All Posts Tagged With: "philosophy"
Some say ‘philo’ is demoralizing, elitist and unrealistic
No teenager can wax philosophical quite like a French teenager, for no Western nation philosophizes quite like France. All French lycée students on an academic track are required to study philosophy: up to eight hours a week, depending on their specialization. At the end of the class, they all take a four-hour philosophy exam, a punishing rite of passage that revolves around a single question, such as:
Does language betray thought?
Is truth preferable to peace?
Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
Can one be right in spite of the facts?
Does power exist without violence?
Such has been the way of things since Napoleon. But today, this uniquely French brand of enlightenment is under attack—by those who charge that the philo is demoralizing and elitist, and that it does not prepare French students for life outside the academy.
Subject rankings for psychology, law, economics…
Here are the top five highest ranked universities in the QS World University Rankings by Subject and the rankings of all Canadian schools for arts, humanities, and business. For science, engineering, and health disciplines click here. For the full rankings, visit TopUniversities.com.
1. Harvard University (United States)
2. University of California, Berkeley (UCB) (United States)
3. University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
4. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) (United Kingdom)
5. University of Chicago (United States)
16. University of Toronto
33. McGill University
40. University of British Columbia
45. Queen’s University
51-100. Université de Montréal, University of Alberta
101-150. McMaster University, Western University, Université du Québec, University of Waterloo, York University
151-200. Carleton University, Concordia University, Dalhousie University, Laval University, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Victoria
Café lectures trend grows
It’s part of a growing trend in university towns where students are proving they’re interested in learning for the sake of learning—so long as they can simultaneously eat snacks and drink beer.
The Science Pub series was created by Bev Robertson, a professor emeritus who now owns the Bushwakker Brewpub where the monthly event is held. He told the Leader-Post that he got the idea after hearing about similar events further west.
Group opposes psychiatry
The Students’ Association of Philosophy for Counsellors at the University of the Fraser Valley promoted their club at a recent mental health awareness week, reports The Cascade.
But links on the SAPC’s website show that they not only oppose psychiatry, but question whether mental illness even exists. They also offer a link to a YouTube video that says antidepressant medications—now taken by more than 10 per cent of American adults—may not work.
The club is partly a discussion group, but also offers free talk therapy from students who have studied philosophical counselling in a UFV class called Philosophy for Counsellors.
According to The Cascade: “philosophical counselling uses [philosophical] reasoning and logic to identify the initial premise upon which a person’s thoughts, beliefs, values and assumptions are founded. The thought processes of an individual are followed and examined for fallacies…”
Philosophical conversations make a comeback on campus
University students just aren’t what they used to be, it seems. James Lang, reviewing a book by Cathy Small in The Chronicle of Higher Education, sadly concedes that today’s students no longer engage in the big undergraduate discussions of the meaning of life, the sort of late-night, possibly pot-scented talks that he had when was he was young. Indeed, he concludes, this new bunch of students no longer has “a curious and thriving intellectual life outside of their courses.”
Similarly, according to this U of T Dean, today’s young people no longer see a course as a chance to explore concepts and knowledge for their own sake, but merely as pragmatic means to Spartan ends. Then she hints that they may more boring too. “I sometimes wonder if people feel less curiosity now that they can just turn to Google,” Kelly Castle rhetorically asked in The Grid.
Finish in four years or pay for it yourself: Ontario government
Six international doctorate students at the University of Western Ontario are fighting a new rule that forces them to pay up if they take more than four years to complete their degrees. They say that if they get sent home, their education — subsidized so far by Canadian taxpayers — will be wasted.
Saad Anis of Pakistan is one of those students. He told Inside Higher Ed that he may never finish his Ph.D. in philosophy, because he can’t afford to pay the international tuition of $16,000 plus living costs to take a fifth year. Although Ph.D. Humanities students at Western take an average of nearly six years to graduate, international students are funded only for four.
“Transfer is one option,” Anis said. “But I think most likely what is going to happen is I will not be able to finish and I’ll just go back home [to Pakistan] and teach at a high school or something.”
