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Guidelines for Your Philosophical Introduction

As with the question sets, the purpose of the philosophical introduction is to help adults lead philosophical discussions with our web materials. As you know, the thought of discussing philosophical issues with kids can be intimidating to those without any philosophical training. We want to help put their minds at ease by giving them a sense of what issues are addressed in the question set. So, to begin, you need to be very clear on what issues you have raised in your questions. (Hopefully, this is easy!) Then, what you need to do is to tell them a bit about the philosophy of the issue.

For Arnold Lobel's story “Dragons and Giants,” one might start the philosophical introduction like this:

Bravery is one of a set of concepts that philosophers have called “virtues.” These terms all refer to types of behavior that are deemed admirable. Other examples of virtues include “patience” and “self-control.” Virtue theory is one of the basic approaches to philosophical ethics.
When it comes to thinking about specific virtues, such as courage or bravery, philosophers disagree about a range of different questions. For example, it might seem that there are certain people whose work entails that they always act courageously, like a fireman or a policeman. The feature of their work that seems important here is that it is dangerous. So a fireman must be brave because he must confront dangerous situations as part of his job. But not all acts that are dangerous are courageous, nor are all acts that in which someone faces a danger courageous….

Again, the idea is to help the facilitator understand what the issues are that the question sets raise based upon this story.

Don’t make your introduction too long. You don’t want to intimidate the adult by having an overwhelming amount of information that they will feel they have to assimilate before beginning to talk to the kids. But be sure to give a sufficiently clear survey of the issues.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Do not include a long summary of the story. Your book module has a separate story summary before the philosophical introduction. What is crucial here is introducing the philosophy not the story. 2. Be clear about what the philosophical issues your question sets raise are, such as “What makes an action brave?”, and specify what philosophers have said about it. In order to develop this part of your philosophical introduction, you probably will have to do some research. There are a variety of different on-line sources that you might wish to look at:

a. Philosophy Talk:
b. Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
c. The Routledge Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy: access from the card catalogue at Mount Holyoke
d. Note: While wikipedia is often useful, its philosophy entries are often quite weak. So use it with extreme caution.

3. Once you have researched your topics, present the results in clearly written prose. You need to indicate different positions that philosophers have taken on the topics, so that the teacher/facilitator gets a sense of what the children might say. The introduction will help them recognize when the children are actually making interesting philosophical points. 4. You can indicate some of the ways in which the story presents the issues you have discussed if you think that will be helpful. Remember not to use this introduction to show off your knowledge of philosophy. The names of philosophers are not helpful and, often, neither are specific philosophical terms. Sometimes, though, as you outline different positions on an issue it is helpful to use philosophical terms.

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