April 18, 2010

"Young children very often engage in reasoning that professional philosophers can recognize as philosophical..."

"... but typically their parents or teachers don’t react in a way that encourages them. They might say, 'That’s cute,' but they don’t engage the children in thinking further about whatever the issue is."

Did you — do you/will you — encourage philosophical thinking with your children? If not, why not? Presumably, philosophical thinking in children isn't encouraged because it's inconvenient for the parents. It's not just that the parents don't know how to keep up a philosophical dialogue with a child, but that conversations like that slow down the practical business of the day. And yet, what is life for if not to philosophize?

112 comments:

themightypuck said...

Philosophical thinking is the road to perdition. Although critical thinking should always be encouraged.

Alex said...

Have these children read Plato? Then they're not philosophers.

Ann Althouse said...

@Alex How, then, was it possible for Plato to become a philosopher?

David said...

You will have to ask my little drones themselves. I don't remember.

(Just kidding, drones.)

Alex said...

Ann - just reading the article I didn't get the impression that the kids are really being taught abstract thinking and reasoning skills. Here's a gem:

“We can say things about what we believe and stuff,” a girl named Autumn said. “It’s what we feel and what we think.”

That is so UGH on many levels. A future Democrat voter.

Charlie Martin said...

And yet, what is life for if not to philosophize?

Chocolate.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

The problem is that philosophy majors are just so much left-wing bunk these days. Probably 99% are Obama voters.

Alex said...

Socrates said - "the unexamined life is not worth living". But prove to me that our public screwls are teaching the kids how to really examine the human condition rather then turning out Democrat-bots.

rhhardin said...

It reads like lefty indoctrination to me.

Proper philosophy starts with wondering how you know it's a ball of wax. You only really see the front surface of it.

Only males above puberty are susceptible to this.

Alex said...

BTW, I can't really prove that the examined life is what truly lead to happiness compared to being ignorant. I see plenty of happy ignorant people around and loads of informed depressed people. There's a big truth that intelligent people are more depressed.

Alex said...

Since the left can't even agree if 2+2=4 becaue Booooooosh said it, how can we move onto to more complex topics?

Alex said...

Holy heck, I can't even prove that any of you all exist. The entire universe might be a figment of my diseased imagination. Funny how I came up with the internet and Althouse though.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

And yet, what is life for if not to philosophize?

It is to be enjoyed. If philosophizing helps, then good.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Alex said...

I see plenty of happy ignorant people around...

That's me.

themightypuck said...

Sometimes Alex, I get the idea that you would oppose sex on the basis that the left gets down.

Alex said...

Sometimes Alex, I get the idea that you would oppose sex on the basis that the left gets down.

If more people actually engaged in the examined life instead of their feelings we'd have a better society. The left is usually all about feelings. Whenever a conservative mentions logic, he gets slammed as uncompassionate and uncaring.

Joe said...

"professional philosophers"

I think you meant, "professional bullshitters"

My kids have asked all sorts of weird questions and my wife and I have engaged them. Oddly enough, my two youngest have NEVER asked questions about god or religion. (We stopped going to church when they were seven and five, but even before then they displayed no interest whatsoever.)

mesquito said...

Oh, for Pete's sake. Who hasn't had to carry on a conversation with a seven -year-old who's just dicovered the Law of Infinite Regression.

Quayle said...

Yes we encouraged it and led the discussions around the table and at restaurants.

They now routinely tell us when we are illogical or irrational.

Showoffs.

T J Sawyer said...

“The tree has feelings!” Keyshawn replied.

Yes, and in the early 1900's the trees in northern Wisconsin sometimes took revenge upon the loggers, killing them with a falling limb!

Former president Clinton has warned us about speech that creates a climate where violence might occur. Young Keyshawn should be careful what he says.

Gabriel Hanna said...

The answers to childish questions like "why is the sky blue" or "why is grass green" is hard enough, even though those questions do have answers.

My favorite childish question is, why does a stove glow red when it heats up? Classical physics foundered on the question and quantum mechanics had to be invented to answer it.

Good luck explaining it to a four year old.

As for philosophy, I used to talk it down as bs until I took a course in philosophy of science. There's plenty of use for philosophy, as it turns out. Of course some philosophy is still a waste of time, but a lot of it isn't.

ricpic said...

My parents never took me seriously as an autonomous individual and I've never gotten over that. That is to say they took me seriously as a representative of them, not as a representative of me.

lemondog said...

Young children have highly sophisticated reasoning powers, greater than most parents seem to appreciate.

starting with whether the boy was wrong to take so much from the tree.

How 'bout why the tree was such a wimp.

believed that many Americans were too accepting of authoritative answers and slow to reason for themselves — by college, he feared, it would be too late.

Tea Partiers prove it is never too late to to learn to challenge authority

Fred Drinkwater said...

Well, a couple of issues I might actually have something to say about, in a non-Snarky fashion.

When my kids were very young, I deliberately attempted to be patient with their explorations of random bits of rocks on our walks, or trees, or bugs. Later, I used to tell other parents (when asked - I am not the pushy sort) that I thought it was a misunderstanding to think kids had short attention spans - in fact I thought that they were trained to have short attention spans because the adults they hung out with were easily bored with childish interests.

Second, we used to have "weird scientific discussions" while driving to school (their own description). This went on so long that they both wrote about it in their college application essays. Topics ranged from quantum mechanics principles, to health insurance. (I.e. from easy to hard...)

