Thursday, June 18, 2009

Le Bac


Questions from this year's bac en philo:

Les sujets complets

Série L (littéraire), coefficient 7

- L'objectivité de l'histoire suppose-t-elle l'impartialité de l'historien ?

- Le langage trahit-il la pensée ?

- Expliquer un extrait de Le Monde comme volonté et comme représentation, de Schopenhauer.

Série S (scientifique), coefficient 3

- Est-il absurde de désirer l'impossible ?

- Y a-t-il des questions auxquelles aucune science ne répond ?

- Expliquer un extrait de De la démocratie en Amérique, d'Alexis de Tocqueville.

Série ES (économique et social) coefficient 4

- Que gagne-t-on à échanger ?

- Le développement technique transforme-t-il les hommes ?

- Expliquer un extrait de l'Essai sur l'entendement humain, de John Locke.

Crikey! Is it absurd to desire the impossible? A question from the philosophy bac in the science track!!? No wonder the students are on strike. This sounds more like a May '68 slogan than a subject for the philosophy of science to my no doubt coarse Yankee ears (coarsened by a B.S. and Ph.D. from MIT to be sure, so I have learned a little science in my time, and in my spare time a little philo as well). Cultivating paradox is one thing, philosophy of science is another.

Could it be that Sarko has a point about La Princesse de Clèves?

ADDENDUM: Charles Bremner's son takes the bac en philo.

This is chouette, if you go for beaux vieux purveyors of the higher bullshit.
Or if you'd rather get it from the left than the right, here's Enthoven.

Matt Yglesias has the correct answers (in a literal American sort of way).

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm french in the "science" class, but science in France just means "general" where we continue to do science, history, geography, philosophy, spanish, etc...

We study as much philosophy as the economic people.
I hesitated between both questions (the "desire the impossible" one was more interesting) but took the 2nd question because it was easier.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Dear Anonymous,
Yes, I understand that S is not just science, and I recognize that a question about desiring the impossible is just a pretext to ring the changes on the concept of desire and the "possible" constructions of the word "impossible." But--question of taste--I detest this kind of intellectual flimflammery. Explicating a text from Tocqueville seems like a more reasonable way to test a student's mastery, though less likely to allow the m'as-tu-vu to do the sort of literary pirouettes that I fear win top grades. But maybe I'm wrong about that.

Leo said...

"It is not necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere"

Charles the Bold.

He was killed by the Swiss. I guess he was hoping they would be neutral. He was right to persevere: it happened.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

I thought that was William of Orange. Marguerite Yourcenar said so in a book I translated! Was she wrong?

bernard said...

A few disjointed comments. First the S, ES, L series which are supposedly specialised are and have always been a way to select the kids, rather than a way to send them off towards a specialisation that they might enjoy or be suited for. Secondly, do you not think that there would be a contradiction between the selection process that ultimately sends the smartest towards Ecole Polytechnique or Ecole des Mines and the fact of teaching to them the philosophy of science: they're supposed to do narrow science, not think about science. Thirdly, well, it is quite true that every year, a number of philosophy test questios look appear to be beauty contests among examiners rather than the serious subjects they are supposed to be (not quite impressive this particular one, I agree with you). In a way, this reassures me about philosophers (I've never understood a thing in that field, you should see my bac grade in the seventies...): philosophers are like the rest of us humans, they succomb to fashion - eg bubbles!

Last, my son had a superb grade in philo two years ago, which demonstrates conclusively that philo is an acquired characteristic, not a genetically inherited one.

Leo said...

Art,
yes it has been attributed to both.
I could find no reliable source but I will readily defer to the combined wisdom and knowledge of Marguerite Yourcenar and Art Goldhammer.