The imperative of philosophy for youth : nurturing critical thinking and judicious independence

Roshan Boodnah

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Lecturer (Philosophy)

Mahatma Gandhi Institute

In a world filled with endless information, opinions and ideas, the ability to think carefully, distinguish truth from falsehood, and form independent judgments has never been more important. As the foundation for intellectual exploration, philosophy provides the groundwork for developing these vital skills, allowing people to make sense of complex life situations and make wise choices. Philosophy is crucial for nurturing critical thinking, sound decision making and a resistance to unquestioning obedience in young individuals who will influence the world in the future.

Far from being an academic pursuit, critical thinking is a necessary tool for navigating life’s challenges. In a world rife with misinformation, critical thinking enables individuals to resist manipulation and make informed decisions.

The crisis of critical thinking –  Jiddu Krishnamurti & Socrates

When confronted with this challenge, the insights of Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti ring true:

« It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. »

Krishnamurti’s words emphasize the importance of individuals, particularly youth, challenging established paradigms and cultivating the ability to think independently.

Krishnamurti’s emphasis on challenging the conventional status is consistent with the Socratic tradition of Western philosophy, in which persistent inquiry and skepticism are regarded as catalysts for genuine knowledge. The Socratic method, which entails a continuous process of questioning assumptions, encourages people to develop intellectual resilience that can withstand conformity pressures. Youth can develop a strong capacity for critical thinking by engaging in rigorous self-examination and challenging preconceived notions.

The essence of the Socratic method is summed up by Socrates’ famous remark,

« The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. » – Socrates

This admission of ignorance served as the starting point for further intellectual inquiry. Socrates recognized that the path to genuine knowledge required humility, a willingness to question one’s assumptions, and an openness to being proven wrong. Individuals who cultivate an attitude of intellectual humility are freed from the shackles of dogma and are better equipped to engage in thoughtful, critical inquiry.

Critical thinking skills are essential for active and informed citizenship in a democratic society like Mauritius. The Socratic method encourages people to challenge political narratives, examine policies and engage in constructive dialogue. This promotes a culture of democratic participation and contributes to the overall health of the nation’s political discourse.

« The unexamined life is not worth living. » – Socrates

Aristotelian Ethics: Cultivating Virtuous Character for Right Judgment

Aristotle‘s virtue ethics, an essential component of Western philosophy, offers young people a convincing framework for the development of ethical judgment. Aristotle believes that the path to moral excellence lies in the habitual practice of virtues, which is rooted in the idea of cultivating virtuous character.

Aristotle’s emphasis on cultivating virtues such as courage, justice and wisdom provides a moral compass for young people when navigating the complexities of ethical dilemmas. Individuals who embrace virtuous qualities are better equipped to make sound and ethically informed decisions.

“For to constitute Happiness, there must be, as we have said, complete virtue and a complete life.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The concept of practical wisdom, or « phronesis, » as defined by Aristotle, emphasizes the importance of practical reasoning in making sound decisions. By developing practical wisdom, one learns to assess situations contextually, consider consequences and act with discernment.

Character development is highly valued in virtue ethics. The intentional cultivation of virtues by youth not only improves their ethical decision-making but also contributes to the development of a resilient and principled character.

Kant & Nikāma karma

Immanuel Kant, a well-known German philosopher, is regarded as the father of deontology. A moral theory known as deontology emphasizes that deeds have intrinsic rightness or wrongness, independent of their effects. According to Kant, morality should not be dictated by selfish interests or irrational desires, but rather by universal values like justice, honesty and respect. On the other hand, the concept of Nikāma karma translates to « action without attachment. » It is a fundamental principle of the Bhagavad-Gītā,. The concept of Nikāma karma advocates acting without anticipating rewards or consequences. Rather than acting out of possible self-interest, one should act because it is the right thing to do.

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.” –  Chapter 2 verse 47, BhagavadGītā

Kant’s deontology and the Gita’s Nikāma karma both provide valuable lessons for Mauritian youth. These moral theories can support young Mauritian individuals in forging strong moral principles and making morally sound choices throughout their lives.

