Philosophy For Children

A short video on the value of teaching philosophy to children:

The lack of philosophical education prior to the university level is one of the great overlooked gaps in the American education system.

Kylie Sturgess has an article on her experience related to the philosophical education of children. She also links to an audio program on the subject. Here’s an excerpt from that transcript, in which children discuss the meaning of life with a fair amount of awareness, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness:

Girl: If you die young, I heard a story about a girl, they were drinking, and she was only 16. She fell off a cliff because she slipped, and people said at the ceremony, you know, if someone dies of old age at least you can celebrate their life, and it is true, but if you’re so young and you die, you just have nothing to celebrate. So I think if you die young, there’s like no meaning, because you couldn’t do what you could have done.

Dan Smith: God forbid if you were to die now, you’re saying your life has no meaning, as compared to someone who dies when they’re older?

Girl: I mean my life would have meaning because you could celebrate my 12 years being around, but it’s just not a long enough time.

Dan Smith: Let’s just say hypothetically if I was to bring someone in here, a parent who’d lost a child at say when they 7 years old, I think you would have a really hard time convincing that parent that their child’s life was any less meaningful than somebody who lived 80 years. Maybe someone would like to comment on that.

Boy: I seriously disagree with Grace and I build on Mariana’s idea because like say for instance a 20-year-old from an army actually saves a world being desecrated by a nuclear bomb, seriously that would be a pretty meaningful life, and just saying that a person that’s young is not meaningful if their age is less, is actually pretty – very disrespectful actually.

Boy: I’m going to agree with Leslie and disagree with – I mean agree with Leslie’s idea and disagree with Grace’s idea. I reckon if you die when you’re young, I reckon your life is as meaningful as a person who has died of old age. Like you must have done something in your time, like I guess say your point would relate to probably, I don’t know, a baby coming out and not making it, but yes, because nothing’s really happened there.

Dan Smith: Do you think that’s any different?

Boy: I think it is a bit different.

Dan Smith: Aren’t our lives significant in the fact that they touch other people’s lives? So by even if a small child dies, I believe that their life is still significant because of the impact they’ve made on someone else’s life. Is it all about us? Do we only lead a meaningful life, I mean Lucy was touching on helping others and giving other people’s lives meaning as well, but are our lives only significant because of us?

Boy: Well I wasn’t actually saying if you die as a baby like you have no meaning, that your life has no meaning, but it’ll have a bit, it’s just I think there is a bit of a difference because you haven’t lived for a very long time like us or you or someone who died of old age.

Girl: One of my friends, really close friends’ Dad died at the beginning of this year, and he didn’t, like he was in a band, and no-one would know him, and like he could walk into this room and no-one would see anything really special about him, but for me and all the other people around him, he’s important for me because he made me happy. And I don’t really think it really matters to anyone else, you know, what you think is meaningful because he was important to me.

Boy: Well going back to what Gianni said, I’d just like to disagree with the idea about the baby’s born and it dies, because it’s sort of when say the Mum found out about the baby, it might have brought joy to her life.

Dan Smith: I think it’s really important to pick up too here, everyone’s put up that we only measure meaningful life when we’re not here any more.

Read or listen to the entire program from which this excerpt comes.

via Token Skeptic

Finally, some of my own thoughts on the sorts of issues about the relative worth of shorter lives that the children discussed above can be found in these posts:

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

Disambiguating Faith: Faith As Admirable Infinite Commitment For Finite Reasons

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • blotzphoto

    As the owner of three children, my interest is piqued. Are there any resources you know of for introducing philosophy to really young children, like pree-teens?

  • Ariel

    To all readers of Daniel’s blog at Patheos: be very careful! I know Daniel from FtB and he is definitely one of the bad guys! This post proves it perfectly. Philosophers spoil children! This truth has been known since (at least) 5th century BC, but if you still need a proof, here it goes:

    My daughter (early teens) started attending philosophy classes at school. A couple of days later we have a conversation.

    Me: “Put your jacket on. It’s cold outside.”
    My daughter: “ No, I don’t like it. And it’s not cold.”
    Me: “I tell you it’s cold. Put it on at once!”
    My daughter: “I’m not cold. Man is a measure of all things!
    Me (dismayed): “Who told you that??!!”
    My daughter (with a satisfied grin): “Our philosophy teacher at school.”

    In short: DISASTER. I thought of spanking her, but shit … spanking children is forbidden here. Then I thought of spanking some philosophers – surely no one can be as crazy as to forbid that! Haven’t decided yet; perhaps more traditional solutions – like hemlock – will be more efficient. Your thoughts?

    • blotzphoto

      I’ll just leave this here…

    • Erik

      I have to admit, that your story about your child doesn’t show me any problem with Philosophy, but rather your own lack of thought. So, “Man is the measure of all things” may not matter to you as some sort of pithy remark when you are just trying to get your child to wear a jacket, but getting upset because someone is being disobedient shouldn’t also lead us to be upset when our children start thinking for themselves. Obedience should be a difficult problem, not one that we simply solve by rejecting Protagoras (the owner of the famous quote) out of hand, and thinking it isn’t important for our children to learn to think.

    • Gwynnyd

      Wow. Ariel. You have a very limited definition of ‘disaster’. Have you considered a parenting class to give you strategies for how to deal with teens beyond, “Shut up and do what I say because I said so,” which seems to be the limit of your parenting resources at the moment. I’d consider your response more a disaster than one clever comment by your daughter.

  • Ariel

    Wow, Gwynnyd (and Erik btw). Are you always so deadly serious also in real life? Ok, here it goes then: an eleventh commandment, directed to Ariel and Ariel only:

    11. On pain of crucifiction, thou shalt never use irony in discussions with fellow atheists!!!

    [The more I think of it, the more valid it sounds. I really mean it.]

    By the way, the idea of spanking some philosophers, deadly serious as it was, has been reinforced recently by Daniel’s post on 50 shades of grey. A comment in a moment!

    To all of those who still “don’t get it”: I’m very proud of my daughter.