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Report From Radical Readers; ‘A’ Level Philosophy

to the romantic and increasingly reactionary nationalism
of, for example, Schulze and Henning, there also emerged
the far more critical notions of men like Eduard Gans and
Heinrich Leo, whose unwillingness to construe existing
laws as the absolute embodiment of actualised Reason produced, for example, a strong critique of bureaucratic
government as a form of absolutism and epitome of the
principle of hierarchy rather than the practice of Reason.

Here, as elsewhere, early Hegelianism recognised in the
doctrine of the identity of the rational and the real a
critical tool as well as a bulwark of the status quo.

It is one of Toews’ central contentions, too, that the
dividing line between many more radical Hegelians and
their more conservative fellow disciples often lay at the
gates of the university, or between the ranks inside it.

Those who succeeded in gaining permanent posts tended to
view Hegelianism as a doctrine of positive cultural assimilation (and who has not *ondered what Marx would have
wr i tten had he succeeded to a lectureship as planned?),
while those who became independent of the state educational system tended to become increasingly radicalised.

This is not for Toews an all-encompassing explanation but
rather a plausibly useful hypothesis which is supported by
an account of the nature of the educational system and
relations of state patronage, which is helpful in delineating the possibilities of personal as well as intellectual
alienation for would-be professional philosophers and
theologians.

It was during the 1830s, and particularly after the
publication of Strauss’s Life of Jesus in 1835, that fundamental divisions among the Hegelians began to emerge.

Here Toews is most useful in emphasising the noncongruity
between Right/Old and Left/Young Hegelians. Neither
Gans nor F.W. Carove had been ‘right’ Hegelians, and the
principal opponents of the Young Hegelians were not ‘old’,
but rather men of the same generation, such as

Rosenkranz, Schaller and Erdmann.

Nor did Carove,
Richter, and Cieszkowsky (and the views of the latter on
the relation of theory and practice are often seen as anticipating those of Marx) particularly welcome the newer
Hegelians of the 1830s, for the latter tended not to wish
to reconcile man and God, but rather to commence from a
new ‘humanist’ starting point.

It is of course the origins of this humanism which has
most concerned those seeking to understand the Young
Hegelian connection with Marx, and if Toews makes no
strikingly novel discoveries in this well-charted domain,
both the generalities and details of his intellectual map
nonetheless usefully refine previous versions. Even in the
case of the best-known Young Hegelian (after Marx),
Feuerbach, Toews is able to clarify differences between
the humanisms of Bauer and Strauss, and thus to reemphasise the novelty of a sensuous ‘species-being’ as it
was conceived by Feuerbach.

The latter chapters on these subjects, however,
clearly have the character of an hors d’oeuvre whose subsequent main course (the politically complex and hence
less easily digested, if for most readers more appetising,
Young Hegelianism of the 1840s) promises to be far more
fulfilling. These chapters are thus disappointing if still
useful. We are told far too little about the social and political background to the rise of the Left Hegelian party of
1840-41 (which Toews treats in an ‘Epilogue’), and even in
the two preceding chapters on Bauer and Feuerbach there
is a sense of haste as well as of the (unspoken) presence
of the hidden interlocutor from Trier. This book nonetheless largely delivers what it promises, and if its author
can scarcely restrain his enthusiasm for further discussion,
that is no great fault.

Gregory Claeys

NEWS
Report From Radical Readers
Fifty readers responded to the questionnaire sent out with
RP32, spread widely from Durban to Denver, from Nigeria to
Nottingham. To all respondents we are most grateful (even
to the Southampton reader who took Radical Philosophy to
demonstrate ‘that “radical philosophy” is a contradiction in
terms’). The aim of the exercise was to provide not statistical information, but insights into the extent to which the
magazine serves its readers’ interests. In summarizing the
response, therefore, in Manny Shin well’s evocative phrase, ‘I
shall be neither partial nor impartial.’

Several readers felt that some articles were not as
clearly written as they might be:

‘I still feel a number of the articles are too turgid and
inaccessible. ‘

‘Many of your contributors seem to prefer a style of
writing that tends to hide the meaning they are trying
to get across.’

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‘I avoid reading articles written in an impossible style.’

This criticism is related to – or can be confused with another problem of concern to several readers: whe~her the
magazine is addressed to a broad educated readershIp or to
philosophy specialists:

‘There is a danger that the level of the articles and
material presupposes a degree of familiarity which by
implication excludes potential sympathisers.’

‘Too much like much of what is already available in
mainstream academic publishing.’

‘I teach philosophy, political theory etc to extra-mural
students but find that there are very few RP articles
1 can confidently recommend to them.’

Some readers noticed the tone, as well as the style and
level, of articles:

‘You are in great danger of becoming much too serious,
much too (in the bad sense) academic.’

‘There is much less humour than there used to be!’

There was also a gratifying warmth and encouragement from
almost all respondents – often those whose criticisms were

I

the severest were the most concerned that RP should
continue to build on from its strengths.

