Thursday, October 05, 2006

Philosophy and the classics

Unlike some other excellent blogs by ancient philosophers, I have tended to shy away from saying anything much here about ancient philosophy. But today I picked up the latest issue of Philosophy and found the editorial wondering whether it matters to philosophy that of the 675,00 pupils taking GCSE exams in Britain, fewer than 10,000 take Latin and fewer than 1,000 Greek. Around 4,500 take Classical civilisation. (Those are the figures cited in the editorial. The ARLT blog has some figures from 2006.) It is not, I think, true as the editorial claims that 'such a seismic shift in educational values should occasion so little comment' since plenty of classicists and schoolteachers have been trying to bring this to wider attention for some time now. But perhaps it is nevertheless significant that the decline in numbers taking exams in classics at school is beginning to concern those outside classics. The editorial ends:
"Critical thinking, on which there is great interest in the philosophical community, is all very well; but we should also be concerned about the roots of our thinking, and about transmitting to our successors some grasp of these roots."
It still remains to be seen, I think, precisely what a 'grap of these roots' will contribute to philosophical studies at a time when professional philosophy in some parts, at least, is becoming increasingly technical and less the 'humanistic discipline' that Bernard Williams once dubbed it. Here in Cambridge, there is no compulsory ancient philosophy element to the undergraduate degree (although most first years do read Plato's Meno). Of course, I happen to think they are missing out. But it would take me some time to articulate precisely what I think would be missing from their study of philosophy by not studying 'the classics'.

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