I am sure by now we have all heard some version of the saying “Children are natural philosophers”. Children are imaginative, and they rely on their imagination to make assessments of the world around them; because of this, children seem to be inclined to some of the biggest questions considered in philosophical discourse. However, people shy away from this. They tell children not to concern themselves with such big matters, and to focus on the ‘better things in life’, like simply being a child. But I would argue that it is important for children to ask these questions, and it is important for those around them to at least attempt to offer an answer. Children may be natural philosophers, but I argue we all lose this skill over time because the world does not nourish it from childhood, and instead dampens our imaginations, making us less inclined to ask these ‘big questions’.
I remember being around 7 years old, not paying attention in class, staring out the window, and pondering to myself. This was until I heard the teacher yell my name, followed by the dreaded question, “What’s so important out the window that you can’t pay attention to class?”. “I was thinking!” I quickly answered, which was true, but also a desperate attempt to not get in trouble again. “Thinking about what?” the teacher asked. Excited to possibly have an answer to my question, I replied “Why is the world the way it is?”. Now I went to a Catholic elementary school, so of course, the immediate reply was “God.”, however, this was not a satisfactory answer for my young philosophy-inclined brain. “Why did God make the world the way it is then?”. “Because he did.” “Because why”. “God knows all, God intended the world to be this way”. “But why? Why like this? Why are the trees outside green? Couldn’t God make the world another way? Make the trees outside different colours? How do you even know God is real?”. “Enough with your questions. Principal’s office.”. And like that, I was sent out of class, my question unanswered, but now even more questions rattling my little brain.
However, over time I stopped asking questions like these. No one ever provided me with answers, no one even attempted to. Instead, I would be dismissed, or get in trouble for asking too many questions, especially hard questions. Soon enough, I stopped assessing things with my imagination and pondering out windows.
That was until I started University and took my first philosophy course, where there was a variety of answers to all the ‘big questions’ I have ever had. I fell in love immediately with the subject and the multitude of ways it can be studied and applied and switched my major on a whim (one which I have never regretted) after one first-year philosophy seminar. Then it hit me one day – why did nobody show me philosophy sooner? Why did nobody introduce me to it when I was a young child searching the world for answers nobody could give me? Why do people seemingly shy away from introducing their children to these complex concepts? Children are natural philosophers, and this should be nourished, not diminished.
Nowadays, when I sit down to write an essay, I try and put myself back into the mind of that curious 7-year-old girl who would stare out the class window and ponder life’s most interesting questions; I would give anything to be able to harness even one spec of her imagination into my philosophical discourse.