What about the Worleys?
Een interview met Peter en Emma
Door Louise Conway
Louise, student van Peter en Emma Worley ging voor CKN in gesprek met haar docenten. Het is een mooie longread geworden. Ze spreekt met hen samen over de verbindende kracht van (online) filosoferen, waarbij zij deelnemers van over de hele wereld met elkaar in verbinding brengen, zelfs tijdens een pandemie. Ze geven ons een inkijkje in hun werk voor de Philosophy Foundation, delen hun toekomstdromen voor filosoferen met kinderen en jongeren en vertellen over hun nieuwste project: het Happy Prisoner Festival.
Louise Conway sat down with Emma Worley and Peter Worley, of The Philosophy Foundation
and spoke with them about their work, how philosophical enquiry has helped young people
during the pandemic and their hopes for philosophical enquiry in the future.
Why is Philosophy with Children important? And is it more important now than ever before?
Peter: So there’s a number of different ways to process this, you could talk about the research
that’s been done, but I prefer to talk about what seems important to me, as a starting point, and
come back to other stuff later. It seems to me to be important, because it’s a place and space to
think with each other in a different kind of way, a place where they can be reflective, where they
can take their time in thinking, explore ideas and play with ideas. We can put all the instrumental
arguments to one side and just say it’s good to have a place and a space to think, for the sake of
Emma: Is it more important now than it’s ever been? I think it feels like that – with fake news,
mental health / post pandemic, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily the case. I think philosophy is a
subject that teaches you how to think and how to reason. It probably should have been in
education long before now because of its foundational aspect. It is the fourth ‘R’ – so reasoning
comes alongside, or even before reading, writing and arithmetic (the ‘3Rs’ of education).
Peter: When we started doing philosophy online with our classes, it took a while to get going
because the schools were all like rabbits in headlights trying to deal with everything that was
going on. In the second lockdown, we’ve had a lot more schools saying, right, okay, let’s see if we
can make this work. And it has to be said that most of the schools I worked in just didn’t think it
would, they thought the idea of having philosophy wouldn’t really work online. But what’s really
interesting is that that’s turned out to be wrong. Not only is it wrong, but the teachers have
reported to us how much value they can see the children getting from these interactions with one
We’ve also been making the focus of our sessions emotions, emotional states, and how we deal
with emotions, this came out of our previous work on developing metacognition and critical
thinking skills with King’s College London and Dr Ellen Fridland. And I think that’s really very
timely, it wasn’t planned around the pandemic, but happened at the same time. And as a result, I
think it’s turned out to be really very valuable for them. But I should stress that it’s still
philosophical inquiry around these things, rather than a form of psychological therapy or
something like that. However, I would also add that I can see the children benefiting
therapeutically from having philosophical enquiries with each other.
How can philosophy help children during a pandemic?
Peter: Well, I can tell you how philosophy is helping me in the pandemic. I mean, Emma and I
both suffered from long COVID symptoms, ongoing, and on medication. And, we both thought, am I
gonna end up in hospital in an ICU? That didn’t happen, thankfully, but there were moments where
we weren’t quite sure. So I found myself turning to philosophy, and reading a lot of Stoic Epicurean
books and Socrates and Aristotle, and there is so much to gain from these philosophers, when it
comes to practical philosophy, how we reflect on our own mortality, on our own frailties. I actually
ended up writing an essay about it, which got published during this time. And this is how
philosophy started for me, it really helped me approach life, living, my relationships and
So on that basis, I then said, if I can benefit from doing philosophy in these ways, it
stands to reason that other people may also gain some benefits to greater or lesser extent, and in
varying degrees from person to person. So that’s my starting point. And I’ve really turned to it in
this time of difficulty. And to watch the children, I mean, I’m actually quite genuinely moved with
some of the discussions we’ve been having around wants and needs and the children identifying
that there might be something that lies between a want and a need, and that getting into the
inbetweenness of things that Philosophy is so good at, getting the children to articulate their
emotions that our everyday language sometimes struggles to wrap itself around.
Emma: I also think there’s something about the living, breathingness of philosophical enquiry,
which is important. You can read books about the Stoics, you can learn about them, you can watch
lectures, but actually engaging with others, in an enquiry, listening to other people and
responding to them in the here and now is a really important aspect of what philosophy can give
us. We can’t reach out and touch people right now, but we can at least reach out and hear their
thoughts and respond to their thoughts – and we are able to do so across the world, which is
expanding the perspectives we can hear.
