What does teaching philosophy in Saudi Arabia mean?

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
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The developmental shift Saudi Arabia is witnessing is not only limited to economic growth or common traditional plans but it also includes other fields such as culture and education. News that philosophy will be introduced to high schools in Saudi Arabia has been the talk of those interested in the field, and also got its share of media coverage, educational analysis and intellectual debate.

There has been an old debate between experts in teaching philosophy and it can be summed up in two points. The first one thinks that teaching philosophy in certain manners may produce a mentality that lacks comprehension and understanding. This is an extreme elitist vision, as philosophy is not a scientific branch but a non-written critical thinking system. The second opinion is that teaching philosophy marks the minimum of critical thinking and liberation of the mind from the captivity of ready-made answers.


Teaching philosophy makes it inevitable for teachers to adopt an approach that’s different than bombarding students with ready-made answers or crushing their young minds. Teaching philosophy must be carried out via a discussion without reprimand

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Benefits of philosophy

Teaching philosophy does not aim to graduate millions of philosophers but it can benefit those who plan to be doctors or engineers and even those who engage in the military. Philosophy is a rich subject and it’s not about memorizing. Reading exceptional texts enriches the mind. I agree with the second opinion because I am optimistic about its influence. There are several Arab experiences where philosophy has positively affected the societies, which studied it.

It’s important to note books that help in this regard such as Frédéric Laupies’s book First Lessons of Philosophy, Madani Saleh’s book Articles in Philosophical Lesson and Bertrand Russell’s book A History of Western Philosophy. They are all diverse exercises on several texts, concepts and subjects. Since philosophical curricula have been printed, teachers can refer to them as they teach the mind how to tackle different eastern, Islamic and western philosophical texts

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Philosophy is not complicated like some claim. It’s true that it requires practice, an addiction to reading and a comprehension capability but it’s possible to overcome its challenges via two ways that pave way to those who desire to know more about this field and specialize in it, and they are either via reading on one’s own or pursuing academic studies. A reader can for instance read analyses about the philosopher he’s researching about.

For example, it’s a must to read Imam Abdel-Fattah Imam before reading Hegel, to read Abdel Rahman Badawi before reading Aristotle, to read Fathi al-Miskini before reading Heidegger, to read Motaa Safadi before reading Deleuze, to read Paul Rabinow before reading Foucault and to read Hassan Hanafi before reading Spinoza. These are a few examples. One can then possess philosophical encyclopedias and after understanding the terminology of each philosopher and understanding his approach and expressions, the deep reading of the original publications can begin. Here the reader will understand the pleasure of specializing in philosophy and will realize the depth of texts and their role in developing the mind.

One of Herbert Spencer’s most beautiful quotes is: “(The world’s) truths are not accepted upon authority alone; but all are at liberty to test them-nay, in many cases, the pupil is required to think out his own conclusions. Every step in a scientific investigation is submitted to his judgment. He is not asked to admit it without seeing it to be true. And the trust in his own powers thus produced, is further increased by the constancy with which Nature justifies his conclusions when they are correctly drawn. From all which there flows that independency which is a most valuable element in character.”

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Teaching philosophy makes it inevitable for teachers to adopt an approach that’s different than bombarding students with ready-made answers or crushing their young minds. Teaching philosophy must be carried out via a discussion without reprimand as philosophy looks into intuitions and the void. Students have the right to ask whatever questions they have without fear or else what is the value of philosophy if the basis of teaching it is not to promote independency and not fearing ideas and having courage to confront questions and thoughts?

High school is an appropriate stage to teach philosophy since at this age, students begin to make up their minds regarding their career path and educational and academic preferences. Philosophy can thus contribute to improving one’s choices.

Teaching philosophy does not destroy constants and does not oppose principles. It’s a wide space for general discussions, educating the mind and guarding the intellect from intolerance and rigidity. Of course it’s not the task of philosophy to produce remarkable societies but it’s a step in the right direction and harmonizes with Saudi Arabia’s developments under its leadership.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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