Philosophical Sensitivity

When teachers and family members ask me what is needed to foster philosophical conversations with children and youth, I usually talk about what I call philosophical sensitivity. I have written about the concept in this blog in the past.

I don’t think you need a degree in philosophy or a deep background in the history of philosophy in order to engage in philosophical inquiry. Academic philosophy is one way to do philosophy, an important way, but not the only way.

What you do need for philosophical thinking and discussions, I believe, is a heightened awareness of life’s philosophical dimension. By that I mean, the deeper questions and puzzles that shadow almost everything we think and do and say.

To develop this sensitivity requires curiosity, a comfort with uncertainty, and a love of wonder and wondering. It also requires a willingness to listen to other perspectives and an openness to reevaluating your own ideas and conclusions. This includes being willing to listen to children’s thoughts and reflections, without the filter of unexamined assumptions about what children can and cannot do, and to seek out the philosophical content of what the children in your life are saying.

Developing this sensitivity takes time and practice. It requires slowing down, paying attention to those idle wandering thoughts and questions that can be fruitful sources of philosophical reflection. Being willing to follow a thought without demanding a final and settled conclusion and to imagine possibilities that might seem fanciful or even impossible. Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Philosophical sensitivity involves imagining beyond accepted knowledge to conceive of creative possibilities and ways of understanding our world.