“I heard he thinks he’s the best speaker in the city now. After what happened with Socrates,” Plato muttered. “You should ask him what fair means.”
Delphi had a Thought. It was one of those Thoughts. The kind of Thought that once you’ve had it, your brain just won’t behave in the same way again. She wanted to be like Socrates? Right then…
“Yeah, OK,” she said, and got up.
Delphi is in the Agora and is desperate to help Socrates - but no-one's listening to her. Like many things in Athens, it's not fair. But when Delphi sees Miletus - the very man who got Socrates arrested - she gets an idea.
What does 'fair' mean?
Can we define ideas like 'fair'?
Do we not really know what it means?
Identifying a philosophical argument
Evaluating the success of an argument
Asking about the meaning of an idea
This lesson helps to develop the children’s skill in discussing abstract ideas, with a focus on evaluating existing philosophical arguments. The chapter is a classic Socratic dialogue – where the children will follow a philosophical discussion between two characters and give their response to each argument. The issue that is being discussed is the meaning of ‘fair’, and through the chapter three different definitions are suggested and all rejected. By focusing on these arguments, discussions will develop the children’s comprehension, logical thinking and reasoning skills.
Lesson Blog: Miletus
The weeks are ticking by and we are getting towards the conclusion of Delphi the Philosopher with our classes. By this point, I’ve become more and more aware of the progress the children have made. We had a real breakthrough in our lesson last week, where the children started to argue about abstract ideas confidently. I was hoping we’d be able to build on these skills this week as we take on a full philosophical dialogue. Enter one of the men responsible for Socrates’ arrest: Miletus.
This story was written as a classic Socratic dialogue, with Delphi playing the part of Socrates. This was actually one of the first chapters I wrote – I was really keen to see if I could make Plato’s approach to philosophy accessible even to seven-year-old children. It begins with Delphi and Plato in the Agora, thinking about what isn’t fair. Delphi thinks of lots of examples, and the children do too – mostly about their brothers and sisters getting more time on the tablet than they did, though a few thought it wasn’t fair that they couldn’t have superpowers!
Delphi, putting on a suspiciously charming persona, asks Miletus what ‘fair’ means, just as Socrates used to when meeting people in the Agora.
The challenge for the children is to see whether they can think of an example which breaks this definition – something that seems to be fair, but involves people being treated differently. This is a different skill for the children than they have practised before as now they are using their abstract thinking to evaluate a philosophical argument instead of coming up with their own. The children came up with an interesting range of examples!
Two of the children had a long discussion about soya milk. One had a sister who had a dairy allergy, so they had different milk to each other. Was that fair? They agreed it certainly wouldn’t be fair if they were both treated the same in this case – either one sister would get an allergic reaction, or if they both had to have soy milk, then that wouldn’t be fair because the other sister hated the taste of it!
It was great to hear the children engaging with the logic of this enquiry. As the story continues, Delphi agrees with the children that this definition doesn’t always work, so Miletus tries again. This time he suggests being fair is “treating people as they deserve to be treated.”
The children found this harder, but the great thing about Delphi is that the story is always there to support the children when they need it. After hearing a bit more of the story, it started to click what might be wrong with this definition.
It was a classic ‘circular definition’, and I drew this out for them on the board. Bit by bit, more and more children were able to try and explain this. We continued the story and Miletus has a third go, this time saying fair is “knowing how to treat people.” While some children agreed with this definition, there were also some children starting to see the problem we were encountering here.
Another boy agreed, saying that we had come up with three different definitions and “we don’t know what’s the best one.” How can we decide which definition is best, or even, fair? It was great to see the children’s evaluation skills working even at this abstract level now – something they simply would not have been able to do a few weeks ago. This was obvious to us all, as something finally dawns on Delphi at the end of the chapter.
This moment struck a chord with many of the children, and it was one of those lessons where the children kept wanting to tell me what Socrates meant even as we were lining up to go home. When I asked the children, a few weeks later, which enquiries they had particularly enjoyed, this one came up often. It is a very simple story compared to some of others, but many enjoyed the process of having an idea, challenging it, and creating a better idea. In other words, it wasn’t just the story and the jokes they had enjoyed. What had captured their imaginations was the process of doing philosophy itself.
These sorts of enquiries work really well for almost any age group – over to Rosie and her Year 5 class:
I have been looking forward to this lesson for quite a while now, particularly since my class had been showing signs of abstract thought from around the Perfect Bedroom lesson. This week was all about abstract thinking and determining an understanding for the idea of ‘fairness’ so I was excited to see where our lesson would take us today. I am happy to tell you now, it did not disappoint!
