First Philosophy

Philosophy is a government-mandated course in Brazil.  Not only is it a mandated course, the law requires it for all high school students.  So even before they take up philosophy in college, Brazilian high school students have had three-years worth of studying philosophy.

I read this interesting fact from Carlos Fraenkel’s article “Citizen Philosophers: Teaching Justice in Brazil” published in the January/February 2012 online issue of the Boston Review. The webpage said that the article will be part of  Fraenkel’s forthcoming book entitled Teaching Plato in Palestine. The bottomline, as written by Fraenkel, is that the government believes philosophy is crucial in propagating citizenship education. Brazil believes that its citizens will be better off when they are able to think critically, to form well-reasoned judgments, to be conversant in social and political issues and to be engaged in the pursuit of justice through the discipline that philosophy provides them. The program has had its own of critics but one cannot deny the overwhelming support it enjoys particularly from the economically-challenged sector of Brazilian society.

Those among us who grew up in the 80’s will probably remember how it was for Brazil during those years.  Like the Philippines, it also suffered under an oppressive regime, the economy was bankcrupt, poverty rate was at rock bottom and peace and order situation always threatened the country with collapse.  Like the Philippines, Brazil was also able to shake off the dictatorship which used to rule it but unlike the Philippines, it has outgrown by lightyears the poverty and instability of the past. Brazil is part now of the so-called G20, an informal alignment of the top 20 economies worldwide.  Global rankings have always given Brazil the highest rating in terms of human development, governance, education and employment. As an exclaimation point to what it has achieved, Brazil was recently likewise bestowed  the honor of hosting of two major global events: the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

This is Brazil.  What we find at the other side of the continent, in Northern America, is exactly the opposite.  In the same Boston Review, published on its April 5, 2011 issue, Todd Edwin Jones, Chair of the Department of Philosophy of  University of  Las Vegas, Nevada, decried in his article “Budgetary Hemlock: Nevada Seeks To Eliminate Philosophy” the university decision to phase out the entire philosophy deparment of  ULVN due to budget cuts.  This is no isolated event. British philosopher AC Grayling of University of London and Oxford University established his own College of Humanities in the face of the same funding reduction for humanities imposed by the administration of David Cameron.  We find here a rather curious juxtaposition between philosophy and economy.  Societies on the rise are more friendly with philosophy. Societies in decline are the ones who think it is superflous. Have they lost love of wisdom due to societal decline? Or does the society decline because it has ceased loving wisdom long ago? We must remember that Athens fell not because of Socrates’ death.  Socrates died because Athens has lost her moorings and the only tragic consolation it could afford was the death of the one who cared for her the most.

These things come to mind in the light of K+12 being contemplated by the Philippine government and its possible repercussions on university education  in general and philosophy in particular.  The UST Department of Philosophy is optimistic that the first university in Asia which created the first ever philosophy program the same year it was founded will not be the first to turn its back on philosophy.


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