Why are modern philosophers not famous?

Philosophy in children's and young people's booksCreate ways of thinking for children

According to a famous anecdote, the British philosopher Bertrand Arthur William Russel and his ingenious student and later master Ludwig Wittgenstein had an argument about the existence of a rhino in his office. The Austrian, who came to Cambridge to study around 1911, is said to have stiffly asserted that it was impossible to say that there was no rhino in the room.

"Wittgenstein's Rhinoceros"

It is not to be seen at the moment, but that is by no means absolute proof against the existence of the animal in space. This legendary controversy is the linchpin of the philosophical story "Wittgenstein's Rhinoceros" in the series "Platon & Co." of the Diaphanes publishing house. Wittgenstein's thinking, which dealt with logic and language, revolved around the questions: "What makes a sentence true or false in reality? And how do we achieve certainty in reality about the true or false?

Can one prove the non-existence of a thing? Which immediately leads to the question: How do you pave the way to Wittgenstein's extremely difficult and complex philosophy of language for children and young people, because the series "Platon & Co." is intended for this target group. The answer is: With wit, intelligence and a skilful media interlocking of words and images. Let's hear an excerpt:

"Stop that, Mr. Wittgenstein! Now, watch out. You will listen to logic and mathematics from me. Your work so far seemed to me to show a certain degree of maturity. But now we are wasting our time with childishments. There is no rhino in this room. You can see it!"

"Professor Russel, I'm serious. How can you say that something doesn't exist and be sure that that statement is true? I can say," There's a great scholar in this room. "That is absolutely correct - apart from your height, with all due respect, but when I say: "There is no ghost, no treasure, no rhinoceros", then I can't know at all. I just can't see it! "

"You are pissing me off, Wittgenstein. Stop looking for a horned cattle in the middle of the University of Cambridge. (...) I don't want to see you until next week and I strongly recommend that you go into the countryside. "

The author Francoise Armengaud, who taught philosophy of language and aesthetics in Paris and writes picture books and poems for children, guides you through Wittgenstein's life on the following pages, interspersing quotations from his notebook, letters and his famous "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus". Armengaud's philosophical-biographical narrative has a wonderful connection with the colored drawings by the English illustrator Annabelle Buxton. In the clearly structured, woodcut-like pictures reduced to the essentials, the rhinoceros is almost always present in an amusing way - as a figure of thought and problem of a - quote from Wittgenstein - "negative fact"!

"Laotse or the way of the dragon"

"Laotse or the way of the dragon" by Miriam Henke and Jérome Meyer-Bisch is yet another highlight in this series - wonderfully poetic and told as light as a feather. Miriam Henke studied Chinese literature and works as a translator and author in Paris. The philosophical well from which she draws is the "Tao te King", the sacred book of the way and nature of things - or also called the book of virtue - by the Chinese philosopher Laotse. He is said to have lived in the 6th century BC. But it is not even certain that Lao Tzu existed at all. The Tao te King, a collection of wise sayings ascribed to him, is one of the most important and most translated books in world literature.

From the spirit of this book, Miriam Henke creates a Laotse who seeks emptiness in order to gain knowledge and sets out on a journey, whereby the path is his goal. Framed by beautiful ink drawings by the French illustrator Jérome Meyer-Bisch, Henke sends her Laotse into controversy with another famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who, as a counter-image to Laotse, takes the position of one who is attached to worldly things, but in Laotse's thinking finally realizes the greater wisdom.

Miriam Henke uses an original philosophical method, because philosophizing lives, among other things, from thinking, speaking and discussing in opposing images and pairs of opposites in order to advance knowledge. - As in all other books in the series, "Laotse and the Way of the Dragon" has no preface or epilogue, no explanations, no glossary. The stimulation to think should arise from the story and the pictures themselves and not be guided by knowledge. Even if it certainly takes an adult to bring this and the other "Platon & Co." Books closer to a child, Miriam Henke agrees completely with this publishing concept.

