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Philosophize with Children and Teenagers

An American philosopher makes the beginning

The main impetus for children's philosophy came from America, where intensive studies have been carried out since the end of the 1960s. Matthew Lipman, Professor of Logic and Philosophy at Columbia University (New York) for twenty years, was a pioneer in this field. In 1968, during the student unrest, he realized that something fundamental needed to be changed in the field of education.

He recognized that children have many ideas and inclinations of their own and heard the philosophical dimensions in children's questions.

The natural desire to ask questions was stifled by the artificial pressure to ask questions at school.

Lipman founded the "Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children" (IAPC) at Montclair State University (New Jersey) in 1974. Since then, Matthew Lipman, Ann M. Sharp and numerous colleagues have developed comprehensive curricula. Philosophical children's books have been developed - not theoretical introductions, but stories that deal with children's everyday life situations and problems. A handbook for adults has been published for each child’s book to help adults recognize philosophical content and better respond to the philosophical dimensions of children's questions.

Philosophizing with children and teenagers in Austrian schools

In 1982, the first attempt was made in Austria to bring philosophizing closer to children in elementary school. Children were encouraged to think about their own thinking.

The subject of "philosophy" is particularly suitable for this, because philosophy cannot be confined to a specific subject and brings oversight and depth. Since children and young people are searching for wholeness, perfection and understanding, philosophy offers a counterbalance to the specialization and detailed knowledge of school subjects.

In addressing the basic learning goals

  • Improving language and thinking development
  • Promotion of critical thinking
  • Promotion of empathetic thinking ("caring thinking")
  • Development of creativity
  • Promotion of the ability to dialogue
  • Promotion of the ability to reflect
  • Promotion of the understanding of democracy
  • Promotion of resilience
  • Promotion of personal and social development
  • Promotion of tolerance
  • Promotion of media competence

the emphasis is on the promotion of independent thinking (e.g. reasoning, deducing, planning, recognizing preconditions, assessing consequences, etc.), the promotion of personality development and the formation of social skills.

In recent decades, children's philosophy has laid significant foundations for beginning the philosophical-pedagogical process in early childhood - which aims to enable children to develop their own personality, problem-solving skills, self-criticism, the ability to deal with conflict, and empathy, as well as to support them in developing differentiated perception.

Philosophizing with children and teenagers promotes competencies and skills that are essential to recover our future according to a "sustainable development". These are both cognitive and social competencies: recognizing the future as a task of collective action, critically analyzing our perception of reality and our way of life, normative thinking and reasoning, recognizing paradigms and the ability to consider alternatives, holistic thinking and the ability to participate in dialogue.

In a democratic society, it is imperative to promote reflective and enlightenment skills in order to empower each individual to navigate life through self-thinking rather than authoritarian dictates.

"Philosophy and democracy call us to use our judgment, to choose the best form of political and social organization for us, to recognize for ourselves our values, in short, to become in a comprehensive way what each of us is, namely, a free human being." Federico Mayor Secretary General of UNESCO

Why philosophize with children and teenagers?

When philosophizing with children and teenagers, it's not about reproducing factual knowledge, but rather engaging in an activity. The aim is to make children and teenagers aware of their abilities to argue and to build upon these skills. However, it's not merely a reduction to conceptual, argumentative, and classifying thinking, nor is it just about adopting certain rules and conceptual content of existing language games. It's about making them conscious of their own language usage, which is then reflected upon.

The primary task of philosophy for children and teenagers is thus not only to make them aware of non-verbal communication norms but also to practice developing their own concepts and thinking abilities early on, as well as sharpening their own perception together with others. This way, children learn to deal with various situations together with others and develop a certain judgment.

Through shared conversations and dialogues in which participants have equal say, children and teenagers should be supported in defining and justifying their ways of thinking and acting. Critical thinking should make it easier for them to make decisions and perceive various perspectives and alternatives. Ultimately, they should be empowered to take responsibility even in an increasingly complex and complicated world.

Especially in a time when traditional values are being rethought and sometimes overturned, and when structures and norms are constantly changing, it's important to encourage children to think for themselves and to promote their judgment so that they can be tolerant, open to new ideas and solutions, without becoming completely insecure.

The "interaction of pluralities" − such interaction with others becomes noticeable in language, leading to a sharpening of perception. This practice of conscious language use, attentive and vigilant listening, observing, and perceiving leads to a critical yet open-minded attitude that does not allow worldviews to be imposed. (Ekkehard Martens)

This engagement with different ideas, concepts, and ways of life can not only help reduce violence and aggression but also develop solution strategies and offer conflict resolution assistance. When philosophizing with children and teenagers, not only competencies such as reflection and dialogue skills are promoted, but also abilities such as individual resilience are strengthened, to better cope with times of crisis.

Goals of the philosophy of children and youth

  • Since philosophy deals with fundamental problems of human existence, such as the relationship between humans, nature, and technology, or between the individual and society, children and teenagers can become aware of their own questions and thoughts by discussing such issues. It also involves understanding a rapidly changing society and world. In this sense, philosophy can be a potential support in coping with fundamental questions in development.
  • As philosophy is about clarifying thoughts, developing discussion and argumentation skills (clear expression, articulate formulation, logical thinking), becoming aware of language in general, fostering dialogue, and exchanging opinions and experiences, engaging in philosophy together is a key means to promote mutual respect, openness, and tolerance.
  • Philosophizing can also greatly support one's own, independent, critical thinking through methodical conceptual thinking.
  • Philosophical reflection takes place together with other children and teenagers. They experience joy in discovering things for themselves, raising questions in exchange with others, and ultimately finding solutions and answers. This process fosters a "Community of Inquiry."
  • Philosophizing enhances self-esteem. Children and teenagers become aware that their thoughts are valuable, significant, and often unique.
  • It helps to recognize interdisciplinary connections.
  • It promotes competent enlightenment and engagement with the opportunities and risks of technologies - media literacy and ethics.
  • It fosters critical, creative, and empathetic ("caring thinking") thinking.
  • Philosophizing can make a significant contribution to building an understanding of democracy. The prerequisites for this, namely the cultivation of human rights, mutual respect, tolerance, and solidarity, are practiced in philosophy.
  • Philosophizing about ethical questions offers guidance; one can consider how one would act based on examples, and together, they can come to an examination of actions. This can also be done through thought experiments. This contrasts philosophy with moral pedagogy.
  • Philosophizing aims to educate respect for the achievements and views of those who think differently. It aims to counteract dogmatic solidification and ideologically dependent manipulation in fundamental questions of our lives and thinking.
  • Philosophizing strengthens individual resilience to better cope with times of crisis.
  • Last but not least, attention should be drawn to the interest, joy, and pleasure children and teenagers find in philosophizing.


Institut für Kinder- und Jugendphilosophie

Karmeliterplatz 2/2. Stock
A- 8010 Graz

Tel.: +43 (0)316 90370 201
Fax: +43 (0)316 90370 202

Opening hours

Mo - Do 08:00-16:00
Fr 08:00-12:00

and according to telephone agreement

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