Saturday, April 10, 2010
Developing a philosophical self
Recognized as important are the development of children's physical selves, intellectual selves, moral selves, and social and emotional selves, but there is little attention paid to the development of our philosophical selves: the part of us that recognizes and ponders the intense strangeness of the human experience, that thinks deeply about the concepts that underlie our collective understanding of the world. For me what has always been most important about engaging in philosophical discussions with children -- my own, and students in pre-college classrooms -- has been helping children to think more clearly about questions they are already thinking about. I remember my first class in philosophy, which I was lucky enough to have in a public high school, and how thrilling it was to be able to talk about these questions I'd thought about since I was little and that I imagined no one else ever considered very much.
I think that the development of children's philosophical selves is of crucial importance to learning how to evaluate the difficult questions of life thoughtfully and imaginatively. Encouraging children to cultivate their natural inclinations to wonder about life's perennially unsettled questions and to think about these questions carefully and coherently helps them become effective independent thinkers. Our philosophical selves are central, I think, to the uniqueness of human consciousness, to our awareness that we are experiencing whatever we are experiencing. Development of this part of us can profoundly enrich and deepen our lives.