Ten principles of the philosophical exercise

Ten principles of the philosophical exercise


  1. To play the game

For any game, any practice, as for any exercise, rules are to be installed, rules that involve specific requirements and constraints, rules that call for special skills. A game is not a simple outlet: it challenges through rules. Rules that must be articulated, proposed, defined, understood, used, imposed, without forgetting to constantly review them. Indeed, the rules are worth only what they are worth, accomplish only what they accomplish, nothing more. According to circumstances, individuals or demands of the moment, according to expectancy and many other parameters, the rules will be better reviewed, renewed, adapted, rectified, relaxed, abandoned, and so on. Moreover, the rules can – or must – be an integral part of the discussion: they will be debated periodically, by a debate on debate, an essential element of the reflexive and dialectical perspective that we favor here. For, not only do the rules vary, but from one ‘animator’ to another, whether he is a teacher or a pupil, similar rules take a different turn, depending on the rigor of the application of some aspects rather than others.

Let us not forget that rules have a content: they orient the functioning of the pupil and his thought in one direction rather than in another, they try to palliate one difficulty rather than another. Thus, if pupils have difficulty expressing themselves through timidity, because of a difficult class context or by any language handicap, the emphasis will be more naturally put on the simple operation of articulating ideas rather than on the capacity for abstraction or explanation. The affirmation will be privileged in relation to the questioning, and in fact the teacher will reserve by default the role of the interrogation. Similarly, for conceptualization or problematization: the teacher will, depending on the situation, be obliged to carry out the work of valorization of the singular speech to the degree he deems appropriate. Sometimes he will have to work mainly on the vocabulary, or on the logical arrangement of the sentence, because the words and phrases used will suffer from too great a gap in their use or in their comprehension. From time to time, the implementation of the elementary principles of behavior, such as speaking in turn, will constitute most of the work, especially at the beginning of the year. But, since it is a matter of taking children where they are, as they are, this will not be a problem in itself, unless one wants to speed up the maneuver too quickly, for reasons of personal or administrative expectations, which easily interfere with the operation of the workshop.

However, let us not forget that these basic rules, rather than being perceived as a chore and pure disciplinary formalism, can very well be presented as a game, and can win to be so. If, at first, these requirements of form encounter a certain resistance, this resistance gradually diminishes, proportionally to the capacity to assimilate and to put into practice the obligations, according to the ability to take pleasure in playing with these constraints. As with chess or cards, it is a matter of passing the arid stage where we must appropriate the data of the game in order to be able to actually play. For the majority of children, such a constraint never presents a big problem in itself, even though these rules represent a certain challenge: more than adults, they are animated by the instinct of the game, they do not yet believe too much in what they do, their functioning is not yet too over-invested by a desire for appearance and various existential fears: they still know how to trust. What would be a real problem, however, would be an inappropriate set of rules, aimed at skills that are too foreign to the students concerned. It is therefore a question of maintaining a permanent tension between demand and impossibility: to place one step forward, not one step too far. This is the famous principle of Lev Vygotski called ‘proximal zone of development’. In this sense, the making and use of rules of functioning as a primary teaching tool is already an art in itself, to which the teacher will not necessarily be prepared, initiated or even disposed. An art that is never reduced to recipes, but necessarily results from the continuity of a practice.

To facilitate this appropriation of the rules of operation, it is important to insist on their playful and questionable dimension. They are playful in the sense that they do not constitute a kind of truth or absolute good. They represent only a means of playing. They are debatable in the sense that they have a ‘raison d’être’, and there are so many reasons for not being, that is to say, to be suppressed or replaced by other rules, which it is possible to discuss in all serenity. It is in this perspective that we can talk about knowing and understanding the rules. For they are no longer merely the product of a regal power, that of a master with mysterious power, but the product of reason, a reason or a contractual and questionable, even arbitrary arrangement. Consequently, they can be the subject of reflection, instead of soliciting membership alone or provoking refusal. What is a game? A collective (or individual) exercise enabling everyone to confront each other and himself, through any procedure involving specific skills. The law is no longer an end in itself, it is no longer the dura lex sed lex which derives its substance and legitimacy from its hardness, but a mere means of existing, because it offers to the being a possibility of doing and being. Such a perspective invites generosity, rather than the punitive harshness of simple discipline.

Playing the game refers to another issue: the construction of knowledge. Indeed, if knowledge is not constituted a priori, where does it come from? How does it emerge? Playing the game already implies that knowledge is a practice, a know-how, and not a set of theoretical knowledge established a priori, that is to be reproduced. Knowledge is the result of a know-how, rather than being perceived as the prerequisite of this know-how. We forget too quickly that knowledge is born of thought. Certainly, any implementation presupposes a certain knowledge, even if it is only that of a minimal language in the exercise which concerns us, but rather than worrying about making the students formally acquire these prerequisites – which can be done besides, at other times – let’s launch them into the exercise. This bet of dynamics will enable all teachers and students to evaluate the skills and weaknesses of each other and to determine what to do next.

What we are talking about here is a journey. The required procedures invite the group to summon what they know, to use this knowledge, to perceive its limitations, to identify the needs and, as the case may be, to solve the problems and obstacles that present themselves by mobilizing new ideas and new concepts. Even if the participant is left with the mere perception of the problem, the work would be accomplished, which consists in arousing a need for knowledge and in creating an air window for thought. This state of mind will induce additional motivation and provide insights for the teacher who can then explain some important principle on the basis of concrete experience. This genesis of knowledge, a knowledge asserting and demonstrating in a substantial way its necessity, should help on the one hand those pupils who undergo the work in the classroom and the apprenticeship like an immense pensum where one has to ingurgitate strange things, but also those who succeed precisely because they have understood the system and know how to reproduce what is inculcated, sometimes to the detriment of a lively and authentic thought. To play, without excluding rigor – for it would no longer be a game but a recreation – is to make thought operative and dynamic, to restore its breath.


  1. The master of the game


If, in the ideality of the absolute, the function of mastery hardly needs to be incarnated by a particular person, the group being able to self-suffice as soon as responsibility is assumed by everyone, this does not go well with the reality of everyday life. Especially if the group is large and if the game presents some important issues or particular difficulties. However, let’s face it, the more the role of the teacher can be minimized, the more successful the game can be. Without, however, succumbing to the temptation of a minimal game for practical reasons – although it is still possible to orientate oneself towards other operating options, as long as one clarifies the nature, implications and consequences of these options.

Every banquet, like every ship, needs a captain, recommends Plato. If navigation, a complex task, is carried out by more than one person, it is nevertheless necessary to appoint a person who, ultimately, according to the events, will make the final decisions which he deems just, at the risk of error and injustice. Knowing that this is not a divine power of law, but only a tacit agreement established for practical reasons. This role can therefore be assigned to different people in turn. A political role which, according to Plato, consists in weaving diversity into a single work. And if the teacher, who is more familiar with the practice he is trying to introduce, initially assumes this function, he is recommended to delegate it periodically to pupils, depending on the timing of the circumstances. The difficulties that will arise then will be an integral part of the exercise, the two pitfalls of philosophical practice being authoritarianism and demagogy.

