French high schoolers struggle with philosophical puzzles

June 18, 2009

sarkozy-schoolOne of the things that makes France so French is the annual philosophy exam that traditionally kicks off the week-long series of tests for the baccalauréat diploma at the end of the lycée (senior high school). While France is a proudly secular state, the questions asked often pose puzzles with ethical aspects that many religions also contemplate. They are usually very broad — some would say impossibly broad — questions, leaving the student to decide how to understand and discuss them in a long essay.

Here are some of the questions the nervous students were given four hours to sweat over today:

  • Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
  • Are there questions that no science answers?
  • What does one gain by exchanging?
  • Does technical development transform humans?
  • Does language betray thought?
  • Does historical objectivity presuppose an impartial historian?

Are 18-year-olds set questions like this in exams in your country? If not, would it be worthwhile to ask them?

(Photo: President Nicolas Sarkozy chats with students during a visit to Galilee High School in the Paris suburb of Gennevilliers on 10 June 2009/ Philippe Wojazer)

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Having passe my baccalauréat and done philosophy in my final year in Lycée, I can only say that it’s a valuable asset to Fernch education.
Even though it is easy to criticise on various aspects such as :
– how can the one correcting the exam remain objective when dealing with papers that may go into conflict with his very own ideals and values?
– is it a worthwhile subject for 18 year olds?

There are a couple of reasons for teaching philosophy in lycée :
– to give students the opportunity to think about fundamental questions he may not necesarily think about. hence helping the student gain maturity, an understanding in ethics and increasing his general knowledge.
– to teach students to channel their thoughts and be able to express them in a logical and organised manner. Philosophy being purely abstract, it is challenging to discuss coherently a given topic.

Although there may be flaws in how it is implemented, it is an integral part of the French educational system and does wonders to the mind when it comes to broadening our horizons when asking ourselves the unanswerable.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

I like such questions! It’s much more interesting to think about philosophical puzzles than to describe what Camus or Hehel or whoever else thought :)

Posted by Sarah, diploma owner | Report as abusive