Peter: An anecdote on that, there was a girl in one of my sessions last week online, and I’m not
even sure if her face was on screen, so one might be forgiven for thinking that she may have been
off doing other things. And then I asked if she would like to say anything, and she came in with,
“Right, I agree with a, disagree with b, agree with c’ And she listed about five or six people that
she agreed with, disagreed with, partly agreed with and explained why exactly she agreed and
disagreed with them, and went on to make her point. And I said, that’s amazing, this whole time,
you have been quiet but you’ve been listening like a chess player, remembering all the moves, and
all the different things that others have said at various times, then bringing in your own thoughts.
And I sometimes wonder, in the classrooms, whether the children who don’t say anything have
anything to say. Online enquiries have an even greater extent of mystery, in that not only do I not
know what they’re thinking, I don’t even know if they are there! So when they suddenly pop in
with all these thoughts and points, I can see that they are fully engaged. She didn’t even have to
see anyone, she was fully engaged in a really extensive way, which I thought demonstrated nicely
how she was listening like a chess player.
Emma: We’ve been running adult groups and our training courses online, and it’s actually really
widened the net of who we can have on our courses. We used to run our philosophy, Think and
Drink group on a Wednesday evening at a local bar and it was relatively local people who would
come to it. Those local people are still coming online, but now we have people from Saudi Arabia,
and America and different parts of Europe joining in with us every month as well. And it’s the
same with our training courses. We’re not only reaching people who have been able to fly over and
spend the weekend with us. I think there’s something about that idea people coming together
across the globe that the pandemic is allowing us to do through forcing us to have to connect
Peter: Quite frankly, we’ve never experienced anything so unifying. The whole world is
experiencing this crisis. Although there are some issues with regard to class and race and various
other ways in which the groups may be discriminated against, nevertheless, it is unparalleled that
we’ve all experienced a crisis in a similar kind of way. And it’s had the impact that we’ve become
much more international, everyone’s connecting up in a way that they had not connected up
before – without having to use air miles as well, which is nice. I’m absolutely sure that a lot of the
things that we’re going through now, the changes we’re experiencing, are changes that may well
stick with us. For the Philosophy Foundation, we are certainly going to be sticking with a lot of
this online training. Philosophy is also a unifying thing, even though the unification can come
through disagreement. So sometimes we’re unifying in a philosophy session by agreeing with each
other, and sometimes by disagreeing with each other, by identifying with each other, but also by
identifying the differences. And I think that philosophy is a beautiful synthesis of both the union
and separation of individuals.
During the Stage One course, you used a slide that said “Philosophy begins in wonder”. And I think wonder seems to be something that also unifies people, it seems to me to be something so inherent in young people and people generally.
Peter: That’s right. Well, that comes from Plato, and Aristotle also said that philosophy begins in
wonder. But we should qualify that by saying that philosophy begins in wonder, but just wondering
is not necessarily philosophical. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. So what we do is what I think
Plato and Aristotle are getting at there, is that philosophy begins in wonder, but there’s more
that’s needed to actually bring about decent philosophical conversations. And that’s why we at the
Philosophy Foundation are interested in exactly how to bring about those philosophical
conversations. And Plato also says, at the end of it, philosophy begins in wonder and nowhere
else. And the way that I understand that is that in order to get children to do Philosophy, there has
to be a sense in which they are wondering about stuff, right? So that when we start doing
philosophy, they can wander a bit farther and a bit deeper in their wondering. But at the same
time, what is necessary to doing philosophy is the children’s willingness to pursue it. And very
often, the sense of wonder comes from other children, the other children need to want to follow
and consider. The trick is providing the conditions for the children to be able to take that sense of
wonder a little bit further, so we can do real philosophy. But willingly, they must come willingly. It
won’t work, if that doesn’t happen.
And speaking of the conditions for doing philosophy, I think you both talked about this as well,
it can sometimes be thought of that there are no wrong or right answers in Philosophy, what
do you think about this?
Peter: I think the problem occurs because in most philosophy sessions, you don’t have the teacher
at the front of class telling you the answers. There is an element of evaluation that the children
have to do by themselves, that the teacher isn’t going to tell them the answer to. And that can put
them in a state of thinking that possibly there are no right and wrong answers. But if that
becomes an accepted viewpoint, then there’s a danger that the philosophy will just collapse into
nothing. Because why bother? Why are we bothering with this when there’s no right or wrong
answers. So I think it’s our responsibility as trainers and as teachers, to help children to realise
that this is a safe space for us all to talk and consider ideas. And some of those ideas will have
more merit than others. And it’s okay to be evaluative in philosophy, it’s okay to make decisions
about what you think the answer is, and argue for it. But if the children do not have the tools to
be able to do that, then they’re going to fall into a ‘multiplist well’, where they think that every
perspective is as valid as the next. And it’s really important for us as teachers, and as facilitators,
to help them climb out of that well (or is it a quagmire?!).
