Tag Archives: P4C

everything you wanted to know about unicorns

Everything you always wanted to know about unicorns

What do you know about unicorns?

  • mythical creatures
  • look similar to horses
  • usually white
  • have a single horn protruding from the forehead.

What else is there to know?

It appears there could be much more to learn by engaging in philosophical discussions, especially with young children, about the existence of unicorns and their features.

For many years I have been a fan of Philosophy for Children (P4C), a pedagogical approach for teaching children to think critically, to wonder, question and reason. The approach is “taught” through student-led discussion in which the teacher is present to offer support, rather than leadership. Students are presented with a stimulus, about which they initially ask questions. When there are no more questions to ask, children discuss their thoughts and responses.

I knew unicorns would be a great starting point for philosophical discussions with children, so wasn’t surprised to find suggestions for conducting an enquiry into Unicorn Horns – Thinking about Things that Don’t Exist by The Philosophy Foundation.

The suggested discussion centres around fictional characters, including the more controversial ones such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy which I’ve previously discussed here and here.

What intrigued me most in the article was

“The problem (is) characterized in this statement ‘The Tooth Fairy does not exist’, which seems to say ‘there is something that does not exist’, but then if it does not exist then how can it be anything?”

Or another way of putting it,

“‘If there is anything that can’t exist, then it exists, so there can’t be anything that can’t exist.’”

Totally confused?

Me too! Please pop over to the article for greater clarity. Then maybe you can explain it to me.

The article continued with suggestions of other questions about unicorns that could be discussed; for example:

  • Are unicorns real?
  • If something doesn’t exist, can it have any special features?
  • How many horns does a unicorn have?
  • What if a unicorn is born without a horn, is it still a unicorn?
  • What if a horse is born with a horn, would it be a unicorn?
  • Since ‘uni’ means one, is any animal with one horn a unicorn?
  • What about a narwhal? Is it a unicorn?

My thoughts of unicorns this week were instigated by the flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a unicorn. It can be realistic or fantastical. Go where the prompt leads.

Now, I have written about unicorns before, here, here and here.

In a post about security comforters, I explained that a toy unicorn was of comfort to Marnie when she was feeling particularly vulnerable. Her need for it continued into her early school years and its appearance was an indicator to teachers that things were going badly for her again. When, as a confident adult, she returned to her childhood home, she found she had long outgrown the unicorn that had given her comfort as a child.

In some of Marnie’s stories, she was teased and bullied, mainly by a boy named Brucie. Fortunately, she had a good friend in Jasmine who was often there to offer her support.

In my response to Charli’s unicorn prompt, I revisit Marnie and Brucie and attempt to add a little philosophy to their discussion. I hope you like it.

Unicorns aren’t real

“What’s that supposed to be?” sneered Brucie.

Marnie bit her lip.

“Doesn’t look like anything to me,” he scoffed, inviting an audience.

“A unicorn,” she whispered.

“Miss said, ‘Draw your favourite animal.’ A unicorn can’t be your favourite animal–it’s not even real.”

Marnie continued drawing.

“Anyway, doesn’t look like a unicorn with those four horns.”

“They’re not horns.”

“Marnie’s unicorn’s got four horns,” laughed Brucie, a little too loudly.

Miss investigated.

“He said my unicorn’s got four horns. He said unicorns aren’t real.”

“How can unicorns have four horns if they’re not real?” asked Miss.

Brucie was silent.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

A cheap shot?

Michelle demonstrates through her article what she states in her final paragraph as the benefit of involving children in philosophical enquiry. She says, “We get children thinking critically, rigorously and sceptically, so that they’re less likely to succumb to ill-founded beliefs or be duped by self-deception, spin or rhetoric. We help children develop their reasoning, so that they become more adept at building logical arguments and rationally defending their views. We encourage children to question the assumptions underlying different points of view, enabling them to challenge dogmatic beliefs. And we cultivate deep and deliberative thinking – often neglected in traditional schooling, which tends to focus more on getting ‘the quick right answer’ – so that children have a chance to explore the nuances of complex ideas.”
Who could disagree with that?

The Philosophy Club

The New Yorker has disappointed me again, this time by its recent coverage of a series of children’s philosophy workshops at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Rebecca Mead’s article, ‘When Kids Philosophize’, reports on the Tilt Kids Festival’s philosophy workshops – billed on the Festival website as an opportunity for children, aged 6 – 12, to “explore some of life’s biggest questions” and “engage in deep conversations about … key themes in philosophy” with acclaimed philosopher Simon Critchley and some graduate student guests.

On the face of it, ‘When Kids Philosophize’ offers a light-hearted glimpse of what went on during three of the short workshops. But the article’s mild humour has the unfortunate effect of trivialising the important the task of engaging children in philosophical discussions.

I personally found little to smile about in the volley of random questions, irrelevant observations, unsubstantiated claims and juvenile distractions that were…

View original post 1,471 more words

Thinking about Philosophy

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe 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.”

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe 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

The Philosophy Foundation.

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?