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The Philosophy Files

Updated on June 13, 2013

Let's Think About It

Anyone who has had much experience with children will know that they love to ask the big, tricky philosophical questions...often leaving us adults temporarily lost for words. Wouldn't it be good if there was a book that they could refer to that would not only present, in a simple way, attempts to answer these questions by the great philosophical thinkers but also stimulate original thought and reflection?

Well there is!The Philosophy Files, by Stephen Law is just such a book. Although primarily designed for older children,[probably around 12 onwards] The Philosophy Files [25 Short Adventures in Thinking] is also a good read for adults interested in venturing into philosophical waters and if read by both parent and child, can spawn a great deal of lively and interesting discussion. There's also a Philosophy Files 2 which contains more philosophical teasers and conundrums for teenagers for anyone who wants to explore further.

Rene Magritte...Philosopher's Lamp
Rene Magritte...Philosopher's Lamp

For Budding Philosophers

This is a challenging, stimulating as well as humorous book. Each section is self-contained and if you wish, you can just dip into whatever philosophical question takes your fancy. It's all pretty interesting, as Law examines such fascinating puzzles as;

Could a machine think?

Does god exist?

Where did the Universe come from?

Is time travel possible?

What makes things right and wrong?

While the author doesn't necessarily give answers, he does offer various points of view and introduces the reader to key philosophers and their arguments-all in a way that is very easy to read and digest. It's a kind of user-friendly, budding philosophers guide.

Law is an atheist but not a moral relativist. He believes young people should not be passive receptacles of moral codes but rather be encouraged to think, talk and express their own opinions about ethical and moral issues.

Personally I'd like to see a child-friendly version of philosophy introduced into school curriculums as an alternative to religious instruction...thus children could be taught how to think...rather than what to think.

About the Author

Law was a Junior Research Fellow at Queens College, Oxford where he obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy. Interestingly, he was "asked to leave" his sixth form college at Cambridge and went off to become a postman but at 24 he convinced City University [London] to accept him for the Bsc in Philosophy, where he obtained first-class honours, later moving on to Trinity College, Oxford to read for a B. Phil.

He is now editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy Journal, Think and a senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, London. He's written several books dealing with philosophical issues, including The Philosophy Gym, an introduction to philosophy for adults.

Like Alain de Botton, who, among other things, wrote the eminently readable Consolations of Philosophy Law's objective is to make philosophy accessible to the average reader and not keep it isolated from the public in the sherry-drinking comfort of the philosophy professor's lair.


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    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks racedude

    • 1racedude profile image


      7 years ago

      Very well written article. Thanks!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I saw and enjoyed 12 Angry Men just a couple of weeks ago on ABC2. So quick to judge weren't they...?

      Cheers Rod

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      Sure yes with capital punishment we would be going backwards.

      In the 1930s Humphrey Bogart was in a movie that dealt with the issue of capital punishment. Basically a man was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. For a time America was against capital punishment. Now there are some states in the USA for it and some preferring the life sentence in its place.

      We are close to the USA in many things but I would say that we have a slightly different morality code. Meanwhile with some countries our morality code is very different.

      Check out the movie 12 Angry Men some time. It has one of Fonda's best performances. A jury comes close to convicting this punk kid from a lousy neighborhood of killing his father. Only one juror holds out because he's not sure all the evidence adds up. It is a movie that makes you think about all different kinds of prejudice (age, race, background)and this one man who just wants to be convinced by the facts that the kid really did do it.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Well we're both pretty clear about stoning then...;) I doubt capital punishment would ever return to Australia. I certainly hope not, as that would mean we were going backwards.

      Still there's that '20 years from civilisation to barbarism' thing, so we mustn't be complacent.

      Thanks Rod

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      I totally agree that it is wrong to stone a woman or anybody. In the New testament Jesus stopped a woman from being stoned and that is definitely part of own moral compass whether we see ourselves as Christians or not.

