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Teaching Philosophy – To Whom?

our kind of society people are taught to completely
obey their parents simply in virtue of biological
status, which by itself is no guarantee of wisdom.

Injunctions from whatever source should only be
considered reasonable if they are means to some
rational end and this is something not at all determined by mere authority. The family as constituted at
the moment then, is the prototype of all’later kinds
of irrational authority (Let’s not forget that Goebbels
was a firm believer in family authority). We are
being trained to be nice, decent collies who will obey
someone simply because he whistles and his name is
“teacher”, “boss” etc – the confusion between “someone
being called ‘x'” and “being ‘x'” sets in and we
accept as an element of nature something magically
brought into being by man himself and that in a way no
less weird than any of Humpty-Dumpty’s word-into-thing
extravaganzas. Thus the influence of the present
family set-up goes far beyond making the disturbed
type of situation in the families of schizophrenics
possible. It is right at the root of the reification
made possible by an authoritiarian society. Authoritarian, that is, in as much as and so far as it is an
economic structure in which the producers of wealth do
not participate as controllers of that wealth. But it
is clear, having said that, that we must therefore
primarily argue the other way round. That is, the
present family set-up is only made possible given the
present societal set-up. This involves taking up a
political position fundamentally opposed to the
capitalist “status quo”. Not to do so is to drop the

family into a social void and thus create for the
family a fashionable individualism which is so abundantly met with in relation to theories about the
particular person, e.g. disturbed families from the
most deprived parts of the working-class cannot be
fully understood save in terms of ideas of respect
defined in relation to their chronically exploited
status. This example shows that one ,,;ould have to go
into the appallingly truncated role of the woman in
a sexually non-egalitarian wage-structure (and the
role of prostitution); the role of violence; the role
of army recruitment, the role of gambling and drinking
and so many other things. One “ou]d have to tie all
this together with the desperate desire of someone
from this background to be something, and the ways in
which this identity search can end in what Blake would
call “chaoti c non-identity” (i. e. s chi zophrenia), and
often “success” where “success” means pretty dreadful
adaptations to bourgeois society (suc~ as joining the
paratroppers to torture people in Ireland, Aden and
Vietnam; prostitution, etc). But all this clearly
demands, as said above, a revolutionary stance which
is not just not evident in Laing, but ultimately, by
an emphasis on sheerly personal insight, he in fact
does succeed in dropping the family back at the
theoretical level into the no-horizons trap which the
present society has so cruelly locked it up in. Classdivision shows up the cosmic callousness of pantheistic
mysticism. The state is not the veil of Maya. The
Laingian stance is ultimately a safe revolt which can
only reinforce the power of the pimps and Blimps.

TBAGal.a PHILOSOP.Y – TO wao.,
Roger WaterhoDse
courses tend to be quite highly specialized in
subject terms, the vast majority of these
students are not taking specialist philosophy
degrees – philosophy is merely a part of their

Many of the people who count themselves radical
philosophers either are, or aspire to be, professionals.

They would agree that professional philosophers should
recognize that they are agents in a particular sociohistorical context, and would accuse the orthodox
acacemicians of obscuring this, mystifying their
students, and effectively shoring up the bankrupt
capitalist system. At this point they usually turn
their attention to doctrine, and either launch into a
critique of prevailing orthodoxies, or expound the
alternatives. These are important exercises, and I
do not in any way wish to deride them; but I do want
to draw the attention of radical philosophers in another
direction, because the theoretical discussion within
philosophy can provide only part of the answer to the
question, ‘What should the professional philosopher


I rehearse these well-known facts because there
is a tendency to overestimate the importance of, say,
getting a Hegel and Marx option added to an M.A.

philosophy programme – as far as the consciousness of
the masses is concerned we may as well forget it!

do? ‘

Second, some general features in the context of
higher education within which we work. Like most other
advanced capitalist countries we have (for very good
economic reasons) been moving away from a higher
education system which produced a few graduates for
the heights of power, a larger number of engineers and
middle managers to keep the wheels of industry turning,
and a small army of workers in schools to turn out
factory fodder to appropriate specifications. This
process, which has been transforming both the structure
and the nature of higher education, has been recognised
at least since 1944. Its progress is staked out in a
long series of Government reports which have usually
been more effective in summing up the stage reached
than in influencing the future direction of the process.

Lest we forget that philosophy too is involved, it
might be interesting to compare the number of people
who make their living by it today, with the number in,
say, 1946.

What he does do a lot of the time, and will
continue to do, is teach. But the question, ‘What
should the philosopher teach?’ admits of no simple
answer even when the internal theoretical considerations are sorted out, because it is unanswerable in
vacuo – we must first decide, To whom? This is the
question that I want put, and put in its proper context
– namely, the present and future work situation of the
professional philosopher.

First, a few facts which tend to be forgotten when
identifiable groups of professionals get together:

The largest group of students taking ‘philosophy’

as part of their course are found in Colleges and
Institutes of Education. What passes for philosophy on many of these courses may well be
derided by university academics – but it should
not be ignored.


The second largest group are students in
universities. Although in general university

The third, and at present much smaller group, are
students in Polytechnics and Colleges of
Technology. Hardly any of these are specialists
in philosophy, and few take the subject as a
major part of their course.


As with any long-term process, it has become a
way of life. We are used to expansion, because most
of us have always lived with it. We notice the

structural innovations, but tend to overlook the real
qualitative changes which occur. Quite apart from the
supposed purposes of higher education as a whole, it is
my belief that the role of philosophy within it cannot
be the same when 30 per cent of the age group go into
full-time higher education (a situation which even the
Department of Education and Science now envisages as
being reached in the mid 1980s), as it was when only
3 per cent did.

