Now that the summer 2014 examination is over, it is time to take stock of what can be learnt for the future. Since the very format of the questions remains the same and is, therefore, an invariable component of the examination, it remains an imperative for all candidates and all their teachers, to prepare and anticipate their potential responses to future exam questions.
Paper 2 is a case in point as it is meant to test the candidate’s knowledge of the ‘specific terminology of the author’ studied (A), the knowledge and understanding of the ‘author’s ideas, arguments and key concepts’ (B), but also more importantly, in the (C) and (D) criteria, the cogency of the ‘counter-arguments’ used in the critical analysis of the issues at stake in the question. These counter-arguments can be relevant personal responses to the question, but, should, ideally, be supported by or take the form of convincing critical points, drawn from a close reading of philosophers reacting to the text studied. in this respect, Carl Popper can, for instance, be referred to, in a discussion of Plato’s ideal political state or, for that matter, the various correspondents addressing their Objections to Descartes Meditations, such as Hobbes or Gassendi.
The reason why a tiny minority of candidates are capable of ‘challenging the assumptions made by the author and explore different approaches to the text’ (see D criteria, marks 9/10) is simply because very few of them are familiar with the thinkers who were prepared to question the conclusions of Plato or Descartes. However, it must be said that some texts are more conducive to constructive radical reassessments than others. The consensual Charles Taylor is sometimes difficult to object to, his positions being generally very ‘middle of the road … giving all the more reasons to questions some of his conclusions! In comparison, Mill is more open to critical ‘challenges’ as new generations of Utilitarian thinkers, like Sandel and Singer, have proved. In other words, make sure that you know convincing ‘counter-arguments’ to the key ideas of your set text, before you put pen to paper on examination day!