What is the role of the master here, since he is no longer the one responsible for ‘telling the truth’? First of all, he is a legislator: he establishes the law, states it, recalls periodically the terms, and even modifies its articles. As we have already said, the rules are subject to debate, but it is a question of delineating the place of the debate, specifying the appropriate time, and deciding when it should be interrupted, so that the exercise is not a permanent debate on the debate, some traps in which it is easy to fall. Even if they ask the group, at the end of the game or at the start, whether a discharge is granted to the person in question. There are different ways to set up such a process; what seems to us the most effective is to grant the full powers to the person appointed in the game and then to reserve a discussion space at the end of the game in order to assess the work done.

The master of the game is also an arbitrator, a judicial function, insofar as he must ensure that the rules in question, whether his own or those established in advance, are respected. However, it seems preferable to refer any decision to the group, for example by means of a show of hands. His role as an arbitrator will then be to raise what appears to him to be a problem, to solicit the opinions of a few persons, and then to produce a decision, direct or indirect. Arbitration must not be conceived as an ancillary activity, but as an intrinsic part of the exercise, since the elaboration of judgment, the formulation of arguments, is nested at the very heart of the philosophical activity. Often, the most interesting questions during a discussion will arise in these often-delicate arbitration debates, which is not surprising since they require thinking about the form, the logic and the relationships of meaning, in other words, to reflect on the level of metadiscussion, not on the mere exchange of opinions. It is therefore a question of going beyond the level of agreements or disagreements of content which refer mainly to subjectivity, however argued. To think of conformity to rules is to work the demand for truth, which is never anything but conformity to something, however arbitrary it may be: another idea, a principle, logic, efficiency, etc.

The role of the game master is to be an animator, an executive function. Often, the role of the executive is perceived solely through its discretion, as a prerogative abused unscrupulously, which installs mistrust before any other sentiment, instead of its opposite, trust, without which however no group can function in a peaceful and serene manner. Moreover, his authority is arbitrary, since no one asks for the opinion of all, or he counts so little that the personal contribution of the common is considered negligible. In our exercise, it is a matter of establishing a relationship of mutual trust between the animator of the moment, whether the teacher, another adult, or a student, and those who participate in the game. For, although the game can go on without him, he cannot preside over the meeting without the others, without each of the participants. Not for purely formal reasons, but because if the slightest participant is bent on interrupting the game by untimely behavior, he can. Just as the smallest participant who puts forward a promising idea allows the whole group to move forward. Let us not forget that it is not the animator who provides the ideas, but the participants, which places the latter in a relationship of psychological and cognitive dependence, which is quite destabilizing for certain teachers who have difficulty to trust their students.

Thus, power must no longer be a bad word, an object of fear, nor must it be incontestable. It is an art and a responsibility, a practice to which one exercises like any other. This practice refers to the functioning of the city, the separation of tasks. It learns to trust others, as well as oneself, and thus revalorizes the individual through this pact between peers. It also learns to accept the arbitrary dimension of life in society, and of existence in general, not as a factor undergone, inducing passivity and resentment, but as one of the constituent elements of the establishment of a group, which must be dealt with at a distance, and to settle in time insofar as one remains aware of the general problem which it presents. This ability to accept arbitrariness requires a consciousness on the alert, it implies a distancing with oneself, a capacity to minimize oneself in favor of the group, and the learning of how to mourn one’s own claims and desires. Such a functioning involves an undeniable risk-taking, especially for the one who, in normal times, has the power a priori, but also for those who must exercise it momentarily. The alternation of the presidency and the moments reserved for the debate on the debate, where each one evaluates its own functioning and that of the others, forge the solidity of the pact precisely because it is criticizable and revocable. It is so at all times, although it is generally agreed to let the chairman go to the end of his term of office, unless there is a major difficulty. The exercise of citizenship also involves protecting what creates the game. This means, among other things, ensuring that the person who is responsible for the smooth running of the game can work with confidence. Reactivity is a way of being. Such a perspective implies quite a phenomenal psychological and identity reversal, but it is nevertheless relieving. This can be called ‘learning the principle of responsibility’.


  1. Asking for the right to speak


Most pupils are familiar with the rule of speaking by raising their hands beforehand, but it is not certain that they practice it in a rigorous way, and above all that they grasp its meaning. In general, the two most common and relatively unconscious conceptions are, on the one hand, that which gives the teacher the discretionary power to grant or refuse speech, and on the other hand, the one who conceives this act as a ritual – more or less obligatory – that automatically grants the right to speak, like the gesture of politeness that would guarantee the satisfaction of an application or legitimate a gesture, like ‘please’ or ‘forgive’. The first scenario is found more rarely in primary school, it takes place later. The second is respected to varying degrees: in many classes, there are pupils who begin to speak as soon as they raise their hand, without waiting for any authorization.

Again, we wish to emphasize the idea of ​​understanding the rules, their questionable nature, understanding and discussion, which do not exclude the possibility of imposing these rules or of considering their arbitrary aspect. The problem here is that of ‘Why are we talking?’. Is it because the word jostles in us and must come out at all costs, in other words is it to express oneself as one ‘ex-presses’ the juice of a lemon? Certain discussions can play this role, which establish in the classroom the space of a speech free and without constraint. But if it is a question of philosophizing, that is, of ‘thinking thought’, then other determinations intervene. To begin with, and this is not the least of the criteria, by listening. Indeed, what is the use of speaking in the hubbub, while others speak or nobody listens? The idea would be to speak when we have ensured maximum listening in order to maximize the impact of words and to ensure the best possible return. But what about the master? What is the example? Did he, out of lassitude, discouragement, or deafness, become accustomed to speaking in a vacuum or chaos? Or does he consider it normal, perhaps not by his speech but by his behavior, that if his word of authority demands silence, that of the pupil may, as well as possible, arise in noise?

Let us present some issues of the case. First, as we said, raising one’s hand before speaking is to make sure that listening is active before pronouncing anything, rather than letting go of words by simple flushing. There is no way to talk if someone else is talking. Secondly, the status of the pupil and the mutual respect that is actively contributing to the definition of this status. Neither should one interrupt a pupil who elaborates his thought, even if it seems slow to emerge, incongruous or incomprehensible: error or misunderstanding are an integral part of the learning process, they cannot be a vector of devaluation of the individual. All the more so as the pupil can, in the course of his intervention, gradually correct his remarks. Unless there is an excessive length or a speech that definitely gets lost in its own confusion.

To ask a pupil to listen to his neighbor is to guarantee him in return that he will also be listened to. Also, remember that if the teacher can still follow the thread of his ideas when interrupted by a student, the student will find it harder to keep his concentration if someone else speaks. This is all the more so for the shy or rough student. Moreover, in order to ensure a greater listening as well as the manifestation of this listening, it is better to ask the students not to raise their hand while a fellow speaks: this is tantamount to asking him to activate or to shut up. Anyway, we do not listen better to the arm raised in the air…

Thirdly: to accustom the pupil to articulate his own thought, to perceive its limits and to become aware of its difficulties. In this respect, it is a common practice for the teacher, whose potential is harmful, to regularly finish the student’s sentences himself or to rephrase his words in an abusive manner. It is not always possible, depending on the context, to take the time to let everyone express themselves, so much so that the natural reflex is to speak for the pupil, instead of the pupil, but one will perceive the limits of this kind of behavior. It is therefore important to reserve certain moments of class life for this ‘loss of time’, which we call philosophical discussion because we allow the pupil time to think his own thought, failures, understood mistakes and misunderstandings, since they are the reality of his thought, a reality which it would be inappropriate to erase. Especially since the pupil takes the habit of this artificial and unsolicited aid, by facility. This does not prevent the teacher, as we shall see later, from actively helping a pupil by proposing ideas that he cannot articulate, but it is preferable that other pupils play this role.

