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הפורום האקדמי הישראלי לפילוסופיה עם ילדים באוניברסיטת חיפה:

25 באוקטובר 2012


By Nicole Decostre

During modern History, our culture has undergone several emotional shocks among many others. Touching the public opinion as well as the individual conscience, these shocks had a strong impact.
·         First, Copernic declared that Earth is not in the center of the Universe, destroying the naïve anthropocentrism: Humanity was no longer at the center of a supposed Creation.
·         Then, Darwin put us in the chain of life starting with simple molecules, and explained the relationships established between all living and fossil life forms. The human being is not an apart being who dominates the laws of Nature, but a product of a long elaboration from primitive cells.
·         Freud uncovered the unconscious and its hidden power upon our lives. It became a revolution in the traditional psychology as well as in the pedagogy and represented a defeat for the optimistic cartesianism considering that our conscience, guided by reason, is able to guide our total behavior.
·         Nowadays, the cognitive sciences go further in the new definition of human being. Reason has been considered for over two millennia as its defining characteristic. In their book, Philosophy in the Flesh, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson show that rational processes cannot be considered apart from emotional processes.[1]


Education constitutes the only way to resist to irrationality. It is here that Matthew Lipman, with his “Philosophical Community of Inquiry”, can play a fundamental role, not only by his cultivation of reasonability, but also by his sensitivity to an affective life as well as by his esthetic concerns.
Such a community represents a context containing actions, thoughts, feelings, and meanings, which make up a complex unit. It is based on the recognition and acceptance of cultural, ideological, religious or social differences between the participants. It obeys to specific rules and norms. The participants listen to each other; they respect the others’ ideas; they build on one another’s ideas; they draw inferences, and so on.
Lipman encourages a complex thinking, a thinking that is aware of its assumptions and implications as well as of the reasons and evidence that support a conclusion. We’ll see further that the emotions play for him an important role. It is why we can say that the CI participates to an open epistemology.

The philosophical dialogue

The CI supposes not only the recognizing of the young people as able to think, but also the idea of the dialogue as educating the emotions, mastering and refining one’s thinking, far from the beliefs, convictions and prejudices.
By their capacity to self-correction, the participants to a CI are prepared to recognize what can make for bias, prejudice or self-deception.
Exploring collectively what can be admitted, even temporarily, among the testimonies, the experiences, the recognized facts, the CI creates empathy and transparency through a true dialogue. A dialogue aiming to the construction, as well as to the deconstruction, of beliefs. It exercises a strong influence on the social and cognitive aspect of the CI.
Concerning science, I think here more precisely to a book published in Australia in 2011: Discussions in Science. The author is Tim Sprod, a scientist and a philosopher, a “lipmanian” teacher. On the model of Lipman, he has written stories, which are followed by discussion plans and exercises. They concern the methods used by science, the ethic problems, the place of science in society, and so on.[2]

The problem of testimony

In a CI, different sorts of testimonies are proposed. Oral testimony – like any testimony – should never be taken in consideration without suspicion and criticism. Manipulated, it can express everything.
For a testimony to be admitted, at least three conditions are necessary. It is still more necessary if that testimony goes against something accepted, even officially. Here are the conditions:
·         The person who proposes something new has to be credible. This is not always easy to determine. If the person is an academic authority or if she or he has a great expertise, that authority or that expertise is not automatically recognized.
·         People to whom that new testimony is given must be receptive, favorable, or at least neutral or indulgent. They should have an idea of the subject that is talked about.
·         The testimony should not shock directly beliefs, prejudices, or an accepted system. This poses the question of transgression: Are many people capable of transgression? The true knowledge, the real inquiry is constantly transgressing the beliefs, the convictions, and the ideas.


Truth and objectivity are difficult to reach. Objectivity in a discussion in a CI is an ideal revealing itself still more difficult with the new discoveries of the neurosciences:
(I quote)
“It is assumed that philosophical inquiry can proceed without knowing or caring about the details of how human beings happen to conceptualize what is being studied. Research in cognitive science leads us to disagree. (…) To understand what counts as a meaningful answer, one must study the conceptual systems of the philosopher engaged in a philosophical inquiry. (…) We believe that a detailed study of the cognitive science changes our understanding of philosophy as an enterprise and should change how philosophy is done as well as the results of philosophical inquiry.”[3]
Philosophers, linguists, logicians make many efforts to make of language a mirror of reality and of ideas. To precise his or her thinking, to find words for what hasn’t been thought yet is subject to continual research. This is in fact a very lipmanian preoccupation! (cf. among others, Suki, Writing, Why and How). It is very important because rhetoric or poetry, or esthetics can arouse emotions.