So what I would say about this is that there’s two ways of thinking about answers being right and
wrong in Philosophy. One is, are we answering the question? So for instance, if we’re talking about
whether there’s freewill or not, whether humans have a freewill is a classic philosophical debate
that is also a notoriously intractable problem. And what that basically means is that no one’s been
able to definitively answer that question. Now, people have had all sorts of attempts to answer it
and what we find is that philosophy explores plausibility and possibility. So very often, what makes
a good philosophical answer is its plausibility, its coherence, and it’s the fact that it’s a possible
answer. And I think this is where people are coming from, these big questions don’t necessarily get
answered in a strict empirical way. That doesn’t mean that we can’t answer them. So what we’re
often doing in philosophy is thinking conditionally, provisionally constructing answers in a kind of
‘if… then…’ form. So we can answer questions. But they are always in some way provisional, open
to further revision.
These are what I call the ‘big questions’ answers. The ‘small questions’ answer to whether there’s
right and wrong is a bit more straightforward. It’s to do with the quality of the inference making.
So, a very simple thing that I sometimes do with children in the classroom is an exercise on
inferences. I remember having an Irish ball that I was using, but which I picked up at the airport
on the way out of Ireland, and I was using this and I often used to get asked, are you Irish? And I
would ask why do you think that, and why is that? And some would answer it’s because you’ve got
an Irish ball. So I used this as a way of doing inferences with them. And I said, Okay, so ‘if Mr.
Worley has an Irish ball, does that mean that Mr. Worley is Irish?’ And you get a variety of
responses to this, such as, yes, definitely, you’re Irish because you got an Irish ball. Or, maybe
you’re Irish because you have an Irish ball, or you are probably not Irish, someone may have given
it to you, etc, etc.
Now the person who says ‘because you have an Irish ball, you are definitely Irish’ is wrong. The
inference doesn’t follow, but the person that says, ‘well, Mr. Worley might be Irish, because he’s
got an Irish ball, but he might not be,’ is right. That is a correct inference. So very often it is the
inferences that are correct or incorrect on the basis of some kind of qualification. If you take it
into a more emotive place, for example: ‘women are bad drivers.’ Why? ‘Because I saw a woman
this morning driving badly’. Well, that’s an incorrect inference. It’s false to say that one instance
of x means that all x’s. And so that’s the sense in which we can be right and wrong. And
unfortunately, I think what happens, what can happen, let’s be tentative about this, what can
happen is that whilst we’re trying to reassure the children, that these big questions are not
straightforward knowledge tests, and do not have straightforward answers in the sense that other
things might do. Whilst we’re trying to reassure them, I think sometimes we’re throwing the baby
out with the bathwater. And all that stuff about the quality of inference-making is also thrown
out. And the children sometimes get the impression, and this is something that they do even in my
own sessions, they just naturally get the impression through doing philosophy, that it’s only a
matter of opinion. But of course, the quality of the inferences means that it’s not, that actually
those opinions are open to critical examination, and possibly even elimination.
Emma: I just want to add on top of what Pete was talking about the idea of the granularity of
language, which is something we have been working on for the emotional metacognition research
we are doing at the moment. Granularity is about understanding the nuance and meanings of
concepts and words, and philosophy is about this nuance. And that’s possibly also where the ‘no
right and wrong answers’ come in. Because it’s about that subtlety of the granularity of the
language that we’re using. And bold claims are dangerous to make in a philosophy class, because
they’re easily criticised, and critically evaluated. So perhaps language granularity is an important
aspect of philosophy that could lead to people thinking that there are no right or wrong answers,
whereas in fact by making distinctions and working towards greater granularity of meaning, we
are getting closer to answers and understanding each other.
Definitely. And, and on that, what would you say the role of a facilitator is, in those
discussions, what is their role in the class?