Fourthly, the interest of this hand-raising ritual relates to the ability of the student to distance himself from himself, to shift in time, not to be impelled and automated. Often the student who releases words as soon as he ‘feels’ them, does not take the time to construct his speech, and often does not retain what he has just said: it will be enough to ask him to repeat himself in order to realize it. If only because he will not dare, out of fear and shyness, to assume this word again in the ears of all. It is often costly to repeat, because doubt and shame are naturally required. Who has never experienced in the classroom the situation of the pupil who, in the hubbub of the class, throws out ideas which he will not dare to repeat once all listen attentively to what he has to say.

This brings us to the fifth point: the singularization of speech. To dare to speak in a singular way as an individual who addresses his peers, the whole of the ‘city’, with all the dimension of the risk taking that it implies. This is a practice that is not natural to everyone and requires a certain amount of work, some experience that the teacher must promote. Through forms, it is nothing less than learning to assume an explicit and articulated singularity, to assume the temporary seizure of power that it represents, taking the risk of listening, of the gaze of others and the image of ourselves that they send back to us. It is taking the risk of existing openly and fully facing the world.

The simplest form of demanding to speak is the commonly used form of the hand or finger raised. But there are other techniques to invite the pupil to distance himself from his own speech, to teach him to suspend and temporize, to delay his gesture while awaiting a favorable opportunity, to shape his idea as best as possible before expressing it, to leave the immediate and to decenter, to take into account the group while separating it from himself. You can use a speech stick, or even a microphone, that circulates in the group, and no one can speak without holding it. Either the one who just spoke invites someone else to speak by naming him by name. The important thing, as we have said, is to instore some meaning into the gesture, as a means of establishing a relationship with the community, to restore its symbolic value, and to extract the rule from its reduced gangue of mere authority, in order to make it fully play its educational function.


  1. To stick to one idea


This rule is undoubtedly one of the most fundamental cognitive factors, which requires constant attention to a given subject, to remain focus on a specific idea, in order to discuss, deepen, and analyze it, in order to illustrate and problematize it. The key to all intellectual exercise, both its Ariane’s thread and its substance, the subject, as an object of reflection, must constantly be present in the minds of all. This is not always evident, insofar as any discussion, any reflection, will attract our attention on ancillary tracks, towards associative connections, digressions more or less legitimate and useful, even on the stakes of metareflexion which will have to be evaluated without abandoning the first subject. This task is all the more arduous because our discussion exercises are realized in multiple and crossed voices, multiplicity and crossing, the interlacing of which creates innumerable opportunities for drifting and losing ourelf in parallel paths, bushy roads and dead-end impasses. Listening to others, even if we recommend it or impose it as a rule, offers us the permanent temptation to forget the subject to be dealt with, in order to react and rebound to the various words we hear. In order to characterize the general problem posed here in thought, let us resume the idea of ​​Plato, which enjoins us to grasp simultaneously the whole and the part, each particular idea taken alone being capable of trapping thought in an inadequate partiality. Following a subject involves sometimes contradictory acts and functionalities. Let us look at some of these, before seeing to what extent this conflictual diversity contributes to the construction of thought.

First, it is a question of being able to contemplate an idea, before trying to establish its usefulness, and especially before asking whether one agrees or not with it. This last reaction in particular, often assimilated to a simple reflex, embodies the first obstacle to the understanding of many words and many texts. The position, or reaction, usually precedes the comprehension in operative speed, the latter is often distorted by the first. According to the Cartesian injunction, therefore, to follow on a subject is first and foremost to suspend judgment, to retain its approval or rejection for a moment, to keep subjectivity away, in order to receive the idea with a relatively open mind. It is therefore a question of inviting the participants to avoid in the first place any statement of the type “I agree with this sentence” or “This idea is false” or “This idea does not please me.” For, it is above all to weigh the idea, to examine it, to understand it.

If it is a question, it is crucial to assess it initially as a question, without interfering with it by the automatism of a response. Let us beware of this reflex which, like any other reflex of thought, connects two concepts or ideas, moves or grafts them unto each other, or even telescopes them, without taking the time to apprehend them separately and to observe what they contain within themselves. To answer a question is to reduce it to almost nothing, to take away its interrogative potential, it is to fix its meaning in a single outcome, rather than to consider the magnitude of the problem posed and to envisage the questioning potential of this question. Since, by definition, a question poses a problem, since it is a problem, why not invite the participant to contemplate the problem for himself? An aesthetic moment, as in the museum, when one lets himself be questioned by a given work, instead of rushing to the next one, instead of watching his watch and wondering what remains to be seen in order to finish the visit.

It is not that it is forbidden to answer the question, on the contrary, and, as we shall see later, nor is it forbidden to object or to agree with a given idea, but it simply seems useful to artificially decompose the movement in order to grasp its moments and to take away their chained, compulsive and systematic character. The skills are diverse, and since this is a game, lets justify this requirement by explaining that its dynamics are set up and structured at times when actions, roles and functions differ. Most sports have different strategies, and part of the training is to work separately on the dexterities, subtleties and techniques that are attached to them.

We are advised to take time, to contemplate ideas, ideas being both the object and the finality of our exercise. Let us recall that at one time, before the reign of utility and subjectivity was established, it was highly recommended, in ancient Greece for example, to contemplate ideas, especially those which seemed worthy to us, those which precisely edified the architecture of thought itself, for example the ‘great’ concepts, the transcendental ones, such as the true, the beautiful, and the good. The concept of transcendental, as Kant explains, refers to what conditions and allows thought to be constituted.


But the rule demanding the contemplation of ideas is difficult to put in effect. For, if the mind of the pupils is somewhat rebellious to this slowing of the movement of the mind, what about the teacher? Is he himself able to get at it? Is he not accustomed to wanting to move the discussion further at all costs? For the sake of efficiency. For fear of annoying or bullying students. Out of uncertainty about the value of the ideas in question. Because he expects specific ideas that alone interest him. Out of fear for the void. By simple impatience or manner of being. Posing thought, breathing, interrupting the process that takes place, artificially installing interstices in the discussion, all the common and understandable obstacles that hold the teacher back. Yet, if one thinks of all these children and adults, who live in the excitement of the world, in the permanent zapping and desire to save time, if it is not in school that one learns to take some time to think, to give value to ideas in themselves, when and by what happy or miraculous chance will one ever learn it?