Reason / Emotion

Here is what George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write in Philosophy in the Flesh already cited :
(I quote)
 “Reason is not disembodied. To understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system (…) and the mechanisms of neural binding. (…) Reason is mostly unconscious (…), is largely metaphorical and imaginative, (…) is emotionally engaged. Since reason is shaped by the body, it is not totally free. We are not free to think just anything.”[4]
In their acknowledgments, Lakoff and Johnson honor the two greatest philosophers of the embodied mind, Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey:
(I quote)
“John Dewey, no less than Merleau-Ponty, saw that our bodily experience is the primal basis for everything we can mean, think, know and communicate. He understood the full richness, complexity and philosophical importance of bodily experience. (…) For their days, Dewey and Merleau-Ponty were models of what we will refer to as ‘empirically responsible philosophers’. They drew upon the best available empirical psychology, physiology and neuroscience to shape their philosophical thinking.”[5]
 We mustn’t forget that Matthew Lipman was a disciple of John Dewey and a friend of Merleau-Ponty. Here is what he writes in 1957 in his article entitled “The Aesthetic Presence of the Body":
(I quote)
“The body provides an inexhaustible source for a vocabulary of expressive forms, a vocabulary that is continually being enriched. Whether we consider the immense sensuous appeal of the living body, (…) we are compelled (…) to reckon with the response of the body as an integral and ineradicable component of artistic and aesthetic experience.”[6]
We see how far Lipman was about acquisition of  bodily language and how he was binded to Dewey and Merleau-Ponty !
Every expression is a translation and implies feelings and sensibility. It is often necessary to use of myths and of metaphors to be understood. Through metaphors, myths, poetry, story telling and all forms of art, an esthetic effect can arouse positive energy facilitating acceptation and understanding.

The myth

The French philosopher and anthropologist Jean-Pierre Vernant in La Traversée des frontières invites us to be careful about that: it exists nothing as the myth, nor as the reason.[7] Similarly, there are many procedures of rationalization, which are different for doctors, for philosophers, for astronomers, and so on.
Mythos and logos were not so much opposed to rationality and irrationality in the ancient times than they are today. They open two different ways to obtain adhesion. Concerning the myth, a tale imagined with heroes, gods and action, that adhesion is obtained by emotion, by an easy pleasure and also by its pretention to a global explanation. Logos is interesting by its logic, its argumentation, its chronological development, its conceptual rigor, and by the pertinence of its criteria. But it doesn’t open to emotion.

The metaphor

Much has already been written about metaphors, in French as well as in English. Here again, I’ll borrow some sentences and some ideas to Lipman and to Lakoff and Johnson.
(I quote Lipman):
“It is possible to distinguish between implicative and ampliative thinking. The first exemplified by deduction, extends our thoughts without enlarging it. The second, as exemplified by induction and the use of analogy and metaphor, represents cognitive breakthroughs.”[8]
And here Lakoff and Johnson :
Metaphors are often used as concepts. Here are some examples: If we don’t understand an idea, we can say – or think – that we don’t “grasp” it, or that it is “going over our head”; if we understand, we can say that we “see” it; or it can express a subjective judgment by smell: “this movie stinks” or by motion:  “time flies.
Those metaphors are part of the cognitive unconscious and they come automatically.
Conceptual metaphors are used to reason with. Our most abstract concepts are conceptualized via multiple complex metaphors. So these metaphors are an essential part of those concepts.[9]
“Primary metaphors, from a neural perspective, are neural connections learned by coactivation.”[10]
Some people may ask if metaphor is really conceptual. For them, there is a problem for the traditional theory for which metaphor is just a matter of words, not thought, or is a bad use of the words. In that tradition, the role of language is to express and communicate some basic truths about the world. Because of this, metaphor has been relegated in domains where truth is not sought to be at issue (poetry, fictional literature, rhetoric) rather than being taken seriously by truth-seeking enterprises (science, mathematics, philosophy). For Johnson and Lakoff:
(I quote)
 “Eliminating metaphor would eliminate philosophy. And it is true of all abstract thought, especially science. Conceptual metaphor is what makes most abstract thought possible. It is the very means by which we are able to make sense of our experience. Conceptual metaphor is one of the greatest of our intellectual gifts.”[11]