Russell Poole, the associate dean of research and graduate studies for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities said: “I feel very sorry for them that the rules have changed and those rules have changed while they’ve been here.” But, he added that Western doesn’t owe them more funding. “It would be simply wrong to say that any time a student is not completing in four years the university has the obligation to provide funding for the fifth or sixth year,” he said.
Henrik Lagerlund, the philosophy department chair feels that it would be a waste for the students not to finish, but added, “I think I can say with confidence that this program is doable in four years.”
Remember when choice and flexibility were good things?
With Nova Scotia’s O’Neill report in the books, and a similar report just released in Ontario, specialization is the new watchword for Canadian universities. Thus Bonnie Patterson, President of the Council of Ontario Universities: “the funding realities mean we’re going to have to build on the differences that already exist.”
Setting aside the question that the so-called funding realities are really funding decisions, the emphasis on specialization is troubling from the point of view of quality higher education.
Of course, some specialization is inevitable, or at least practical. Not every university can have a medical school, and a law school, and a major in South American Urban Geography. Fine. But I worry when I hear people like Harvey Weingarten, President of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario say things like this: “If Ryerson were to say its priority is undergraduate programs that graduate the next wave of entrepreneurs, for example, it might be that the U of T wouldn’t have a program exactly like that.”
Setting aside the fact that if Ontario really wanted to save money it could eliminate a few of these education councils, Weingarten’s comments hint that specialization is all about output. If Ontario needs graduates in various areas, the implication runs, it doesn’t need every school to fulfill that need. Put another way, if a student wants program x, she only needs one school to offer it and she can go there.
But the underlying assumption is that a university education is designed only, or mainly, as an economic investment. Universities are understood like factories, turning out useful products and thus should be specialized so as to be more efficient.
Setting aside the fact that it is inherently repugnant to think of people as products (the report calls for graduates who, like iPods should be “highly valued and competitive” [p.15]), the specialization perspective assumes that students know what they want to study when they go to university and will stick to that field of study all the way through. Anyone who teaches at a university knows that these assumptions are actually false, and idealists like me see them as deeply troubling.
For one thing, circumstances mean that students are not infinitely mobile. A student in Sudbury may not feasibly be able to move to Windsor to study. Consequently, specialization means limiting choices. The report claims that “differentiation” will mean more variety of programs overall (p. 6) but later reveals that claim to be false by insisting that universities must work with their existing programs (p.10). In other words, the Kingston girl who might have been a world-class artist may end up toiling as an accountant because Fine Arts was only available at Western, not Queen’s. Such things may happen even now, but they become more likely the more specialized institutions become.
University no escape from high-school cliques
The process of self-discovery I long anticipated to occur in first year of university is in full-swing. The first taste of independence, incessant socializing, and unprecedented stress management required are accelerating the infinite process of self-discovery to an extent I apparently failed to appreciate. Not only is my idealism being challenged – I’m being forced daily to explore and question the fundamental ways in which I look at the world and at myself.
The first sphere of influence my beliefs and convictions have run up against is that of College social life. In high school, it took me a long time – about 3 and half years to be precise – to stop trying to be someone I wasn’t in order to fit in with whom I perceived as “cool.” I eventually came to the intuitive understanding that it’s impossible to sustain a personality that isn’t naturally your own, so I embraced who I was, became friends with people I was genuinely interested in and who were genuinely interested in me. I ceased my fruitless and futile pursuit of popularity for it’s own sake.
Here at university, I’m finding the whole process is starting over again, albeit with a few more complicating factors thrown in. There is a clear parallel to my early high-school years in that I am drawn towards certain cliques that have been agreed by some unspoken understanding to be comprised of the most popular kids, while my most meaningful relationships already lie outside of those cliques.
Trinity is a small enough school that I see everyone I know every day, and so at meals I alternate between sitting with the “cool” kids, who I like chatting and partying with; and my much more philosophical, cerebral, “nerdy” friends where dinner is always accompanied by a discussion of the value of rationality over intuition, or whether killing babies is inherently bad (it’s not). While I don’t feel compelled to make a cut-and-dry decision as to what clique I belong in (I do, however, believe that depth is inevitably sacrificed in favor of breadth), the experiences with both groups inevitably shed light on my own personality.
