Philosophy: the 2010 Edition

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I know you are all waiting with bated breath for this year’s essay questions so that you can wonder what you would have written and share the topics with your children. So here is a selection of the issues that French students had to discuss this morning.

Philosophy is a compulsory subject for all French students at the end of the high school years unless they are preparing a vocational degree. The students have four hours and have to write about one question out of a choice of three – two in the form of a question and one text.

Can art exist witout rules?
Is man responsible for his own happiness?
Can a scientific truth be dangerous?
Is the role of a historian to judge?
Is it necessary to forget the past to envisage the future?
Is it possible to search for truth for its own sake?
An excerpt from Summa Theologica by Aquinas
An excerpt from Moral Education by Emile Durkheim
An excerpt from Leviathan by Hobbes

Last year’s essay questions

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19 thoughts on “Philosophy: the 2010 Edition

  1. This annual feature on your blog is one of my favorites. I think it’s so amazing that philosophy is such an integral part of a French student’s curriculum. I think American kids would benefit enormously from a similar exercise. Alas, most American adults wouldn’t know where to begin if asked any of these questions.

    Thanks for sharing them again.

    • I don’t know if it is a comfort but be assured that it is an exam French students dread. However I think it is a wonderful thing to teach youngsters to think.

      This annual feature on your blog is one of my favorites.
      I might post some more tonight as the students who study more technological subjects are sitting the Philosophy exam this afternoon. The questions should be a bit easier.

  2. Ah yes. I wonder how British students would fair if they were presented with this?!

    For my own personal choice, I would opt for…

    “Is it necessary to forget the past to envisage the future?”

    But only because it ties in with some work I’m doing for myself right now!

      • It’s funny – I have a French colleague who was referring to this philosophy exam only the other day. I actually think it’s a wonderful tradition to have – I can’t imagine what the reaction would be here in the UK if something similar was introduced!

  3. The closest Israeli high school students come to this is the Machshevet (Jewish thought)matriculation exam (bagrut).

    And from what I understand, it’s only compulsory in the yeshivot and ulpanot, where the students take it in lieu of some or all of the compulsory Literature exam.

    • Thank you Mrs.S. for sharing your Israeli experience with us. I wonder what sort of questions the students are asked. Are they expected to quote sources learnt by heart or can they include their own thoughts and conclusions?

      • They don’t have to learn anything by heart. However, they’re expected to know and understand what many classic and modern Jewish thinkers (the Rambam, R’ Yehudah HaLevi, R’ Saadiah Gaon, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook, and others) say about a variety of topics (e.g. prayer, faith, the mitzvot, etc.).

        For some of the questions, the students are given a text and have to analyze and discuss it. Other questions ask them to prove – or disprove – certain statements or positions.

  4. Perhaps related to what Mrs. S. said, a good Jewish studies teacher will get the students to think about:
    “Can a scientific truth be dangerous?”
    or
    “Is man responsible for his own happiness?”
    Although to that second one, I will sharply disagree with whatever answer they give if they know nothing about recent (past thirty years) discoveries in biology/psychology.

    I can’t imagine a Jewish studies teacher asking about art – one would have to go to Drisha to find those.

    I like the idea of high school students studying some philosophy, though I can understand why they dread it for a test.

    • I completely agree with you on the second question you quote. I suppose some French students might think about psychology as it is part of the philosoph curriculum. I don’t think they would mention biology – even if a lot of students study it – because it is too specific and I reckon it is studied later at medical school.

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  6. What a thought=provoking set of questions.

    My first choice would be: “Is it necessary to forget the past to envisage the future?” I know what I would write regarding that question.

    I also like: “Is the role of a Historian to judge?”

    • I also liked the question about history but I don’t know much about the history of history and the debates about what history is supposed to be about. I could only speak from my experience and expectations as a reader.

  7. wow! thought-provoking, indeed. i will admit that i would have to sit and ponder for a bit on these. perhaps all the more reason/ example to start these dialogues young? thanks much for sharing these!

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