Session 2 – Stories, Narratives and Imagination
Chair: Thomas Wartenberg
The Folkoric Approach
University of Southern Indiana, Indiana, USA
I want to propose what I call the Folkloric Approach to Philosophy with Children. For several years, I have had success introducing philosophy to children through the discussion of folk tales. Sometimes the tales are simple, but they are never contrived. Many folktales represent an attempt to distill wisdom, a summation of ideas and insights that have remained relevant over time. By exploring the ideas of different cultures, children are exposed directly to a variety of philosophical traditions.
We find realistic stories of humans interacting with animals, sages considering discrepancies in nature, and families resisting temptation. We also find fantastic stories involving heroes and heroines, impossible quests, and transformations from human to beast to bird. Folklore is rife with compelling thought experiments. The ideas have stood the test of time, otherwise they would not have been told and retold—they would not have survived. Children respond eagerly and creatively to thought experiments. An important part of childhood is asking “what if” and using imagination to ponder various ideas and scenarios.
There are a number of folktales from around the world that can properly be called philosophical, including a somber Italian folktale that gives an intriguing perspective on death and the afterlife, a hilarious Georgian tale that seems to parody naturalistic arguments for God’s existence, several African “dilemma” tales that address justice and personhood, and a fantastic Russian tale that concerns predestination or fate.
So instead of the current convention of inventing original philosophical stories for children—stories about fictional children who discover how to reason more effectively—perhaps we should focus on the stories handed down from generation to generation.
(In addition to exploring some philosophical folktales, I will address the following: locating philosophical folktales, using folktales in a philosophy class for children, and responding to these tales.)
Dat is waar
Department of Philosophy, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
In 2003 I published a book in Dutch, entitled Dat is waar (That is true) intended for children of the age of between ten and twelve. In that book I have tried to introduce in a fictional setting 23 main philosophical problems, such as meaning, theories of truth, personal identity, explanation versus understanding, the inner and the outer, pain, know how versus knowledge that, the golden rule in ethics, the nature of time. After publication I have traveled all over the country to visit elementary schools and I have discussed these problems with groups of children, sometimes accompanied by their parents.
In my paper I want to describe the particular difficulties I have come across in writing about philosophical problems in the context of fiction. In particular I want to describe the problem of combining a plot with a satisfactory account of the problem. Related problems are that of combining particular characters with specific philosophical positions.
In the second part of the paper I want to describe my experiences with children, their reaction to the chapters and the problems I confront them with and I ant to contrast those with the responses given by their parents and the reviewers of my book.