Why UWE shouldn’t close their Philosophy department

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Yesterday, I found out that UWE Bristol were announcing the potential shutdown of their Philosophy department to new students after this year.

I found this out from a tweet, which shared a petition launched by a just-graduated student yesterday. While I’m not sure how effective the petition might be, it has recieved 2700 signatures in a day. I encourage you to sign and share this petition, in the hope that it persuades whoever made this decision to change their mind. The decision to close the UWE philosophy course is counterproductive and destructive, for reasons I’ll detail below. More importantly, this decision was made abruptly, with little consultation or communication.

Whoever made this decision has acted rashly and callously, leaving a cohort of foundation year students (and their programme leaders) unsure of whether the course they are preparing for will even exist after their preparation year. No student or staff member deserves to be placed in this position.

The petition is here: https://www.change.org/p/marc-griffiths-uwe-pro-vice-chancellor-and-executive-dean-of-health-and-applied-sciences-save-uwe-s-philosophy-programme

So, why is this decision misguided? Below the cut are three major reasons:

  1. Philosophy is one of UWEs most successful and highest-rated courses.
  2. UWEs philosophy course offers a unique module other philosophy courses cannot match.
  3. Philosophy is one of the most important subjects a university can offer, and philosophy graduates have essential skills and knowledge for today’s society.

Note: I’m not currently affiliated with UWE, aside from being an alumnus. I studied both of my degrees at UWE, and published my MSc research with supervision from UWE staff. I’m also not a philosophy student or graduate; my view of the value of philosophy comes from personal study and from how philosophy links to my degree subjects of psychology and science communication.

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Jostein Gaarder

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Like many people, I first discovered the author Jostein Gaarder through his most famous book Sophie’s World. I’ve since read a few of his books, most recently Maya and The Castle In The Pyrenees. Reading these two stories so close together made the similarities and shared foundations across his books incredibly visible, and gave me a new perspective of what an author might intend from their stories.

First, an introduction. Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian author who writes novels which focus on philosophical exploration and dialogue. Most novels centre on a singular character (or a reconnecting pair) forced to reconcile their past and present, and to question their past decisions.

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Carl Rogers

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As I mentioned last week, Humanistic Psychology is based on aspects of life specific to humans, which borrows from Christian thoughts about the uniqueness of humans. The main areas of study include personal responsibility, values, and freedom, and it also studies the process of conscious experience (known as phenomenology, which is a very fun word to pronounce).
The Humanist psychologists believed that people were basically good, and everybody naturally wanted to be the best person they could. Rogers named this best version the “real self”, but later Humanists had different terms for it. For Rogers, people already have the ability to grow and solve their problems, they just need to be made aware of that. Related to that, he believed psychological problems weren’t inbuilt in a person but were caused by incongruence– the gap between their real self’s “I am…” and their learned views of  “I should be…”.

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What happens when Philosophy invades Psychology…

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In the last 200 years the dominant views in psychology have changed, and gradually became more complex and comprehensive. Despite this, many would argue that they are all flawed,  because they only use one thing to explain behaviour. E.g in behavioural psychology every behaviour is a learned association, in psychodynamic psychology almost every behaviour can be explained by unconscious conflicts.

In my opinion, reducing human behaviour down to one function means that a theory can never completely explain how we behave, as we are too complicated for that. Luckily, philosophy got to that conclusion years before I did.
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