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P4C Weeks 3 and 4

Dear Parents,

We’ve missed a couple of philosophy sessions due to holidays and such, so have had only two classes since the last blog entry.

Here’s what each of the groups discussed in those two most recent sessions.

Lower El: The students continued their discussions of what does “real” mean by working to create and then refine their proposed definitions. They started with the hypothesis that they could tell if something is real if they can feel it or touch it. But they quickly came up with counter-examples of things that they were sure were real, but couldn’t be touched, such as anger and happiness. After much discussion of feelings, they decided to use the word “touch” for things that were physical, but reserve the word “feel” for things that are felt inside. So their definition remained the same, but one of the words in it was clarified, just for the purpose of this definition.

Then the students proposed other things that could not be touched or felt, such as the smell of a skunk or the sound of music. So they expanded their definition to things that could be experienced through any of the senses. But then they wondered about ideas -- they can’t be experienced through the senses, but are also not emotions. So the definition was expanded once again to include anything that goes on inside our heads: thoughts, ideas, dreams, etc. That’s as far as we got by the end of the last class, but I’m sure this will come up again. Next time, though, we will finally move past the first paragraph of our book.

Upper El: The students spent quite a bit of time refining their understanding of categorical statements. They looked at statements that start with “No” rather than “All,” discussed the differences in how they work -- “no” sentences can be reversed and maintain their truth value (we also discussed the difference between truth value and validity) while “all” sentences can’t usually be reversed, though the students discovered identity statements, a special category which can be reversed. They diagrammed the two types to make clear why they work the way they do, and learned the proper names of the statements and their constituent parts, so we won’t be calling them “all” and “no” statements any more: they are the Universal Affirmative and Universal Negative. Soon we’ll be encountering two more types.

The students also read the rest of the first chapter of Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery, and proposed topics for discussion from their reading. They seemed especially interested in expressions that we hear and use often, but don’t really make any sense, such as “make a beeline:” bees actually don’t usually fly in a straight line, as you might think from the expression. One expression in particular, “his mind wandered off,” prompted the beginnings of a discussion on the difference, if any, between “mind” and “brain,” which we’ll be sure to return to in another class.

Middle School: The students raised several topics in their book, Lisa, but two in particular seemed especially to grab their interest. One, which we’ll return to in a later class, is the conflict between one’s actions and beliefs. This came up in the book when Lisa sprang to the defense of a dog that was being mistreated, but was very happy to eat a chicken dinner. In this preliminary discussion, students also wondered about the differences between human and animal rights, between the way we treat animals that we see as cute and those we do not, and between necessary and senseless violence.

The topic that most intrigued them, though, was Confirmation Bias. This is a natural human tendency to notice, interpret, or give credence to those things that confirm what we already believe, and to discount or explain away data that conflicts with our beliefs. The students played several rounds of a game designed to demonstrate our tendency toward Confirmation Bias. We then discussed how this can happen in our everyday lives, such as when we have made up our minds that a certain person is mean or nice, and then we interpret everything they say or do in a way that confirms our initial impression. They saw this applied in situations as varied as optical illusions and climate change denial.


Matt Berman


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