Peter: I would say that their role is to facilitate conversations amongst the students. So, this is
possibly something that distinguishes PhiE, the approach we’ve developed, from P4C, and that is
that we don’t see ourselves as co-inquirers within the discussion. So, if I’m facilitating children,
10-year-olds or 6-year-olds in the classroom, I don’t join in or suggest things for myself. I don’t say
what I think, I don’t tell them what they should think and I also don’t paraphrase what they say. So
the job of the facilitator is to perform a structural role. So if children say, ‘I think yes’, in answer
to a question, I might say to them, ‘can you say why you think yes?’ in order to get from them the
reasons they might have for their yes. Or they might say something that needs some explanation.
So I might ask them, ‘could you explain more about that?’ Or clarification: ‘could you say more
about that?’ Can they say what they mean by this term, or this word, or whatever it might be. So
it seems to me, that in order to facilitate what I would call Socratic dialogues, rather than general
conversations or just exploratory conversations, our job has to be dialectical. We’re performing a
dialectical role, which means that we’re there to help get the children to think along certain
reasoning structures, without telling them what they are, but simply responding to the kinds of
structures that they offer. So that’s how I would see the facilitator, not as a participant in the
discussion, but as someone who is allowing the children, as Socrates says in the Theaetetus, to
bring forth beautiful things from the children that come from within them, not from us.
Emma: And I think one of the things is when people watch our philosophers facilitate a class, it
looks really easy. It looks like they’re not doing anything at all, or they’re just repeating the
question, or they’re just getting the children to say a bit more about what they think. But there’s
so much more going on in the facilitators mind, to do with the Synoptic view of the conversations,
having an overview of where the conversation is going, linking ideas, or disagreements that are
appearing, helping children to challenge each other, in a respectful fashion, making sure every
child is included as much as possible. It’s kind of like driving a car, if you watch a good driver they
are just driving. And when you watch a good facilitator, it doesn’t look like they’re doing anything
difficult, but as soon as you start trying to do it yourself – the complexities and everything you
have to think about on a moment to moment basis – it takes a while to get into first gear.
Peter: I would say that what you’re there to do is to listen out for the things which will generate
good philosophical conversation, you’re not listening out for the things that interest you or the
things that you want them to say, you are listening out for the things that will generate good
philosophical conversation. And in that sense, it’s a good idea to have a sense of what will
generate a philosophical conversation and what probably will be less fruitful. But one nice,
shorthand way of putting it was said to us by one of our attendees at the recent Stage Two course
that we’re running, Katrin Laureyssens said that the role of a facilitator “is to ask the right
question at the right time”. Very Aristotelian.
So moving on then to the role of The Philosophy Foundation and kind of in a nutshell, I
suppose. What’s the work of The Philosophy Foundation?
Peter: We’re about doing philosophy, where the emphasis is on the doing. Not a lot of people
think of philosophy as an activity but we like to wear tracksuits and trainers when we do it! 😉
Thinking together is something we’re doing, it’s an activity. It’s not your traditional view of
learning philosophy as the history of ideas: who said what, and when, and how clever they all
were. It’s about getting everyone in a group (in the classroom or an adult group in a bar)
philosophising: thinking philosophically and thinking through philosophically with each other. So
that’s the heart of our work. And whether that’s in a school, a prison, or a hospital, with teachers,
with PhD students, with people in business, essentially, we always do the same thing. We use the
same techniques and the same strategies, because this Socratic model of doing philosophy that we
follow, is (with a few tweaks here and there) essentially the same thing each time.
Emma: Our tagline to the Foundation is ‘thinking changes’. And we mean this in at least two
senses: thinking does change individuals, and we’re thinking about change in the world, and how
we can bring it about.
Peter: Although, it must be said that we don’t go into schools and tell children how they should
change or what they should change. No – that becomes much more political.
Emma: Yes, of course, it’s about giving people the tools to be able to think well for themselves.
How has TPF responded to lockdown learning?
Peter: There’s less money available in education. So at the moment, we’re focusing a lot more on
training than we used to, especially now that we’re able to reach a more international audience.
Emma: But we want to be really certain that we’re not just training people on mass. Philosophy
facilitation is a subtle art and to do it well takes time and effort. We’ve always talked about
remaining relatively small, and just reaching those that we can and delivering high quality sessions
so that the children really benefit from our work.
Peter: It’s also nice to be able to report that we’ve been around long enough now that some of the
people we are training up to work in schools are also the children we were working with in schools
10/15 years ago. We’ve had two students who have returned to us, as University or as graduates
wanting to do philosophy in schools with us, in the same way that we did with them. And they also
reported that the philosophy we did with them was the reason why they did philosophy at
University. So this is clear evidence of children who have been impacted hugely by the work that
we do. Life changing; what you do at university is life changing.
