Last week, my son, a college freshman, sat down to his first class in philosophy.
First, can someone tell me why philosophy isn’t taught in high school? Is there some reason we think we need to shelter kids from life’s great questions until they’re older? I never taught the subject formally, though I tutored quite a few undergraduates while I was in graduate school, which often caused me to wonder how I would construct my own “101” course if I happened to be in that position, and at what age group I would present it.
What happened when mankind evolved to the point, about 10,000 years ago, that we had a solid grasp on basic agricultural principles, and so no longer needed to roam, hunting for and gathering food in a nonstop life-and-death struggle? What happened when we started to look up into the heavens — and the questions started to flow: Who made all this stuff? Why are we here? What happens when we die?
I’d certainly get the kids into questions like that – “speculative philosophy” as it’s called. But I wouldn’t do so at the expense of “moral philosophy,” whose questions are different, though no easier: What is the nature of our responsibilities to others? What does it mean to say I have a “right” to do or have something? A “duty?” And from what do these rights and duties come? The bible? Our conscience? The mores of our group?
I bring this up because the debate about energy really unfolds along these lines. It boils down to this:
If we really don’t have a duty to anyone but ourselves, we can serve the world’s energy needs very well with fossil fuels. Yes, we’re running out of oil, but not right this minute. Yes, fossil fuels more generally are ruining our health and our environment, but they’re by far the cheapest way to power our civilization at this point in time. People who scoff at the idea of a duty to others say, “Look, we can generate baseload electricity with coal at about three cents a kilowatt-hour. If that creates a problem, that’s too damn bad. Until someone can beat three cents, we’ll burn coal. ”
Yes, there is no doubt that we can do that. But don’t all people have certain rights — and others among us certain duties — that make this a more interesting question?