Philosophy for Teens: Questioning Life’s Big Ideas

Title: Philosophy for Teens: Questioning Life’s Big Ideas.
Author/s: Kaye, Sharon M. and Thomson, Paul.
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Prufrock Press (2006).
Format: Paperback (200 pages).
ISBN: ISBN-10: 1593632029, ISBN-13: 978-1593632021
Area and topic: Philosophy and daily life/culture/experience. Key/important philosophical issues/topics/problems; Student text book. Practical philosophy. Thought experiments. Axiology (Ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, well-being).
Intended audience/ reading level: Secondary/lower or upper.
Purchasing and information: www.amazon.com
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘Philosophy for Teens’ is the first of two books. The second book, also reviewed on this site is titled ‘More Philosophy for Teens’. Both books are intended as classroom text books with activities and exercises. Whereas the second book is focused on epistemology and metaphysics, ‘Philosophy for Teens’ is concerned ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics.
Synopsis and/or additional information: All information is sourced from the above links (See purchasing and information).

  • There are four sections each with four chapters:
  • Part 1) Beauty. Chapters under this section include ‘What is Love’ and is ‘Beauty: a Matter of Fact or a Matter of Taste’.
  • Part 2) Truth. Chapters include ‘Is lying Always Wrong’ – notably, this chapter does tend to move into issues more fully discussed in the next volume of this series.
  • Part 3) Justice. Chapters include ‘What is Discrimination’ and ‘Do Animals Have Rights’.
  • Part 4) The chapters are ‘Why do Bad things Happen to Good People’ and What is the Meaning of Life’.
  • The volume ends with some extended thought experiments on the first two chapters of the book.
  • Although arranged topically rather than historically, in order to emphasize the connection between ideas, each chapter includes relevant historical details to offset the main text.
  • With regards to structure, ‘each chapter opens with a casual and realistic dialogue between two fictional teenagers who disagree about something [e.g., over whether moral rules apply to everyone or about whether God exists]. Their disagreement illustrates two philosophical positions on an issue, setting up the topic for the rest of the chapter … [E]ach chapter … explore[s] two or more sides of a classical philosophical debate. The debate always includes a ‘thought experiment’ to test the more controversial claims. At the end of each chapter there are reading comprehension questions, discussion questions, exercises, activities, and reference for further reading’.
Strengths: As written in the preface of the book ‘Our goal is to bring philosophy alive through active learning’. The book does have a very ‘hands on’ approach; thecontent is relatively jargon free, abstract ideas are made quite concrete with perennial problems being presented in a manner that is contemporary and relevant to teenagers in their day to day lives. Each chapter is short, well structured and there is a consistency and continuity in structure throughout all the chapters. Each chapter is designed to take up no more or less that one full two hour session. Although the text is set up as a philosophy course, the authors have explicitly made clear those chapters that are relevant to other secondary school courses (e.g. chapters 5 and 10 would work well in a history class), courses that range from science through to dialog work in drama class. Finally, the book (and its companion) is appropriate for lower secondary level students, a level that is under-represented for secondary school philosophy.
Limitations: The text lacks the depth of detail that other texts on philosophy for school offer e.g. the VCE and AQA series. ‘Philosophy for Teens’ is shorter in length and word count and is less structured than the VCE and AQA series with regards to school curriculum, standards and so forth. The book is written for an american audience.This is only a limitation however insofar as some of the phrasing and references may need amending to suit New Zealand students. The subject matter only concerns itself with issues of value. Assuming this is a lweakness however, it may be rectified by purchasing the second book in the series. Taken together, the two books cover all the main branches and areas of philosophy.

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