-˜Provocations' is an attempt to present a systematic philosophical exercise for the Secondary School. It challenges the budding minds to think creatively and critically. It impels them to generate and test ideas; and help them to make sense of what is at stake and to gain deeper insights.
The author David Birch has lucidly presented in the introduction the task and responsibility of a teacher. “The approach expounded to education advocated in this book is that of listening; listening neither to console nor to redeem but to crack things wide open” (vii). Here the role of the teacher is not only to teach what to think but rather more importantly how to think and thereby give the pupils a sense of direction to a unique and authentic way of life. Birch invites his pupils to be more expressive for in philosophy no one is more intelligent than any one else. The introductory note also presents the basic requirements with regard to class set-up, material and discussion so as to facilitate the process of dialogue.
Apart from introductory note and appendices at the end, the book is divided into 4 parts and each part contains several sub-topics. Furthermore, each sub-topic is presented systematically featuring basically 3 types of questions: first, Starter questions -” introduces the topic; second, Hermeneutic questions -” gives the class time to ponder on a text; and third, Task questions -” enquires about the opinion of the pupils. These questions are formulated in such a way that they deepen the thought process at each level.
Part A deals with the “World, -˜It'.” It covers 14 topics viz. imperialism and magic, madness, time, art and reality, belief in God, the problem of evil, the nature of evil, skepticism, logic, human omniscience, facts and opinions, objects and essences, erasure and newness. This section grapples with the fundamental issues of the ground reality of everything in the presence of the religious differences as well as in scientific findings. It basically enquires as to whether there is the truth of reality after all in the face of multifaceted embedded meanings when each one interprets differently. It also questions the very nature and the existence of God in the presences of untold sufferings or evils.
Part B deals with the “Self, -˜I'.” It covers 14 topics viz. privacy, the soul, gender, suicide, understanding death, freedom, responsibility, thinking, language and originality, autonomy, mind and body, conviction, emotion and desire. This section challenges one to investigate the complex nature of a human person in its various aspects. It attempts to explore the -˜who' aspect of a person by putting forth the questions that concern the existential reality of a person. The questions concerned are like, is a person only a soul, or mind or body? Why do human beings act differently when they are being watched? This section also questions gender differences and the role play by nature and society in the making of it.
Part C deals with “Society, -˜We'.” It covers 12 topics viz. perfectibility, utopia, property, intelligence, morality and law, money, street art, consumerism, power tradition and change, race, democracy and difference. This section emphasizes the social nature of a human person and by positing appropriate questions which makes an individual to confront the real situation of the society. It particularly questions the possibility of transforming the prevailing flaws of the society; as well as the issue of tradition, law and morality as against the question of human rights and freedom.
Part D deals with “Others, -˜You'.” It covers 12 topics viz. animals, the sacred, egoism, lying, torture, other minds, language and discrimination, nature, temptation, sin, feelings and rights, the senses. This section confronts the inner struggle between good and bad, a conflict of desires that each individual goes through in life. It presents the ethical and emotional dichotomies that which hinders the very being of a person due to its ambiguous nature.
The presentation of the book is very simple, lucid and valuable. The book truly provokes the reader to think differently and gives rise to insights into the various existential problems and challenges of World, Self, Society and Others. The author has rightly recommended this book for the Secondary students and it could also be of great help for the beginners in philosophy. The book could have facilitated the reader by presenting a case-study so as to contextualize the process of thinking.