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Recently I’ve been explicitly discussing philosophical questions with Leo. For example, this morning in the car we talked about mind body problems (If your brain was put into a clone of your body, which one is you? If parts of you were slowly replaced with a computer, all the way up to your brain being replaced by an AI, are you still there?), animal ethics (If cows and chickens could talk like people, would we still eat them?), friendship (Does it make sense to have two best friends? — Actually, in retrospect this might be more like a semantics/logic problem than a problem about friendship…more on this below), and basic ethics (If you look at someone else’s test that’s cheating, but suppose that you look at their test and see that they were wrong about something, and you tell them. Are you cheating? Is your friend cheating? Or at you both cheating? What if he does v. doesn’t change his answer.)

Leo actually had some really interesting answer to these. For example, he insisted that even though his brain was in the clone body, that his body was still him. Also, I asked him a question adapted from an ethical issues page at The Center for Philosophy for Children about what he should do if the teacher asks the class to draw a picture of their best friend. I asked whether there was anything wrong with that request, and he pointed out that people can have multiple best friends, which I hadn’t expected at all. (And which led to the discussion of whether you could have two best friends, mentioned above.) When I explained the problem that is mentioned in The Center’s discussion (linked above), that some popular kids would get a lot of drawings, while un-popular kids would get none, he had the idea that people should draw un-popular kids instead of their best friend, which although not what I would have thought of, is creative.

We talked about how, unlike math problems (according to me), some philosophical problems didn’t seem to have a correct answer. Leo immediately pointed out that some math problems don’t either, like the Godel paradox and zero divided by zero. Uh oh….! 🙂

There are some, although not many, online resources for philosophical discussions with children:

In a previous post I mentioned a great little set of YouTube videos called “8-bit Philosophy”, which address serious philosophical issues in a fun, and weirdly retro way. (I don’t know if the folks who make these are aware of the pun of making videos about dead philosophers that parody dead 1970s video games…but regardless of their awareness, the effect is great because it really grabs kids’ attention.)

Another, which I’ve also mentioned elsewhere in this blog is the terrific Philosophy Bites podcast. This isn’t really for little kids, but occasionally I come across one that I think Leo can understand.

The best that we’ve found is the one I mentioned above: The Center for Philosophy for Children, which provides a terrific list of children’s books that parents can have philosophical discussions around, and other resources. The director, Jana Mohr Lone has written a book, due out soon entitled “Philosophy in Education: Questioning and Dialogue in Schools”, which I’m greatly looking forward to!