Lipman and the emotions

In Thinking in Education, Lipman considers that the role of the emotions has to be reexamined. The emotions have been ascribed an undesirable epistemological status : they are supposed to have a distorting effect. Because of the Cartesian tradition, they have often been considered as the cause of falsehood or of error. He mentions Damasio’s book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain.[12]
Emotions are now considered as a set of conditions that may be able to clarify and organize the thinking. Emotive thinking is a form of thinking and caring thinking is a form of emotive thinking. For Lipman, caring thinking is paradigmatic of all forms of emotive thinking.[13]
“The emotional frames of reference in terms of which we think can affect our judgments. (…) Even the kind of thinking we call ‘critical thinking’ is attuned to the emotional requiredness one feels for exactitude, precision, consistency and efficiency. We should therefore vigorously oppose the dualist approach that considers the cognitive and the affective to be separate and autonomous functions that merely play off one another contrapuntally.”[14]
Of course, for Lipman, the emotional education is part of the moral education. That can be discussed in the CI. For example, how can emotions be connected to other emotions, to ideas, to concepts, to persons or groups of persons? How determine if the feelings of characters are appropriate?[15]
Many people consider they cannot control their feelings. Lipman writes that we have to learn under which circumstances fear or pride or joy are suitable and under which they are not.
“A well-constructed curriculum and pedagogy will seek to bring to better understanding and perhaps even to expression those emotions such as joy and friendship that are appropriate but are sometimes repressed, just as it will seek to inhibit those emotions that encourage self-destruction and other-destructive actions.”[16]


In History, innovation has generally not been welcome. And if we consider, for example, what happened to Darwinism through History, we can see how long and hard that reticence can be. The rethinking of our convictions comes against our intellectual comfort, our more or less conscious desires and the idea we have of ourselves.
Even a searcher, and a scientist, sometimes resist to something they had never thought possible or imagined before. Empathy and reflexivity are necessary to overcome those obstacles, which are often qualified “natural”.
As we often want to be praised, to keep what we believe as true, we don’t easily accept a change. We want to keep our criteria because they are part of ourselves, of our deepest personality, of what we consider as our identity. It is not easy to accept that the world is not there for us and that it has no aim, the aim to facilitate our aspirations. In Psychoanalytic Techniques, Freud speaks about the risk of favoring special facts or concepts and to "forget” others, which leads to no discovery except of what we already know.[17]
Marcel Mauss, in Sociology and Anthropology, considers that an embedded faith produces great incredulity. And he makes an interesting difference between the belief in magic and the belief in science: the first is a belief a priori and the second a knowledge a posteriori.[18]
In all domains, science continually breaks our prejudices, our naïve hopes, and our unrealistic projects. It is not astonishing if many people dislike it and if science provokes all sorts of reactions, generally constituting regressions to lost illusions. Maturity and a deep sense of relativity of things are necessary to endure such shocks.

How to resist?

If resistance has been useful in every period of History, it seems to be more important nowadays because of the coming back of sacralisation. Sacralisation, bound to emotion, represents a real danger for the world peace as well as for the social peace. It is in fact absolutist, closes the mind, and destructs the democratic dialogue. It obeys to sacrilege, encourages all forms of violence and of communautarism.
Matthew Lipman’s program goes therefore against the traditional defects of what is often called human nature. This resistance is very important for the humanistic ideal.
Such approach would avoid empty discourses and offer rigorous inquiry. Most of all it would avoid any manipulation (political or religious) and emotional conditioning. Moral and ethical education would be pursued.
Lipman is deliberately exterior to any system, to any doxa, to any ideology except that of the democratic ideal promoting peculiar values: openness, solidarity, justice, tolerance, respect, and other such values. These values are usually not found in the ordinary debates where the relations are often aggressive.

Role of the imagination

Edgar Morin, a French sociologist and philosopher, spent twenty years working on a reform of our way of thinking. He takes in account biology and imagination. Imagination organizes reality. For him, homo sapiens is at the same time homo demens and, as he writes in La Méthode, every system of ideas and even a scientific theory is often blind because of its principles. This system therefore risks rejecting what doesn’t correspond to those principles.[19]
Lipman too refers to imagination in Thinking in Education:
“Without experience, imagination is likely to become quickly irrelevant, and without imagination, experience readily becomes tedious and pedestrian. In combination, however, as they are in metaphors and analogies, they can open up unsuspected ranges of alternative possibilities.”[20]
Jen Glaser considers that imagination plays a pivotal role in the activity of developing a moral orientation to the world. It enables our minds to think within another’s point of view, to participate in virtual worlds. In an article she wrote with Ann Margaret Sharp, she borrows to Annah Arendt the expression of “visiting imagination” and to Martha Nussbaum that of “judicial spectatorship”.[21] For her, imagination is present in the structure of philosophical inquiry in at least three ways:
(I quote)
1.    In creative thinking – our move to imagine things other than they are.
2.    In moral thinking – in the move from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ from the question “Who am I?” This move takes us from a sociological interest in world description to a philosophical interest in world construction – to questions such as “How ought I live?” and “What kind of world do I want to live in?”
3.    In the bodily metaphors that give philosophical inquiry some of its most characteristic expressions – expressions that give evidence of the way sensory experience is internalized in conceptual thought.[22]
In the continuity of her conception, imagination is very useful to understand other points of view, to conceptualize, to find solutions to a problem, to have an idea of things going beyond our scientific knowledge (the Universe, for example) or beyond our own experience. Here I think of the way Tim Sprod helps us to represent ourselves, with a critical mind, how the dinosaurs lived.[23]


