life, he said.

They will learn how Kant connected with his world and gain a deeper understanding of his perspective, which will in turn help them develop their own, he said.

(By Christie Chen)