Sheffield Branch Seminar
Philosophy for Children, or P4C, is a worldwide movement that aims to promote skills of thinking, reasoning and dialogue by engaging school children of all ages in group philosophical discussions. P4C sessions present children with a thought provoking ‘stimulus’ (a story, picture, activity or question) and help them have a discussion about the philosophically interesting issues it raises. P4C appears to result in a portfolio of beneficial effects. Weekly participation appears to improve test scores and measure of ability throughout the curriculum – including in mathematics, literacy, and IQ. Moreover there is robust anecdotal evidence, and emerging empirical evidence, that regular P4C sessions significantly impact emotional well-being, behaviour and self-esteem. Whilst there is a growing consensus that regular participation in P4C has this distinctive package of cognitive, emotional and behavioural benefits, there is no consensus as to why this is.
In this talk I look to the field of embodied cognitive science for an explanation. The past 20 years have seen the gradual emergence of a new picture of human rationality as importantly emotional and interpersonal. Recent work from a variety of disciplines, including evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience and social psychology, suggests we should replace our image of reasoning as a dispassionate, solitary and internal activity with one that sees it as an emotion-laden and interactive attempt to coordinate the activity and perspectives of two or more agents. The best way of getting someone to accept a conclusion isn’t to present them with an array of evidence and a series of logically valid inferences – it’s to emotionally engage with them in a way that brings them to see the world from your point of view. P4C fosters and supervises the development of exactly these emotional and interactive skills, encouraging children to explore and redescribe the same situation from a variety of perspectives, and to coordinate their perspectives with those of their classmates. This, I argue, is why P4C is an effective way of promoting domain-general reasoning abilities that can be applied across the curriculum, and why repeated engagement with P4C brings with it a distinctive suite of social and behavioural benefits.