Uncomfortable thoughts

A philosophical problem has the form: “I don’t know my way about”.  Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 123

Image by KylaMay from  Deviant Art http://kylamay.deviantart.com/ art/The-Confused-24558778

Image by KylaMay from Deviant Art http://kylamay.deviantart.com/
art/The-Confused-24558778

Philosophy makes my head hurt. It’s hard, and it makes me think, and it challenges me to justify my inchoate beliefs when I just want to relax and watch TV.  It’s confusing, and it’s challenging, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And sometimes it makes me, and my students, think about uncomfortable things.

I care about my students – I really do.  I try to make my classes safe spaces for them to learn how to do philosophy.  I structure and scaffold tutorials so that they can gain confidence in their abilities, and sometimes I leave the room so that they can talk without feeling so self-conscious.  I try to make them feel comfortable practising philosophy, and learning to voice their philosophical opinions.  But sometimes it is necessary to cause them mental discomfort – to get them to think through moral and political problems:

  • Is eating meat murder?
  • Is euthanasia morally permissible?
  • How should we treat our criminals?
  • Why do we have a Tory government (can we blow up Westminster)?
  • And so forth.

And these issues are hard to think about.

We talked about this in our #moocmooc chat this week, and all but one of us were agreeing that discomfort was not a bad thing, and we were not sociopaths for (sometimes) trying to cause our students such feelings.

But sometimes I just want to switch off.  I want to watch TV, play with my cats or do my knitting without a million pesky thoughts flying around in my head.  As Wittgenstein says:

The real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 133

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