Worked for them, apparently - one (ex-) kid is at one of those Boston-area schools, working on Synthetic Biology, and the other is into Math.

WV: oundifi - trust me, I'm a native Californian: NO ONE needs their oun Di Fi. And I apologize for my silly state inflicting her on the rest of you.

(replaced by WV "rovale", but I deny I am one of Rove's minions...)

ligneus said...

Many years ago we were stopped at the lights, people streaming across in front of my truck and my then eight year old son said, "Dad, what are people for?:

Bob_R said...

Isn't a huge amount of adult conversation with children about right and wrong, good and evil, a life well lived? "Don't hit her! Use your words! Pick up your cloths! Do you think your mother is your servant? Turn off the TV and go outside and play."

That's more than most undergraduates get out of three credits of philosophy right there.

Bob_R said...

"Many years ago we were stopped at the lights, people streaming across in front of my truck and my then eight year old son said, "Dad, what are people for?:"

Now he can ask "What is Althouse for?"

Julius Ray Hoffman said...

History is also very important, and goes hand-in-hand with philosophy. Susan Wise Bauer's "History for the Classical Child" books - intended to be read aloud by adults to kids - are excellent in this regard.

Penny said...

"THINKERS Second graders at a charter school in Springfield, Mass., discuss the moral issues raised in children’s books."

All kids rumble questions like this through their minds, and presumably get to thinking about what the "moral" answers might be.

If kids this age aren't going to church or bible school, or getting "moral" lessons at home, then SURE, let's have "philosophy" classes in grade school. We can call the kids "THINKERS", so it doesn't matter as much when they continue to fail basic tests in numbers way too large to be healthy for our country's or their own best interests.

themightypuck said...

My Dad tended to respond to questions with questions. Today I am insane and I can't help but suspect a causal link.

Puck: why is the sky blue?
Dad: why do you think the sky is blue?

He wasn't always consistent though.

Puck: why do I have to go to church?
Dad: because I said so.

Largo said...

Why is there Air?

Largo said...

Son: why is the sky is blue?

Dad: So we will know where to stop mowing.

Charlie Martin said...

Alex, I'm really pretty sure that if a very young child asks a philosophical question at 7 or 8, they're probably not going to be seeking the answer from the college philosophy department.

Having been a philosophy major as an undergrad, I'll go so far as to say "thank goodness" but you're really off on some question other than what the link is about.

Philip M said...

An example of a kid who has been encouraged to think.

I do have a question about whether certain ideas, like her view of Bush are fair and well-reasoned analysis based on her thoughts or groupthink based on her parents and teachers biases.

http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak.html

TED is a great place for a lot of things, but any overtly conservative view is subjected to attack and scrutiny that is overlooked for certain liberal pearls like discussion of climate change.

Paddy O. said...

"Presumably, philosophical thinking in children isn't encouraged because it's inconvenient for the parents"

I would say that philosophical thinking by children isn't encouraged because philosophical thinking isn't encouraging in or between adults.

Parents who think and talk deeply often have children who do the same.

I think children are instinctively inquisitive and curious, but that's pushed out of them by adult practicality. To the point where a lot of adults don't trust their instincts or own philosophical/theological contributions.

I like talking theology and philosophy with non-professionals because it's often surprising and insightful what can be heard once they feel free to just talk.

What is life for, indeed. Though, I'd add theologize to that.

XWL said...

The mental masturbation that is philosophy ought to be treated much like physical masturbation.

Shouldn't be completely discouraged, but remind children that it's a private activity, best done alone, and sparingly.

Pastafarian said...

Professional philosophers?

Are there really such things? Who pays them? Are they paid a flat rate for each deep thought, or is there a sliding scale?

In one post, Althouse questions the wisdom of investing in the space program...one of the few things that's appropriate for the government to invest in, because returns on investment are too long-term for the market to seek them out; and the only investment that we can make to have any hope of saving ourselves from the one biggest threat to the human race, a planet-killing asteroid.

Now shortly after that she posts something about "professional philosophers"; so I guess we have enough money to employ these people, but we can't afford NASA.

I think your title has a few typos -- let me fix it: "Professional philosophers very often engage in reasoning that parents can recognize as childlike..."

k*thy said...

The stoplight question I got from my 3-year old (about 20 years ago) was, "Mom, how does the sun stay up in the sky?". For a moment, I wanted to answer ala, Calvin (and Hobb's) dad, but then thought better of it and quickly put togerher some age appropriate physics/solar system schpeal.

Fen said...

...encourage philosophical thinking with your children? If not, why not?

Because if you are not wary, you will slip into a black hole. You can get lost forever. I wouldn't allow my child to run a decathalon either, at least not until his been physically prepared for it. Same for the mental dive into philosophy.

Pogo said...

Without prior or concurrent instruction on values, morals, or religion, this is a pointless exercise.

Unless you believe those same tiny barbarians that pull hair, bite, kick, steal, lie, scream, hide, and torture others are born with an innate moral sense that only need be pulled out of them like a tapeworm, this is moronic.

Civilization must be built anew with each generation. This is just leftist classroom utopianism, Dewey revisited.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I think it is a bad idea to encourage philosophical-style thinking in children. My main problem is that I'm assuming the "style" will be heavily Greek oriented, which is completely outdated. Here we are discussing Socrates and Plato, people who's philosophical schools happily sat at a dead end for over a thousand years. It's important to know about them, but not dwell on them. It would be like me using alchemy to teach children about science.