More actively, to remain on one idea is to explain it, without commentary, it is to rephrase it, to ask to recall it by enunciating it, to repeat it as a kind of mantra in order that it penetrates the mind. If a participant wishes to question or object to an idea, first ask him to reiterate the idea to which he wishes to put an end. If a participant wants to answer a question, ask him to repeat the question he is asking to answer. Especially when he has already answered and it is evident through his answer that, obviously, he hardly remembers the question. If a listener believes he has understood the idea of ​​a comrade, ask him to verify what he understands with the author of the idea, even if the latter does not know if he poorly expressed himself or if he was not well listened to. In other words, before going any further, check whether the starting or anchoring point is still clear and present. These simple demands often constitute an exercise in themselves, which leads everyone to become aware of the bad habits which we maintain in our hygiene of thought: we mean something, but we do not know what we are talking about, what we are responding to.

Let us not forget, however, that if the game sometimes consists in staying on an idea to take the time to appreciate it, it is also a movement, since it invites the participant to go through various stages. And, it is the ability to follow in these steps, to meet the various requirements and to know how to change roles, a role that is then put to the test.


  1. Rehabilitating the problem


We have already mentioned the concept of a problem, but it seems that we need to take it up again as a principle in itself, constitutive of the philosophical exercise. The challenge is to rehabilitate the problem, to consider it as an integral part of teaching and learning, rather than as an obstacle, a regrettable hindrance to be eliminated at all costs, if not to hide it altogether. The difficulty rests on the bad press that the problem attracts: the problem as a problem. “There are no problems”, says the teacher in his words, actions and silences. He has his conscience for himself. For the student, there is one. Sometimes the worst of the problems: when the student does not understand it, and does not even know how to express the nature of the problem. If he knew it, the problem would begin to disappear. For now, he only feels a pain and say “I do not like this matter”, when it is not “I do not like this teacher.” A reflex which could not be more appropriate, as a defense of the territorial integrity of being: the other inflicts a pain upon us, it is normal that he is perceived as an enemy. The less the student is able to express the problem, the greater the pain, the livelier the reaction will be, whether through confrontation or absence.

Faced with this, what is the point of speaking? In any dialogue, talk is above all about problematizing, to change perspectives. Problematization is not only a matter of inventing a problem, it is also articulating a problem that is present, an articulation that does not necessarily solve the problem, but it at least identifies and treats it. A problem needs not necessarily be solved, although it can be. A problem must above all be perceived, be seen, be manipulated, become substantial. As a practice, painting will always be a problem for the painter, like mathematics for a mathematician, like philosophy for a philosopher. The most catastrophic illusion is the one which suggests that this is not the case, since it suggests that the teacher is a magician, in the traditional sense of the word, that he has particular powers, rather than showing that he is an illusionist, someone who simply knows how to pull the strings, because he sees how these intertwine and organize.

But, to do this, one must above all rehabilitate the concept of problem. “There is no problem!”, “I do not have any problems!” Pride or some concern for tranquility compel us to deny the very idea of ​​a problem. The problem is what keeps us from acting, it is an obstacle, a brake, a speed downer. And what if, exactly in this apparently perverse purpose, were its substance and interest! For, are we not always tempted to reduce a material and its learning to a set of data, to a few different operations, as many educational elements that are quantifiable, verifiable and evaluable? Nevertheless, what about the spirit, among others that of the subject taught? Certainly, the mind filters through the various activities proposed, but why should we abandon it to its sad fate, that of a random, accidental and secondary factor, which is hardly a preoccupation in itself? Especially since this intuitive knowledge is not given to all students. If some are prepared to receive it for reasons and circumstances that are hardly within the competence of the teacher, the others, those who struggle with the strangeness of the approach, enter precisely into its field of action. For this, it is necessary that the matter be a problem for the teacher himself, and that it is not carefully stored in the department of household items. A storage that the student in difficulty would disturb.

The student’s difficulties serve a specific purpose: rethinking the subject taught, its nature, its effectiveness, its truth, and its interest. If all this goes without saying, the difficulties become a mere obstacle which must be disposed of as quickly as possible in order to advance. The program becomes the alibi par excellence, the refuge of fear and insecurity. We have all these things to learn, what time do we have to work on the mind? The mind of the studied subject and the mind of the thinking subject. We have to focus on the matter. We soon forget the lesson of the Ancients, and we find ourselves with a substance without any soul, reduced to learning and to perform. Useful indeed, but so reductive.

Thus, in the first place, it is possible to say: “I have a difficulty”, “This specific task raises a problem for me”, which can also be articulated in the form of “I do not know”, “I cannot answer”, or simply “I do not understand.” These words, which by their relative absence of content or reply may appear to mean nothing and to bring nothing to the discussion, but a simple admission of a difficulty, which may allow it to be assimilated to a loophole or to a ritual form of politeness of some sort, are on the contrary heavy with consequences. Already, these words openly pose the existence of the problem, which then opens the door to the ensuing meaningful events. By recognizing this productive status, the problem is extracted from its gangue of guilt and of bad conscience, which in general forbids those who suffer from the opacity of a given knowledge or practice. On the contrary, this ‘painful’ observation becomes an agent of reflection. For, the problem of one becomes the problem of all, and first for a good reason: it is evoked. Secondly, because it may well be that this singular problem is also shared by other people who have not been able to admit or acknowledge it. But, it is also the problem of those who think they have no difficulty with the problem in question, who will have to publicly check their ability to treat it. For, once the problem of one becomes the problem of all, each one is invited to take care of it by a seemingly innocuous sentence pronounced by the author of the problem: “I do not understand and I ask for help.” From there on, those who think that they are able to articulate or to deal with the problem will explain themselves, in turn, or by some sort of selection process. Until the one who had expressed a difficulty is satisfied with it or by concluding, after a few unsuccessful attempts, with a temporary impossibility of resolution.

Of course, this process is slow, which requires trampling on a specific and reduced aspect of the journey, perhaps even an ancillary aspect, but there is no question of doing ‘as if’, of passing as if nothing, in spite of the ‘lack of time’. And, if one allows the slightest impression that the problem to be treated prevents the procedure from ‘advancing’, implying, in other words, that there is better to do, then all the work of rehabilitation of the problem and of the confession of ignorance will be reduced to nothing. This does not mean that one should get bogged down during a session in one single difficulty; a ‘safeguard’ procedure, such as the one which proposes to limit any attempt to solve a problem to three consecutive tests, makes it possible to extricate oneself from a thorny matter without, however, having ignored it.

Thus, there would not be on one side the problems worthy of the name, well intellectualized, baptized with the pompous name of problematics, and on the other the ‘beasts’ problems, those emanating out of lack, by ignorance and incomprehension. Such a distinction would encourage the denial of the real, deep and existential dimension of the problem, unavowable, in order to express only the problems that would result from the elucubrations of subtle minds. The teacher himself would no longer dare to have problems, even unacknowledged ones. And, why would he then launch himself into risky procedures, of which he cannot foresee either the pitfalls or the culmination of the exercise? An exercise like that of a reflection in common, taken with all its rigor, imposes on each one a certain minimum humility, and in any case a capacity to openly admit difficulty and error, a refusal of omnipotence, and an acceptance of some dependence on others. Thus, ideas will be able to live.


