Webinar probes integration of philosophy and pedagogy

By LI JING / 02-09-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE) teaching a class Photo: CFP

On Jan. 16, the Webinar on the Interdisciplinary Integration of Philosophy and Pedagogy was held by Capital Normal University (CNU), as the double degrees of philosophy and pedagogy were established at the university. Participating scholars shed light on the complementary advantages and synergistic effects of the integration of the two disciplines in talent training. 

Interdisciplinary integration 

From Confucius in ancient China to Socrates in ancient Greece, it was often thinkers and philosophers who acted as teachers in early societies. Modern Western philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Johann Friedrich Herbart also made great contributions to university education. According to Chen Jiaying, a professor from the College of Political Science and Law at CNU, the integration of philosophy and pedagogy has a deep historical tradition and theoretical foundation. Nowadays, philosophy studies in colleges and universities are highly theoretical, while pedagogy tilts more towards the practical. The huge disparity also endows their integration with remarkable value. The individuality of education objects makes it difficult to summarize laws and establish theories, while highly theoretical philosophy is capable of avoiding the rigid shackles brought by empirical, generalized theories, providing theoretical guidance for educational practice. In the meantime, philosophers can find their problems from the specific context of educational practices. 

“Philosophy initially originated from ancient people’s thinking about daily life. After more than 2,000 years of development, its research direction has gradually deviated from reality,” said Liu Liangjian, dean of the Department of Philosophy at East China Normal University. Pedagogy offers a possible direction for the practical transformation of philosophy, enabling philosophers to construct theories from an educational angle and propelling disciplinary renewal. 

In efforts to explore philosophical content, there is a need to shift from the study of philosophers’ views to their thinking process, Liu reminded. Meanwhile, the pattern of scholasticism should be overcome to reconstruct the relationship between philosophical research and reality. Only extracting problems from reality can provide the driving force for philosophical research. 

Lecturing is the main method of philosophical inquiry in colleges and universities, Liu noted. However, dialogue teaching from Socrates emphasized equality and speculation. Offering more possibilities for the deep flow and exchange of ideas, it may be an educational method that deserves revitalization. 

According to Chen Ruichao, an associate professor from the Department of Philosophy at CNU, the purpose of qingtan [metaphysical talk, or pure talk] and dialogue teaching is not to reveal truth, but to exercise students’ ability to think logically and organize words through debate. Adopting such methods in philosophy courses in colleges and universities can help students to gain a deeper understanding of philosophical issues, but needs to consider the influence of their uneven foundation and competence on teaching effects, as well as how to design more targeted debate topics and methods. 

Virtue and knowledge 

The effort to illuminate the relationship between virtue and knowledge has long endured in philosophical circles, and whether or not virtue can be taught is yet controversial. Chen Yong, an associate professor from the Department of Philosophy at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, reviewed the historical views on this relationship in Western philosophy. He proposed that in Western philosophical traditions, philosophers do not teach knowledge, but play the role of virtue educators and remind citizens of examining the soul, given that virtue cannot be taught, and the real education is self-education. 

Zhan Wenjie, a research fellow from the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that Plato divided the concept of virtue into two categories in The Republic: common virtue based on correct opinions and true virtue based on real knowledge. The former is not knowledge in the true sense and cannot be taught, while the latter is the philosophical wisdom that gives insight into the most fundamental source of the world and life, which can be taught. Even if virtue is teachable in a sense, education is still not omnipotent. The effect of education depends on the ability of educators and the genius of education objects. 

“The content of virtue and the evaluation criteria of whether it is teachable vary considerably across each era and cultural system,” said Yin Jingwang, secretary of the Party Committee of the Department of Philosophy at CNU. This brings new perspectives in the context of disciplinary integration. More attention has been paid to the interaction of philosophy, pedagogy, psychology, brain science, and other disciplines to establish a more perfect disciplinary system. 

Philosophy education 

Philosophy education oriented towards teenagers has been a hot topic in the educational field in recent years. Philosophy education of adolescents influences the formation of values of young people and lays a foundation for their lifelong development. Liu suggested that teachers and students form an inquiry community, which means teachers transpose from lecturers to promoters, taking advantage of their own professional knowledge and youth’s natural curiosity to deepen their philosophical thinking. 

“At the middle school stage, to ensure the development of a fully rounded human being of modern society is the main goal of education, and thus the goal of philosophy education should also match it,” said Ye Feng, a professor from the Department of Philosophy at CNU. The ability to think independently, especially on issues such as social ethics and social rules, can help middle school students establish correct values. The cultivation of logical critical thinking and scientific thinking can lay a more solid foundation for their future education and working capability.