Posted by: njs44 | March 11, 2010

About Plato et al

As Plato said “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

I offer this thought as an excuse for not blogging for some time. I did not feel I had anything to say. Whether I still have nothing to say, and am just doing this because I feel I have to say something, remains to be seen.

At the moment I am exploring the world of Philosophy. This began because I needed to know something to help some of my students with their essays. It was also high time I stopped being a scaredy cat about Philosophy and got stuck into it.

By way of an introduction I discovered that some US Universities put their introductory courses online. The website Academic Earth led me to a course from Yale given by Professor Shelly Kagan. The fact that it is entitled ‘Death’ should not put anyone off. It is a fascinating course and, because it is an introductory one,  is accessible without any prior knowledge of Philosophy.

The course is accompanied by a hefty reading list, and with the aid of the British Library I am working my way through this. I listen to the lectures two or three times a week, and am now more than half way through the 26-session series.

Every week, twice a week, Prof Kagan lectures to his students in an entertaining, informative and challenging way. He takes the odd question from the floor, but most of the time he just talks away. He has a few notes which he refers to from time to time, but for the most part he just speaks from his knowledge, unaided by the written word. I am full of admiration, although at times he seems to be labouring the point and I wish he would just get on with it. Maybe that’s because he is making sure no-one in his audience falls behind, or perhaps it is the nature of philosophy to take a long time to say something.

I started the course in awe of this learned man, but now that I’ve been listening to him for a few weeks I have become more critical. I find myself writing in my notes things like “this seems a daft idea to me” or other challenges to his thought. I hope Prof Kagan would be pleased about this as surely the aim of education should be to encourage us to think for ourselves and challenge what we are being told. Sadly too much school education is not about that at all, and instead teaches people to pass exams.

One of the extracts on the reading list for this course is an essay by Walter Kaufmann called Death without Dread. Kaufmann writes that

… for those who reach old age the best insurance against hopelessness is surely to have lived rich lives, to have lived intensely, to have used our time so well that it would make little sense to feel cheated or to feel that we still need a little more time.

I seem to remember from long ago when I was a Girl Guide that one of their mottoes was ‘A Guide makes good use of her time’ and this quote seems to be in accordance with that. This leaves me with one question, is it good use of my time to write this blog?



  1. welcome back!

    in your philosophy 101, you have developed enough confidence to “critique” the professor – not an uncommon habit among learners and probably not a bad habit either – but i digress – i took it as a reminder, against my normal habit, to not critique your blog, so I wont (any more than I already have!)

    looking forward to the next

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