The study of deontology can aid in the moral responsibility-building of young Mauritius people. It can impart to them the knowledge that, despite challenges or inconveniences, it is their responsibility to behave morally. This can assist them in fending off urges to act unethically, like stealing or cheating.

Nikāma karma can help Mauritian youth develop detachment from the consequences of their actions. It can teach them to focus on the present moment and the task at hand, rather than their future hopes and fears. This can help them avoid feelings of anxiety, disappointment, and frustration.

These two moral philosophies, when combined, can provide with a solid foundation for ethical decision-making. They can assist citizens in becoming responsible, compassionate and engaged citizens committed to making an impact in their communities and the world.

Existentialism & Individual Freedom

Existentialist thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus emphasize the value of individual liberty and responsibility. The existentialist philosophy is a powerful antidote to blind conformity, encouraging young people to embrace their uniqueness and make decisions based on personal values rather than societal expectations.

Existentialism provides a roadmap for the youth to navigate the complexities of identity in a globalized world with diverse cultural influences. Individuals can shape their identities based on authentic self-discovery rather than external expectations by emphasizing personal values over prescribed societal roles.

In his essay Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre appears to argue against any inherent meaning in human existence. He believes that « existence precedes essence, » and that Man is nothing at first. Only by acknowledging one’s own existence can an individual begin to make decisions.

Existentialism in fact encourages ongoing self-discovery and growth. In an era when personal and professional landscapes are rapidly changing, young people can find comfort in the idea that life is a continuous process of becoming, allowing them to authentically evolve over time. This philosophy also inspires people to take a proactive approach to life, where they become the architects of their own destinies, crafting lives that are imbued with personal significance.

Arthashastra & Social Contract Theory

Kautilya’s Arthashastra provides practical advice on governance and statecraft, with a focus on the well-being of both the state and its citizens. Citizens may gain a deeper comprehension of the intricacies of governance, policy-making and the precarious balance between individual and group interests as a result of this. The youth can understand the historical foundations of governance principles, as well as the role of leadership in promoting societal well-being, economic policies and effective statecraft, by studying Arthashastra.

Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s political philosophies, known as social contract theorists, share the fundamental premise that individuals consent to be governed for mutual benefit. However, the Social Contract Theory emphasizes the importance of civic responsibility and active participation in the functioning of the state. 

Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau’s works can help to understand the philosophical foundations of civic participation. Learning about consent in governance encourages them to actively participate in civic processes and recognize their role in shaping the political landscape.

One may gain a thorough understanding of civic duty, governance and the fine balance between individual and group interests by studying Arthashastra and Social Contract Theory. By putting these theories’ tenets into practice, people can actively contribute to the growth and prosperity of their community and promote an ethical and responsible citizenship culture.

Philosophy for Mauritian Youth

Philosophy can be a critical tool for empowering Mauritian youth to navigate the complexities of life. With the world changing at an unprecedented rate, philosophy is becoming more and more important to the youth in Mauritius. We can develop a new generation of leaders, innovators and change makers who will create a more just, equitable and sustainable Mauritius via philosophical inquiry and critical thinking.

Beyond the classroom, philosophy is extremely relevant and permeates every facet of Mauritius life. We invest in our country’s future by encouraging young people to pursue philosophical inquiry, giving them the tools they need to become responsible citizens, transformative leaders and positive change agents. As Mauritius sets out on its ambitious path toward sustainable development and social advancement, philosophy is well-positioned to act as a vital compass, pointing our children in the direction of a better, more just future.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.’’
 Karl Marx


The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) (ISSN 2161-0002) Krishnamurti, J. (1954). « The First and Last Freedom. »Kant, I. (1785)  « Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. »Bhagavad-Gītā  (Chapter 2, verse 47)Sartre, J. P. (1946). « Existentialism is a Humanism. »Kautilya (Chanakya). (4th century BCE). « Arthashastra. »Russell, B. (1926). « History of Western Philosophy. »Sachs, J. (2002). « Aristotle’s Ethics: Moral Development and Human Nature.

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