Now, what to do? The collective will do its best to
steer the magazine in the direction(s) indicated by readers,
and perhaps in pur sui t of this we can address an appeal here
to contributors: if potential contributors could pay careful
heed to the views expressed that RP’s language could be
clearer and simpler, that would make the collective’s task
easier and more likely to succeed. (There are practical limitations on how much re-writing the collective can – or
should – perform on otherwise valuable contributions.)
Secondly, it would seem in accord with many readers’ wishes
that the balance of articles be tilted increasingly away from
the more theoretical/esoteric debates. This depends, however, on the appropriate articles being written – what one
would like to see, and having it there already for the
printer, are rather different things! So any articles from
readers written in the way and at the level you feel suitable
would be warmly welcomed.

To all respondents: for your time, energy and concern,
many thanks!

John Fauvel

‘A’ Level Philosophy
The Associated Examining Board (AEB) proposes to
introduce an ‘A’ Level course in philosophy, and
Radical Philosophy obtained a comment on the AEB
draft syllabus from one of our readers (Steve
Brigley, Hereford Sixth form College).

Steve has experience in producing philosophy
coursework within the context of a General Studies
programme organised under the ‘A’ Level rubric of
college-based continuous assessment (known as
Mode 3 ‘A’ Level). He has forwarded a description
of the proposed course and his comments on it. His
reaction is pessimistic, seeing the proposals as both
decontextualising the subject and reinforcing its
status as an elite subject with a role in perpetuating existing hierarchies of knowledge and power.

The outline syllabus contains a statement of aims and
objectives, a summary of the course structure, an examination scheme and some sample exam questions. The aims
and objectives seem generally uncontroversial – if a trifle
vague and incomplete – and can be enumerated:

Aims are to enable students
~to gain an understanding of some important ideas
in Philosophy, their historical development and their
present-day relevance;
(2) to strengthen their capacity for analysis, reasoning
and judgment, and their ability to express themselves in
these modes.

Objectives are to enable students to
(1) demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding
of prescribed texts;
(2) identify, analyse, and discuss critically selected
philosophical ideas and methods, and their relevance to
present-day issues;
(3) express arguments and judgments of their own.

The course is divided into two halves: one consisting
of four historical periods and the other of four themes.

The four historical periods have been defined as Greek
Philosophy (texts from Plato and Aristotle), 17th and 18th
Century Philosophy (Descartes and Hume), 19th Century
(Mill and Marx), and 20th Century (Popper, Wittgenstein
and Cassirer). The four themes will be selected from the
following: our perception of the external world; faith and
the existence of God; mind and body; scientific method;

value judgments; and freedom, law and authority. It is proposed that each half of the course be examined with a
three-hour essay paper (four questions to be chosen on
each). The questions consist without exception of single
essay titles, which focus upon very standard topics in the
study of the particular philosopher or philosophical theme
specified in the syllabus. (Typical examles are Aristotle’s
concept of the Golden Mean from the Greek Philosophy
unit, Descartes’ cogito argument from the 17th Century
course, and the ontological argument from the theme
‘Faith and the existence of God’.)
Any general observations on this AEB proposal must
start from the striking similarity it bears to many undergraduate schemes for philosophical studies. The staple diet
in most British universities contains a strong representation of courses in the History of Philosophy, and those
based around certain traditional problems and issues. In
both its structure and content the proposed syllabus is
very familiar, except possibly for the closely circumscribed textual studies, cited for the various historical
periods. Can this excessive deference to the university
philosophy departments be justified? As these departments
specify, at present, little or no philosophical background
as a prerequisite for undergraduate studies, the appeal to
‘downward causation’ should not be needed by teachers of
‘A’ Level philosophy (unlike the teachers of many other
‘A’ Level subjects). Perhaps we should question the unstated assumption that ‘A’ Level Philosophy can only possess any educational merit as a diluted version of its university counterparts. For this is surely to precondition the
nature of ‘A’ level Philosophy such that it is inherently
unsuitable to meet the educational needs of a large section of students at 16+. Yet philosophical ideas, when they
are released from this disembodied, academic approach,
can be related instructively to a sixth-form student’s
existing knowledge and experience.

There are very good reasons for taking a student’s
existing responses as a starting-point for philosophical
inquiry. The ability to draw upon the learner’s’ own frames
of thought is clearly valuable in educational terms as a
means of stimulating interest: students will hopefully come
to mould their own learning experiences as philosophical
study appears to them to have some important relevance
to their lives. This educational principle has become
finally acceptable in many subjects despite the ossified
structure of ‘A’ Level studies in Britain. Philosophy should
not be excepted from this trend, and the practice of
presenting philosophical ideas and arguments as a static
and detached body of knowledge for assimilation by
students cannot be condoned. It is worth noting that the
great philosophers have rarely confined themselves to the
logical exposition of a system of thought. At certain key
points in the major works of philosophy technical argument
gives way to a personal view of life. The philosopher’s
own experience and attitudes to life enter into his or her
thinking, and we always receive some lasting impression of
the person to place alongside the more abstract passages
of reasoning. These features are misleadingly included as
an afterthought in many schemes of study in Philosophy,
when in fact the personal significance of philosophical
thought may provide an important bridge towards serious
reflection on these issues.