  1. Articulating choices


As we have explained in part, from the outset the workshop starts with some risk taking on the part of the pupil and the facilitator, who take a risk of choice and of judgment, which is prolonged throughout the exercise. By reflecting on their choices, by articulating them, while knowing that they will have to argue them over, or even justify them, in order to go deeper into their contents and to verify their content, the student takes a risk that should not be underestimated. Periodically, some will not make it. The risk of expressing what he thinks, the risk of speaking in front of comrades, the risk of speaking before the teacher, the risk of not being able to justify his choices, the fear of ‘doing wrong’, etc. For the teacher, taking risks is to hear choices and arguments that may seem aberrant, disturbing or even false. Without expressing his disapproval or concern. While continuing the questioning procedure, with this student or with another. Some teachers also admit their impatience in this kind of situation, revealing a certain anxiety: they prefer to ‘rectify’.

In general, the workshop begins with a question. A question that incites to think, to judge, that does not rely so much on specific knowledge authorizing any authority to validate or to invalidate the answer as good or bad, as true or false. It is a question of producing a thought, not of providing the right or the true answer: it is simply asked to be clear and relevant. A requirement that may surprise the student, unaccustomed to this type of request. For, if the demand for truth is not there, there are others which are no less demanding. Does the answer answer the question? Does it dodge it? Does it answer another question? Is the answer clear? Is it a minimum justified by an argument? Already, it is necessarily to produce sentences, rather than to express a simple assent or to articulate a single word. It is about building thought, not about checking the assimilation of a lesson.

Uncertainty about the lack of immediate and assured validation will often hamper the most ‘academic’ of pupils. They will feel like they are being delivered to nothingness. They will ask and will ask again what to do, incredulous, having difficulty in believing that they are only asked to think, without expectation of specific answers, validated beforehand. When it comes to a discussion with the class as a whole, these meticulous and studious pupils will feel abandoned by the master, a betrayal depriving them of a secure presence, the usual and comforting guarantee of a certified judgment of compliance. Even the ‘dunces’ will be worried by this type of procedure, which also removes them from the specificity of their status, voluntary or not, in which they have settled. For, it is in the judgment of the class as a whole that each pupil must measure himself, a moving and unexpected, unpredictable and destabilizing judgment, which he is asked to confront. Confrontation is otherwise more perilous than that of the quasi-indisputable authority of the master, even if the speech assumes a more free and spontaneous appearance. Thus, what appeared to be too easy turns out to be rather arduous, very difficult for some.

However, as we have already said, in order to de-dramatize risk-taking among pupils, the exercise is often presented as a game, comparable to another, and the playful aspect must be recalled periodically, alternating with more serious moments. For children who have difficulty expressing their opinion, it is a question of being patient, of resorting to them from time to time, so that they do not feel excluded, even if they do not succeed in verbalizing easily, or even very little, and reassure the shy by suggesting that they talk later if they feel stuck. The teacher must ensure that everyone can express a minimum, making sure that the most loquacious do not overwhelm others, a recurring danger of any discussion. Especially since those who produce themselves orally in a more laborious way are not necessarily the least interesting and the less profound.

Answering questions of knowledge presupposes a specific learning: a lesson learned, elements of information retained. Articulating a thought involves the totality of being. It is in this sense that discourse no longer refers to mere issues of theoretical and formal knowledge, but rather to a know-how, even to a knowledge of being, to the ability to determine an existential positioning. For, it is the whole thought that is summoned when it comes to making a choice. Hence the interest of risking the articulation of a choice, conceived as the inaugural act of thought. There is then a need to justify the initial proposal by mobilizing the acquired knowledge, by elaborating arguments and possible reasoning, and by attempting to answer questions and objections in a second step. Even if it means revisiting its original judgment, which is a fundamental decision, because it shows a certain freedom of thought and an honest and courageous relation to others, as well as what can be called a quest or a concern for truth.

The last important point about judgment: it corresponds to an existential reality insofar as knowledge is generally what allows us to make choices, day after day. Such a practice thus makes it possible to give back its usual reality to teaching, since it no longer refers solely to the class, the good and bad grades and the foreseeable succession of years, but to what constitutes the relation between a subject and the world around him, the world he inhabits. It is therefore a matter of working on the body of the schizophrenic tendency of the double life, of the double language, between the school and the street, between books and the house, between the classroom and the playground, a gap which greatly weakens – when it does not mince outright – the work of the teacher and the process of education to which the child is supposed to participate. Thus, during the philosophical exercise, the pupil will be led to make choices to answer the questions, to analyze his own choices and those of his comrades, to justify these choices, to determine the degree of validity of the arguments invoked, and even to make judgments about the behaviors that govern the speeches, reactions and responses of each. These are crucial decisions that must be slowly constructed and examined, because they are not only ancillary to daily functioning, but also form the substance and the melting pot. And, if it is a matter of thinking, discussing and working more directly on specific school subjects, the appropriation of this subject will be facilitated, since the pupil will be invited to implement it, to make it operational, to take a stand in relation to it, a practice which forbids a sort of formal exteriority to class work. No one can therefore confine themselves to an external position, since the rule of the game poses as a preliminary the need to situate oneself in relation to the matter studied. Life is restored to matter, matter is restored to life.


  1. To question, to argue, to deepen


If there is a fundamental principle to be inculcated in our case, it is the reflex of questioning, questioning the other and questioning oneself, questioning all that is stated. Now, there is a privileged access to questioning: the ‘why?’, a dynamic and triggering element, the founder of thought and discourse, which will give thought and discourse its substance, asking it to support and deepen itself. The ‘why?’, to which echoes a ‘because’, responds to various types of request: “What makes us say this?” “On what right are we saying this?” “How do you explain that?” “What is the purpose of this?” “What does it mean to say that?” “What does it imply to say this?” Both the meaning of the words, the purpose of their object, the legitimacy of their author, etc., are questioned. This multifaceted process, triggered by a powerful interrogative adverb, invites us to extract the discourse from its flat and immediate evidence, in order to unravel its mysteries, to illuminate its genesis, to glimpse its implications and consequences. A ‘magic word’, shall we say with the younger ones, in order to let them glimpse the strength and the innumerable possibilities of the questioning contained within the ‘Why?’. If there is a term that enables us to show the power of words, it is that which, when it is thrown at an interlocutor, often leaves him embarrassed, whereas the author of the discourse must simply account for a minimum of his own words.

Students grasp the meaning of ‘why?’ because once they are introduced to this term, when they have to ask a question, they hasten to use it repeatedly, if not erroneously, as a solution of ease: ‘Why did you say that?’. For, if ‘How much?’ ‘When?’ ‘How?’, ‘where?’, ‘Who?’, ‘What?’, ‘Which?’ or ‘Does it?’ require for their use the understanding of specific circumstances and the elaboration of an appropriate sentence, the ‘Why?’ can always be framed in a simple way, without great effort of the imagination. To such an extent that it will sometimes be useful to temporarily suspend its use, in the case of an abusive systematization which seems to hamper the progress of work. For, if the question is easy to ask, it is all the more difficult to answer; but the questioner must also realize a real work, allowing new ideas to emerge, posing problems specific to the interlocutor, and not finding a ‘trick’ that can be framed at any point.

