Philosophy: The Big Questions.

Title: Philosophy: The Big Questions.
Author/s: Cunningham, Frank. Lalonde, Daniel. Neelin, David. and Peglar, Kenneth.
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Canadian Scholars Press (2003).
Format: Hardcover (372 pages).
ISBN: ISBN-10: 1551302306 ISBN-13: 978-1551302300.
Area and topic: History of philosophy and ideas. Core areas/sub-disciplines/branches of philosophy. Key/important philosophical issues/topics/problems. Pedagogical aid and/or resource. Philosophical skills and methodology. Student text book. Practical philosophy.
Intended audience/ reading level: Secondary/upper (with teaching advice).
Purchasing and information:
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘Philosophy: The Big Questions’ is both a pedagogical aid with practical instruction and a class activity textbook written for a Canadian high-school syllabus.


Synopsis and/or additional information: The following information is sourced from the above links (see ‘Purchasing and information’) and the text.

  • The text is divided into the following 6 Units: Unit 1: What Is a Person? (Metaphysics 1), Unit 2: What Is a Meaningful Life? (Metaphysics 2), 3: How Do You Know What is Beautiful in Visual Art, Music, and Literature? (Aesthetics), 4: What Are Good and Evil? (Ethics), 5: What is a Just Society? (Social and Political Philosophy), 6: What is Human Knowledge? (Epistemology).
  • Each Unit has three chapters. For example: Unit 1: (What is a Person?) Chapter 1) What is human nature? 2) What is personal identity? 3) If it thinks, is it a person?
  • ‘Each of the six units covers a distinct curriculum topic, allowing teachers a clear choice in how to configure their courses. Each chapter begins with a list of key words and key people and a challenge to students to begin talking about fundamental ideas. Students then navigate the chapter with readable text [and the following features to assist exploration and understanding]: – Talking Philosophy: A jumping-off point to get students to “talk philosophy.” The question here anticipates the upcoming text.- Point of View: A brief discussion of various thinkers’ points of view relating directly to the content of the text.- Quotes: Short quotations provoke thought and encourage discussion.- Cartoons: Provide alternate, humorous views and specifically help to develop inference.- Thinking Logically: Explanations of common fallacies in reasoning and how to avoid them.- Research and Inquiry Skills: Included in each unit with in-depth treatment of one specific skill.’
  • The text aims to help students to ‘learn skills of critical thinking, apply philosophical theories and methods to other subjects and to everyday life, find philosophical resources, on the web, demonstrate and improve literacy skills, computer literacy for internet searches, media literacy for audio-visual presentations, verbal and written language for reports and presentations, visual art and drama displays and performances.’
Strengths: book is designed exclusively for the classroom and at secondary school level with all the helpful features listed above. The book discusses most of the classic and contemporary philosophical topics and issues and each issue is explored directly with reference to various philosophers. Because of this, the book introduces philosophy both topically and as a specific historical tradition.
Limitations: As with most books designed not only for the classroom but with unit standards in mind, this text has a fairly formal structure i.e. examinable content to be taught by the teacher to the student. This may be at odds with those who intend to teach philosophy less as a ‘history of the development of core ideas’ and more as a way of enquiring about ourselves and the world through a more informal/spontaneous ‘community of enquiry’ like setting.

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