For a good CI, the animator has to be conscious of all the traps he or she has to avoid. He or she has to make his or her own self-criticism, to support the self-criticism of the participants, the spirit of cooperation despite the shocks of thinking and of feeling. He or she has to be conscious of the epistemological obstacles introduced by Bachelard in 1938 (La Formation de l’esprit scientifique), it’s to say the unavoidable presence in the thinking individual’s mind of preconceived and misleading ideas derived from the very nature of language and culture. He or she has also to be careful about the traps of the language and of moralization, to avoid authoritarianism, indoctrination or sacralization. All that is very difficult without a severe training and without a lucid good wish. Nevertheless, it is most important for a living democracy.
In conclusion, we can say that through its atmosphere, its discipline, its evolution and the collective effort of understanding and of progress, the CI represents a good way to an open epistemology is an excellent tool for a really human communication. The participants bring freely their contributions. Because of anthropological realities (origin of the participants, their culture, their degree of instruction, and so on), these contributions are varied. All that has to be put together to obtain some coherence. Not only the participants are supposed to become more tolerant, more flexible, they become more able to listen to other arguments or to a new knowledge and to propose them, to persuade and be persuaded. They can better live with the others so that citizenship becomes for them a second nature.
Such a CI is deeply political. There is an equality of chances for all the participants, boys and girls, foreigners and natives. It also permits, in all possible subjects of discussion, to stand back from the multitude of opinions. It is at the same time technical by the fact that there is a methodology: not only the goal is important but also the way to reach it.
Of course, the Philosophical Community of Inquiry cannot be the universal panacea. The difficulties are much too great ! Anyway, does it not constitute the most coherent and most complete pedagogic effort to provide a communication to a superior cognition and, at the same time, to respect the meanders of emotion?
*          *          *


Gaston Bachelard, La formation de l’esprit scientifique, PUF, 1938.
Sigmund Freud, La Technique psychanalytique, PUF, Paris, 2007.
Jen Glaser, “Embodiments of imagination in Philosophical Inquiry”, in a volume to be published in Annales de Philosophie de l’ULB ( N. Decostre), Vrin, Paris.
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, Basic Books, New York, 1999.
Matthew Lipman, “The Aesthetic Presence of the Body”, Journal of Aesthetics And Art Criticism,  XV, 1957.
Matthew Lipman, Thinking in Education, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2003.
Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, PUF, 1950.
Edgar Morin, La Méthode, t. IV, Seuil, 1999.
Ann Sharp and Jen Glaser, “Thinking Together: Arendt’s Visiting Imagination and Nussbaum’s Judicial Spectatorship”, in Thinking, The Journal of Philosophy for Children, vol. 14, n° 1, Montclair State University Press, NJ, 1998.
Tim Sprod, Discussions in Science, ACER Press, Melbourne, 2011.
Jean-Pierre Vernant, La traversée des frontières, Seuil, 2004.

[1] George Lakoff and Mark Johson, Philosophy in the Flesh, Basic Books, New York, 1999, pp. 4-5.
[2] Tim Sprod, Discussions in Science, ACER Press, Melbourne, 2011.
[3] Lakoff and Johnson, op. cit., pp. 135-136.
[4] Lakoff and Johnson, op. cit., pp. 4-5.
[5] Id., op. cit, p. xi.
[6] Matthew Lipman, “The Aesthetic Presence of the Body”,  Journal of Aesthetics And Art Criticism, XV, 1957, pp. 434, 428.
[7] Jean-Pierre Vernant, La Traversée des frontières, Seuil, 2004, p.123.
[8] M. Lipman, Thinking in Education, 2d ed., Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 249.
[9] Lakoff and Johnson, op. cit., passim.
[10] Id., p. 57.
[11] Id., p. 129.
[12] Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Putnam Publishing, 1994.
[13] M. Lipman, Thinking in Education, p. 130.
[14] Id., p. 130-131.
[15] Id., passim.
[16] Id., p. 134.
[17] Sigmund Freud, La Technique psychanalytique, PUF, Paris, 2007, p. 86.
[18] Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, PUF, 1950, p.85.
[19] Edgar Morin, La Méthode, Seuil, 1999, t. IV, p.130.
[20] M. Lipman, Thinking in Education, p. 60.
[21] Ann Sharp and Jen Glaser, “Thinking Together: Arendt’s Visiting Imagination and Nussbaum’s Judicial Spectatorship”, in Thinking, The Journal of Philosophy for Children, vol. 14, n° 1, Montclair State University Press, NJ, 1998, pp. 17-24.
[22] Jen Glaser, “Embodiments of imagination in Philosophical Inquiry”, in a volume to be published in Annales de Philosophie de l’ULB ( N. Decostre), Vrin, Paris.
[23] Tim Sprod, op. cit.

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