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Primary school children are being introduced to Philosophy by the The University of Exeter Philosophize scheme.

Exeter Primary School Children take on Plato and Aristotle

Great philosophical questions such as ‘What is art?’ and ‘Should you always tell the truth?’, are being debated by Exeter primary school children, with the help of University of Exeter philosophers.

Local children age 9-11 are considering big questions, such as ‘Is the most important thing in life to be happy?’, through a University of Exeter scheme to introduce children to philosophy and improve their debating and analytical skills.

Among the existential questions – modified to appeal to children – they are discussing is: ‘If you put your brain in a robot’s body, would it still be you?’

The children at five primary schools in and around Exeter (Bowhill, Countess Wear, Ashburton, Bearnes and Offwell) are being introduced to great philosophers including Aristotle, Plato, Kant, and John Stuart Mill. Ethical theories such as utilitarianism are explained though fun fictional stories children can discuss as well as debates on ‘What is bravery?’ and ‘Are there some things that are always wrong?’

After six weeks of attending weekly philosophy clubs, students on the Philosophize scheme will get the chance to interact with real philosophers and philosophy students culminating in an academic conference at the University of Exeter in March.

Studies have shown that philosophy can boost the attainment of disadvantaged children, and improve their spoken language. The Exeter children are being encouraged to develop their communication skills by making a case for their belief and refuting opposing views on ‘an opinion line’. Among the questions they are being asked to consider, using philosophical terms, are 'Is there such a thing as the most important thing in the world?' or ‘What's the best quality in a friend'?

Children will be asked to debate big ideas – such as ‘Is the most important thing in life to be happy?’ and answer intriguing questions in the ‘Would you Rather...’ game, such as ‘Would you rather be a penguin or a polar bear?’ with the help of Exeter University philosophers and philosophy students.

In one of the sessions children will also look at ‘What is art?’ and ask themselves questions such as ‘Can animals create art?’, ‘Can art happen by accident?' and ‘How many people have to think that something is art before it is art?’ They will also consider what beauty actually is.

The University of Exeter Philosophize scheme, for children in years 4, 5 and 6, was set up and is being run by philosophy graduate Laura Kerslake from the Graduate School of Education. The scheme, involving five primary schools in and around Exeter, is funded by the University’s outreach programme and donations from University Alumni.

Laura Kerslake said: “Some people are surprised that we are doing philosophy with primary school children, but we've heard some brilliant discussions that have shown us just how deeply children can think about big ideas - we've been so impressed with the interesting ideas that they've been sharing. We're hoping that through the Philosophize project the children might start to think about going on to university to study philosophy themselves. They are very excited about the Philosophize Conference at Exeter University. It will be the first time some of the children have been to a university, so we think it's a great opportunity for them to think about their options for the future.”

Date: 10 February 2017

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