"Well, I thought that it could be very interesting for the children who are reading this now that you don't just present something like that right from the start. Like, 'We'll tell you something about old philosophers now' It's basically like school lessons. That you now have information and you can learn it now. But that there are only approaches now and that can then be continued if the reader is interested. "

All portraits of philosophers in the series "Platon & Co." were first published by a French publisher and almost all of the authors and illustrators are French. The books are no more than 64 pages and are superbly designed. It can justifiably be said: You are probably among the best that is currently available on the market in this genre of philosophical storytelling for children and young people.

"Socrates Club"

Philosophy should open up space for thinking - entirely in the spirit of the ancient world. This is also the opinion of the Munich philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin, who, like Miriam Henke, is of the opinion that philosophizing is by no means primarily about knowledge, but rather, in the Kantian sense, about the Socratic-dialogical method of creative thinking and independent judgment.

"The philosophy is from the beginning, so if you take our culture, it is Greek antiquity - after all, that was 2500 years ago or more, pre-Socratics - it was always a way of getting out of the gears. So, we underestimate , I believe, in the ancient, also medieval philosophical texts, the contemplative, the meditative, yes? The spiritual as well, the art of living dimension. Practically all of ancient philosophy as we know it today does not see itself as somehow self-sufficient science, the certain scientific Discussed questions, rather than reflecting on questions like "How am I supposed to live?", "What does bliss do?" - that's how it is usually translated - eudemonia from? "

Together with his wife Nathalie Weidenfeld and his two daughters, Nida-Rümelin founded a private "Socrates Club" and asked other young people to join them in philosophizing. "Socrates-Club", because Plato attributed the conviction to Socrates "that like a midwife (...) he brings to light what has already been done, makes knowledge that basically already exists", as stated in the foreword of the same name Book is called.

The book reproduces philosophical conversations that Nida-Rümelin and Weidenfeld had with schoolchildren in various elementary schools, among others. In between there are explanatory texts on the philosophical thoughts on which the respective conversations are based, for example "freedom and responsibility", "justice", "morality in dealing with animals", "identity", "happiness". The book "The Socrates Club" is intended to encourage parents and teachers to philosophize with children. It shows methods of the philosophical art of conversation and makes it clear that many children are quite capable of drawing far-reaching philosophical conclusions.

A small excerpt from a conversation about justice that took place in a Munich elementary school:

"Do you actually know what slaves are?"

"Yes, those were the ones who were always flogged and had to drag these heavy stones for the pharaohs with their pyramids," said a boy with shoulder-length blond hair.

"Slaves already existed in antiquity. And then in the 19th century in America too, that was not that long ago. They were sold in the market and then belonged to someone. Is that fair?"

The children agree that this is not fair at all.

"But why actually? Somebody paid for them, so you can say they belong to you, right?"

"No," says the girl with the big blue eyes. "A person cannot be bought like a piece of broccoli!"

"And why not?"

"Because he only belongs to himself!" answers the girl.

"The big questions. Philosophy for children"

The non-fiction book "The big questions. Philosophy for children" by the theology professor Julia Knop from Münster is completely different, but also definitely recommendable. In the individual chapters, it speaks directly to the reading child in a very clear, varied and simple language, for example on the origin of the cosmos and the world, on ethics, morals, on the essence of people, on their good and bad sides.

"You probably know a student in your class who is shy and has nothing to brag about. He remains an outsider. (...) Quarreling among children and war among adults are probably part of life.

But is that true? Is evil part of life? Isn't it really bad, just in our minds? Many think so. "

What do you think? Can you come to terms with the disasters the newscaster is reporting? What is bad, what is sad, what is a shame? What could you change?

Faith, God and Christian ethics play a role in this book, but without dogmatically narrowing the perspective. For example, it is conveyed in a pleasant way that human thinking is not only concerned with tangible reality, but also with metaphysical questions that determine where? And where? Touch. A child does not need to know that these questions belong to the transcendental and religious philosophy. But with the help of clear examples, drawings, poems and empty columns to write down your own thoughts, Julia Knop's book "The Big Questions" carefully guides you along this path.

