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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Socratic Wisdom & The Knowledge of Children | Issue 131 - Philosophy Now

Photo: Maria daVenza Tillmanns
Maria daVenza Tillmanns, former President of the American Society for Philosophy, Counseling, and Psychotherapy (ASPCP), and currently practices philosophy with school children in San Diego, uncovers the natural philosopher in us all.

Photo: © Amy Baker 2019 instagram.com/amy_louisebaker
Reading Plato’s dialogues always left me thinking that in the end one could never fully know or describe the nature of the concepts their star Socrates and his friends were discussing, for instance, what it means to be courageous in Laches, or the nature of friendship in Lysis. Nonetheless, one could still have some grasp of their meanings and how to apply them; a grasp that can be improved by debate and criticism. In this way, my reading of the dialogues usually showed me the limits of our rational knowledge of the world while leaving me with a deeper understanding of something, be it bravery, friendship, or love. For example, this deeper understanding would not only help us to recognize an act of courage, but confirm what we intuitively understood it to be in the first place.

Several strands of Eastern philosophy try to give us a deeper sense of reality through showing the limits of rational thought. Ultimately speaking, the yin and the yang, the opposite principles, do not contradict each other, but rather complement each other. The aim of Zen koans (the most famous one being ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’), is to guide students to enlightenment by way of giving the rational mind no way through. Where the rational mind hits a wall, enlightenment can emerge. Socrates brings his interlocutors to a place of not-knowing similar to that of masters of Zen Buddhism, which is the place of enlightenment or wisdom. Many of Plato’s dialogues leave us with a sense of aporia ( α π ορια ), meaning ‘at an impasse’ (of puzzlement). We are ‘at a loss’, perplexed. What we thought we knew, we have to admit we do not know. On the other hand, we may also have developed a deeper sense of what, say, love or courage means. This shows that where purely rational knowledge fails us, we may still develop a deep sense of understanding.

‘Philosophy’ – philo-sophia – means ‘love of wisdom’, and not ‘love of knowledge’ (which would be philognosis). Reading Plato’s dialogues clued me into what mattered in life. The dialogues clearly show that a lot of what we think we know we cannot give words to and explain rationally. But the process of finding this out gives us wisdom. Perhaps this is why the Delphic Oracle told Socrates that he was the wisest Athenian: he knew that what he knew he could not impart to others through gnosis, but rather through sophia...

Children Are Natural Philosophers That was the beginning of my interest in philosophy for childre. In the years since, I’ve often been struck by how insightful they are. I believe children come into the world with a moral compass built-in. Children see connections between things intuitively, and this is what I want to build on in my philosophical discussions with them.

Because young children have not yet developed standard cognitive skills to express themselves, they use their imagination, and they rely on it to convey their understanding of the world. Imagination is the language of intuitive knowledge, springing from our inborn relationship with the world. Imagination is also the language of fairy tales, legends and myths. It reaches far into the world beyond the evidence of our senses, and is therefore philosophical in scope. Intuition and imagination are why children are natural philosophers par excellence.
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Source: Philosophy Now