Prayer and philosophy;Letter

17th December 1999 at 00:00
WHY does Joe Walker (Platform, December 10) malign the study of "traditional" philosophy in his defence of religious education? He asserts that the "philosophical inquiry" associated with RE is "stimulating and invigorating" while "traditional" philosophy is "likely to lead to alienation of all but the intellectual cream".

His attempt to belittle the authentic study of philosophy is misguided. If by "philosophical inquiry" he means the swapping of opinions on a range of religious issues, I don't doubt it is "invigorating". We all like to air our opinions - as do those on daytime chat shows - but this is not philosophy or philosophical inquiry.

Moreover, the excitement that "traditional" philosophy has spawned in many Scottish pupils and students cuts across ability and social background. (In our college we are somewhat bemused by the thought that we might be accused of creating an intellectual elite.) Having criticised "traditional" philosophy, ironically Mr Walker goes on to emphasise how important it is. He says that "philosophy is crucial to understanding religion and our place in the universe". The obvious contradiction aside, I beg to differ: it is doubtful whether the kind of understanding Mr Walker is seeking can be attained at school level.

In fact, it is doubtful whether such grandiose aims can be achieved at all. Philosophy does not teach what to think but how to think (it provides the intellectual tools Mr Walker admits are required if students are to assess all manner of information).

It also has its own subject content, very little of which has anything to do with religion. Philosophy does not and cannot give us the meaning of life or our place in the universe, nor can any other subject, including RE.

But that observation no more belittles or gives philosophy amateur status than it belittles or undermines RE.

Eileen Reid Philosophy lecturer Langside College, Glasgow

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