Why Kids Make the Best Philosophers

Picture a thinker, and also you’ll in all probability provide you with somebody previous and smart, like Socrates, or avant-garde, like Simone de Beauvoir. Or possibly you’ll think about a tutorial, toiling in a tweed jacket. Whatever picture you’ve received, you’ve probably pictured an grownup. But the reality is that philosophers are extra widespread on preschool playgrounds than faculty campuses.

That would possibly sound odd, since we have a tendency to consider children as restricted and literal thinkers. For a very long time, that’s the image developmental psychology painted. Jean Piaget famously argued that each one children transfer by a set of developmental phases, arriving on the capability for summary thought at about age 12.

Book cover of Nasty, Brutish, and Short.
This article is customized from Hershovitz’s fortchoming ebook.

Of course, there’s one thing to the concept that children’ minds mature as they become old. But Piaget was unsuitable in regards to the cognitive capacities of little children—wildly so. Children are refined thinkers, greater than able to summary thought. They’re inventive too. Indeed, in some methods, children make higher philosophers than adults. They query issues grown-ups take as a right. And they’re open to new concepts. We can study quite a bit from listening to children—and from pondering with them.

The late thinker Gareth Matthews was one of many first individuals to note this. One day, as he recounts in his ebook The Philosophy of Childhood, Matthews informed his 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, that their cat, Fluffy, had fleas. Sarah requested the place that they had come from.

The fleas should have jumped from one other cat onto Fluffy, Matthews informed her.

“How did that cat get fleas?” Sarah requested.

They should have come from a distinct cat, Matthews stated.

“But Daddy,” Sarah insisted, “it can’t go on and on like that forever; the only thing that goes on and on like that is numbers!”

At the time, Matthews was educating a category that lined the cosmological argument, which goals to indicate that God exists. There are many variations of the argument, some fairly difficult, however the primary thought is straightforward: Every occasion has a trigger, however that may’t proceed again eternally—so there have to be a primary trigger, which was itself uncaused. Some—most famously, Thomas Aquinas—say the primary trigger was God.

The argument has issues. Why does the chain of causes have to come back to an finish? Perhaps the universe is everlasting—limitless in each instructions. And even when there was a primary trigger, why suppose it was God? But it doesn’t matter whether or not the argument works. According to Piaget, Sarah ought to have been within the preoperational stage of improvement, so known as as a result of children in it may well’t but use logic. But Sarah’s logic was beautiful—much more compelling than the cosmological argument. Whatever you make of an infinite regress of causes, it’s onerous to think about an infinite regress of cats.

Matthews determined to review children and their capability for philosophical thought, introducing many individuals to the concept that children are severe thinkers. Over many years of conversations with kids, he discovered that “spontaneous excursions into philosophy” had been widespread from the ages of three to 7. And he was struck by the refined methods wherein children reasoned, in addition to the frequency with which they surfaced philosophical questions.

I’ve been struck by that too. I’m a thinker and a father of two boys, Rex and Hank. From the time they might discuss, they’ve requested philosophical questions and tried to reply them.

“I wonder if I’m dreaming my entire life,” Rex stated one night time at dinner. He was 4 and already a advantageous thinker, so the query didn’t shock me.

“What a cool idea, Rex! A guy named Descartes wondered the same thing. Do you think you are dreaming?” I requested.

“Maybe!” he stated, comfortable on the thought that he may be hallucinating. And then we went to work attempting to show he wasn’t. (Give it a attempt. It’s tougher than you suppose.)

My youthful son, Hank, received in on the sport too. When he was 7, I requested him whether or not God was actual. We talked about it for a couple of minutes, then he begged off.

“I don’t like to talk about this,” he stated.


“Because God would find it insulting—if he’s real.”

I informed him he was making Pascal’s Wager. The guess is known as after Blaise Pascal, the Seventeenth-century French mathematician who additionally dabbled in philosophy. “You’re thinking the same thing he was,” I defined to Hank: “that you should believe in God, so that you don’t upset him—if he’s real.”

“I’ve always thought that,” Hank stated. “That’s why I never want to talk about it.”

I’m not sharing these tales to brag about my children. In this respect, they’re completely unusual. Every child—each single one—is a thinker. In truth, they’re a few of the finest round.

Why? For one factor, children are continuously puzzled by the world. Several years again, a psychologist named Michelle Chouinard listened to recordings of younger kids spending time with their dad and mom. In simply over 200 hours, she heard almost 25,000 questions. That works out to greater than two a minute. About 1 / 4 of these questions sought explanations; the children wished to know how or why.

Kids additionally don’t fear that they’ll make errors or appear foolish as they puzzle issues out. They haven’t but discovered that severe individuals don’t spend time on some questions like “Am I dreaming my entire life?” Once they determine that out—at about 8 or 9—their spontaneous forays into philosophy stall out. Before then, they’re fearless thinkers, unconstrained by grown-ups’ ingrained habits of thought.

Developmental psychologists are catching on to children’ capabilities. Nowadays, most of them reject the concept that children’ minds enhance as they age. In The Philosophical Baby, Alison Gopnik writes, “Children aren’t just defective adults, primitive grownups gradually attaining our perfection and complexity.” Their minds are totally different, however “equally complex and powerful.” Child improvement, she says, is “more like a metamorphosis, like caterpillars becoming butterflies, than like simple growth—though it may seem that children are the vibrant, wandering butterflies who transform into caterpillars inching along the grown-up path.”

It can be great if we might assist children maintain on to a little bit of the butterfly as they become old. The world is a puzzling place. There’s a lot in it that doesn’t make sense, particularly now. If we will maintain children’ curiosity—and their willingness to go wherever their minds lead—they simply would possibly find yourself as extra discerning adults.

Kids may help adults recapture our personal braveness as thinkers, too. All we’ve to do is discuss to them and take them severely. Chances are the cleverest individual you understand can’t tie her sneakers. But with a well-placed why she will push you previous your capability to clarify on a regular basis issues, or name into query truths you maintain pricey. She may even make it easier to see the world in a brand new manner.

I spotted how smart children may be when Rex lastly discovered a solution to make peace with the likelihood that he may be dreaming his complete life. For years, we performed a recreation. Rex would attempt to discover a solution to show he wasn’t dreaming. I’d knock it down.

“Wouldn’t it be weird,” Rex stated at 7, “if you and I were having the same dream? And we have to be having the same dream if we’re talking to each other.”

“Yeah, that would be weird,” I stated. “But what if I’m not real? What if I’m just a character in your dream?”

He took time to course of it. And repeat it. And lengthen it.

“So my friends might be characters too?” he stated.

“Yeah, that’s right.”

We had been rounding the nook into our driveway. His mom, Julie, had simply arrived residence with Hank.

“What about Mommy?” Rex stated, pointing forward.

“She could be a character in your dream too.”

Rex’s face fell. And he stated, softly: “Then I don’t want to wake up.”

This article has been tailored from Hershovitz’s forthcoming ebook, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids.

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