The third Thursday in November has been identified by UNESCO as World Philosophy Day, and the theme for this year is “Inclusive Societies, Sustainable Planet”.
A round table discussion will include topics such as “the growing inequalities between rich and poor within many countries and between countries and sustainable development” including “concepts of social justice, solidarity, exclusion and inclusion in different societies, as well as issues related to the vulnerability of various groups – including women, children, young people, people with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, people living in poverty – and the interfaces between these issues and sustainable development.”
The development of global citizens who are able to reason, think critically and contribute positively to the world by the ability to identify, discuss and suggest ways of resolving such moral and ethical issues can begin with the study of philosophy in schools.
Peter Worley, co-founder of the charity The Philosophy Foundation, is just one of many philosophers who believe that children are able to engage in philosophical discussions, and are convinced of the importance of placing the study of philosophy at the heart of education.
In his article “Class Act”, published by The Philosophers Magazine (April 2, 2013) Peter Worley explains why he considers philosophy should be taught in schools. The following is an excerpt from that article. Please follow the link to read his article in full.
“The “basic” argument: Thinking and reasoning are even more basic than the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) given that reasoning (the fourth “R”?) and the concepts involved in reasoning underpin all three. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in conceptual thinking and reasoning, therefore we may appeal to a very basic educational need for doing philosophy, i.e. conceptual thinking and reasoning.
The “truth” argument: By honing the concepts that we use in all other truth-seeking subjects (e.g. the sciences), philosophy, which is singularly concerned with concepts and reasoning, is the subject best placed to improve the thinking on which the other truth-seeking subjects are based, thereby improving our efforts to reach truth. (This is to paraphrase an argument owed to Catherine McCall.)
The incoherence argument: When incoherence occurs between disciplines (or simply in the way the world seems to “hang together” or not) one needs the tools to deal with such incoherence, to be able to attempt to make sense of it. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in making sense of incoherence. Therefore philosophy should be taught. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put forward to me by Stephen Boulter.)
It is worth noting that incoherence is just as much a feature of school children’s lives as anyone else’s. Just think of the way the children learn objectivity in the sciences but then are taught something like universal relativism in other aspects of their schooling, perhaps in religious education or the classroom mantra “opinions are never wrong” and such like.
The inescapability argument: Philosophical problems are inescapable. Every time you read something in a newspaper or on the internet you are faced with a philosophical problem: how do you know when something is true? When the teacher teaches you about atoms and shows you the atomic model: how do they know that atoms look like that if they’ve never seen one? If it’s true that philosophical problems are inescapable then surely there is an argument for preparing people/students for how to respond to these problems intelligently and philosophically. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put to me by Michael Hand.)
Perhaps the last word on teaching philosophy to children should go to Montaigne, who wrote, back in the sixteenth century: “Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it?”
I am grateful to Peter for permitting me to reproduce this excerpt as my contribution towards the celebration of World Philosophy Day. For more information about Peter’s publications, please visit
Watch this video to listen to Peter and Emma Worley, co-founders of The Philosophy Foundation, explain why it is important for philosophy to be taught in schools:
Teaching philosophy in schools
You may also enjoy this entertaining and enlightening video, written by Emma Worley, “What has philosophy ever done for us?” (adapted from Monty Python’s Life of Brian):
What has philosophy ever done for us?
What do you think? How important is philosophy to you?