So no philosophical thinking for kids; not with "professional philosophers" running the show.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Dad, what are people for?

Dinner.

Skyler said...

I'm sorry, but philosophy is not the purpose or goal of life. Enjoyment is.

Philosophy is the tool by which we learn to enjoy our lives. It has been much perverted as an academic subject since the later part of the 19th century, but if you leave academicians out of the topic, then it can be very important no matter the age of the philosopher.

roesch-voltaire said...

Even at the college level I find it important to examine Aristotle's virtues as they contribute to character. Further the project of giving kids a way to figure out what they think, support their own views and reason with one another is life long practice that is not confined to right or left.

Expat(ish) said...

Three Union negotiating Jesuit lawyers, why do you ask?

-XC

Lem said...

Presumably, philosophical thinking in children isn't encouraged because it's inconvenient for the parents.

Its not just the parents.

If we want to encourage exceptionalism (as far as we are willing to admit that philosophy is a part of that) we might want to continue to do exceptional things.

Skyler said...

Adora Svitak is a pretty smart kid that has no real understanding of the world. She is, in fact, quite childish and she deserves that term quite fully. I hope she can grow up before fawning adults ruin her.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rockport Conservative said...

One of mine was very philosophical, loved to argue, used logic. I was really surprised he didn't become a LAWYER! He did become a liberal so I think he is over that critical thinking and logic thing.

HKatz said...

From infancy onwards, children behave as scientists and philosophers, coming to understand (or trying to understand) the principles and laws with which the world is governed (everything from subconsciously picking up the phonemic boundaries of their native speech, to trying to figure out morality).

If you spend time talking to a kid, and are able to see past their slip-ups, language errors, and general lack of social graces, a lot of times you can tell that they're grappling with and processing the world. They don't do this with mature logic or highfalutin language, but how the world works is something their brains are continually grappling with.

I don't know how much adult "philosophical conversation" would assist this process. I think in general not blowing your kid off when he/she has a question is a good starting point. You'd be surprised at how often adults don't have the answers to basic questions kids have (because the answers are related to knowledge that we adults take for granted and don't think about).

RiceBowlHaircut said...

The left is all about giving children credit...until you ask them about abortion

Kirk Parker said...

"And yet, what is life for if not to philosophize?"
.
.
.
"Yes, that's very interesting, dear; but we need to be going now."

Drinkwater,

I'll treat your apology about DiFi more seriously once you stop actually inflicting her on us.

Penny said...

Kid's don't understand they are discussing questions with no clear cut answers. It appears from the quotes that what they understand is that it's FUN to be able to give an opinion and to talk about it.

Also makes them feel good that the teacher can't say they got the "BUZZzzzz... "wrong answer"!

And this is helpful somehow?

Maybe for building up self esteem?

How about teachers focusing on kid's getting the RIGHT answers on math or science questions. Maybe it would be good if they learned how to spell?

HKatz said...

How about teachers focusing on kid's getting the RIGHT answers on math or science questions. Maybe it would be good if they learned how to spell?

That's part of learning about the world. But it's a balancing act too, with things like science. On the one hand there are facts that a kid must learn if they're ever to be competent in the sciences; on the other, a good teacher will also acknowledge that there's a lot of open questions in science too (this should hopefully be an inspiration to budding scientists... so much to discover - and yet in order to discover, I need to be able to think scientifically and know basic principles and facts).

As for the self-esteem "movement" or whatever it is... it certainly wasn't based on good science and it's helped undermine education. Kids don't feel better about themselves by being told all the time that they're super and wonderful; they in general stop striving, stop trying so hard (there's a difference between encouragement and praise given for specific tasks and achievements, and indiscriminate praise showered on everything and in excess). Kids become jaded about it after a while regarding the sincerity of adults. I remember at my high school there was an academic performance award "ceremony" - or whatever - once a semester, which gave these certificates of achievement to like 80% of the kids; we all thought it was a joke.

Synova said...

I think I'd be pissed if that was my kid in that class talking about the giving tree.

How about the philosophical question of how anthropomorphizing animals and objects screws up our conception of the world?

Of course I did talk to my kids and listen to their philosophical ideas and encouraged critical thinking in them... but I'm willing to bet that these people will figure I didn't set them up to think in the right directions (such as directing them to talk about the Giving Tree.)

ken in sc said...

Pogo is right. Any parent that does see evidence for original sin, is not paying attention. You don't have to teach children to bite, steal, or lie. They know that already. Civilization is only one generation out of the cave.

Bob Ellison said...

Wow. There's a lot of anti-philosophical commentary here.

I agree generally with XWL's characterization of "The mental masturbation that is philosophy", but mostly only as a college major or (much worse) a graduate study. Everyone should be a philosopher, and making it your primary study seems like a way of eschewing what I'd call real study.

But I enjoy philosophical discussions, and I encourage my offspring to engage in them. Separating rhetoric from argument, faith from observation, prediction from hope-- these are the foundations of a wise approach toward many things in life.

Gee, that almost sounded profound. But I wimped out with "many things".

Synova said...

I'm thinking you missed a "not" in there... any parent who does not see evidence of original sin isn't paying attention.

I have met parents who were convinced that their child would never figure out to do bad stuff on their own. My kids were always pretty good, but I never doubted their ability to "try something new" to see if it worked.

I suppose it's both original sin and science!

LOL.

Synova said...

