José Ortega y Gasset introduces his "What is Philosophy?" course with a sprawling lecture. He speaks of time, comparing "eternal" with "sempiternal," letting his listeners consider what that means for ideas about immortality or God. He is very concerned with what truth is, arguing indirectly that Plato's Ideas may be truly real. And he elaborates on "What is Man?", expanding on the phrase "rational animal."
To date, my teaching has been far simpler than this. I want my classes to talk, and would love it if they talked to each other about the material. So I'll start my courses by looking at a painting and asking questions. Of course, we have to read philosophy at some point, so if we get through a paragraph or two of Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics" the first day, I count that a big success. As we read together, I get to see how students are managing the text, what they understand or don't, how they ask questions or profess interest, what they might be defensive about.
To be sure, I've taught small classes. Ortega y Gasset meant this for a lecture hall at the University of Madrid. Because of the political situation, he ended up lecturing at a theater.
Nevertheless, there are a few things he does as a teacher I want to adopt. I believe in doing them, he provides philosophic value for the students. His opening words to the class are themselves remarkable:
"In matters of art, love, or ideas I think that programs and announcements are of little use. So far as ideas are concerned, meditation on any theme, if positive and honest, inevitably separates him who does the meditating from the opinion prevailing around him, from that which, for reasons more serious than you might now suppose, can be called 'public' or 'popular' opinion. Every intellectual effort sets us apart from the commonplace, and leads us by hidden and difficult paths to secluded spots where we find ourselves amid unaccustomed thoughts. These are the results of our meditation." (Gasset 15)
So. "Meditation on any theme, if positive and honest, inevitably separates him who does the meditating from the opinion prevailing around him," is a powerful promise. All of us know those who have not been terribly "positive" or "honest," and have reached unsettling, stupid, dubious, and disturbing conclusions in their "meditation." How to ensure that the "intellectual effort" which sets one "apart from the commonplace" is indeed genuine effort? Ortega y Gasset doesn't have to address this directly, all at once, because he's got a number of other lectures for dedicated students wherein he can elaborate his views on philosophy.
We, however, must deal with those who say things like "math isn't real" and believe in ESP because they watched a YouTube video once. These aren't the worst ideas, but they're really irritating when it comes to the practice of philosophy. Before I studied philosophy formally, I read an awful lot in history and politics, and what I read left me with questions which were hard to articulate. I didn't realize I was struggling with the fact that what makes one a strong leader in one situation may make them horrible in another. Or that knowledge I sought about how people communicate what's most important could be hopelessly esoteric, utterly useless. That it was far more essential to build to open, honest communication.
I tend to believe philosophy itself has a "meta" status when done right, that it is "after" knowledge of a field. You need that knowledge for the same reason I did. I had to learn to know what I was talking about. I had to learn to respect those that know, respect in many cases the power of conventional opinion, before embracing "unaccustomed thoughts."
One might object: "What if you're being treated unjustly, and everyone's in on it? How could you possibly respect that?" That's a difficult question, and when I think of those who are victims of abuse (including politically disadvantaged populations)—well, yes, there are dangerous and dominating systems in place, devoted to denial, gaslighting, and repression. Philosophy can and does confront this sort of evil, but it does so by winning the future, not by immediately responding out of spite or a will to dominate. Not for nothing does Western philosophy return to the problem of Socrates. In the first book of the Republic, he offers "do no harm" as an idealized form of justice. He seems committed to that proposition as much as his claim in the Apology that "the unexamined life is not worth living," which he dies for. The profundity of philosophy done well, I should say, cannot be underestimated.
José Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy? New York: Norton, 1964. 15.