“It’s not fair” becomes quite a catch phrase and so I asked the children what they thought wasn’t fair about the world they experience today. I was immediately met with a range of hands, desperate to tell me what they thought. “It’s not fair I have to get up early.” “It’s not fair that adults can decide when they have a day off.” “It’s not fair that my sister gets to watch TV longer than I do.” Then came the more brutal ones. “It’s not fair that I have a sister!” “It’s not fair that I have to go to bed early and my parents watch TV too loud!” I have to say though, I wasn’t expecting a nine year old to then say: “Brexit isn’t fair!”
So, after we let all of our griefs off our chests, we continue to follow Delphi. What follows is something quite marvellous and I absolutely loved reading it to my class. By the time we came to share our responses, it was quite clear that many children felt that Miletus’ first definition wasn’t an accurate description of what fair means. Here are some responses we heard:
“If someone did a crime and went to jail then to be fair to them everyone would have to go to jail.”
“If a child was getting bullied then everyone would get bullied as well.”
“If we were all treated the same then we wouldn’t be able to have competitions or our class raffle draw.”
“Socrates was put in jail for asking questions so Delphi should be too because she’s asking questions now.”
There was one idea, however, that could save Miletus. Cake! We discussed how if we had a class cake to split between the 31 of us and I had a quarter and everyone else had the remaining three quarters shared between them, would that be fair? Of course not! A child then argued as a result of this that everyone needs to have food so even a bad person should be treated the same as a good person so they can survive. I asked them then to rate the definition out of 10. Most children concluded that this argument had some credibility but also some flaws so it wasn’t an absolutely accurate definition for what is fair. It was interesting that one child still gave the argument nine out of ten and I asked her why. She replied, “It wouldn’t be fair to disagree with Miletus because then we wouldn’t be treating him the same as everyone else. Most of us agree with one another so we should agree with him.” It did bring a smile to my face to see that application!
Of course, Delphi works this out too and Miletus, realising his mistake, changes his idea. He states this time that ‘Fair is when every person is treated as they deserve to be treated.’ Again, I asked the class their opinions and whether this would work in practise. Here’s what happened:
Firstly, quite a lot of children agreed this was more accurate than the previous definition. Some of them were happily writing down suggestions like if a baby was to hit someone, they wouldn’t be punished in the same way as someone older would be. Conversations and discussions were getting stronger within the room and there was definitely a buzz of debate present. At one point I had to intervene when two boys, who were passionately arguing for separate sides, were starting to get louder and louder in their discussion! (They shook hands and agreed to disagree with one another!)
When it came to sharing as a class, this was a real highlight. The children seemed to take on ownership for the debate themselves, with lots directly replying to other children’s ideas and challenging them with further questions like Delphi was doing with Miletus in the story. There was so much discussion and so many different scenarios brought up that I couldn’t possibly write it down. One girl’s argument did stand out for me though in response to this second definition. She thought that Miletus’ second version was just the same as the first version. She argued that first of all, it was difficult to know what people deserved and so as a result, people would be treated the same. Saying that people are treated by what they deserve, is still treating them the same. She had applied her logic and critical thinking and had judged this argument to be as flawed as the first.
She wasn’t the only one either. Delphi isn’t satisfied either and ‘helps’ Miletus to think of the final definition. This time it said: “Fair is knowing how to treat people.”
So we went through the same routine again, did this argument work? Quite a lot of children felt this was the most accurate definition so far. One said, “I agree because if you didn’t know how to treat people then you might treat them badly.” Another said, “I agree because if you know how you want to be treated then that’s how you would treat people and that is fair.” There were still quite a few who disagreed however. Lots asked the question: “How do you know how to treat people?” In response to this, a child argued that it comes down to education and that’s why a baby, who hasn’t had an education, wouldn’t be punished in the same way as a child would be if they did something unfair to someone else. I was quite interested to read another child’s response, however, who was beginning to think about animals in their answer. He wrote down, “this is not always true because how would you treat things like animals?”
All in all, it was a very lively and thought provoking lesson for my Year 5s. I was particularly proud to see their development in their discussion and debate skills, which although at times got a little heated, was respectful and progressive. All of the children were taking brave steps in daring to question and challenge each other as well as using a lot of application to test ideas in real life contexts. It was a joy to teach from beginning to end and I am looking forward to using our persuasive and debating skills next week!
You can take on Miletus and develop your children’s logical skills by teaching this enquiry to your class too! Download the Miletus 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.)