Philosophy teaches students how to live with uncertainty

If the teaching of philosophy is about exposing our students to diverse schools of thought and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to assess epistemological arguments, then it certainly has a place in our schools (Think carefully about philosophy in schools, by Mr Ben Gibran; April 13).

Philosophy can be defined as encompassing two considerations: inherited religious and ethical conceptions, and scientific investigations.

Philosophers and schools of thought differ in the degree to which these two factors are dealt with in their systems.

Hence, there is a continuum of philosophical thought, with theology and science deemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.

We often think of science as comprising definite empirical knowledge, as opposed to theology, which subscribes to a set of dogmas surpassing scientific knowledge.

However, scientists have so far been unable to provide definite answers as to the underlying nature of reality, especially in the quantum realm.

They subscribe to different "scientific" theories, many of which border on conjecture, with scant empirical evidence.

In other words, adhering to certain "scientific" views of reality may be as dogmatic as believing in those held by religions.

Schools have hitherto mainly focused on teaching a reductionist view of scientific materialism.

Philosophical thinking, on the other hand, allows us to ponder over what makes us human, and to question our existence in the wider scheme of things.

Are we just a bag of chemicals that happened to evolve on an insignificant planet in a vast cosmos?

Or is there an ultimate purpose to our existence?

In the course of history, men's actions have depended on their theories as to the world and human life, and on what is good and evil.

We must encourage our students to question dogmatic beliefs, whether from theology or science, and to delve into the subjective questions that philosophy asks.

Schools must prepare our students to thrive in today's volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

Philosophy aims to teach us how to live with uncertainty, and not be paralysed by our lack of definite knowledge.

Students have much to gain from such thinking.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Philosophy teaches students how to live with uncertainty'. Print Edition | Subscribe