Questioning therefore requires the student to justify his or her remarks, to provide arguments, evidence, reasoning, new proposals that should in principle support the initial proposals and deepen their content. In this perspective, a certain number of classical arguments are held in check, which, if they are not openly pronounced, nevertheless act as a law, especially in the classroom: the authority argument, for example. For, in the philosophical exercise, it is no longer a question of referring to the teacher, to the parents, or to any book, to establish the value of an idea. Not that these ‘first’ sources of knowledge are automatically invalidated, far from it – it would be difficult and vain to pretend to abstain from them – but they will find their place only within the framework of an intellectual construction, that is to say, in an arrangement of propositions established by the pupil. In this sense, the latter becomes the author of his own discourse, even if the imprint of a certain influence can be felt in an obvious way.

The process in which each participant is engaged through this questioning is called, in Plato, an anagogical principle. It is a question of tracing the origin of a particular thought in order to verify its content, for it is in this origin that the true meaning of an idea is found, and not in its apparent evidence. Moreover, the process of re-emergence of the idea within the being restores its vigor to thought, which makes it possible to pass from the stage of opinion to that of the idea. Indeed, the distinction between opinion and idea is summed up in the work that engenders and surrounds it. The same proposition can therefore be considered opinion or idea according to the mode of reading or analysis used, depending on the degree of intensity of the interpretation. Finally, this inquiry into the causality of an idea also furnishes in time a certain number of ancillary ideas, correlates of the initial idea, which illuminate the latter. Some contradictions or inconsistencies emerge, which are open to study and criticism. This confrontation between the different perspectives thus becomes an opportunity, through an effort of coherence that can be assimilated to a concern for truth, to identify and rework various postulates that until then remained unconscious in the mind of their author. Confronted with a multiplicity of propositions, the intellect must discover its founding and causal unity, or at least understand its contradictions.

Thus, the initial work of providing arguments for answering questions as to the justification of an initial statement quickly turns into a work of deepening. The argument can practically be reduced to a mere pretext, that of a more thorough exploration or examination. This permits us to evaluate the legitimacy of an idea not by some canon established a priori, or by belonging to an official text, but by the relation that a specific idea maintains with its intellectual environment. But, to realize such a project, it is necessary to learn to ask questions, an exercise that constitutes an art in itself. For, while certain questions, striking ones, facilitate the work and give rise to a deepening, others, on the contrary, find close door or invite in no way the production of concepts.

The work of questioning oscillates between two pitfalls. On the one hand, the question resembles a course, difficult to understand, with a long preamble which often contains the expected answers: those that leave the speaker on the tile, either through incomprehension or because he feels that nothing is expected of him but an acquiescence. On the other hand the vague question that does not ask for anything specific: the uninspiring “Tell me more!” or the “Can you develop better?” that invites nothing more. On this aspect of the work, more than on other aspects, the teacher will learn from the pupils, that is to say from multiplicity, for it is difficult to predict what kind of question will work more than another in a special case: it is only through experience, ‘on the job’, that this practice will improve. For if it is more easily possible for the teacher to perceive a blind spot or a contradiction in a given word, it is not a given that he will find the words that will catch the interlocutor, causing him to become aware of the internal problem which his speech incarnates. This is why the whole class is invited to consider the proposals of an ‘author’, because everyone must realize that it is not so much to give ‘his’ answer that represents the real work, but to forge the appropriate questions. All the more so because a real question requires one not to put forward his own ideas, which implies a redoubling of work: to become aware of the ideas that are conveyed and to succeed in silencing his own concepts and convictions, to put them aside in order to talk to someone so as to know what he thinks, without trying to communicate some ‘good thinking’ to him or to induce some content. Internal criticism, says Hegel, who interrogates a thesis from within, to be distinguished from external criticism, which consists in advancing arguments and concepts used to object. Questioning is giving birth, which means that the ideas must emerge in the interviewee, and not be supplied in turn by the questioner. Questioning is creating a breathing gap and not obstructing the hole.


  1. Singularity of the discourse


The singularity of the discourse presupposes a kind of originality, which constitutes its specificity. Yet it would be difficult to say that all that is heard in a class discussion has such a characteristic of originality. Also, without excluding the sometimes-unexpected side of certain answers, for the least surprising, we propose the hypothesis that the first form of singularity is rather that of engagement. To embark on an idea, to take options on an idea, is to make it singular, or personal, by a phenomenon of appropriation. Thus, during the course of the exercise, the pupil must take part, whether by the production of an idea or by his relation to the ideas of others. Not only on the fact of agreeing or not, but also on the very nature of the proposed discourse, its coherence, its logic, or its correctness, his own or that of another. A prejudice which, as we have seen, should as far as possible be explained, argued, justified, etc.

The idea of ​​determining one’s position in relation to a given question, whatever the degree of abstraction, implies an act of reflection, an awareness, which requires pupils to make an effort, to some more than to others. For, it becomes necessary to ask consciously the question of personal choice, which in small classes is not necessarily a given. For this act to take place, it is first and foremost important not to fall into a first trap: the reflex of repetition, very common in these ages. To say, like the others, be they the pupils or the master, is the temptation and the solution of facility, the fusional reflex so common in children. Fusion with the group, because it is less scary, because you feel less alone or because you have to do like the others. Fusion with the master, because he is an adult, because he is the one who knows, because he must be right. Later, this will turn into a fear of error, the ‘first error’ according to Hegel.

For this reason, during our exercise, it is crucial that the teacher does not show agreement or disagreement, at least on content, even on form, which should not prevent him from returning at some other times on a given problem that seems to require him to treat it by himself. As for the relationship between peers, in order to ensure that there is no mechanical repetition, one of the rules of the game is to prohibit repeating what has already been said by someone else, at the risk of a symbolic ‘rejection’ or a momentary elimination. We sometimes observe some pupils who propose different formulations of the same answer in order to take up an idea already expressed without being penalized by the rule of the game which prohibits repetition, which in itself is an interesting mechanism. For, it will be a matter for all to ask whether this ‘new’ answer is identical or not to the previous one, or whether it has produced any conceptual novelty. The teacher may at any time ask the class: “Has anyone ever said that?” And in order for the proposal to be rejected, it will first be necessary for at least one student to recognize that it is the same answer as someone else: he must explain how these answers are similar and preferably name the author of the initial response. In case of doubt or dissent, the facilitator may propose a discussion and cause a vote on the question, a vote during which each one will have to resolve the dispute.

Do not repeat. Ensure that an answer answers the question. Determine whether the question is a question, whether it is about the object it is supposed to question. Identify inconsistencies in a proposal. Various rules among others, as many different demands which invite everyone to arbitrate the discussion by using his judgment. Such a function has the following advantage: it obliges everyone to listen and to remember what the others say, because at any moment the student can be solicited in order to evaluate the legitimacy of what has been said. Any analysis, any particular and personal reading of the ideas evoked may change the discussion in one direction or another, since the discourses are elaborated in reciprocity and are not impermeable to each other: they validate or invalidate each other, they deepen one another or become problematic among themselves. This leads us to another aspect of singularization: the principle of responsibility, underlying the exercise.

