Philosophy for French Students


Today is the first day of the baccalauréat, the academic qualification which French students sit at the end of the lycée (secondary or high school).

Here is a selection of the questions on which the students were expected to write an essay this morning. Each student has a choice between three topics : two in the form of a question and one text.

– Does language betray thought?
– Does objective history require impartial historians?
– Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
– Are there questions that no science can answer?
– What do we win in exchanging?
– Does technological progress transform man?
– An excerpt from The World as Will and Representation by Schopenhauer
– An excerpt from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
– An excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Which one would you have chosen?

11 thoughts on “Philosophy for French Students

  1. Wow, they ask some interesting philosophical questions. In America, they’d never ask these questions of high school students in general, unless you took a specific class (usually AP, “Advanced Placement”, meaning for college credit), such as AP US Government and Politics, AP World History, or some such.

    “Are there questions that no science can answer?” – This is **begging* for a reference to Kuzari and Rabbi Berkovits’s God, Man, and History. I’d have *so much* fun with this question! Of course, we’d have to use the word “science” here in the sense of “Greek metaphysics”, but this seems perfectly legitimate, I think.

    “Does technological progress transform man?” – References to the Holocaust and Rabbi Dr. Leo Adler’s The Biblical View of Man.

    I’ve never heard of Schopenhauer, nor of his work. I know of Locke in general, but not of that specific work of his. I know of both Tocqueville and that specific work. Interesting progression there:
    1) I know of neither author nor work – Schopenhauer
    2) I know of author but not of work – Locke
    3) I know of both author and work – Tocqueville
    I’d probably choose either Locke or Tocqueville, since my having taken AP United States Government and Politics means I would hopefully have something to talk about.

    • I think you’d have passed with flying colors.
      What I deplore about the French system is that it is very ambitious – a good thing – but mainly on paper. In real life we, teachers, are expected to accept very low standards. The system was designed for a very low portion of the population and now it caters for about 60% of the population without having altered that much. Hence the lowering of standards.

    • Michael, I’m sure you covered subjects that French students don’t touch. With regard to philosophy, I imagine the children have been taught the basic arguments in the discussion.

      • You’re right Hannah; obviously French students are prepared for this exam. I still think it is a great idea to make them study philosophy as a compulsory subject for one year in their final year of school.

  2. This is very interesting. It sounds like the main difference between the baccalauréat and the Israeli bagrut (matriculation) exam is that the latter is spread out over three years.

  3. Eeek!

    I’m with Michael Makovi, there is a lot of scope there for talking about the God of the Universe. In the UK at “S” level we perfected the art of twisting a question around to what we wanted to say!
    I think philosophy is important to teach at any age – it helps one with a critical appraisal of all things around us. I worry for the young generation that they don’t know what to do with all the information they have access to.
    Hope you can now put your feet up after this mammoth task I-D?

    • Jane,

      “In the UK at “S” level we perfected the art of twisting a question around to what we wanted to say!”

      That deserves its own bumper sticker. Thanks for an excuse for maniacal laughter.

  4. What a thought-provoking set of questions and text topics.

    Philosophy is often undermined, but in my opinion a necessary part of critical thinking and analysis skills.

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