A closer scrutiny of the aims and objectives of the
proposed course only serves to further expose these weaknesses. The first aim mentions the ‘historical development’

of philosophical ideas, but the objectives and the rest of
the syllabus make it clear that this phrase is to be interpreted in terms of narrow textual studies, taken from the
History of Philosophy. Are these textual studies really
n~cessary or beneficial? In the absence of any appreciatIOn of the problems confronted by past philosophers or of
the socio-historical context in which their ideas evolved
the ‘critical understanding of prescribed texts’ could laps~
into the glib and facile exercise of logic-chopping – the
standard treatment meted out to past philosophers by
39

many modern academics. The key element of explanation’

cannot be ignored in studying the History of Philosophy
(explanation, that is, of both the intellectual and personal
sources of philosophical issues). This element is insufficiently emphasized in the aims and objectives, in so far as
it is not clear that philosophical ideas are to be set in
their context or what kind of relevance is implied in the
phrase ‘present-day relevance’. And with the possible
exception of Theme 6 (‘Freedom, Law and Authority’), it
is even less obvious that the main body of the syllabus has
any relation to present-day issues. If some relevance could
be established as central, rather than peripheral, to philosophical studies, then Objective 3 might become more
feasible.

For the most part the aims and objectives of the syllabus are cognitive in character; that is, they specify the
type of understanding and skills of reasoning and judgment
which are appropriate in Philosophy. However, it is possible to imagine a student who fulfils all the cognitive
criteria (who makes all the correct moves in the game, as
it were) and yet has little of real substance or personal
significance to say in the philosophical mode. Hence the
inclusion of Objective 3 in the scheme is made so that
students come to ‘express arguments and judgments of
their own’. Objective 3 is ostensibly making a late concession to the ‘affective domain’, but in reality it fits
most awkwardly into the proposed model. For if students
are genuinely going to articulate their own arguments and
judgments philosophically then at some point they must
develop the conscious motivation to do so. The disappointing feature of the syllabus is that its authors seem to
have skated around the problem of how to generate this
motivation (from the point of view of the content of the
course and its teaching strategies). The proposed syllabus
only pays lip service to the affective responses of students in its objectives, and the finer details of the scheme
offer only a minimal chance of successfully developing a
personal commitment to the philosophical perspective.

My own view as a college tutor is that the student’s
own responses should provide the mainspring for philosophical studies at sixth-form level. The most effective way to
harness these reactions within the discipline of philosophical thought is by extending the immediate concerns of
students to a consideration of the philosophical issues
underlying these concerns. Many students now have the
opportuni ty to study ‘A’ Level Psychology, which furnishes
them with some knowledge of behaviourism, for example:

an ideal point of departure on philosophical topics such as
‘Mind and Body’. Or if the nature of value-judgments is
the philosophical topic to be studied, the most natural
place to begin is with students’ own judgments on current
controversial questions of social ethics, for instance. By
creating a climate of intellectual and personal conflict, by
subjecting arguments to scepticism, and by insisting on
systematic and logical reasoning based upon philosophically
sound presuppositions, students may then come to internal-

40

ise the value of philosophical inquiry and transcend the
mere exercise of technical experience in this subject.

Unless some wider vision of the nature of Philosophy
and philosophy teaching is adopted in sixth-form studies,
the subject will replicate its elitist status in Higher Education. In other words it will continue as a subject which
carries massive prestige, has utility for a minority, but
seems irrelevant and obscure to the majority. Cynically,
one could argue that the proposed syllabus is intended for
teachers and students who fit the following profile: they
enjoy the exercise of abstract intelligence for its own
sake, seeing this form of cleverness as a means of testing
their intellectual horns; they attend educational institutions which can afford to devote resources to minority and
elitist subjects; their teachers often possess ‘Oxbridge’

degrees which involved them in some philosophising, or at
least in some detached intellectualising. These teachers
and students are usually located in institutions commonly
referred to as ‘public schools’. For if academic philosophy
has a relevance anywhere then it is within public schools
and their progeny. Mental gymnastics have always been
encouraged there for the social advantages they confer
upon their practitioners, or as a harmless intellectual
pastime. And something of the same attitude has penetrated tertiary institutions in the state sector – mainly
those in which academicism and tradi tion have an
undeserved kudos.

In 1980 I attended a conference at Warwick University
for sixth-form teachers interested in Philosophy. Although
the conference was very well attended, there was remarkably almost a complete lack of representation from
teachers in comprehensive schools (there was a high proportion of public school teachers, and the rest were
mostly employed in sixth-form colleges or tertiary
colleges). Of course, there might have been simple practical reasons to explain this discrepancy. Alternatively, is
it too great an exaggeration to characterise the educational image of Philosophy as ideologically antithetical to
the comprehensive ideal?

Steve Brigley

We are very grateful to those, like Steve Brigley, who send
us news reports.

you attend or hear of events relevant to Radical
Philosophy’s broad interests or aims, or belong to a group
with goals in common with those of Radical Philosophy
(whether or not the group is concerned with the narrowly
philosophical), other readers may like to hear about it. Why
don’t you send us a short report for the News Section, at
the editorial address?

If

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