Chapter 7

Zeus

But this was a long shot, she knew.  She had heard of people sleeping in the temples to speak to the gods, but had always doubted if it really worked.  However, she had already spoken to a god recently, so maybe they would speak to her again.  And if anyone knew about freedom then it was the gods.  They must be free to do anything, she thought.  Who could be more free to do something than a god?

 

Time is running out for Socrates and Delphi is getting desperate.  And why had all these strange things started happening to her?  If anyone could help it would be the gods.  Surely, they can do anything.  Can't they?

 

Big Questions:

  • Can a god do anything?

  • What does 'free' really mean?

  • What is free will?

 

Skills focus:

  • Discussing abstract ideas

  • Using logic about abstract ideas

  • Finding examples

 

Lesson Overview

This lesson challenges children to start thinking about philosophical problems in more abstract rather than concrete terms.  This is achieved by developing children’s logical thinking through attempting some philosophical puzzles.  The lesson uses the mind mapping technique to help children unpick the word ‘free’ and what its potential limits are – revisiting and developing the mind map through the lesson.  The chapter also references some famous arguments about the nature of God from medieval philosophy – the idea of creating an immoveable boulder and the problem of free will – within the context of the Greek gods.

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Lesson Blog: Zeus

November 2019

Hi everyone,

We’re up to week 8 of our lesson blogs, and it’s amazing now to see how far the children have come.  It really struck me this week how much the previous sessions had prepared them for this week, where we take on some properly abstract problems, as well as some classic philosophical questions.  The learning focus for this session takes the children from responding to big questions with their own opinions, to responding to philosophical arguments.

As you’ll see, they did a remarkable job.  By the end of the lesson my class of mostly 7-year olds were reasoning and explaining ideas clearly about ideas of God, freedom, determinism and free will.  As their teacher, I found it all rather thrilling to be honest!

The opening discussion asks the children to consider the most ‘free’ person they could imagine, building on the ideas about freedom which we developed during the last session.  The children were confident in giving their response, and we got a range of responses, from adults to animals and robots.  One child suggested “Angels because they can go anywhere and do anything,” while another clearly knew which direction we were heading in as he suggested “All the gods who have ever lived, all rolled up together.”

For this session, we lead the children in creating a mind map of their ideas, helping them to keep track of their thinking and make links between the different ideas as they arise.  To start with, it looks something like this.

The story this week follows Delphi as she dreams her way to Olympus, to meet the gods so she can plead for Socrates’ freedom.

Delphi arrives on Olympus

As well as admiring Rosie’s gorgeous illustrations of Olympus, we also reflected on whether gods really can do anything.  Was there anything they definitely wouldn’t be able to do?  In previous years and with older children, we’ve had suggestions like ‘destroy themselves and then come back to life’ – but this year the children wanted to focus on the moral questions around free will.  One particularly interesting discussion explored whether gods could control people.  The children didn’t realise they were talking about free will and determinism, of course.  But they were.

Children discuss gods and people

From here, as Delphi meets Zeus and accidentally goads him into trying to achieve something impossible, we started to add ideas about ‘impossible’ to our mind map too.  This discussion and activity is really about logic – can we come up with an idea which doesn’t make logical sense in reality? 

Once they’d heard a couple of ideas from Delphi (who is always on hand to help in the story if children are initially struggling for ideas), the children soon got the hang of it.  Suggestions started from having loud, quiet music or giant, tiny playdough, to this powerful image: “You can’t make infinite people go on you,” and then the very clever: “It’s impossible to have something that’s impossible but also possible.”  It got a round of applause.

This led us to a philosophical classic about the nature of omnipotence.

Immoveable boulder

It took a bit of unpicking, but soon the children were able to explain what the problem is – if Zeus creates the indestructible boulder then there is something he cannot do, namely, destroy the boulder.  But if he can’t make the boulder indestructible, then there is still something he cannot do.  You could practically see the light bulbs appearing over the children’s heads as it clicked.

Delphi and Socrates’ conversation then turns to the subject of free will and our mind maps were getting more and more full by the minute.

The discussion that followed was the most advanced the children had ever achieved.  We started philosophy lessons a couple of months ago.  Now the children’s ideas were advancing so quickly, I could barely keep up with them.

Free will discussion 1

I loved the reference to a ‘brain in a jar’ – another famous image of philosophy, and one this 7-year-old had just reinvented for himself.  The children led the discussion back to the idea of money, and how this might affect free will.

Free will discussion 1

I have to admit, by this point I was getting goose bumps.

By the time Delphi was saying farewell to the gods, the children were arguing about some of the biggest questions we can ask.  Are we in control of our own actions?  Does the existence of god destroy the idea of free will?  Is freedom a necessary condition of being alive?  Are we in control of our brain or is our brain in control of us?

Not bad for a group of seven-year olds who have been practising philosophy for only a couple of months!  Keep reading to discover how Rosie’s Year 5 class responded – and how they took it even further.

The children were very happy to dive straight back into Delphi after our half term break. They were especially excited to recognise a familiar name on the board at the start of the lesson – Zeus. Doing Delphi Philosophy alongside our history topic has been perfect this year. It’s really helped the children understand the context of Delphi’s story and the significance for the people of that time in world history. I also have felt the sense that the children are almost living what they are learning about Greek life through Delphi too, which is an added bonus. Well, this week, we would be using our prior knowledge of the Greek gods and goddesses to power us through the lesson!