And if "trying something new to see if it works" is one way to explain both original sin and science, might it also explain why God allowed us to be subject to sin in the first place?

A state where we are not subject to the negative might by necessity be a state where we do not have access to the positive.

David said...

As soon as the little nippers start to ask "why," things fall completely apart. Do not encourage them!

Paddy O. said...

"A state where we are not subject to the negative might by necessity be a state where we do not have access to the positive."

I think I'm going to use this quote.

Triangle Man said...

We encourage philosophical thinking, but if they say anything obvious they get time out.

JAL said...

It was so long ago I can't remember what I said to the kids ..

But then, there is a small implication that in this article that parents are stupid again. Still. Always.

And why not let the giving tree be a book about giving? And love. And sacrifice. Or whatever. Why turn it into "environmental ethics" (??!!) discussion with 8 year olds. But since this is a charter school, maybe their parents want the kids to be prodded into thinking this way.

Are ANY of the people in the soft sciences, education & politics grown ups? Are they all 60s and 70s retreads? Did they study under Professor William Ayers, the unindicted terrorist?

What my kids remember about growing up is the stock answer at our house to numerous questions (not so much the touchy feeley what's your fabulous opinion type) was "Look it up." Like -- even if I knew ....

The claim of our oldest one is that he read the entire World Book encylopedia. He wasn't joking, either. He did it for fun.

This article / comments reminds me of the Dem election video which had 14 year olds chirping about how they had learned about issues and voting in school and went home and told their parents how to vote because their parents didn't understand the issues.

Anybody else think childhood, which lasts only a few very short years should be what it is... childhood?

Senator Stuart Smalley's Deep Thoughts will come in time. They always do.

(Anti-intellectual mode tonight.)

Pogo said...

There is no small element of Rousseau informing the effort described in the article, an adolescent paean to nature idealized.

Pure piffle.

And the ecology riff is fifteen ways distrubing. If one of my teachers had ever suggested this crap, I'd have demanded he be tested for drug use.

Joan said...

Professor Lipman’s view opposed that of the child-development theorist Jean Piaget, who asserted that children under 12 were not capable of abstract reasoning.

If I had to choose an educational psychologist's school to hitch my professional wagon to, I'd choose Piaget over Erickson or -- especially -- Dewey or any of his acolytes. Time and again new research reinforces what Piaget theorized. I've recognized every discreet stage he described in my own 3 children. Of course no one perfectly encapsulates any particular theory or set of theories, but Piaget has held up very well through the years.

I do talk about larger issues of morality and ethics with my children all the time. We had great fun recognizing how insulting The Lorax is, and how ridiculous The Butter Battle Book is -- and they talked about whether or not those books would actually "work" on kids to "teach" them what Geisel wanted them to "learn" -- they guessed not.

As a teacher, though, it doesn't pay to get into philosophical discussions. Time is limited in a classroom and you have to be disciplined and stay on track. I learned this during my first year as a substitute, that what you can do as a parent is often very much at odds with what is best to do as a teacher.

Lem said...

I seem to recall some talk of Althouse and Meade trying to conceive.

I wander if this means they have succeeded.. which means she might start holding recordings to her belly ;)

Greg Toombs said...

And yet, what is life for if not to philosophize?

To love God back.

JAL said...

The noble savage and the pure child.

Utopia strikes again.

Slow Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slow Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Slow Joe said...

When I took intro to Phil classes I noticed that all of the major themes of philosophy I was hearing I had already thought of as a kid (I'm not bragging... I bet most kids have most of these thoughts).

I asked about why the subject isn't taught to the young and the professor (Dr. Curzer at TTU) said it was dangerous for kids to understand that basic epistemological doubt while teaching them knowledge they needed. Like they would refuse to accept anything a teacher said, obnoxiously, because it's based on assumptions, such as what you're experiencing is accurate, etc etc.

In other words, since most things are not absolutely provable, some kids might have a real hard time learning things they have to assume are correct to safely live or progress at a good speed through education.

That was an interesting reason, but it's not the real reason. Philosophy is really hard to teach, and there aren't enough good teachers to go around doing a good job. We do a good job teaching kids how to read, and a fair job teaching them math (in my opinion), but a terrible job teaching the to write or gain employment or many other important things high school should teach. We can't add something like this until we're good at that. But I think most young kids could easily be taught most of the important philosophy points (nothing cutting edge in that field is important, for what I think are very obvious reasons). I suppose it's also the case that parents would be annoyed. Parents should teach their kids philosophy. Any parent who would bother also would know their kid is reading and writing well, and hopefully adding. It's a great way to know someone (to learn or teach them about ethics and reality-theory).

Oh well. I don't think kids who would seriously entertain the doubt descartes wrote about would also refuse to learn math and to look both ways before crossing the street. Curzer, one of the bext phil teachers out there and one of the best TTU professors, was really a total jackass about a) reality and b) people. You don't need that to be a Phi Prof, though. Funny professor who belongs at a better university, I think.

Freeman Hunt said...

So is the question really, "Would you have a real conversation with your young child and really listen to him?"

Gosh, I hope so!

Or is the question, "Do young children have some special avenue to truth?"

In that case, no, I don't think so, except maybe in very special circumstances on very limited subjects; they have no life experience, very little knowledge, and very limited reasoning ability.

Synova said...

Slow Joe... I think that some adults are comfortable with uncertainty and some adults aren't able to deal with uncertainty at all.

I'm sure that the same is true for children.

