Proposal for High School Seminars in Philosophy and Economics (January, 1993)



Proposal for High School Seminars in Philosophy and Economics
(January, 1993)


Philosophy is the highest form of knowledge and learning, for it deals with the foundations and theory of knowledge, itself, which is called epistemology. It also deals with the nature of reality (ontology), and provides the rationale and methodological foundations for the sciences, mathematics, art, law, ethics, politics, the social sciences, international relations, and the evolution of culture — in short, every area of conscious human endeavor.
In recent years, educators have begun developing curriculum units in philosophy for even the youngest students in elementary school, and philosophical tools, ideas, and methods are integrated into many areas taught in the K-12 structure. Symbolic logic, for example, was once completely absent from the high school curriculum, but now it is integrated into mathematics for many students in the 10th grade or earlier.
In social studies classes, we frequently find philosophical issues discussed in the context of public issues debates, such as civil liberties, the death penalty, abortion, the drug problem, the spread of AIDS, etc. Education itself provides a wide expanse of issues involving freedom of conscience and expression, equality of educational opportunity, student rights and responsibilities, and the ends and means of the education process.

I was disappointed to find that there is no certification in Montana for teaching philosophy, either on the high school level or K-12. However, I was assured by the certification officials that philosophy could still be taught or offered as a course. Since I have the equivalent of a major in Philosophy, and actually began graduate studies in that field, I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of such programs, and hope to assist in developing one for the Great Falls Public Schools. The addition of a high school philosophy seminar would seem to be an excellent choice for gifted, college-bound students, and has already been done in Cut Bank and other smaller Montana systems My other area of certified expertise is economics (along with a broadfield social sciences endorsement), and I have prepared a provisional curriculum for a one-semester high school economics course as well. Superintendent Larry Williams recently addressed a workshop I attended which promoted the teaching of economics on all levels of the K-12 system.


In this age of uncertainty, peril, and declining material and social expectations, it seems obvious that the best thing we can do for students is to help them develop their personal interests and passions, teach them critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and give them the experience of having successfully pursued and investigated whatever knowledge is interesting and useful to them. We can help many of them become self-directed, autonomous learners, confident in their ability to master the most difficult areas of knowledge, understanding, and practice.

What follows are outlines for a one-semester Philosophy seminar and a one-semester course in Economics. I have listed topics rather than learning outcomes, because I expect a variety of learning outcomes based on the individual student’s interests and chosen readings and projects. Students will be evaluated on the basis of effort and progress, and not compared indiscriminately with others whose interests and work may be very different. I question the dominant public education philosophy that students should earn grades based on their competitive performance relative to other (different, brighter, less bright, more or less interested) students. It is like an Olympics where everyone is required to participate, and the best are profusely rewarded while the slowest are stigmatized and penalized for the rest of their lives. Education is a natural process in which all young people are likely to succeed if only we can present them with interesting subject matter relevant to their own lives and futures, and not discourage or inhibit them by evaluating their work and interests negatively.

These courses will be characterized by busy, convivial, hard-working classroom environments. There will be groups or teams as well as individuals working independently. At times we will read original texts aloud in class and discuss them line by line. The format of the course will be to focus on particular issues or topics, with students selecting and reading articles, chapters, or passages, and preparing short papers based on their reading for class presentation and discussion. The teacher will lecture or introduce selected readings, and then question students using an inquiry model and the teaching and practice of thinking skills. Students will have ample opportunity to develop and perfect their writing abilities, and to become precise, careful readers and thinkers able to store, recall, and utilize the information and analysis contained in their reading.



The acquisition of some of the basic tools of philosophical analysis is the primary desired learning outcome. Students will be able to explain what philosophy is and what philosophers do. Particular facts about the content and history of philosophy will be retained according to the interests and capacities of the individual student. The purpose of the course is to show each student that ideas are important, that we can learn from great thinkers of any age or culture, and that learning, knowledge, and wisdom are ends in themselves and a source of great personal satisfaction as well as a means to material and social success.

Week 1 Introduction
A. What is Philosophy? Etym. “Love of Wisdom.” Philosophers vs. Sophists. Philosopher role-models — Socrates, Aristotle, Kung Fu (Confucius), Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Erasmus, Hume, Kant, Mill, Wittgenstein, Russell, Arendt, Langer.

B. Branches of philosophy
1. Traditional — metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, cosmology, natural philosophy.
2. Modern — including, but not limited to, philosophy of science, philosophy of education, political philosophy, social philosophy, esthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and metamathematics.

Weeks 2 and 3 History of Philosophy — Ancient Greece
A. Socrates. Read Plato’s Apology, the death of Socrates.
B. Plato. Read one or more Dialogues, perhaps the Symposium.
C. Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great. Read excerpts from various works. Aristotle’s role in subsequent philosophy.

Weeks 4 and 5 Epistemology
A. What is knowledge, where do we get it, how do we use it?
B. Logic, syllogisms, basics of logical notation.

Weeks 6 and 7 Ethics
A. What is “the good?” Kinds of ethical theories.
B. The Golden Rule. Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
C. Reason, feelings, and behavior.

Weeks 8 and 9 Political and Legal Philosophy
A. Origins of government and law.
B. Sovereignty, utilitarianism, and the state.
C. Freedom, democracy, and authority.

End of quarter tests, projects, evaluations.

Weeks 10 and 11 Esthetics
A. What is art? Origins, purposes, needs served.
B. The science of artistic meaning and response — visual arts, poetry, music, dance, drama, film, popular culture.
C. Art criticism, commentary, and the teaching of culture.