Emma: Pete had a message from a former pupil earlier this year who didn’t go into philosophy,
she’s gone into marketing, but she just contacting him on LinkedIn and said, ‘I just wanted to say
how much the philosophy influenced me and my and the sort of the way I thought after leaving
primary school, and I still apply some of the things we talked about.’
Peter: She also said that she thought it gave her the open minded way of looking at things that
she has now.
Emma: So even if they’re not going to look to study philosophy at university, it’s still impacting on
In 10 years time or 20 years time, what are your dreams for philosophical inquiry with young people?
Peter: It would be nice if some political leaders actually did some good thinking! And we can
worry about philosophy later.
Emma: Maybe it would be nice if someone who’s done philosophy with us in primary school ends
up becoming Prime Minister and is able to think properly about things!
Peter: Joking aside, I’m always worried about rolling out philosophy, I think there’s a sense in
which philosophy wants to stay on the periphery. It’s good that philosophy and P4C is part of the
education culture, most teachers in the UK will know about it in some way and have come across
it. So it’s there, and that’s great. And I think we want to continue with that, and we obviously
want to try and improve it and influence, but nevertheless, I don’t want it ever to become
centralised. I don’t want it to become core curriculum stuff. Because I think that doing philosophy
is about staying outside of that kind of institutionalisation. Obviously, to some extent, it has to be
part of the school system, there’s going to be some institutionalisation that goes on, and that will
bring pros and cons. But what we need is something where children can reflect a bit more freely
where the facilitators have got a bit more freedom as well. Philosophy then becomes a place
where the dissenting aspect of philosophy can be preserved and those doing philosophy can
continue to think differently, critically, and in a more provocative and subversive way to some
extent. Because remember: this all comes from Socrates. So we can’t forget the subversive,
dissenting element of philosophy. And obviously, I don’t want to get executed and I don’t want the
children to be executed, like Socrates was, but it does help me remember the roots of it, and I
don’t want to lose those roots. So yeah, in the system but not in the system is kind of how I want
it to be.
I see that the Happy Prisoner Festival is coming up, would you like to chat a bit about this?
Emma: I’m quite excited by this, as there have been quite a lot of philosophy festivals: How the
Light Gets In, the Institute of Art and Ideas, Philosophy Now, and they’re all about philosophy.
They’re all about exploring philosophy. But at every single one of them there is often a philosopher
talking or a panel of philosophers talking at the audience. And then the audience gets to ask a
couple of questions. I think during lockdown, during this time, when we’re all stuck at home, I
think the aspect that we talked about earlier, that enquiry aspect, and listening to others, and
joining in and engaging properly in a conversation is missing from these online festivals. So we’re
going to hold the world’s first – as far as I’m aware, anyway – festival of philosophical enquiry. The
emphasis is on enquiring together, rather than a set of expert philosophers telling people their
opinions about a particular topic. We’ve chosen topic areas that are relevant to everyone now and
of interest, we think, and the speakers are people both with a philosophical eye on these matters
but also people with lived experience of them. So that’s a really important aspect of it: we didn’t
just want to have experts standing up and talking. (We wanted that, but not only.) And the idea is
that the speakers start off with an enquiry led by one of our philosophy facilitators, and then after
20 or 30 minutes, the audience, who’ve bought tickets, will join in that conversation. And we have
one big enquiry on whatever emergent question has come up. And that’s the aim.
Peter: And the great thing about this is that if you want to buy your tickets you actually get
something substantial, you’re in it and you’ll become a participant, rather than just being a paid
observer, which can often happens: you buy your ticket, and all that happens is you watch what
you could have watched on the telly. So we want to make sure people who are there get that
exponential, inclusive aspect.
Emma: The link with the happy prisoner and John Locke’s voluntary prisoner has been taken from
The If machine, where Pete has a session called The Happy Prisoner. In it, he gets the children to
imagine that they’re trapped in a room, a prison, but they’ve got everything they could possibly
want – the question he asks is, are they free? And this is partly what this festival is representing,
our freedom to think. We are all currently experiencing a lack of freedom due to lockdown (The
UK’s doesn’t lift until after this festival) but like Locke’s voluntary prisoner we are asking if we
can be happy and free in our minds.
The Happy Prisoner Festival is being hosted by the Philosophy Foundation on Saturday 27th March
online and tickets can be found here: https://www.philosophy-foundation.org/happy-prisonerfestival
Op 11 en 12 september organiseren Peter en Emma Worley een Masterclass voor CKN. Meld je hier snel aan, want er is beperkt plaats.