Some kids can't do timed math tests or make a guess on multiple choice because they become distressed at giving answers that aren't what they actually think because they've had to guess. It seems to be similar to being forced to make a confession contrary to belief.

I heard someone tell about a student who couldn't accept a nonsensical word problem because it simply couldn't happen. Something like "If your mom let you bring home 23 cats and then let you bring home 15 more cats, how many cats...." And the answer was an anguished, "But she wouldn't! No mom would let their kid do that. The question is *wrong*."

Which I suppose is an extreme case of children thinking concretely.

People are weird.

At least most adults can chose what to subject themselves to at least most of the time.

In any case, I'm still wondering how "but the tree has feelings!" actually improves a child's ability to think. ;-)

Slow Joe said...

Synova,

You're right... this is something some kids can't do well, and teaching them a complex subject is really asking a lot. We manage that in other areas. But the best teacher for this kind of thing, at least for a young kid, is their parent.

It seems like you would learn a lot about your dad or mom, and your son or daughter, but discussing many philosophical issues with them. And I think philosophy helps people with other subjects.

I do think logic should be taught in high school, and perhaps some kind of basic ethics class (not ON ethics, but about how ethics works). I'm asking too much. I wrote less than 10 pages my entire senior high school year. There are more pressing issues, sadly.

It's a damn shame for those kids who have crap for parents, but the parents are the last and first resort for most subjects.

Christian and Karen said...

One day my 3 year old daughter pointed up at the sky and said, "Look an airplane!"

I said, ya, look how high it is.

She responded inquisitively, "Why aren't we on that airplane?"

I kind of looked at it as her cognitive skills were still developing and she didn't yet understand the nature and intent of language. Who knew she was asking a question with metaphysical intent!

Revenant said...

If "philosophical thinking" is another way of saying "trying to make sense of the world" then, yes, kids do that all the time.

Adults mostly give it up as a lost cause. :)

Slow Joe said...

" Revenant said...

If "philosophical thinking" is another way of saying "trying to make sense of the world" then, yes, kids do that all the time.

Adults mostly give it up as a lost cause. :)"

Of course, someone who knows little, due to not existing for very long, will want to learn about the world and learn about knowledge itself.

'Is that the car we saw when we went in the store, or is that the same kind of car, just parked in the same space'?

'She said hitting is wrong!? Is it wrong because of some wrong quality, or because Mom said it was wrong and life's easier if I observe that, or because I don't want someone to do that to me?'

Hell, I had a moment of solipsism when I was a kid (you wonder if you're the only person and everything is in your mind). I had moments where I wondered if people were really meaning what I thought they were, or simply things that correspond loosely with what I thought they meant. (does the word rabbit mean attached collection of rabbit parts, or rabbit?).

I sincerely still wonder if what I think blue looks like is what you think red looks like. As a kid, I'm sure plenty vaguely realized that color was just information.

I think I read that some women perceive more color spectrum than men, and since we can't show people our mind's eye, we could be experiencing radically different palettes.

A lot of this stuff, albeit, with a bit more analysis, such as the 'if they moved the car, and then put it back before I saw it, and I IDed it as the same, my knowledge is justified and true, and yet the justification is invalid' aspect of the famous car hypo.... anyway, a lot of this stuff is revered and peer reviewed as earth shakingly brilliant, and in the heads of most of the philosophers, it's realized that this is stuff kids think about. Not that it isn't great to write about as an adult.

rhhardin said...

On the precipice-brink of a fatal question mark, the mind wonders how mathematics happen to contain so much commanding importance and so much incontestable truth, while comparison between mathematics and man only uncovers the latter's false pride and mendacity.

- Lautreamont

Pogo said...

Adults tend to see the entire world in the Chauncey Gardner talk of children.

Franco said...

Children are natural philosophers and ask very pertinent questions. They haven't been taught to ignore these questions like most adults. I call them hypersane. Sanity, to a large extent, actually isn't - it relies on a lot of denial of reality. Adults do this quite well.

Paul Snively said...

We shouldn't teach philosophical thinking apart from the scientific method, because to the extent that philosophical thinking is valid, it's identical to the scientific method, and to the extent that philosophical thinking isn't identical to the scientific method, it's quackery, and invariably motivated by politics.

Skyler said...

I think I read that some women perceive more color spectrum than men, and since we can't show people our mind's eye, we could be experiencing radically different palettes.

Seeing colors is a neuro chemical reaction. We all have rods and cones and react the same way, no matter the species. It's whether you have the right kind of cones that determines what you can perceive.

Just recently, monkeys had a gene emplanted into their eyes that caused a cone to grow in their retinas that they normally don't have. They quickly began seeing the appropriate colors.

Our perceptions come from our senses and are remarkably consistent across individuals and species. It's the conceptions that we form from those perceptions that so often vary.

Pogo said...

They should just teach cartoon philosophy to little kids.

Popeye: "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam".

Charlie Brown: "It always looks darkest just before it gets totally black."

Batman: "Do you want to know what power is? Real power? It’s not ending a life, it’s saving it. It’s looking in someone’s eyes and seeing that spark of recognition, that instant they realize something they’ll never forget."

Calvin and Hobbes: "Life's disappointments are harder to take when you don't know any swear words."

Fred4Pres said...

It is generally a bad idea to discuss nilhism with little kids, why rush it before they become teenagers?

Fred4Pres said...

