A Primer for Philosophy and Education
Sam Rocha, former contributor to Vox Nova and now at Patheos, has written a wonderful primer on philosophy, education, and the relationship between the two. As the name suggests, the book serves as a preparation. Like a painter priming the canvas for painting, or, better yet, a painting instructor showing her apprentice how to prime, Sam shows his readers some very helpful initial steps they can take to prepare their minds to do the work of philosophy and receive the fruit of education. And not only their minds, but their hearts as well. Sam is keenly aware that both philosophy and education have, from start to finish, to do with the love of wisdom. They are personal disciplines, subjective and relational. To be fully primed for wisdom is to love. As Sam’s short book only gets us underway–and to be clear that is its purpose–I don’t have much by way of strong critique, but I do have some thoughts and questions.
Sam encourages us to prepare to do philosophy by washing our minds of pretensions and presuppositions, not to the point where the mind is empty, but to where it is receptive. I’m not sure that receptivity to wisdom really requires this cleansing, and I’m also dubious that it’s even possible. I might instead suggest priming to do philosophy by meditating on the fallibility and mutability of our pretensions and presuppositions, placing them, if not into question, at least into a state in which we are willing to question them. Having said this, I am interested in understanding why Sam uses this metaphor of washing and how he would specifically relate it to the love of wisdom.
I’m also curious about his treatment of language. Sam wants us to be able to differentiate between words used to refer to things and the things themselves. I’m surprised that this is an issue, but then I haven’t regularly taught in a classroom for some time. Is there much confusion here? Perhaps because much of philosophy in the classroom involves studying the words of philosophers, Sam wants us to appreciate that these words, however true, are no substitute for your own pursuit of wisdom. It’s one thing to describe what philosophers have said and written; it’s another thing to be educated in those things about which they philosophized. If this is the case, then I would ask whether it is possible, once you have read other philosophers, to understand the truth of things apart from the contributions of these other thinkers. How far can we separate the things themselves, in so far as we understand them, from the words used to describe them?
My questions here really go beyond the scope of Sam’s book, but, in my defense, he primed me to ask them. In all seriousness, if you’re looking to study philosophy or if you have an interest in education, then I heartily recommend this primer. It’s like a mini-retreat for the mind, putting you in a good place to seek and receive wisdom.
You can purchase A Primer for Philosophy and Education on Amazon.