Interview with Scott Hershovitz on Why Children Make Great Philosophers


August 30, 2023

Philosophy is often considered an intricate and abstract field reserved for seasoned thinkers and scholars. However, children’s unfiltered curiosity and untamed imagination can lead them to be unexpectedly brilliant philosophers. In an exclusive interview with renowned philosopher Scott Hershovitz, we delve into the intriguing realm of why children make great philosophers. Hershovitz, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Department of Philosophy, sheds light on children’s unique qualities that align with philosophical inquiry’s essence.

The Uninhibited Wonder

Children possess an unparalleled sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them. This sense of awe propels them to ask profound questions that can stump even the most learned adults. Hershovitz notes, “Children are unafraid to ask the ‘big’ questions – the ones that often escape us as we grow older due to our preconceived notions and biases.” This uninhibited wonder drives their philosophical inquiries as they seek to understand the fundamental nature of reality, existence, and morality.

Questioning the Obvious

One of the hallmarks of philosophy is questioning assumptions that often go unexamined. Children, in their unspoiled minds, excel at this. Hershovitz highlights how children can question even the most ‘obvious’ things, pushing adults to reconsider their long-held beliefs. “While adults tend to take things for granted, children are persistent in their pursuit of understanding. This quality enables them to challenge assumptions that might otherwise remain unquestioned,” he explains. Their natural inclination to challenge the status quo can lead to profound insights that align with philosophical thinking.

Embracing Uncertainty

Philosophy thrives in uncertainty – the exploration of concepts without rigid conclusions. Children, who are still forming their understanding of the world, are comfortable dwelling in this realm. Hershovitz notes, “Children haven’t fully developed their ego yet, so they’re not as concerned with appearing knowledgeable or ‘right’ in the way adults often are. This allows them to explore ideas without the fear of being wrong.” This willingness to explore the unknown without the weight of ego can lead to breakthroughs in understanding parallel philosophical thought processes.

Seeing Beauty in Simplicity

Philosophy often involves grappling with complex concepts and abstract ideas. Yet, children have a knack for finding beauty in simplicity. Hershovitz elaborates, “Children possess a remarkable ability to distill complex ideas into their simplest forms. This is a hallmark of philosophical inquiry – the drive to reduce intricate problems to their core essence.” Children’s ability to strip away the layers of complexity and focus on the heart of a matter can lead to profound insights that reverberate throughout the philosophical landscape.

A Fresh Perspective

Children bring a fresh perspective to philosophical discussions, unburdened by the weight of tradition and established norms. Hershovitz explains, “Children’s lack of exposure to societal biases allows them to approach ethical and moral dilemmas with a certain innocence and purity. This can lead to novel solutions and ways of thinking that adults might overlook.” Children can contribute a unique voice to philosophical discourse by stepping away from conventional thought patterns.

Encouraging Critical Thinking

Children are natural critical thinkers. Their unfiltered minds are not yet constrained by the need to conform to social norms or predefined structures. Dershowitz believes that “encouraging children to explore philosophical questions nurtures their innate critical thinking abilities. It teaches them to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information from a young age.” Engaging in philosophers discussions, children hone skills invaluable for navigating a complex world.

Fostering the Philosophical Spirit

Incorporating philosophical exploration into children’s education can yield lifelong benefits. Hershovitz advocates for introducing philosophical concepts in an accessible and engaging manner. “Engaging children with age-appropriate thought experiments and ethical scenarios can stimulate their innate philosophical spirit. It’s about nurturing their natural curiosity and helping them realize that asking ‘why’ is a gateway to profound understanding,” he suggests.

In a world that often celebrates complexity and experience, the untamed minds of children stand as beacons of philosophical brilliance. Their unfiltered curiosity, willingness to question assumptions, and capacity for embracing uncertainty make them exceptional philosophers in their own right. By recognizing and fostering these qualities, we can nurture a new generation of thinkers who approach the world with open minds and unbounded curiosity, perpetuating the timeless quest for wisdom and understanding.