Video: Wartenberg on Children's Books

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 12:30
Thomas E. Wartenberg, Professor of Philosophy

The next time you get annoyed by a child’s incessant questioning about something you find trivial, it might actually be smarter for you to pay close attention.

According to MHC philosophy professor Thomas Wartenberg, children make great philosophers— and not just because they are similarly impractical, he joked.

“It just seems really odd to think, ‘How could kids be philosophers?'” Wartenberg said. “But it’s this idea of inquisitiveness. We philosophers are stuck in those (same) philosophical conundrums that kids are.”

The relationship between philosophical inquiry and the curiosity of children led Wartenberg to discover that many children’s stories, and the picture books that illustrate them, are good philosophical texts. So fine, he said, that they can also serve as an effective introduction to philosophy for adults.

His most recent book, A Sneetch is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children’s Literature, uses the seemingly simple narratives of children's picture books to acquaint grownups with the basic tenets of philosophical thinking, be it in social and political philosophy, the philosophy of language, or philosophy of the mind.

“In a lot of these picture books, they present an issue to you in a way that’s really fun to think about,” he added. “The questions that philosophers ask are continuous with the questions that young kids and adults wonder about. I mean, everyone wonders about the meaning of life.”

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