Dip.H.E. will be a general qualification, nonspecialist in orientation (not specifically for
teachers), modular in structure and admitting
great flexibility in the types of student
programmes it allows for. Philosophy definitely
has a role to play here, and one very different
from that which it has played either in the
Colleges or the Universities – but what it will
be is an entirely open question.

Next, the institutional framework. As a social
group, professional philosophers are university based
– a reflection both of the recruitment policies of
Colleges of Education, and of the relative underdevelopment of the Polytechnics. The homogeneity of
this base, and consequently of the orientation of the
social group, is likely to change.

In short, the next decade will see a broadening
of the institutional base of professional philosophers,
to straddle both the state and private sectors of higher
education in a more extensive and coherent way than at
present. At the s~e time, the pressures of state
control will be felt more severely in both sectors as
its financial investment increases to match the increase
in student numbers. The state sector will change almost
out of recognition, with the Polytechnics becoming
large-scale state universities, and a new breed of
second-class students (on the Dip.H.E.) making their
appearance. Philosophy certainly has an important
role to play in the new courses which will be developed
in the state sector, but it will not be in the training
of other teachers of philosophy, nor even in the teaching of students specializing in the subject.

The Department of Education and Science anticipates that there will be about 180,000 students
in Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology by
1981. This represents a massive increase in the
state sector of higher education – several of the
larger Polytechnics will have 9-10,000 students
by the end of the period.


The DES expects that the bulk of the increase in
student d~mand will be for places in Humanities
and Social Science. There is already considerable
over-provision of science and engineering places,
and recently there has been a marked fall-off of
applications for business studies.


Most of the Polytechnics run a degree, or degrees,
in Social Science: many of these contain a
philosophy element. Student intakes to these
courses will expand enormously.


By far the biggest expansion, however, will be in
the Humanities. Few Polytechnics run degrees in
Humanities at present, and the staff base is
usually weak (there are some notable exceptions).

This expansion will bring about the sprouting and
rapid development of philosophy ‘departments’ in
a number of Polytechnics. The courses to which
they contribute, however, will often be very
different from the single/joint honours type; and
the organizational structure will not resemble the
university faculty/department.


The expansion of the Polytechnics is already
affecting the Universities (at the time of
writing – December 1972 – the Government has
already delayed for two months the announceQent
of the Universities’ Quinquennial settlement) in
ways which highlight the extent to which the
state now controls the whole of higher education.

The private sector is manipulated directly via
the University Grants Committee, and indirectly
through student grants. At the moment the state
sector is under considerable pressure to accept
a worsening of staff-student ratios: I think it
is only a matter of time before the same pressure
is applied to the private sector. (1)


In these circumstances, to concentrate our
thinking on what philosophy ought to be taught to those
who are really into the subject is a major error of
strategy. No matter how impeccable our theoretical
writings or teachings on Marx, it represents a retreat
into the ivory tower. We ought even to doubt the
value of frontal attacks upon the current orthodoxies,
at a time when their institutional base, if not
actually being undermined, is at least being outflanked.

I have not really faced the question of teaching
what and to whom, but merely tried to indicate the
context in which I think it must be put. In case
there are ‘readers inclined to draw more conclusions
than I have from the state of affairs outlined, I ought
here to enter a caveat about a possible conclusion
which might be drawn – namely, the cQnclusion that
such an expansion of student numbers must inevitably
broaden the class-base of the student body. If we are
thinking in terms of an extension down from the haute
bourgeoisie to the petty, perhaps – but there is no
evidence that there will be any significant increase
in the proportion of working-class students in Higher
Education. In fact the proportion could actually
fall: the DES has clearly decided to dampen demand for
places by clapping a two ‘A’ level entry requirement
on the Dip.H.E. This is a higher requirement than that
operated by many Colleges of Education at present, and
will of course have the effect of keeping the children
of workers out.

If we really want to affect the class-composition
of the student body, then an all-out attack on admissions
policies must be launched – and in particular on the
vicious policy of pre-selecting for interview on the
basis of (often, predicted) ‘A’ level grades. I suspect
that the chances of success are much higher in the
Polytechnics than in the Universities: one Polytechnic
(North East London) has officially adopted a policy of
admitting those ‘best able to benefit’ rather than those
best able to achieve. But perhaps the only really
effective policy would be a quota system along the
lines adopted for black students in the States.

The Colleges of Education are trembling in
anticipation of the biggest shake-up they have
ever had. Within the next fortnight Margaret
Thatcher will pronounce her judgement upon the
James Report (on the Education of Teachers), and
plunge this half of the State sector into decline.

The DES has decided that there is an overproduction of teachers (note that it controls the
demand for, as well as the supply of, teachers).

Also it is undeniably true that many students go
into Colleges of Education not because they want
to teach, but because they can’t get in anywhere
else. As a result, the James recommendation of
a two-year diploma in Higher Education will be
a cheap way of satisfying student demand, and the
Polytechnics selected as the main locale. The
This has now been confirmed in the Government’s
IVhite Paper.


If Radical Philosophy is going to be radical in
action as well as in theory, it must break away from
its orientation towards the academic elite (be they
never so pure doctrinally) and especially from a
concentration upon the educating of professional
philosophers-to-be. It must succeed where analytic
philosophy has always failed – in exciting the nonspecialist, helping him make sense of his world, and
giving him something to live by. There is a lack of
good polemicists, and a surfeit of myopic nit-pickers:

but then, the nit-pickers have had control of the
institutional base – up to now.

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