I enjoyed John Goodman's line in Treme last night when he complained how Tulane cancelled its engineering and computer science programs, but kept in place Afro, Jewish and woman studies programs. I think he said something along the lines of, "Let's not train our kids to do something useful, let's just wallow in a culture of ME. For all those black Jewish women out there."

I am all for philosophy. A little Marcus Aurelius is great. So are hard sciences and math.

PatCA said...

This guy is certainly going to grow up to be a philosopher!

Talking Baby

Scott M said...

Did you — do you/will you — encourage philosophical thinking with your children? If not, why not?

Always. Along with all of the normal things my family tries to instill, I raised my oldest, now in college, how to debate. Not what to think, but how to debate someone. Before you can debate, you have to question. Before you question, you have to wonder why something is the way it is.

I hear him going at it full tilt with his friends over policy or that law and that and know that I did my job. Frankly, he and I don't agree on everything, but Churchill nailed it regarding political outlook and age.

Scott M said...

...should have read "over this policy or that law"

...oy

Kirby Olson said...

If there were more philosophy taught in elementary and high school by the time kids got to college they would be able to ju-jitsu their mindless Marxist professors. I'm in favor of it. Not just chatting, but actually reading Locke and Hegel, Plato and Aristotle, Nozick and Arendt.

Kids can do it.

There should be lots more books for kids that present the ideas of philosophers. Lots more! It should be an entire industry, with summer camps. It should be at least as important as soccer games and learning to swim.

Learning to think is almost very important.

I'm for this!

D. B. Light said...

Life is for living. Philosophy just gets in the way.

slarrow said...

Philosophy is a great pursuit for kids because it is geared around the question of "why". Kids want to know "why" all the time. By the time people reach a certain stage of adulthood, they've more or less satisfied the question of "why"--sometimes by losing interest in the question or resigning themselves to no good answer or accepting a particular worldview with all its glories and flaws. But kids aren't there yet, and the tools of philosophy can be gently introduced to help those kids along.

(Science, by the way, won't be sufficient because science can't answer "why" questions. It can only answer "how" questions because science as currently constituted doesn't have a subjunctive mode, to be technical. You can't ask, "what if the world were like X" and use science to go find out unless the world actually is like X.)

Indeed, childhood is the best time to introduce philosophy because that's when moral intuitions are often the strongest (especially about justice and fairness.) I'd steer clear of the technical language, of course; that can be reintroduced later (like explaining to a middle school kid that he did algebra in kindergarten. Then it was "1 + 2 = fill in the circle"; now it's "1 + 2 = X".)

slarrow said...

"Life is for living. Philosophy just gets in the way."

As a guy with a background in philosophy, this sounds an awful lot like, "Ships are for sailing. Rudders just get in the way."

James Wigderson said...

That's when children run into my philosophy, "Children should be seen and not heard."

raf said...

what is life for if not to philosophize?

Go forth, be fruitful, and multiply. All the rest is just frosting.

wv:respit. I suppose, if the wind were against you, this might be necessary.

Slow Joe said...

"Seeing colors is a neuro chemical reaction. We all have rods and cones and react the same way, no matter the species. It's whether you have the right kind of cones that determines what you can perceive.

Just recently, monkeys had a gene emplanted into their eyes that caused a cone to grow in their retinas that they normally don't have. They quickly began seeing the appropriate colors.

Our perceptions come from our senses and are remarkably consistent across individuals and species. It's the conceptions that we form from those perceptions that so often vary."

That doesn't answer the problem at all. Your brain is processing this information from those cones. Some of the ways it does so is ad hoc. There's no basis to claim that the sensation of blue is the same across every person with cones getting the same wavelength of light. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren't.

All I'm saying is that quality of blue is hard to define without making some assumptions. And this is a common philosophy problem and something kids may think about.

Your brain realizes everything you're seeing is upside down and autoadjusts your perceptions. Seems to me much of what's going on is your physical brain growing and adapting to the connections it's trying to make. It's like a machine, but it's not quite as ironclad and laid out as it may appear. How would you know if your color sensations are different from other peoples'? Every time the wavelength associated with one sensation comes up, you call it blue... but maybe what you see as blue, associate with water or coolness, etc etc, is totally unlike what my brain grew to associate with that wavelength.

The real point is that knowledge is a tricky thing.

Skyler said...

All I'm saying is that quality of blue is hard to define without making some assumptions. And this is a common philosophy problem and something kids may think about.

This is along the infantile way of thinking that led Descartes down the wrong path.

Light impacts cone. Cone reacts to specific wavelengths. Wavelengths are seen as colors in the visible spectrum. There's only one way to react if the cones are properly functioning. There is no mystery.

The hobby of philosophers to avoid real philosophy and fixate on such stupid issues is what has ruined the study of philosophy for about a hundred and fifty years.

What is, is. Trying to refute existence has wasted so much time. If philosophy is a Great Conversation, then we've been stuck in the conversational rat hole for quite some time.

tom said...

"If there were more philosophy taught in elementary and high school by the time kids got to college they would be able to ju-jitsu their mindless Marxist professors. I'm in favor of it. Not just chatting, but actually reading Locke and Hegel, Plato and Aristotle, Nozick and Arendt.

Kids can do it."

No, they can't.

As one of the dreaded 'philosophy majors' lambasted throughout the thread, I must inform you, regrettably, that children will not be able to read and comprehend any of the thinkers in your list with any sort of competence. I mean, Hegel? Have YOU ever tried to read Hegel? The man was a mess with words--just terrible, to the point where even I, three years into my degree, completely abandoned trying to make sense of what the hell he was saying.

