Identifying, Analysing, Evaluating

The May 2014 Subject Report on Paper 1 emphasises the need for candidates to strike the right balance between identifying philosophical issues derived from the stimulus and developing cogent arguments taken from the candidate’s critical study and just as importantly, from his own personal reaction to the issue under review. We are talking, here, about three distinct stages in the approach to this paper, namely, identifying, analysing and finally, evaluating the material. Notice that the term ‘evaluate’ often appears in the examination questions, underlining the importance of a personal judgement demanded of the candidates at the end of his or her initial analysis. The report notes the danger of ‘not considering the actual request of the question’ and ‘simply ‘applying what has been learnt’, irrespective of the task at hand. Candidates should, therefore, avoid ‘pre-prepared’ answers but, instead, adapt their existing philosophical knowledge to the requirements of the question under examination, that is to say, according to the same report, ‘using all the material learnt to construct an argument relevant to the stimulus.’

The following books should contribute to an excellent preparation to the study of the Core Theme: What is a human being?: So you think you are human? by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Oxford U.P; 2004), What makes us human? edited by Charles Pasternak (Oneworld, 2007), Being Human by Peter Vardy (Darton, Longman and Todd; 2003) or Ten Theories of Human Nature by L. Stevenson and David L. Haberman (Oxford U.P; 2009). The aforementioned studies present different aspects of the self, some scientific, some psychological, some spiritual. However, even a sound knowledge of a few theories of human nature cannot be used as a substitute for an in-depth analysis of the problems inherent to the notion of self, through one or two major philosophical texts such as Descartes’ Meditations and its exposition of dualism or Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism on the issues of personal freedom and responsibility.

Solipsism is often invoked by candidates in reflecting on what constitutes the essence of human nature. The idea of the mind as the sole source and guarantee of knowledge has been haunting philosophers from the time of Gorgias down to Karl Popper and his concern with falsifiability, not to mention eastern philosophies and their belief in the perennial link between self and universe. Whatever the approach to the issue of solipsism, the latter requires clarity of description, sharpness of critical analysis and soundness of judgement or evaluation if a high grade is to be achieved.

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