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Senior (Ages 13-16)

Philosophy of Religion and Ethics

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At King's College
 

Why Study Philosophy?

As a Woodard school, the King's philosophy and religion department is a respected academic department and is regarded as central to the Woodard vision - an awareness of the reality of spirituality as a fundamental human characteristic. Not only that, the absolute necessity of tolerance and mutual respect, based on knowledge and understanding, in our multi-faith society. All pupils study this subject in a non-judgmental, open and vibrant context. It is also an increasingly popular option at A level.

 

Asking Challenging Questions

Most people have the same beliefs and opinions as those around them. Everybody has a philosophy but not everyone has a good philosophy, and few have one that they have chosen for themselves. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell said, ‘Most people would rather die than think. In fact most people do.’  

During the study of this A level, you will learn that merely holding an opinion is not good enough. Hitler had opinions. Islamic State has opinions. You will also learn that tolerance is insufficient as a guiding principle for life. There are many things we ought not to tolerate: slavery, racism, sexism, terrorism, genocide. Commitment to an unexamined set of opinions and tolerance of every other unexamined set of opinions will not get us very far if we want to become deep thinkers and live good lives. As Socrates said, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ 

The aim of this course is to turn you into a deep thinker, critically aware not just of the world around you, but of the world of ideas that serve as its foundation. We aim above all else to make you an interesting conversationalist, able to talk about and share ideas. Is it necessary to say that every employer values highly those who can think well and share ideas? Or that University life will be so much more rewarding if you learn to think at A level? To be the best you can be – whether that is a lawyer, doctor, business leader or academic – you need to discipline the mind and train in philosophy.  

It takes courage to think really deeply, so this course is not for everyone. But it may well be for you.   

The way you think will influence the choices you make. Both parts of the course therefore include a study of how we think (philosophy) and what we ought to do (ethics). 

Ethics

The practical side of philosophy is found in a study of ethics. How ought you to behave, how should you live? This part of the course teaches pupils to identify the way a worldview impacts upon ethical thinking. Evolution teaches that we are ‘naked apes’, so is the law of the jungle all we have in terms of ethics? That is certainly one way of thinking about ethics, but most thinkers have not thought this conducive to civilised life. So, is ethics in any sense universal or factual? Or are decisions always perspectival, personal and relative? Formal study of ethics teaches pupils to easily recognise which ethical framework is being used in an argument. This empowers them to critique the value of an argument by questioning the underlying assumptions.   

 

Philosophy

Philosophers have traditionally cut their philosophical teeth on the big questions: Where did we come from? Does life have any purpose or meaning? Is there a God? Each of these questions is studied in depth at A level and in the process pupils get a framework for their thoughts so that they can easily identify and question the working assumptions of any contribution to these debates. Post-modernism, atheism and aesthetics are covered as well as a basic introduction to logic (inductive and deductive arguments, a priori and a posteriori evidence), epistemology (how do we know anything?) and ontology (what came first, chicken or egg?).

 

Father Mark Smith is our Chaplain and he is a full-time member of staff who lives with his family on the school campus. The Chaplaincy is regarded as a vital touchstone for everything that happens at King's and, as a Woodard School, the role of the Chaplain is an incarnational one - reminding the school community of the loving presence of God permeating all we do. The Chaplain teaches all pupils for at least three years and interacts with them formally and informally in a wide range of other ways. Some examples include: Confirmation classes; Friday afternoons working in the school mini-farm which is run by the Chaplain; the Philosothon – a philosophy competition discussing the 'big' questions; mindfulness meditation practice; the year group forum; individual counselling.

The Rev'd M Smith

BA (South Africa), Dip Th, St Paul
Chaplain, Philosophy and Religion Teacher

The Rev'd J Hellier

BD, University of London
Philosophy and Religion Teacher
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