Plato, on the other hand, was a great writer, and while children could potentially read Meno or even The Republic, they wouldn't be able to coherently tell you what the important philosophical discussions therein were. It just ain't gonna happen at that age.

Which isn't to say that they should be discouraged--quite the opposite, they should only be encouraged in their proto-philosophical pursuits.

As a side note, very few of you seem to recognize that philosophy is the parent of both the hard sciences and mathematics (Consider Rene Descartes, Renaissance man: philosopher [Cogito ergo sum], math whiz [Cartesian coordinate planes], and scientist [the law of reflection, e.g.]. You just castigate it as the bastion of radical left-wing lunatics, when really, all you have to do to avoid philosophers talking about politics is to avoid your standard-issue Political Philosophy class, which suck anyway. (I.e., philosophers are more than happy to spend an entire lecture discussing the relationship between subjects and predicates, or the nature of consciousness, or whatever--without needing to remind their undergrads that George W. Bush is TEH EVILZZ!)

In sum, I wish that many of you'd paid a bit more attention in your Intro classes, or that you only spoke of a subject when you were certain that you weren't completely ignorant about its content.

End self-defense rant.

knox said...

ugh, "The Giving Tree." I hated that book as a kid. It was just sad and depressing.

Shel Silverstein had a sense of humor. What happened during the writing of that book?

Revenant said...

We know that neurons function slightly differently from person to person. Just as no two human bodies are exactly the same, so are no two human cells exactly the same.

Given that our perception of the color "blue" is filtered through quite a few neural networks before the evaluated color reaches our conscious mind, it strikes me as very unlikely that any two people would have exactly the same perception of the color blue. What are the odds that two people looking at the world through differing sensory apparatus are going to end up with the exact same impression of how the world looks?

Skyler said...

In sum, I wish that many of you'd paid a bit more attention in your Intro classes, or that you only spoke of a subject when you were certain that you weren't completely ignorant about its content.

If philosophy is so incomprehensible, as you have related, then it is of very little value, don't you think?

It's the intro to philosophy courses that ruin the subject for most people. My intro to philosophy professor wrote on my paper, "who do you think you are to question Descartes?" Well, I'm Skyler and I question him and I'll be hanged if I'll let some snooty nun tell me that he is beyond questioning.

Philosophy is far too important to be left to philosophers.

Wendy Kloiber said...

This article bothered me, because I assume that elementary teachers read stories and then ask searching questions about them. The six-story curriculum described seems pretty pedestrian; not something you'd need a Special Institute to come in and facilitate.

Also: totally, utterly agree with whoever said people should be asking about the tree, not the boy. Get some boundaries, tree!

This post reminded me how much I appreciated the recent Clay Shirky tweet about how satisfying it is to watch a child work out that there is no Santa Claus.

tom said...

"If philosophy is so incomprehensible, as you have related, then it is of very little value, don't you think?"

I said that philosophy was (rather) incomprehensible to children, much as quantum physics would be if they were to take up its study without the requisite background. I also said that Hegel was incomprehensible in general. But these are two different claims. Hegel is one of the worst examples in philosophical discourse of obscurity for obscurity's sake--hence my disaffection with his work. A philosopher's poor writing doesn't tar the whole field with the brush of uselessness any more than your poor understanding of my original comment tars the practice of commenting on blogs tars that practice.

I mean, you do you see what I did there, right? I practiced philosophy. I reiterated my argument that, to children, salient philosophical subject matter would be lost in their cursory readings of philosophical texts. They might scratch the surface (the allegory of the cave is pretty compelling), but I never claimed that you couldn't question Rene Descartes. I claimed that Hegel was impossible to read, which is true. He's a bad writer. He's overrated. So it goes. That happens sometimes, no matter what field you're in.

And I'm truly sorry that you had a bad experience with your Intro to Phil class. If a philosophy professor, however, is telling you that you shouldn't question Descartes (whose Meditations you only read because they're such a convincing CIRCULAR argument [note: circular arguments are bad, but instructive when Important People make them]), then I can only say that that's the fault of your idiot professor, not philosophy.

You dig?

Skyler said...

Yes, it was the circularity of the arguments in Meditations that I wrote about which the snooty nun did not appreciate. We didn't have an internet back then, so I was debunking them without the advantage of the millions of voices on the web.

But the snooty nun's reaction is merely a symptom. Hegel is not an aberration, he is the modern standard.

I said that philosophy was (rather) incomprehensible to children, much as quantum physics would be if they were to take up its study without the requisite background.

True, you did say that. But you also said that Hegel was incomprehensible, and since Hegel is so respected and has to a large part influenced modern philosophy and helped move western civilization towards nihilism, it would seem that if he is incomprehensible, then so is much of modern philosophy. My point is that philosophy is not difficult, perhaps above the heads of young children, but not teenagers and college students. Too many philosophers today are like my snooty nun and think that they alone can understand the great conversation. Truth be told, they are the rat's hole that distracts real development of philosophy.

KLDAVIS said...

The squelching of my first philosophical pondering may very well have lead me to pursue my degree in Philosophy. I remember clearly the dread I felt at the age of 5 or 6 upon learning that Heaven was an eternal place. The idea of something infinite was painfully frightening. I was deathly afraid of going to heaven because there would be no end. Monotony was assured. My mother insisted that there was no possible way I could be unhappy in heaven, but I was convinced that there was an inherent flaw in its design. 15 years later I was taking classes on the nature of happiness and game theory. I'm pretty sure the two are related, though my symbolic logic is rusty enough that I doubt I could prove it.

tom said...

