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Should we teach philosophy to younger children? Would it help them in anyway, or would it be harmful in later life?

August 31, 2010

Response from Sean Greenberg on September 1, 2010
There are actually ongoing efforts, in Western Massachusetts, to teach philosophy to younger children. The practice was treated in a relatively recent New York Times article. (You might also check out the Philosophy for kids site.) On the basis of the work cited in the Times article, and on the basis of my own (relatively limited) experience with younger children, it seems to me that younger children are naturally inquisitive about philosophical questions. Whether teaching philosophy to young children would help or harm them in life, is, I think, more a matter of whether one thinks philosophy is helpful or harmful to life, which is itself a deep question about the nature of philosophy and its value that has provoked much disagreement from philosophers over the centuries. I myself am inclined to think that the kinds of inquiries that philosophy promotes can only be beneficial to anyone who engages in them, but I of course have a vested interest in holding that opinion!
Response from Gordon Marino on September 9, 2010
Children are natural philosophers in that they are naturally filled with wonder. And very early on in life, they have all kinds of pressing issues about justice. In that sense, I don't think it could hurt to talk with them about philosophy. It depends on where the child is calling from, where he or she is at. But it seems to me that some people (often philosophers) imagine that if we just got them going a little earlier on the likes of Plato and Aristotle they would be better, more moral people. I don't see any reason for believing that - which, is to sigh, that I'm not as confident as some in the power of philosophy to convey wisdom. As Nietzsche was well aware, for some folks it just feeds into an unhealthy kind of obsessiveness and a need to be in control.


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