Philosophical Tales

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My aim with the use of stories is to activate the audience as a participant, as an active moral agent. Get the weekly Five Books newsletter. Another interesting thing about role-play and making use of the audience in this way is that you can give dilemmas their bite back. Very often, in philosophy discussions, the children inhabit a kind of netherworld of sitting on the fence. Would you tell the men or would you not?

Philosophical Tales

Thought experiments are great. If you want to get children involved in thinking about philosophy, most philosophers will start with a thought experiment of one kind or another. This book gives us lots of examples of how you can take a thought experiment into the classroom. This is also one of the problems with thought experiments, of course.


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Yes, they just throw these things back in and it can be quite tricky. A classic example would be brain swapping.

Philosophical Tales | Wiley Online Books

You get into a discussion of, if they swapped brains, where would Connor be and where would Matthew be? Baggini is asking the reader to suspend disbelief for the sake of working something out. But there is then the issue of whether you can move smoothly back to the real world with its particular imperfections. Do the children ever ask, why should I even bother with that question? The strategy usually is not to put them on the spot, but to invite the whole class to think about the question and see what people think.

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With adults and teenagers you certainly can, it is a great issue to explore with older children. What is it about this book that appeals? The numerical identity is those particular materials that something is actually made of. Qualitative identity describes the properties of that thing. Young children are very good at identifying these sophisticated ideas. They might also notice that someone is working on an assumption.

These are the sorts of things children do, descriptively. With a good sense of humor too. My favorite one, which captures all these qualities, is the story of Brad Baddely and the time loop. At the end of it, he pans back and the two characters are watching this on the tv. It just becomes the plot of a sci fi film…. Yes, also because of course Lewis Carroll — or Charles Dodgson as he was — was a logician.

He wrote lots of books on logic, so what you get is properly informed problems. What Lewis Carroll does is he just tells a story, and then you notice that the whole thing is peppered with little problems and things to think about. A good example of this, for me, is Humpty Dumpty. When Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, he starts to engage with her on questions about language.

Cohen, Martin

He starts off by asking her what her name means. It just so happens that I have a chapter in my new book devoted to this. This is the great thing about using books with children, very often the question you need to ask is already there in the book and all you need to do is stop and put it to them. Do names mean anything? Do you recommend volumes containing both stories like The Complete Alice or The Annotated Alice , which gives readers a few pointers as to what is going on? The thinking behind the examples is sometimes quite cryptically concealed….

In a way, perhaps, that reveals its hidden didacticness. But of course children can access all this from the main text. If you had one bit of advice for a parent trying to engage their child in philosophy, what would it be? It would be to shut up and let them think things through and let them talk.

This is the key thing I see constantly with parents and even with teachers. Because the whole point of the exercise is to get the children to think for themselves, not to parrot the parent?

One of the problems we have as parents is that our criteria for success is that they have to have completed the puzzle, or to have correctly interpreted the story. But if you keep asking those questions on a regular basis, eventually they start to say things. Parents need to allow the child to misinterpret it.

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Not perhaps all the time, there is perhaps a time for interpreting a story for a child, but you want them to think for themselves. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date.

Philosophical Tales

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