Certainly, any discussion implies a certain sense of responsibility, if only in relation to the ideas that one sends out oneself. But, insofar as we forbid arbitrarily jumping from one subject to another, where we prevent one from passing from one idea to another according to individual fancies without establishing any link, because the whole group remains on an idea before moving on to another, in order to work, each becomes implicitly responsible for the ideas of others. Whether it is by questioning it, in order to make it say what it has not yet said, by putting formal judgments on it, or by raising substantive problems, we take a heavy responsibility vis-à-vis the author of the idea and of the whole class. The fact of decentering oneself, in order to give priority to the ideas of the neighbor, offers in a paradoxical way an increased degree of singularization, through taking responsibility. To distance oneself from oneself means to become responsible, since we are more than ever listening to others, since we respond to others. Nevertheless, there is a fracture within this responsibility: the tension between oneself and others, between the singular and the collective.

Another crucial aspect of the singular character of the idea is: the justification or the explanation. For, if a given idea can have a common and obvious sense, or even an apparently objective meaning, it can also find in the mind and the words of its author or its interpreter a very particular content. As incongruous as the latter may be, it is out of question to remove it with a simple hand gesture. Especially since certain apparently absurd propositions, or ones endowed with some strange turns, will really take shape unexpectedly after some explanation or modification. Specific words will also know such a drift, used in strange meanings, when they will not settle, on occasion, squarely in the opposite sense to their classical definition. In these various situations, whether it be paralogism, incomprehension or inadequacy, the role of the teacher will not be to ‘rectify’ things that do not belong to him, but to trust the author and the group, to attract the attention of all and to solicit their opinion on one particular point or another, avoiding, of course, to project any remotely guided ‘good’ thought. He will trust the group, and he will realize that many ‘shooting errors’ will be rectified on their own, a more rewarding, pedagogical and coherent procedure than if he corrected everything himself, albeit much slower.

Moreover, no one will be able to modify the proposal of another participant without his consent. Already because every proposition or idea inscribed on the painting is signed, which singularizes thought. The ‘we’ does not have a right here. Any suggestion of modification or explanation by a comrade must therefore be accepted by the author in order to be entered on the board. But the group can sanction a proposal that it considers inadequate, by way of a majority vote, for example, a proposal that is out of context, contradictory or confusing. This is the only role assigned to the group as a group: to act as a jury, in order to approve or sanction a hypothesis or an analysis, since the facilitator of the discussion does not have that right. It will be useful, however, to specify that this arbitration function is purely pragmatic, explaining that the group can be quite wrong, insofar as a single person can be right against all. But let us admit that, in class, in general, the group remains relatively relevant in its judgments, enough in any case to allow it to be used as a referent, if only for practical reasons. However, we must remain open to significant changes in the situation, and for this reason it is advisable to bar the rejected proposals rather than delete them.


  1. The substantial link


We take up Leibniz’s expression on our own account, for it specifies for us precisely what distinguishes ‘ordinary’ discussion from philosophical discussion. For this author, the reality or substance of things does not reside so much in their distinct being as in their relation to what they are not. What distinguishes an entity rather calls for a definition, a relatively static analysis of a fixed and isolated object, while grasping an entity in its relation to one or more other ones invites to problematization, a more lively and dynamic intellectual posture. Not that the definition is excluded, but because it is subordinated to a set of situations whose moving nature modifies and works at the core the meaning which can no longer be defined a priori. The work of thought consists then in testing the resistance of an idea or of a concept by rubbing them with what at first seems foreign to them, thus revealing the constitutive limits of their being. To be coherent with ourselves, let us suggest the principle that the relation between an ‘ordinary’ discussion and a ‘philosophical’ one consists precisely in the explicitation of the relation, a constituting and determining relationship, because the explanation of the relationship modifies, by enlightening them, and thus by modifying them, the very elements of the report.

To be more concrete and visible, let us take the first stage of this report, as we integrate it into our practice: the reformulation, used as a verification tool for listening. How could we pretend to conduct any discussion, and a fortiori a philosophical discussion, if the interlocutors do not listen to each other? All the more so because one of the characteristics of the philosophical exchange could consist in the contiguity and the ‘rapprochement’ between the arguments in order to bring out the essential elements of the architectonic. “Take off your shirt, and join the melee!” enjoins Plato. Not a melee to know who will prevail, but in order to test the ideas and the relations which they maintain in themselves and among themselves. It is never the presence of words or their existence that can be challenged, but only their use or function, that is, the occasional connection they keep with other words, and the finality to which they are theoretically subject.

The reformulation, which refers to the agreement of the parties concerned as to the object of their discussion or to the nature of their differences, a condition of a real discussion, seems to represent the first stage of the ‘link’ which we are trying to establish as a principle. An intellectual link, as we have just defined, but also psychological link: to establish a minimum of empathy with the interlocutor. Indeed, reformulating quietly, seeking the agreement of the partner on the summary of his remarks, requires one to not merely interpret in a reductionist way, it prevents caricature, and above all it obliges one to distinguish clearly the understanding of the arguments heard and the various nuances, corrections, or objections that arise and which are about to be moved forward in response to what has been heard. As for him who hears his reformulated word, such an exercise compels him to hear what is heard by his listener, an experience which in itself is not obvious. For, to hear our own ideas or words pronounced by a mouth other than ours can represent, in itself, a rather painful experience. If only because it forces us to rethink our remarks, more distantly, with all the critical dimension that this redoubling infers. Often we will feel a certain irritation towards the one who acts as a mirror, which thus increases our anxiety. On the other hand, our listener is not a recording machine: he translates with the words that are his own, he summarizes as he can. We must then be able to distinguish the essential from the accessory, to mourn the ‘magnitude’ of our thought and everything that we would like to say or add, in order to be able to admit that these foreign words correspond to ours. Such a judgment is delicate, which must evaluate the adequacy between two formulations: without a certain freedom of thought accompanied by rigor, it becomes impossible. If one plays the game, however, the reformulation will allow us to get a better glimpse at what our ideas contain, to perceive their weaknesses and limits.

The substantive bond, as we see it already, is also the unity of a discourse, a transcendent unity, not necessarily expressed, which contains in a condensed form the content, the abridgment or the intention of our thought, a reduced proposition whose form and substance often escapes us. Once formulated, this underlying unity may even surprise or insult us. It is the unifying or generating principle of our examples, the antecedent cause of the famous ‘it’s like when…’ so popular among children, and even among adults. The explicit establishment of this connection requires the requisitioning of key words, or concepts, chosen terms that make the discourse operative by extracting the intimacy of the meaning. To do this, it becomes necessary to work on the art of breviloquence. Thus, a speaker may be asked to forge a simple proposition, a single sentence which seems to him to capture the essence of what he attempts to signify through a multiplicity of sentences, the tangling of which often has the primary role of obscuring the meaning rather than making it manifest. It is this sentence that will be noted on the board, to serve as an exclusive witness to a given thought. However, we should not be surprised if a student fails to meet this challenge, and if he or she has to seek the help of his or her classmates to accomplish his or her task. Periodically, it will be necessary to transform some crucial aspects of the initial speech to succeed in this bet: from the moment our discourse becomes more explicit, we often find ourselves obliged to change its terms.

