ph1.jpegAn extract from The Centre for Philosophy for Children, University of Washington website.

What is philosophy?

The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek, meaning “love of wisdom.” In ancient times philosophy was understood as the search for wisdom. Many of the concepts philosophers explore have been examined for thousands of years: What is time? What is beauty? What is a good life? What is knowledge?

Although it is one of the oldest academic disciplines, traditionally philosophy has not been considered a subject for children. Yet, in many ways, young people are natural philosophers. They ask philosophical questions and are curious about philosophical issues: how do we know things?, what is beauty?, how are the mind and body connected? Young people do not need to learn philosophy; it is something they do.

Philosophy explores fundamental questions about the world and ourselves, and is therefore not restricted to any particular subject matter. What characterizes a philosophical question is not what it is about, but at what level it is asked. For example, someone might ask whether some social arrangement is fair; a philosopher will ask, “What is fairness?” Philosophy demonstrates that some of the simplest questions we ask are also the most difficult to answer.


Why introduce philosophy to children?

Philosophical communities of inquiry emphasize thinking for oneself. Exposure to structured philosophy sessions encourages students to explore the big questions that matter to them and supports their development of strong critical and creative thinking skills. Philosophy is the oldest and most effective discipline for learning how to think independently, helping students better express their own perspectives, challenge and build on each other’s thinking, and make clearer sense of their own views and ideas.

Encouraged to ask and construct relevant questions, students develop their own views and articulate reasons for them and to listen to and learn from one another. Philosophical inquiry enhances student competence in reasoning and logic, increases young people’s confidence and ability to examine novel issues critically and imaginatively, and deepens listening and empathy skills.

Young people find philosophy discussions compelling, in part because there are no settled answers to the questions being examined. The environment created by this open inquiry illuminates ways for students, and particularly those students who may be otherwise somewhat disconnected from school, to become involved in an intellectual adventure.