What could possibly bring former England manager Graham ‘do-I-not-like-that’ Taylor, Mark Steel, A.C. Grayling, Terry Jones, Laurie Taylor, Gary Lineker, John Humphrys, David Edmonds, and a ragbag of other thinkers and comedians together? It’s hard to see a common denominator. The answer is this: a rematch of the Monty Python classic, the Greeks vs Germans philosophers’ football fixture.
In the original, refereed by Confucius, Captain ‘Nobby’ Hegel (Graham Chapman) led out a German team that incongruously included one real footballer - the great Franz Beckenbauer, the only player wearing a football strip. The Greeks, clad in togas, stood around thinking, as did the Germans in frock coats. Nothing happened until in the final minute ‘surprise selection’ Archimedes shouted ‘Eureka!’ and encouraged his side to start kicking the ball towards the goal. After a neat one-two between Archimedes and Socrates (Eric Idle), Heraclitus set up Socrates for a superb diving header past German goalie Leibniz - that was ‘possibly the most important goal of his career’, the commentator declared. Meanwhile Marx (Terry Jones) - who had come on for a lacklustre Wittgenstein - claimed offside. Replays on YouTube now seem to vindicate him. Meanwhile Hegel argued that reality was merely an a priori adjunct of non-natural ethics, and Kant asserted that ontologically it exists only in the imagination. Fair point.
On Sunday May 9th in Wingate and Finchley’s North London stadium we’re going to have the replay – and I’m stepping in to Confucius’ boots as referee, though I’m not sure I’ll be carrying a giant egg-timer nor that I’ll have the courage to book a player (as Confucius did Nietzsche) for accusing me of having no free will. This is an inspired fundraiser for the excellent Philosophy Shop, an organization that sends philosophy graduates into primary schools. Teaching philosophy to young children might seem strange, but from an early age children ask genuine philosophical questions, and if they are appropriately encouraged can think through quite complex moral and metaphysical questions. Ask a child ‘Can robots feel pain?’ or ‘Is it wrong to do experiments on animals?’ and you will invariably get interesting replies. Back in 2001 I wrote an article for The Independent entitled ‘Why Don’t Our Schools Teach Philosophy?’ Now it looks very dated. Many of our schools are teaching philosophy - and not just at A Level. Some of the most interesting work is being done at primary level, and with far-reaching effects. There is a quiet revolution afoot. Some philosophers in Higher Education are aware of this, but most are not. It is time they became enlightened. What better opportunity than by supporting this peculiarly English event. Philosophy is the discipline above all others that values good argument and clarity of thought. And if children are capable of grasping the essentials of philosophy long before they go to university, then it is both perverse and short-sighted to keep them waiting.
[a version of this article appeared on p.39 of today's Independent]
For further information about the philosophers’ football match go to www.philosophersfootball.com