The substantive bond is therefore the unity of a discourse, but it is also the unity of two or more discourses: the conditional possibility of dialogue. Of course, to the extent that words come from different origins, they can be expected to have a contradictory or conflicting dimension. Contrary to a single word that must be constrained by a concern for coherence, the multiplicity of authors in no way obliges any consensus. However, the requirement of the discussion implies a unity: that of the object. It is therefore important, first and foremost, to identify, in spite of the variety of forms of expression, the angles of attack of the subject or of the diversity of perspectives, some community of meaning without which we find ourselves engulfed in absurdity, solipsism and some deaf dialogue. At the same time as this community of objects, and thanks to it, we will discover the conceptual differences, accompanied by the worldview underlying them, which will allow us to estimate and pronounce the stakes of the discussion. A ‘dialectics of the same and of the other’, proposes Plato: in what is the object of the discussion the same or different? The simple sentence, a single proposition that always seems so necessary, will naturally take the form of a problematic. A proposal which poses a problem in the form of a question, a contradiction or a paradox. We find here the same demand: the art of the breviloquence. But often, in order to place two propositions in opposition, we must discover one or more antinomies whose terms are not expressed consciously in the initial propositions. In the same way that we have to dig in a single discourse to grasp its meaning and intent, producing new concepts and a simple proposition, a certain work of deepening must be carried out in order to capture and to visibly show what opposes two speeches. Surprisingly, we will then discover periodically that statements which are considered contradictory are scarcely paraphrased, arguing exclusively on some point of semantics or other insubstantial subtlety, while those who claim to ‘go in the same direction’ maintain a fusional illusion devoid of any justification.


  1. To think the mind


In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant distinguishes two types of concepts: empirical concepts, drawn from experience, and pure concepts, some products derived from reason. Thus, the concept of ‘man’ originates, for a good part, out of experience, but that of ‘contradiction’ is generated by reason. For, if I can perceive through the sense organs of concrete men, I cannot perceive contradictions by these same organs, the latter concept referring only to a problem of the intelligible and not of the sensible order, and therefore to a work of analysis and of synthesis. Now, it seems to us that philosophical work must tend to the production of concepts, certainly empirical, but also to pure concepts of reason. A process of abstraction which we have already dealt with. But we want to come back to the production of these pure concepts through which a thought conscious of itself and of its functioning is forged. A thought that can and must periodically withdraw from itself in order to engage in a process of meta-reflection.

The most obvious aspect of this process exists very early on, on the intuitive level, in what we will call the logical intuition. For, if childhood is characterized by a magical vision of the world, a world where everything can happen without anything surprising, little by little the mind is initiated to the ‘order of things’. Through an associative process, a prelude to the journey of reason, objects, beings and phenomena are connected together. Different links are established which will slowly become the structuration of space, time, causality, logic, language, existence, with all the cumbersomeness and rigidities that this fixed view of the world implies, but which also proves to be the necessary condition for the advent of reason. To reason is to know or recognize the reality of things, to understand it and therefore to foresee. For, if nothing is foreseeable, if nothing is recognizable, our reason becomes obsolete. This explains our astonishment, when an event transcends the boundaries of our reason and its expectations. The transformation of which we speak is that of a mind for which everything is possible, which gradually distinguishes the possible and the impossible, as well as the ‘compossible’: that which is possible in relation to a given condition, the very foundation of logical thought: ‘if this, then that’, or ‘if on the one hand this and on the other hand this, then that’, the very basis of the classical syllogism.

The philosophical exercise, through discussion or otherwise, consists in inviting reason to carry out a double work on itself. On the one hand, to go ‘till the end’ of its interrogations, its problems, its analysis. On the other hand, to see oneself functioning, to identify the mechanisms, both those that operate and produce thought, and those that slow down, deflect or interrupt the process of reflection. These two aspects of work are mutually nourishing, since the perception of limits makes it possible to grasp the precise nature of a process, and the identification of a process makes it possible to rework or to go beyond the limits. Thus, the work of metareflexion allows thought to progress. It is precisely the problem that is raised by some teachers who tell us “I do not know what to answer the students’ questions” or “It goes round in circles, I do not see how to advance the discussion”: how to bring thought forward. The solution is neither to provide ready-made answers on which the students will rush, nor simply to propose a track that ‘save the group’, but to invite each of them to observe their own functioning, their ideas, their contradictions, their shifts in meaning, etc., simply by a few small methodological rules that specify the role and the purpose of each moment of reflection.

The first aspect of this process consists in being conscious of the nature of our remarks and of our actions, and for this to know how to categorize these words, to know the form or the finality of our word. Are we asking a question, proposing a new idea, answering an objection or providing one, demonstrating or proving an idea, arguing or problematizing, giving an example or conceptualizing an illustration, reporting facts or interpreting them? We are here concerned about emerging from the “I want to say something… It makes me think of… I would like to add…”, or the simple compulsive and recurring “yes but…” All are expressed wishes to ‘comment’, ‘nuance’, ‘complement’, ‘bounce’, or ‘specify’ which, when verified, do not mean much, are very vague or remain far from what they intend to say. The type of analysis that we propose refers first to the intention of the speech to be identified, because, for its author, it is often experienced and perceived exclusively as a ‘speech impulse’, something which comes to mind and asks one to come out, as soon as possible, some opinions of primarily associative origin, whose nature and role we do not know. An ignorance which explains a certain number of difficulties in articulation, some stammerings, erasures and contradictions. To become conscious of what one wants to say, also means to work and to smooth out this word according to an authoritative finality allowing one to better structure one’s thought. Although, during the first attempts, categorization or definition seems to make our speech even more confused. Making and seeing oneself, as a simultaneous action, can be thought of and initially experienced as a splitting factor, burdening the task, but more or less rapidly, as the capacity to be both ‘in’ and ‘outside’, this process facilitates the work of thought and of the expression by clarifying one’s understanding.

To tell some words is to think, says Hegel, affirming that it would be illusory to believe in thinking without forging this thought with concepts. Intention, feeling, impression, intuition, so many inadequate, insufficient and deceptive forms of thought, a thought not conscious of itself. Of course, this presupposition, like all presuppositions, knows its limits, but it also knows its usefulness. To know what one says is to say what one says, to announce one’s intention, to define the form, to articulate the relation to what has already been said. However, as with the whole of the exercise, it is not a matter of doing vocabulary work on the terms ‘hypothesis’, ‘objection’, ‘abstract’, ‘essential’ or on other such terms, although it is hardly excluded to do so at another time. Not to know, but to know-how; not to know something, but to use it. Our business is above all in making sure that the pupil trains himself in thinking his thoughts through, that is, in trying to specify the nature of his discourse. In a sense, whatever words he uses, those that will be his at first, approximate and unusual, or those that he will acquire during the practice, more precise or more conventional. The important thing is to unseal the immediacy that binds him to his word, to dig a gap, to install a breath, to pass from the implicit to the explicit, so that the subject detaches itself, so that thought becomes an object for itself. Our opinions are truths, says Pascal, on the condition that we hear what they say, and the truth of our opinions is not always where we think it is. Let us try to get closer to it.


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