Should Philosophy be a Core Subject at School?

Should reasoning be the fourth R is a question now being asked in some top independent schools. AC Grayling Provides some insight

Professor of philosophy and master of New College of the Humanities, AC Grayling, believes that children should be educated philosophy from age six.

Today, in the college study of philosophy, a more specialist selection of subjects arise: the nature of knowledge and how we get it done, rationale and reason, the theories of morality and mind and society and consciousness.

What do we learn from philosophy?

Among the most important facets of doctrine is that it asks us to challenge our assumptions and the frameworks of thought which we live by. Many hidden assumptions lie buried in our systems of thought and, if we don’t examine them, we’re in danger of being tricked or misguided by these systems if they’re mistaken.

Most importantly, philosophy is a method. It requires the analysis of thoughts and theories, evaluation of concepts and innovative and imaginative efforts to build ways of believing that throw new light on the problems and puzzles that our interesting, and at times hard, world throws at us.

It’s the last two points that explain why doctrine, if it were a core subject during the school years, could be a powerful addition to all other topics studied, and a booster into the psychological and intellectual capacities of students. Primary school children are automatically good at philosophical issues as soon as they are presented together.

How young can you learn philosophy?

I’ve seen six-year-olds energetically and brightly address the question, ‘what happens to the hole in the doughnut once the doughnut is eaten’ and 12-year-olds become animated when discussing whether or not the classroom table exists when nobody is there. I’ve seen sixth-formers become deeply engaged with political and ethical questions of real importance regarding the way we live our lives and treat others.

The mixture of vividly interesting questions and the need to think things through with care and rigour is what makes doctrine so instantly attractive to just about all pupils when they experience it. They quickly come to find that even when there are no clear answers to some of the issues that considering our world presents to us, the effort involved in researching them is an extremely enlightening and creative one. As the French poet Paul Valery said, ‘A difficulty is a light; but an insurmountable problem is the sunlight.’

Philosophical questions for children

If I had been given the opportunity to devise a doctrine programme for schools, I’d start with-six year-olds and the beautiful play of thoughts and questions they so enjoy. By drawing attention to what we take for granted, they start to learn how to think for real function. The question concerning the doughnut, as an instance, makes them believe — even if they don’t use these words themselves — what we mean by distance, time, items, relationships, presence, change and much more. They don’t grasp these concepts fully or comprehend all their consequences yet, but they might have started the intriguing process of thinking ‘out of the box’ and constructively realising that not what we take for granted should be.

From such beginnings, in asking questions and thinking through and about thoughts, I’d have the students move progressively into more in-depth and detailed stages of discussion. This would eventually result in studying and discussing some of the great philosophers of the past (most of the classics of philosophy tend to be more accessible than people assume) and connecting them to the areas of research, such as mathematics, which originated from philosophical enquiry and still prompt philosophical questions.

It’s been amply proved by the excellent global Baccalaureate system that a strand of philosophical research in a program (the IB’s ‘Theory of Knowledge’, by way of instance), when taught well, provides a massive boost to pupils’ capabilities in the other subjects. Because of this alone, philosophy should be a fundamental school subject, from begin to finish.

READ MORE: Student’s Work Published in Philosophy NowShould Reasoning be the Fourth RDauntsey’s Hosts AC Grayling LectureAC Grayling: What to do and What to Consider