This chapter begins with Delphi having a grand idea to sleep in a temple overnight in hope that she would receive some help from the gods to free Socrates. Lots of children felt this made sense. Lots of children thought she was mad. Quite normal reactions I have come to expect. Lots of scope for debate. As she’s drifting to sleep, Delphi begins to think about what a completely free being would be like. Freedom was an abstract concept that had been fed into the previous chapter, The Perfect Bedroom, and it was going to be the main focus of this lesson too.

I allowed the children time to brainstorm their responses to Delphi’s thoughts. Quite unexpectedly, the majority of the class thought that somebody who was completely free would be arrogant and selfish. They felt it wasn’t a good thing to be completely free. One boy was very confident with his answer and said: “Red lights would mean nothing to a completely free person. They would be selfish and crash into other people because they didn’t care.” It was fantastic to see so many of the children immediately jumping into giving examples to support their ideas and consider consequences completely independently. The skills from previous lessons are clearly having an impact. Another child’s response was interesting because they said that it depends on the type of person. A good person who is completely free would be better than a bad person who is completely free. This led to a discussion about whether freedom makes you a good person or not. It didn’t take long for us to begin thinking about what being completely free actually means. I was absolutely blown away when one child let out: “Well, we can’t EVER be completely free because our souls will always be trapped by our bodies.” Jaws literally dropped. All I was thinking to myself was: This is a nine year old. The development and the confidence the children had worked on since our very first discussion eight weeks ago to push their thinking is just phenomenal!

Anyway before I get too carried away, back to the story where Delphi wakes up and finds herself unexpectedly in Olympus, surrounded by all of the gods and goddesses she believed in (although not as she would have predicted them to be.) As a side note, the picture of this scene is perhaps my most favourite scene that I illustrated out of the whole story. It was so fun to bring to life all of the amazing (and surprising) ideas that David had imagined these gods to be doing, including a couple playing table tennis and one of them knitting!  I wanted to create an image that captured all this madness in one scene and it was so satisfying to see the awe and laughter that came from the children first laying eyes on it. It gave a totally different take on the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece compared to the grand, mystifying paintings and sculptures that are famous from the time. It provided a lot of humour to the story.

As Delphi approaches the door the great, golden office of Zeus with Athena at her side, she begins to think about the gods. Is there anything a god cannot do? The children were given some more time to add to their brainstorms a response to this question. Immediately, they recognised that if gods were immortal then they couldn’t die. However, a few mythology experts in the room challenged this idea and identified certain Greek gods who were known to have died, for example Zeus’ father. Some said that gods can’t destroy the universe but were instantly responded with the argument that perhaps they could and they just were choosing not to. Then came an absolute corker: “the gods can’t be me, and they can’t be you. If they were me then I wouldn’t be me.” BAM – we were into the realm of personhood and identity. It was astonishing the leaps we were taking into abstract thought, it felt like a lesson that could have gone on for years as the class pushed deeper and deeper into the concepts we were exploring.

Delphi, quite bravely, dares to ask Zeus, the king of gods, if there is anything a god cannot do. After Zeus chooses to laugh it off, she asks if he can make a square circle. At this, Zeus gets rather angry because that idea is logically impossible. You cannot have a square circle. This idea then challenged the children to begin thinking about other ideas that Delphi could suggest that would be logically impossible. Admittedly, the class found this very tricky as it is such a difficult concept to think about! We worked together to come up with some suggestions, including a flat mountain or a straight curve. Delphi takes it one step further however and challenges Zeus to create a boulder he couldn’t pick up. Rather foolishly without thinking, Zeus snaps his fingers and all at once his office is filled with a gigantic immovable boulder. Zeus tries to pick it up but can’t. Delphi has proved her point.

Things quickly move onto the reason why Delphi had come to see Zeus in the first place – Socrates. If gods can do most things, surely he can free Socrates? Zeus admits that he can’t due to free will. It is Socrates’ choice that he wants to remain in jail, he can’t change that. This was a poignant moment for my class as free will had been brought up in our previous Delphi lesson by a couple of children as being the definition of freedom – making a choice for yourself. We had a short discussion on whether it was fair of the gods to give humans free will or whether it would be easier if things had been decided for them already.

Although Delphi didn’t find the answer to her problem just yet, a lot was gained from her experiences this lesson. The children learnt and explored deeper into the concept of freedom and began to use logic in their thinking. Their ability to listen and respond to other’s ideas in a more mature and coherent manner was particularly effective this lesson. They weren’t afraid to challenge themselves and others in their thinking with many taking brave steps into unknown territory. This lesson very much felt like we were on a journey together as one. We had so many ‘wow’ moments from individual children – it made me so proud to be their teacher. I love that I can share my passion for philosophy with them and that they can come on this journey with me. Every person has an inner philosopher, no matter how young (or beardless) you are.

 

You can tackle these big questions, and meet Zeus yourself, by teaching this enquiry to your class too!  Download the Zeus Enquiry Pack by clicking the link below, or you can download the entire Delphi the Philosopher scheme by clicking here!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

(Explicit consent has been obtained to publish the photos and videos on this website. Do not copy or replicate these in any way. Many thanks to parents/carers for their support and to Mrs Hegedus, TA superstar, for taking the photos.)

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