General Background to P4C

Philosophy for children, communities and colleges (P4C for short) is a practice designed to develop the capacity to think creatively and critically with other people. It involves the establishment of communities of enquiry where the participants build on each other’s ideas, subject arguments to scrutiny and support each other in the development of understanding around issues of importance to the participants themselves. The essence of the practice is the formulation of good questions by the participants which then act as a basis for dialogue and discussion. The aim is not to reach a definitive answer to the questions but rather to explore underlying concepts leading to greater awareness of a range of opinions, beliefs and viewpoints.

P4C develops the capacities necessary for a genuine deliberative democracy in that it rehearses the skills of listening, of argumentation and of dialogue. Such collaborative activity leads to a greater tolerance of views at the same time as building confidence and emotional intelligence. This leads to more balanced and thoughtful judgements about issues of importance and consequently to better democracy. From the above description it will be clear that P4C is not about philosophy but could better be described as ‘doing practical philosophy’. Not only is the practice effective in the ways described above but it is also very enjoyable.

Philosophical influences for P4C include active and sustained dialogue as practiced by Socrates and the links between knowledge, experience and inquiry developed by John Dewey.

‘I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situation in which he finds himself.’ Page 84 of Dewey, J. ‘My Pedagogic Creed.’ In The Early Works (1895 to 1898)

Dewey and Socrates both viewed philosophy as of practical importance to all our lives and not as some esoteric pastime. Dewey sums this up in the following sentence:

‘Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.’ ( Dewey, J. 1917 The Need for Recovery of Philosophy. quoted in Talisse and Aikin, 2011, p138.)

Talisse, R. B. and Aikin, S. F. 2011. The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce through the present.. Princeton: Princeton University Press.