Philosophy ‘essential for all’

Dr Charlotte Blease, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, discusses why she believes Philosophy is crucial for today’s students

Tech evangelists predict a radically different world of automation and robot-assisted living. Tech experts are not just visionaries; they are also designing and selling their visions of the future to us.

Scientists, technologists, and engineers all need to think about the future they are programming for us all. How will their innovations affect us? What about the ethical implications of their products? Do our future technology pioneers have the necessary critical thinking skills to step outside their filter bubbles and see unintended bias?

Charlotte Blease is passionate about Philosophy and the education of children.  Her interest in Philosophy and learning was sparked whilst teaching in Belfast. With the prospect of automation, artificial intelligence and robot-assisted living in the future, she says students studying STEM subjects are tomorrow’s coders, robotics and software designers and they need a grounding in Philosophy.

Students in the Republic of Ireland are now required to study the ‘Nature of Science’ as part of their science education at secondary level, yet in the UK the first time that many students are expected to engage with philosophical debate seriously is when they enter higher education.  Blease is calling for a Philosophy GCSE to allow children to engage with deeper issues earlier in their education, but says children should start as young as possible. 

“Philosophy is as essential as reading, writing and arithmetic,” Blease states. 

The subject is about engaging with big questions, a training in learning to be wrong and how to criticise others respectfully. She continues: “Children need to learn that the answers aren’t to be had at the back of a book.” 

There are many benefits, she says, of including the subject on the curriculum from an early age, especially important in an era when reducing funding is an issue for many schools. In Blease’s TED talk she cites a study where children make faster progress in maths and literacy after engaging regularly with philosophical enquiry.

An understanding of philosophy is essential to the ability to think critically and creatively; students need to know it is essential to ask the right questions about the future

It’s not just about improvement in other areas of the curriculum, however. Philosophy is about getting children used to taking a step back and ask the big questions which can enhance creativity and teach kids to be intellectually confident in a complex world. 

Philosophy facilitates problem-solving, exactly what the World Economic Forum says society will need in the future. 

The prediction is that aspects of professional jobs will be able to be done more efficiently by AI. Blease argues that philosophy can help prepare current pupils for a new world where professions will be subject to fragmentation. Teachers need to prepare students for these massive changes. 

Blease says that we’re doing students a disservice by not giving them a philosophical grounding: philosophy is necessary not only to cushion the blow of future changes, but it equips them with the critical thinking skills required to traverse disciplines and future proof their careers.

Blease also advocates incorporating philosophical thought and ethical debate within science subjects. “Scientists need to be aware of these issues, and this would progress scientific research.  If you are just technically proficient, you might not see the issues.” Ethical debate can help explore issues and assist with questioning about creatively exploring the implications of potential prejudice.  

Developments such as big data collection, the Internet of Things, fake news, digital filter bubbles all throw up ethical questions for our society. There will be new jobs in the sciences and technical subjects, and today’s children are being educated for a world we do not yet fully comprehend. Blease says an understanding of philosophy is essential to the ability to think critically and creatively; students need to know it is essential to ask the right questions about the future.


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