      I believe that stoning anyone is wrong anywhere but I also know that there are places in this world where people have a completely different view and thus a completely different understanding of morality. I also believe that capital punishment is morally dicey at best and I would not like it to be introduced back into Australian society in any form. The last man to be hung in NSW turned out to be innocent of the crime that got him hung. Meanwhile there is capital punishment in Indonesia and also in the USA.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Rod, I completely agree with your central point about beachgoers being able to wear bikinis and such in peace. Absolutely.

      As to the stoning, my argument is that it doesn't matter whether a particular culture considers something a moral imperative or not. I'm not a relativist on serious moral issues, so if we can reason that's it's wrong to stone a woman's wrong anywhere.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      I have grown up in Australia as I take it you have. For at least a hundred years there has been a definite beach culture. Since at least the 1960s women have been wearing bikinis as well as other forms of swim wear at Australian beaches. Both males and females enjoying the beach in summer has become our collective tradition and is the way we wish to live.

      When people from elsewhere come in and insist that women should not enjoy the beach the way they have since at least the 1960s then of course there will be trouble. I was afraid of having my family traditions stripped away as was my nephew. So yes there was fear. And fear often leads to anger. What right has some Johnny-come-lately to tell anyone from my family how to dress when they are following a well set and respected tradition?

      Sure there was some pretty ugly posturing on both sides. Me? I don't like violence but I can understand why young men would want to fight for the rights of their women. Chivalry isn't completely dead in this country. My nephew was angered and it was all his mother could do to stop him from being at Cronulla during the riot. A percentage of those that were there felt they were defending their liberty, their right to enjoy the beach the way it has always been enjoyed. Why should women be discriminated against just because some overseas faction thinks it is a good idea? Of course not all Muslims are like that but the fear that too many Muslims here want to or need to change our way of life is with us. Yes, the police if they had stepped in months before the riot could have stopped it from happening.

      We might argue that stoning a woman to death for adultery is morally wrong but in some parts of the world it still happens and it is not only considered morally acceptable but a moral imperative.

      Yes always good to be here.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Rod,

      Well, I understand your point about the Cronulla riots ... mob 'justice' is never a good idea. Look what happened? That was no way to solve a conflict. if girls on the beach were being harassed because of their swimwear, that was a job for the police I agree. However the riot brought out more than popped the lid on those underlying tensions, hatreds and fears. There was some pretty ugly posturing on all sides.

      As to morality, some superficial things might be relative and culturally the graffiti, but I still think there are universals that do apply . For example,we can reason that stoning a woman to death for adultery is immoral in itself...wherever it occurs, irrespective of cultural context. Of course each country will make it's own laws but that doesn't make them right.

      By the way, happy to see you and thanks for commenting on these older's good to give them an airing.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      Jane, all of those questions stated I am still struggling with and I am considered an adult. A book full of possible answers or directions might well help the young.

      As for whether God exists, I will definitely find out the answer to that one in about fifty years.

      As for the truth, it is often based on perception and bias.

      What is right or wrong? Usually it is based on both ones upbringing and the law. I think graffiti on trains is wrong but there seem to be young and not so young people that disagree with my view possibly because they have a different social background.

      Justice is also tricky but one thing I know about it is that it has to be seen to be done. Years ago we had the Cronulla riot which was based on young people coming to the conclusion that local law enforcement for whatever reason could not bring justice to the beaches. A young girl is harassed for wearing a bikini and the police do nothing? More girls are harassed and the police do nothing? Finally a lifeguard in the performance of his duties is punched. That was the last straw. People in general wanted to protest for justice and to basically have their beaches free from those who come from elsewhere to intimidate. It of course got out of hand. In the beginning the local guys knew what they wanted. They wanted their girlfriends, sisters and mothers to feel safe on Australian beaches and they felt that their girlfriends, sisters and mothers had a right to this. It has been said that justice deferred is justice denied. In other words the Cronulla riot need not have happened if the authorities had been doing their jobs properly and had not had one hand tied behind their backs due to political correctness considerations.

    • Lee B profile image

      Lee Barton 

      8 years ago from New Mexico

      I wish I had had this book when I was teaching 12-year-olds. We did have some interesting discussions on questions such as--What is truth? What is justice? I really could have used some back up!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      8 years ago from UK

      Never heard of him before and I am obliged to you for bringing him to my attention. Thank you :-)


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