#introphil Philosophy MOOC – First Impressions
I’ve now started the Edinburgh University Introduction to Philosophy MOOC. I’ve never studied philosophy before, not even any humanities type of subject since I was at school (many years ago) so it’s all very new to me and I’m uncertain how to proceed. In a science subject I’d probably start by reading a text book and doing some examples to see whether I had a proper understanding. Not so philosophy – even the meaning of ‘proper understanding’ is a philosophical question!
Anyway, here’s my first quick impressions of this MOOC. Activity this week centres on 5 short videos given by Dave Ward on what Philosophy is and an assessment of some common claims made about Philosophy and its subject matter. Ideas that philosophy is about fundamental and important questions are examined followed by a case study on The Meaning of Life (no answers given). I found the videos well-presented and just about the right introductory level for a beginner like me. I’ve been put off in the past by introductions to philosophy that start with ancient philosophy so I was pleased to hear about philosophy as a topic in itself and as a process with a few references to modern philosophers thrown in for good measure.
With around 90,000 participants the forums are roaring! Connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) may sometimes be chaotic and confused but this xMOOC takes the ticket! All sorts of groups are forming on the basis of language, age, location etc and every question under the sun is being discussed simultaneously – philosophically or otherwise. There are several official ‘instructors’ around who try to be helpful as well as quite a few knowledgeable participants. I’m in no position to judge the quality of learning and it’s very early days but certainly many people are having a whale of a time engaging in this massive forum. You might expect some intolerance or bad humour with discussions ranging far and wide through politics and religion but I see little evidence of this so far.
Transcripts of the videos are available so I’ve been downloading these and using them as a basis for my own notes. Here’s my very brief summary for the first video. These are really meant as ‘notes to myself’ – a bald summary of what’s been said without personal views or comments.
What is Philosophy?
- just whatever philosophers do.
- etymologically: the love of knowledge from the Greek, ‘philosophia’ – Meaning? – will any kind of wisdom or knowledge do or does it have to be wisdom or knowledge about specific topics?
- Google ‘what is philosophy’.
- Wilfrid Sellars (famous 20th century American philosopher): ‘The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to try and understand how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together, in the broadest possible sense of the term.’
- Epicurus: ‘Philosophy is an activity that uses reasoning and rigorous argument to promote human flourishing.’
- Barry Stroud (Scottish philosopher):’Philosophy is just thinking clearly and well about reality and our place in it.’
- Another suggestion involves the attempt to think systematically about the presuppositions of some given topic.
- Philosophy is the activity of working out the right way of thinking about things.
Philosophy itself is a philosophical question.
Disagreement and resolution is really important – whether or not you want to change your mind
about anything previously believed or want to try and change another mind about something important.
Need to question consistency – do all the points made make sense together? Can they all be true at the same time?
In all above, does anything said about Philosophy seems wrong or not make sense?
Has some important aspect of what Philosophy been omitted – if so how to convince?