Pathways to Philosophy
following your pathway
You are about to embark on a journey of discovery. Ahead lie the treasures of philosophy, more than enough to occupy a lifetime's study and reflection. We merely ask for eight hours a week of your time over the next thirty weeks or so. Our aim is to provide an introduction to the subject that is not only genuinely useful, but also user-friendly. The difficulty depends on how deep you choose to go.
You may be considering this course because you have definite plans to apply to a university to study for a BA degree in philosophy. In that case, we promise to do all we can to help you achieve your aim.
Alternatively, your reason for following Pathways may simply be that you are curious about philosophy and want to learn more. In that case, we hope you will find the Pathways experience stimulating and enjoyable, and that our course is able to provide you with something of lasting benefit.
Those seeking to improve their physical strength or fitness are familiar with the saying, 'No pain, no gain.' The same is true of mental skills. Philosophical thinking demands nothing less than your best if you wish to make progress. The ability to follow a line of logical reasoning or to trace relations between concepts can only be developed over a period of time. No-one is born a philosopher. Yet anyone who has ever experienced the fascination of philosophical problems has the potential to develop that sense of wonder into an effective instrument of philosophical inquiry.
But what is philosophy? It is one of the features of the subject that it is periodically drawn to questioning and redefining itself. There is not and never will be any fixed body of philosophical doctrines. There is not even agreement about the problems, methods or techniques of philosophy. The map is repeatedly being redrawn, history forever being retold.
Yet if one takes a broad view, the picture is far from one of anarchy and discord. Throughout the history of philosophy perennial questions appear and re-appear, schools and traditions meet as often as they diverge, and, not infrequently, a problem that seemed intractable receives a definitive solution. Ultimately, just what philosophy is, or can be, is a question you will have to answer for yourself, through your personal experience of grappling with its problems.
Following a Pathways program
Some of the most engaging philosophical issues are raised by the innocent-seeming question, 'What is an introduction to philosophy?' In our view, that is what makes writing programs for Pathways more than an academic exercise. The philosopher returns again and again to examine basic principles. Despite all the complexity of present day academic philosophy, the root problems have always been capable of being expressed in straightforward, non-technical language. In each Pathways program that is what we have sought to do.
There are a few simple tips for success in following a Pathways program. When you receive each course unit, read it carefully at least twice. Try to think about the questions as you go along, argue with the text. Use the margin to pencil in your answers, or to record your thoughts and queries.
After you have weighed up the arguments, go back to the course unit again. When you feel you are ready, gather together your ideas and questions in the form of numbered notes or an informal letter. If you have difficulty getting started, imagine you are explaining the topic to a friend who doesn't know anything about philosophy. If there are points that you do not understand or that still confuse you, just say so. And don't rush: the whole process should take at least a week.
Remember: There is no such thing as a foolish question.
But also: Consider the possibility that you may be wrong.
After each third unit, there is a list of suggested essay titles. You will find the notes on writing a philosophy essay helpful at this point. Try to write a least 800 words. You should aim for continual improvement. The last of your five essays should be your best.
The next stage
What then? In our view, completing all fifteen units of any one of the six Pathways programs should fully equip the student to tackle philosophy in the more formal academic environment of a degree course. There you will learn about the vast range of philosophical problems and projects, as well as getting the chance to discuss your ideas with other students on your course: arguably, the single, most important aspect of studying philosophy at university.
If you feel that full-time study at university is not for you, however, there remain other ways to pursue your interests. If you live in the UK, an Open University degree is one option you might consider. Birkbeck College London offers an excellent four-year Honours Degree in Philosophy, taught two or three nights a week for London based students whose work or domestic commitments prevent full-time study.
If you prefer to take study for your degree by distance learning then you can take the University of London BA and Diploma. The BA degree through the International Programme has the same academic standing as that taken by internal students of London University.
As a member of the International Society for Philosophers, you can also work towards the Associate and Fellowship Awards. In our estimation, the six Pathways taken together with the Associate and Fellowship add up to the same amount of actual work as a Philosophy degree. — For those who have the time and the inclination, taking Pathways and the ISFP Awards along with a university degree would represent the best of both worlds.
However you choose to pursue your philosophical studies, remember that you are beginning something that may well change the course of your life: an adventure into the world of ideas. Start as you mean to go on. Question everything. Don't accept things at face value. And, above all, enjoy the learning experience!