Ancient Philosophy Teacher's Guide

Philosophy Teachers' Guide

Greek school

Young people are really very interested in philosophy, as they are just beginning to becme aware of the great questions that people have been asking for thousands of years. Historyforkids breaks these questions down into three big categories:

1) Ethics: Is there such a thing as Right and Wrong? How do you know?
What is right and what is wrong?

2) Fate or Predestination: Can people choose their actions and make their own destiny, or is it all decided beforehand by fate? Is there any way to know the future?

3) Natural World: How did the world get here? Did God make it? Why? Is there any pattern or sense to the natural world, or is it just a bunch of random stuff?


In teaching ancient philosophy, we suggest you begin by asking your students (or your children) to consider one of these questions on their own, and discuss it with you and with their peers. When they have thought of most of the main problems on their own, you can begin to introduce some of the answers that people have suggested over the millennia, and also point out some questions that they may have missed. This should lead to further discussion.



Here are some more specific suggestions for each of the three questions:

1) Ethics: you might begin with a difficult court case that has been in the newspapers lately. Or, you might begin by discussing what they would do in a given difficult situation , and then discuss how they would make their decision. For instance, if they were in a position to cheat on their girlfriend, what would they do? Or in a position to cheat on a test?
The board game Scruples, with some of the adult cards taken out perhaps, might help to generate discussion here.
You should be prepared for committed religious beliefs to emerge here, and have a strategy for defusing situations where some students may not respect each others' beliefs.

You might move on to see what Socrates had to say about ethics, and what the Buddha had to say about it, and Judaism. How about Mithraism? The Koran?

2) Fate: If they begin by saying of course people control their own actions, a discussion of horoscopes and the signs of the Zodiac might get them started. There may be some whose religion tells them that God predestines everybody's future too.

The Greeks had a lot to say on this subject, and so did Augustine, and of course Hinduism.

3) Natural world: Begin with a field trip or a nature object like a pinecone where they observe something and then try to explain why this happens, and then discuss whether there is a grander purpose to all of this.

The Babylonians were great observers of the natural world, but Aristotle was the first to try to organize and systematize the information. Buddhism has an answer to this question, and the Islamic philosophers had a different one, and so did the medieval philosophers like Abelard and Aquinas.

There's an interesting discussion of children and philosophy here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/children/

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