Professor Michael Cronin is the co-organizer of the Celebrating Thinking events at the Royal Irish Academy from March 2 to 30. To present a background for these events he wrote an article in the Irish Times of February 24 in which he made these points:
The past five years have revealed much that is rotten in public life, whether it be financial malpractice in banking (Ansbacher), planning corruption (Mahon tribunal), or child sexual abuse in institutions answerable to the majority church in the State. A constant in the repeated breaches of trust and violation of civil and moral laws is apparent abandonment of norms of ethical behaviour.
Traditionally, inculcation in ethics has been seen in Ireland to be the business of the family at an informal level, and of the church at a formal level, with compulsory religious instruction in schools. It is tragically clear that this formal ethical project has failed, not only through repeated instances of malpractice in Irish public life and business, but through the discrediting of the institution charged with this project in most Irish schools, the Catholic Church.
Ethics is too important to be entrusted to a body that has been signally unable to live up to legitimate expectations in the area. It seems, therefore, both timely and appropriate that we begin to consider whether it is philosophy, not religion, that should become a core subject in the Irish educational system.
One defence of the examined life is that it helps us to think about how we might behave with care and respect for others as part of personal flourishing in the world. Philosophy has a centuries-old tradition of ethical reflection stretching to antiquity, and ethical issues have been an enduring concern of philosophers from Aristotle to Judith Butler. Schooling our children in ethical inquiry that is not hostage to the dogmas of any one church or discredited by institutional misbehaviour is not only to draw on the riches of ethical thinking in the philosophical tradition, but it encourages free, critical inquiry. It is the development of this habit that explains the full importance of the teaching of philosophy.
Making philosophy education a core school subject would be a key first step to creating a knowledge society in the fullest and richest sense of those terms, knowledge and society.