"But you also said that Hegel was incomprehensible, and since Hegel is so respected and has to a large part influenced modern philosophy and helped move western civilization towards nihilism, it would seem that if he is incomprehensible, then so is much of modern philosophy."

How does this argument add up? First of all, you're simply wrong that Hegel is "so respected." He's important to study, because he was influential, but that doesn't mean that he's currently "respected." There's a distinction between studying a subject to assess its historical impact, and endorsing the views you're studying.

And second of all, I don't know how on earth you make the leap from "Hegel's incomprehensible" to "modern philosophy is incomprehensible." That leap is, like, across the Grand Canyon in size. It would require two things to be true: 1) Every modern philosopher would have to be a Hegelian (not the case by a long shot), and 2) Every modern philosopher would have to be a terrible writer (also, fortunately, not the case). Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper are just two examples of brilliant modern philosophers who are not only not-Hegelians, but are also quite gifted with a pen. (And they also pretty avowedly endorse the democratic process, for what it's worth. Nihilists they are not.)

"My point is that philosophy is not difficult, perhaps above the heads of young children, but not teenagers and college students. Too many philosophers today are like my snooty nun and think that they alone can understand the great conversation."

Your snooty nun was an exception, not the rule. Philosophy is all about making arguments with the great practitioners. It is also, I hasten to add, a rigorous enterprise, which means that even if you see a chink in the armor of an argument, you still have to carefully and accurately formulate your argument to exploit the other argument's weaknesses. Therefore, acquiring a degree in philosophy is a humbling experience, because even when you're completely right (in pointing out the circularity of Descartes' Meditations, e.g.), you still have to put together an argument that is concise and precise. So a lot of times, you get back a paper, saying "Nice work. Here are some areas where you're dead-wrong, though," and you have to accept that all the progress you make is tentative, that philosophy is a conversation that's been going on for thousands of years, and that your contributions to it are going to be minimal, if they register at all.

But, that's fine. Philosophy isn't about making a name for yourself, it's about learning how to think, and learning how to constantly deploy skepticism in order to make yourself a better thinker. You've gotta have a pretty thick hide, because you're going to be wrong a lot of the time, but being wrong is half the fun. That's how you learn, after all.

So yeah, teenagers and young adults can (and should!) start to learn philosophy, they just have to recognize that an Intro class does not a philosopher make. Humility goes a long way in all walks of life, not just academia. And being told that you're wrong isn't an insult, it's an opportunity to learn.

Synova said...

"I remember clearly the dread I felt at the age of 5 or 6 upon learning that Heaven was an eternal place. The idea of something infinite was painfully frightening."

I can't say how old I was but I definitely went through a time dreading heaven.

Other of my childhood traumas included "Who created God?" and "What exists at the end of the Universe?" and the more normal traumas of "Why is my consciousness in this body and not a different one?" and "How do I know anyone else actually has consciousness? What if it is only me?"

So I was equal opportunity traumatized by religion and science. ;-)

Roux said...

Hey, take some time and lay down in the clover and do a little cloud gazing. What's that cloud look like to you?

Skyler said...

He's important to study, because he was influential, but that doesn't mean that he's currently "respected."

I think that was precisely my point. I'm not against philosophy. I've said that it's important.

What I said is that it's too important to leave to academicians for precisely the point you make above. Even though you think he is discredited (and I've seen little evidence of that) he is still being put in front of students. Why? I won't hazard an answer to that, but I will say that it diminishes the credibility of philosophy academicians.

tom said...

"Even though you think he is discredited (and I've seen little evidence of that) he is still being put in front of students. Why? I won't hazard an answer to that, but I will say that it diminishes the credibility of philosophy academicians."

The answer to your question of why students study Hegel is simple: Hegel is important. He's wrong about a lot (the idea that there's a telos of history, e.g.), but he attempted to answer a question left unanswered by Kant (the details of which I'm not going to get into, because it's dense) and a lot of people found his answer to be convincing for quite a while.

I mean, we study Hegel for the same reason we study Plato, Aristotle, the pre-Socratics, etc.: i.e., not because they are currently in vogue, but because they are historically important to the development of a discourse. Philosophy is a discipline that's deeply tied to its history (a lot of the questions being debated are millenia old). We study Hegel, and we "put him in front of students" for the same reasons that we study primary sources from a historical era (I was a history minor)--they shed light on a way of thinking about a problem, even if it's out of date. By studying them, we don't endorse them, but we do come away with a better understanding of how certain ideas came to be popularized.

For a thorough debunking of Hegel, read The Open Society And Its Enemies, by Karl Popper. Book 2 deals with Hegel specifically, while Book 1 is more focused on Plato. (I should add that TOSAIE is not simply an attack for its own sake, but an attack that makes an argument in favor of democratic institutions). Alternatively, go to the local bookstore, pick up Russell's A History Of Western Philosophy, flip to the chapter on Hegel, and prepare yourself for a good laugh.

tom said...

Edit: Not a telos of history (that's Marx), a telos of The Idea (Hegelian technical-jargon speak, basically amounting to an argument that he is the best philosopher ever. Seriously. He argued that.)

george said...

Now, in a reification of the great revealed truths in this thread I shall grab my copy of Swift and retire to the lavatory.