Weeks 12 and 13 Issues in Philosophy
A. The mind-body problem. The ghost in the machine.
B. Idealism vs. Materialism in Plato, Kant, Wittgenstein.
C. Universals. Cosmology. Space and time. Philosophy of science. Paradigms.

Week 14 Artificial Intelligence
A. The cybernetic revolution. How have computers changed the ways we think and live?
B. Computer/brain analogies. Are computers really “thinking?”

Weeks 15-17 Philosophical Discourse in Social Philosophy
A. Arguments, conjectures, hypotheses, refutations.
B. Verbal and written exercises. Preparing arguments and defending them as a learning process, not a contest.
C. Social justice.
1. What do we mean by a just society?
2. How can we create and maintain a just society?
D. Equality, merit, ethnic and religious identity, conflict resolution, the great humanistic tradition.
E. How philosophy can change the ways we think and live.

Week 18 Review and Overview
Final exams and projects due.

Philosophy Resources

Although a comprehensive textbook could be used, it may be preferable for the instructor to write out and duplicate lectures on each topic, along with excerpts from important essays or books in that area. I am prepared to teach the course without any additional investment by the school district in textbooks, but I will be interested to see what philosophy materials are available and presently in use in the best private or magnet schools.

The following is an outline of the content for an 18 week course in Economics for high school students who have no prior knowledge of the field. It will be assumed that students will already have a knowledge of algebra, including elementary functions and graphing procedures. They should also be good readers and have taken either World History or American History so that the basic facts of economic history will be familiar to them. This course will emphasize the history of economic thought and the application of economics to public policy issues, leading to a measure of economic literacy. Economics is a popular college major, and for many students, this course may provide the introduction to the field which they otherwise would not have had.

Week 1 Introduction

A. What is Economics? The allocation of scarce resources to their highest-valued uses.
B. The concept of marginal utility. What do we mean by “utility?” What are the advantages of marginal analysis?

Week 2 Methodology
A. Human action — economics studies what people do, not what they think or say.
B. Rational choice, decisions. We assume rationality in order to simplify the model. The decision-making process.
C. Demonstrated preferences. Indifference curves. We attempt to explain behavior in terms of maximizing utility. Opportunity cost as a measure of value.

Week 3 Supply and Demand

A. Supply and demand curves. Graphic analysis with examples, exercises, research project (vary prices and plot changes along demand curves).
B. Shortages and surpluses. The “market-clearing price.” Why wage and price controls don’t accomplish intended purposes.

Weeks 4-8 History of Economic Thought
A. Use Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers or equivalent plus some short excerpts from classics — Wealth of Nations, Proudhon, Marx, Veblen, Keynes, Hayek, Friedman, Thurow.
B. Bring out the differences among alternative economic systems and their rationales — capitalism, socialism, communism, the libertarian right and left, extended families, feudalism, fascism, anarchism, etc.

Week 9 Review and quarter tests


Weeks 10-17 Economics of Public Policy
A. Introduction. The uses of economic analysis in public decision-making.
B. Allocating scarce resources among competing uses in order to maximize utility. The difficulties in determining social utility. Are interpersonal comparisons of utility possible?

Week 11 Property Rights
A. Kinds of property rights.
B. The economic rationale for property rights.
C. Ownership, control, and the rights of other interested parties (workers, clients, taxpayers, consumers, neighborhood effects, etc.).

Week 12 Government and the Economy
A. The rationale for government regulation. Problems and objections.
B. Alternative models of the role of government in the economy.
C. The rule-making process in a democracy.
D. What kinds of rules are practical and enforceable? General rules vs. particular interest regulations. TQM in rule-making and enforcment.
E. Rights, rules, and the influence of special interest groups.

Week 13 Economics and the Environment
A. Introduction: the economics of environmental issues.
B. Public vs. private ownership of environmental resources.
C. The tragedy of the commons. Property and conservation.
D. Pollution and depletion. Who will pay the costs?
E. Population, habitat, and food supply.

Week 14 Labor and Welfare Economics
A. The economics of wage determination.
B. Incomes policy — the distribution of income.
C. Welfare economics — Pareto Optimality.

Week 15 Foreign Trade and the Global Economy
A. The balance of trade.
B. Industrial policy and competitiveness.

Week 16 Taxation
A. Principles of taxation: fairness and efficiency.
B. Taxation as an instrument of politics and economics.

Week 17 Public Finance
A. Government expenditures. Fiscal vs. monetary policies.
B. Structuring incentives to maximize social utility.
C. Bureaucracy, public employee unions, and productivity.

Week 18 Review — Final papers and examinations.
Economics Bibliography — Materials Used, Resources

In addition to an elementary economics text suitable for high school use such as E.L. Schwartz’s Our American Economy, the following materials may be introduced. Individual students or teams may wish to pursue a particular work or issue in greater detail.


Heilbroner, Robert H., The Worldly Philosophers.

Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friederich, The Communist Manifesto.

Keynes, John M., The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

Harrington, Michael, Socialism: Past and Future.

Hayek, Friederich, The Road to Serfdom, The Constitution of Liberty.

Lovins, Amory, Soft Energy Paths.

Galbraith, John K., The Affluent Society.

Friedman, Milton, Capitalism and Freedom, Free to Choose.

Schumacher, E.F., Small is Beautiful.

Thurow, Lester, The Zero-Sum Society, The Zero-Sum Solution, Head to Head.


The Economist Newspaper, Ltd. (weekly, published since 1843 in England.) Originally the house-organ of the free trade movement, it was established to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” Weekly newsmagazine of record for the global economy.


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