Philosophy Ireland was initiated and launched at a public forum entitled ‘Philosophy and the Irish School’ on 22 August 2015. Recognizing the need to host an open and public discussion on the role of philosophy in schools, Dr Charlotte Blease and Dr Áine Mahon of University College Dublin co-organised the forum which was held at Newman House, St Stephen’s Green. The purpose of the event was to focus attention on the role of philosophy in the Irish school curriculum, and to bring together disparate networks of teachers, educationalists, philosophers, and interested supporters, with the common pursuit of how best to promote philosophy in schools and the wider community across the whole of Ireland.
A number of key factors precipitated the need not only to host a public symposium but to set up an organised network of philosophers and educationalists within Ireland.
In January 2015 the Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan TD announced that Philosophy would be included as a new short course in the proposed changes to the Junior Cycle (JC).
This announcement was the result of a number of important educational developments and activities that occurred in the preceding decades, all of which deserve to be recorded. First is the work of the prominent educationalists Professor Joe Dunne and Dr Philomena Donnelly in successfully introducing philosophical pedagogies into primary school teacher training programmes at Dublin City University, and introducing a generation of school teachers to philosophy with children. Second, was the formation of the Royal Irish Academy National Committee for Philosophy and Ethics chaired by Dr Brian O’Connor, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin who lobbied the Irish Government Department of Education and Skills for some five years prior to the Minister’s announcement in 2015. Third, in recent years the Irish press (notably The Irish Times and The Irish Independent) have played a prominent role in providing a public platform for philosophy. The Education Correspondent for The Irish Times, Joe Humphreys, continues to provide an outstanding contribution to philosophy in Irish life. His ‘Unthinkable Column’ is a fixture of the paper every Tuesday, since World Philosophy Day, November 2013. Each week readers are invited to witness a research-led dialogue on philosophy featuring Irish and international scholars.
Alongside these developments, and in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, perhaps the most important precipitating factor in Minister O’Sullivan’s announcement was the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins’ Ethics Initiative. Launched in early 2013, President Higgins Initiative was, “an invitation to the public to explore our values as society”. Since this launch, the President inaugurated a programme of over 50 nationwide events to stimulate public discourse on ethical issues. This programme culminated with an address at the President of Ireland’s National Seminar, Áras an Uachtaráin on March, 28th, 2015. Here, President Higgins reiterated that
Our schools’ curricula and pedagogical methods reflect the kind of humanity our society seeks and nurtures. The society we so dearly wish for will not take shape unless we acknowledge the need for an education of character and desires, the need to encourage and support critical reflection and a more holistic approach to knowledge”.
The President closed his speech by making reference to “the value of teaching philosophy in our schools” as a direct means of enhancing the quality and inclusiveness of democratic debate among the citizenry of Ireland. His call for “an education of character and desires” goes to the very heart of Philosophy Ireland’s ambition.
‘Philosophy in the Irish School’ Symposium, August 2015
The symposium held at UCD’s Newman House compromised a panel of policy-makers, philosophers, psychologists, educationalists, school teachers, and journalists. Such was the demand for tickets the venue was changed, and (again) tickets quickly sold out. Some eighty delegates drawn from all over Ireland attended the event. The symposium featured twice in The Irish Times – the week before (August 15th, 2015) and in the editorial section on the day of the event (August 22nd, 2015).
During their opening remarks Dr Áine Mahon and Dr Charlotte Blease expressed the desire that the event would be the inauguration of a new society for promoting philosophy in Ireland. By the end of the day, this hope had consolidated into the beginnings of a steering group committed to supporting access to philosophy at every level of Irish society.
Today, Philosophy Ireland comprises a steering group of 13 committed members – volunteers who are drawn from academic philosophy and education, teaching, and community outreach, and who share the vision that philosophy is for everyone. While we remain an independent organisation we are supported by Philosophy Ireland Ambassadors, public figures who are passionate about philosophy, including Joe Humphreys (The Irish Times), and Dr William Crawley (BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Radio 4). Finally, Philosophy Ireland Affiliates include community workers, teachers, school principals, university educators, and researchers who actively share our goal of promoting philosophy in civic life.