On the one hand, the cool kids don’t seem to read into things very much; they are happy to remain in the realm of small-talk and get annoyed when I attempt to analyze or find meaning in what they say; a habit that I have neither managed to shake, nor particularly want to. Of course, this perception is probably flawed since I remain for the most part an outsider observing only the public behaviors of the group. Even it was an accurate perception, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with such superficial interactions, but I do think my habit of incessant over-analysis is here to stay. These guys, however, seem to have a hell of a lot of fun without seeking meaning or explanations. They seem to intuitively know what is good, what makes them happy.
On the other hand, the Philosopher Kings spend their days trying to understand what is “good” and trying to figure out if happiness is even worth pursuing as an end in itself over, say, knowledge. I actually quite enjoy thinking about these things, but this is where things get even more complicated. The one course I have really enjoyed and found genuinely challenging so far, Buddhism and Cognitive Science, seeks to explain how people find meaning. Most of the theories we have encountered suggest that this is done pre-supposing logic.
Whether you call it intuition or choose to invoke a fancy Greek word like religio, it seems that people ultimately find meaning and happiness without actually thinking about it. This makes sense when you actually try to define what is meaningful, what is good, using pure reason. It’s very hard. In the thousands of years of philosophical history, no one has managed to objectively define these concepts to the point where everyone agrees; what an individual finds meaningful or good (and which is therefore the basis for his behavior and beliefs) remains very much up to the individual to decide in some pre-logical, subjective way.
Still, the cynic in me continues to distrust that which cannot be explained logically, and so these questions remain unanswered in my mind. It’s a tug-of-war between logic and intuition, with no clear winner in sight. Juggling this existential angst while struggling through the incredibly annoying process of memorization and regurgitation known as mid-terms, I’m surprisingly glad to be going home in 2 weeks for some much-needed relaxation.
Need some help finding a great (and easy) elective?
Trying to decide which electives to take to balance your course load for next term? Can’t choose between that psychology or philosophy course?
Just check out Birdcourses.com. It’s a website where Canadian university students can vote on their courses’ “birdiness.” Or in other words, how Mickey Mouse a course is.
My undergrad enrollment appointment is this week. Meaning, I need to know exactly what electives I want for next semester. Thanks to one of the best websites ever, I was able look for the perfect electives that could complement my course load.
Yes, courses that sound easy and almost guarantee a good mark.
All of the most important intel about a course is listed on a single page. This includes which professors you should try to get, and whether tests and finals (if the course even has them) are essay-based or multiple choice.
Plus, there’s a section for comments where other students can share their impressions of the course.
Of course, some students want to take courses that also broaden their perspectives, enriching their lives with new ways of thinking, helping them discover a more profound sense of Self. Or something like that.
Just as long at the course has a perfect 5 on the birdiness scale.
Sometimes you’ll see a course with a mixed rating. Like Molecular Biology at Waterloo. Whoever posted this course thought they should spread the joy known as Molecular Biology, by claiming “This course is easy-fasheezy. You learn about cells and how they affect you and why you should care. Word! This course was so fun.”
I was thrilled when I read that. It’s a course I need to take in third year. Now instead of dreading it, I could actually look forward to it.
But then I read some of the comments posted from other students who had already lived through the course.
“No…this course is by far one of the hardest bio’s i’ve taken and is known to be a really hard biology…if ur looking for an easy bio try 439.”
And, “Without a doubt, the hardest bio course, and aside from org. chem, the hardest course ive taken yet! i took it DE…biggest mistake! assignments and quizzes are easy enough to make you think you can do ok…the final is BRUTAL!”
This is one of the small dangers of the site. Although most students simply want to share the triumph/euphoria of having found the perfect bobo class, there’s always someone with a sick sense of humour.
Turns out that Molecular Biology course might not be so birdy after all.
“I don’t know who put this course on this site. But it definitely licks balls.”
- Photo courtesy of klynslis