the paradox of philosophy for children and how to resolve it




philosophy for children (p4c), student-centred learning, critical thinking, imagination, sir method


There is a paradox in the idea of philosophy for children (P4C). Good teaching starts from the concrete and particular, and it engages with each student’s individual interests, beliefs, and experiences. Preadolescents (and to some extent everyone) find this approach more natural than a more impersonal one and respond better to it. But doing philosophy involves focusing on the abstract and general and disengaging oneself from one’s personal interests and beliefs. It involves critiquing one’s attitudes, seeing abstract relations, and applying general principles. So, if good teaching focuses on the concrete and personal, and good philosophy on the abstract and impersonal, how can there be good teaching of philosophy to children? I call this the paradox of philosophy for children, and in this paper I explore how teachers should respond to it. Should they sacrifice good teaching practice, adopting a heavily teacher-centred approach in order to correct their students’ natural biases? Should they lower their expectations of what philosophical skills children can acquire? Should they even attempt to teach philosophy to children? The paper will argue that there is a better option, which exploits children’s imaginative abilities. The core idea is that by encouraging children to imaginatively identify with other perspectives, we can use their natural focus on the concrete and particular to lever them into more abstract, critical ways of thinking. In this way, their focus on the concrete and personal can be the very means to get them to think abstractly and critically. The paper will go on to outline a general strategy for implementing this approach, the Scenario-Identification-Reflection (SIR) method, which will be illustrated with examples drawn from the author’s own classroom practice. The paper will also respond to some objections to the proposed strategy and offer some general reflections on the SIR method.

Author Biography

maria kasmirli, 1) university of sheffield, uk 2) school of european education, heraklion, greece

Maria Kasmirli is a philosopher and teacher. She is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, UK, and a teacher at the School of European Education in Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Maria's doctoral research was on the Gricean approach to conversational implicature, and she continues to work in philosophy of language and communication, especially on issues relating to consent. She also has interests in philosophy of education and is working on the theory and practice of teaching philosophy to children (P4C), drawing on her extensive experience as a teacher for the European Schools organization.


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How to Cite

kasmirli, maria. (2020). the paradox of philosophy for children and how to resolve it. Childhood & Philosophy, 16(36), 01–24.



philosophy and childhood: theory and practice: presentation