Why children are good philosophers


How did you come up with the idea to write this book?

Scott Hershovitz : When I taught, I talked a lot about my kids. I am a professor of philosophy of law, so when I have conversations about criminal purposes, for example, I could start by sharing a discussion I had with my boys. I quickly realized that these interventions not only made the audience laugh, but they encouraged more reflection and piqued the interest of my students. It was so effective that I started doing the same with my colleagues. These anecdotes allow me to reposition philosophical questions in our daily lives.

“All children are philosophers. So often, and to my great regret, they get smaller and smaller as they grow up.” Scott Hershovitz

An example for us ?

One day my wife, Julie, asked our son, Hank, then eight years old, what he wanted to eat. She gave him two options: one. quesadilla or a burger. Tortured over this choice, he chooses the hamburger. “It’s on the table”, Julie replied. Hank then began to cry. He yelled : “You did not let me decide ! » Surprised, my wife tried to reassure him : “You asked me for a burger, look, it’s on the table.” » And Hank shouted: “Nothing ! You predicted me ! » The following week, my legal philosophy class discussed the concept of preventive sentencing (punishment) – which involves punishing someone before committing a crime and removing any relevant doubt that they are in fact doing so. So I told Hank’s story to my students and we tried to find out if he had a right to feel disrespected. Does prediction involve the negation of free will? My two sons, Rex and Hank, are now recognized as famous philosophers by the students in my class!

How to become a philosopher?

All children are philosophers. So often, and to my great regret, they get smaller and smaller as they grow up. At the age of five, I remember shouting at my mother: “Mom, what does red look like to you?” » Regardless of the scope of my question, she immediately answered: “It’s red just like you.” I then repeated my question to her, then she asked me to stop. This is the first time I have been asked to stop with philosophy. And it was certainly not the last …

How is this question philosophical?

Color theory is the name that philosophers give to this riddle. John Locke is one of the thinkers who is interested in the nature of the colors and the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of capturing certain experiences through words. This 17th century philosophere century suggested that we were locked in our own heads, cut off from the experiences of others. We can guess them, not know them. If a kindergarten can make philosophy without reading Locke, we can all do it.

“Children are wondering actors. They ask questions about absolutely everything” Scott Hershovitz

Why is a child a good philosopher?

They are confused about the world around them and have questions about absolutely everything. Children will discuss ideas that adults consider obvious. The standardized explanation of things is not yet known to them. We have not yet instilled in them the questions that do not deserve to be asked. IN Confessions, Augustine reveal this nonsense : “What time is it? If no one asks me, I know. If anyone asks the question and I want to explain it, I do not know anymore.”

Unlike adults, are children not afraid to tackle certain issues?

It is true. Looking stupid or making mistakes does not worry them. Philosopher Gareth Matthews said “Adults must cultivate a naivety necessary for philosophy, but for the child this naivety is completely natural”. Children are fearless thinkers who, more often than not, imagine reproducing reasoning from ancient philosophy.

E.g ?

“The universe is infinite”, my son Rex once told me. I then explained to him that the scientists were not so sure. “Yes. The universe is necessarily infinite”, he said with astonishing conviction. Then he explained to me that if we take a spaceship to the end of the universe and we strike a blow, our hand must go somewhere. “And if she’s arrested?”I asked him. “Well, there’s something stopping him, so it can not be the end.” Rex is not the first to make this argument. Archytasa philosopher and politician from ancient Greece, a close friend of Plato, had presented it. Lucretius, a few hundred years later, made the same argument. A spear fired at the edge of the universe either continued indefinitely or was stopped by something that proved the existence of an afterlife. Modern science today refutes these arguments ; Rex was not afraid to ask questions that many adults no longer dare ask.

“The world is not yet known to them, and they do not worry about looking stupid or making mistakes: children are fearless thinkers!” Scott Hershovitz

Are they better philosophers than adults?

No, I do not make such an assumption. Adults have other benefits. We can keep our attention for longer and we have experienced several opportunities. I assert the child’s abilities for philosophy, a discipline that requires a disposition rather than asking questions rather than finding answers; this is a practice that the child masters to perfection ! Several years ago, the psychologist Michelle Chouinard listened to recordings of young children’s conversations with their parents. Over the course of two hundred hours of recording, she wrote down twenty-five thousand questions. That’s more than two questions a minute. And nearly a quarter of these queries were for an explanation; the child would know how and why.

Should we also more often ask them how and why?

Yes, I’m convinced of that. Let us turn the situation around and ask them to defend an argument. Children use why as a weapon. They repeat it to nauseauntil exhaustion, to expose the fragile foundation of our authority. “Do you believe God exists?”, I once asked my son Hank. He must have been eight at the time. We discussed it for several minutes before he told me he would not talk about it anymore. So I threw him the famous one ” Why ? “ “Because if he existed, he would feel offended.” That is the focus Pascalthe philosophical argument of the French thinker of XVIIe century. A rational person must believe in God, since in the hypothesis that God exists, the believer wins paradise.

“Philosophy requires a disposition to ask questions rather than find answers – a practice that the child masters to perfection” Scott Hershovitz

Are all children philosophers?

For years I was told that my children were the exception – they practiced philosophy because they had a philosophical father. I think this statement is false. If there is any real difference between my children and others, it is probably just the attention I give to their questions and my encouragement. The work of Gareth Matthews, who has devoted most of his career to children, confirms my hypothesis. Through interactive workshops in schools, he analyzed the debates between children and distinguished their philosophical character. One of his stories particularly touched me. Ian, a little boy, was at home during a visit from another family. The latter’s three children monopolized television and prevented Ian from watching his favorite cartoon. After they leave, he asks his mother: “Why is it better for three people to be selfish than one?” I love this question. It is both simple and subversive. Many philosophers believe that we are committed to maximizing the satisfaction of most men’s preferences. Ian’s questions very subtly challenge the very concept of democracy. After many years of research, Matthews concludes that among children between the ages of three and seven, spontaneous philosophical excursions are frequent. From the age of eight or nine, they become rarer, at least in public. It’s hard to explain why. This transition may be associated with a change in interest or pressure from those around them to stop asking childish questions.

What can we learn from children’s philosophy?

Take a step back from our practical concerns. To be less sensible, more silly, would be a way to restore our world to its splendor – to become aware of how little we understand. Childhood is fleeting, and so are some of the thoughts attached to it, so let’s be careful.

How to raise a young philosopher?

The easiest way is to talk to your children. Ask them questions and challenge their answers. The questions are not meant to be complicated and you do not need any philosophical knowledge to ask them. They can be of the order of magnitude “What do you think of it? Why do you think it? Can you think of any reasons that suggest you are wrong? What do you mean?” Let the child speak. Reason with him, resist the urge to tell him what you think. When he says that something is not right, ask him what justice is or whether it is your responsibility to establish justice. Children are strangers and wondering actors. At least until they are trained not to be.

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