Russell on the elusive knowledge of the Self

In ‘The Problems of Philosophy’ (1912), Bertrand Russell pays tribute to the French philosopher, René Descartes, for performing ‘ great service to philosophy’ by introducing a rational method of doubt in the search for truthful knowledge. He doesn’t identify any apparent difficulty in the Cartesian assumption that everything outside my own thoughts, feelings snd sensations, could be a mere fantasy. However, he brings his own realist interpretation to bear on the argument, when he comments that, despite the logical possibility ...

Pre IB: On some inspiring philosophical novels

This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here. If you are tempted to choose Philosophy as one of your IB subjects, or simply want to enrich your culture, you may be looking for non-academic reading to whet your intellectual appetite and put you in good stead for your future studies. All selections are, by definition, subjective but some works stand out so much above the rest that ...

PRE IB: What to expect from the IB Philosophy course

This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here. The IB Philosophy course is the most eclectic introduction to a subject wrongly considered as reserved to the most academically inclined students. On the first lesson of the new school year, I usually ask my group of Philosophy students their reason for their choice of this particular subject. On one occasion, a student candidly replied that he didn’t really ...

PRE IB: How Philosophy can boost your IB academic performance

This blog was written Jean-Marc Pascal, an experienced IB Philosophy teacher. To read more Philosophy blog for students and teachers, click here. OK. You don’t really know what Philosophy is about and you are not remotely interested in starting a new academic subject from scratch. But, hold on a minute and consider the following: would you be prepared to say that you never thought about the difference between reality and fantasy or what you are doing on this planet? Obviously not, ...

How to approach the Philosophy examination

The Self in its Different Dimensions Spiritual Dimension: ‘the Self as Transcendent Entity’ Judeo-Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, Taoism The Inner Self: ‘Who am I?’ Psychological foundations:                                                      Philosophical foundations: The Unconscious (Freud)                                                       ...

Plato’s political use of the ‘noble lie’

What would Plato have made of our ‘post-truth’ era where ‘alternative facts’ are likely to receive equal attention and are sometimes given more credence than analytic arguments, standing to reason? Well, Plato also had his own political agenda when writing The Republic and devising the most perfect society or what purports to be the most just society. The educational programme laid out by the alleged ‘founders’ of this utopian state, does not cater for the producers of material commodities. However, ...

Was Plato a precursor of Freud?

Despite the twenty-four centuries separating the two men, both Plato and Freud shared the same pessimism regarding human nature: man is driven by his desires or what Freud called ‘drives’ or instincts. The latter was a scientist who firmly believed in the power of rational enquiry. As a father who lost one of his sons in the First World War and who had to leave Austria for England in his old age in order to avoid the systematic anti-Semitic repression ...

Plato’s rejection of Athenian politics

In his alleged Seventh Letter, Plato recounts his three visits to Sicily at the court of Dionysius, the tyrannical ruler of Syracuse and his vain efforts to change his political views. However, before embarking on his first sea-journey, Plato casts his mind back to the period of the Thirty Tyrants and notes that: ‘When I considered all this, the more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult ...

Is the Philosopher the best possible ruler? (Part 2 of the Allegory of the Ship)

In the Allegory of the Ship, Plato fails to raise some critical points regarding the aloof attitude adopted by his philosopher: 1) By choosing not to intervene in the various quarrels raging between the different popular factions, he is implicitly condoning any attempt to topple the captain of the ship and endanger the future of the crew itself. The philosopher’s silence underlines his rejection of the inevitable clashes taking place in democratic regimes. In fact, he seems totally detached from public ...

Plato’s Allegory of the Ship and the True Navigator (Part 1)

One of the most famous illustrations of Plato’s defence of philosophy is to be found in the section of The Republic dedicated to the Allegory of the Ship (488a-489c) in which Socrates illustrates the negative attitude of his contemporaries towards the true philosopher. On board the ship are the captain, the crew, the leader of the crew and a character called the ‘true navigator’: 1) The captain is described as ‘larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit ...