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Emily’s Art – A videotaped philosophical conversation with children

Emily’s Art – A videotaped philosophical conversation with children

In the Fall of 2003 I was given the wonderful opportunity to work with Professor Thomas Wartenberg, of Mount Holyoke College on a ground-breaking project. The core of the project is a college course, called “Philosophy for Children.” During the course college students prepare for, and eventually lead, philosophical discussions with elementary school children. People tend not to think of children as being able to handle philosophical discussion. Professor Wartenberg's project has been very successful at showing that not only can children handle philosophical discussion but they also do it quite naturally and with enthusiasm.

For my part, I filmed and made a documentary on the course. The clip presented here shows responses from two fifth graders who are involved in a discussion concerning the objectivity of judgment in art. The discussion was raised by a children's book, Emily's Art by Peter Catalanotto, which the group read. In the book there is an art contest in which the judge picks the winner based on her own personal preference. Since judging based on personal preference is what we do when we declare our favorite ice cream flavor, the students were asked if they thought there was a difference between favoring one flavor over another and saying that a painting is beautiful. The first student presents the view that there is no difference. He reasons strongly that people's opinions on beautiful paintings differ much in the way they do concerning ice cream flavors. The discussion leader asks, if there is no difference, how there can be a judge or even an art contest at all. If there is no difference, then the judge's pick of which is the best painting is neither right nor wrong: it's just her opinion. The second student makes this point beautifully and then presents a working criterion for judging art objectively. Enjoy!

Small version of the recording (~1MB)

Large version of the recording (~7MB)

Kelly Albrecht, UMass Philosophy Major, Class of ’04