identity and populism begone! the role of philosophy in healing a shattered and divided world.




Populism, identity, democracy, person, narrative, dialogue, powerful thinking


Populism and tribalism are increasingly prevalent characteristics of so-called democratic societies. In this paper, I shall explore some of the reasons for this trend, including conceptual confusions about the nature of identity and the collectivist/individualist dichotomy; the decline of legitimate media outlets and their replacement by social media and their attendant narratives which have little regard for truth telling, consistency or moral norms; and the failure of voters to uphold their responsibilities as democratic citizens. I shall argue that while populism presupposes a formal democratic framework, it is actually incompatible with and, accordingly, a genuine threat to, democracy. I shall propose an epistemological and ethical framework based on the unifying concept of personhood which overrides the various tribes, groups, collectives and associations with which we identify, and which are, mistakenly, taken to constitute our actual identities. I shall also juxtapose notions of narrative and dialogue to suggest ways in which tribalism and polarization can be challenged. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most effective form of challenge is prevention, which underscores the importance of teaching children, from a young age, to be powerful thinkers. Powerful thinking is not merely an important educational tool; it is key to becoming persons who are self-aware, aware of others like them, and mutually aware of the world itself. Our identities as persons may be regarded as preconditions for asking and responding to what I call “the Big Questions” (including “How should I live?” “What are my responsibilities and obligations to others?”, and “How can I contribute to making the world a better place?”). It is here that philosophy for children and the community of inquiry have important roles to play.

Author Biography

laurance joseph splitter, University of Melbourne Education University of Hong Kong

Bio: Professor Laurance J. Splitter (BA Hons (Monash), BPhil, DPhil (Oxon), FACE)

Laurance Splitter has degrees in philosophy and mathematics from Monash and Oxford universities. He pioneered the introduction of philosophy in Australian schools in the 1980s. From 1988 to 2001, he was Director of the Centre for Philosophy with Children and Adolescents, within the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). He has recently returned to live in Australia after 14 years working in schools of education in the USA and Hong Kong. He has conducted workshops, seminars and conference sessions with teachers, parents, administrators and students of all ages in many countries. He has published on authenticity, intellectual dispositions, identity and citizenship, and cultivating the life of the mind through dialogue. His abiding research and teaching focus is on the transformation of learning environments into communities of inquiry. His latest book is Identity and Personhood: Confusions and Clarifications across Disciplines (Springer 2015). He is currently an independent consultant in philosophy and education, and an honorary Associate at the University of Melbourne and an honorary Professor at the Education University of Hong Kong. In October 2017, he took up a year-long visiting professorship at the University of Hiroshima, Japan.



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How to Cite

splitter, laurance joseph. (2019). identity and populism begone! the role of philosophy in healing a shattered and divided world. Childhood & Philosophy, 15, 01–21.



dossier: philosophical inquiry with children: new voices