By the way, philosophizing with children or children's philosophy has a long tradition. In the 1970s, a real movement arose in the USA, founded by scientists, educators and psychologists. Children's philosophy has been an established term in Germany since the 1980s. Not least because of this, the emotional and cognitive possibilities and abilities of children have increasingly come into focus with parents and teachers - spurred on by the view of no fewer than a few scholars that there is an original connection between philosophical questions and childlike thinking. The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin agrees with some reservations:

"This is controversial. Well, even if they have become quieter, there are still voices that say that genuine philosophy is only possible from the 12th or 13th age, because logical thinking has not yet been sufficiently developed (...) And in my opinion, two things can be said about this: If one understands philosophy primarily as (...) science, that is true. (...) But philosophy is not just science (...) ..), but philosophy is a practice that is to a certain extent embedded in our living environment. "

Viewed in this way, children always start from their concrete life situation when they philosophize. And that's where philosophy has to start. This realization, but also the widespread, somewhat dubious view that children have to be made fit for a world that is becoming more and more complex, complicated and media-networked, has promoted a rich philosophical production of children's and young people's books.

"Why is there everything and not nothing"

Unfortunately, one must say, certain patterns are repeated in both the narrative non-fiction book and the philosophical novel. It therefore depends crucially on the ingenuity and narrative qualities of the book in question, whether these patterns are intrusive and instructive or whether they fit into a convincing concept. The most frequently recurring pattern is this: an adult - that is mostly a philosopher, a teacher or a father - talks to his students or his offspring and draws their attention to philosophical questions. To make things more interesting, the conversations are usually embedded in a framework plot - as in the book "Why is there everything and not nothing" by the philosopher Richard David Precht. In this non-fiction book Precht goes on a discovery tour through Berlin with his son Oskar.

"Tell me, Oskar, if you were to meet a boy behind the next hedge who looks exactly like you, how would you react?

I would ask what his name is.

And he says: Oskar Jonathan Precht. How do you think Would that be a nice idea?

A creepy one!

And why?

Because it's a weird and not at all good feeling to be just like someone else.

Yes, I think Oskar would be that for me too. We talked about the "I" yesterday in the technology museum. The main thing was whether we recognize each other in the mirror and why that is. But I think there is much more to our "I" than recognizing ourselves in the mirror. Doesn't that also mean that we perceive ourselves as something very special - something unique ...? "

If this dialogical structure were to dominate the book, it would quickly become boring, especially since the father and philosopher always sets the direction of thought. However, the focus is on exciting case studies and experiments from the history of science, which are linked to philosophical questions. In between, funny mind games that connect with the locations of your sightseeing tour through Berlin. For example, the two Prechts visit the Charité in Berlin. There are a lot of creepy things to see in the medical history museum of the venerable clinic, such as malformed fetuses pickled in formalin.

But since they are in a hospital, at some point the thought goes to the sick Aunt Berta, a "terrible old box", as can be read in the book, but she has a lot of money. Now the big Precht asks the little one how he would think if one helped a little with a painless medication when his aunt died. Then you could donate the inherited money from the ward for children with cancer. Would this help in the case of the death of the aunt be justified by the subsequent good deed? The child's head is spinning. He had just agreed to the removal of his aunt, but then he had concerns. And so this chapter ends in the philosophical insight:

"The value that a person's life has cannot be measured according to how useful this person is. For every person has the unrestricted right to life."

Richard David Precht is simply good at writing and intelligently combining knowledge with entertainment.

"Sofie's World"

Apart from this necessary quality, non-fiction books as well as the short form of the philosophical story prove to be particularly well suited for conveying philosophical questions and thoughts. Not to forget the picture book. The cartoon, which is related to the picture book, could also be a good medium. The most difficult variant, on the other hand, is to dress philosophical knowledge transfer in the form of the novel.

The Norwegian writer and educator Jostein Gaarder certainly gave the impetus for this genre in the early 1990s with his bestseller "Sofie's World". In this novel, 15-year-old Sofie Amundsen receives anonymous letters behind which an older man named Alberto Knox is hiding. With these letters he wants to familiarize you little by little with important philosophical epochs and thinkers. The plot suggests a few surprising and fantastic volts. But in the end the impression cannot be masked that this is a philosophy course that a teacher gives his pupil. This is also what the philosopher Gabriele Münnix read, who taught at universities in Innsbruck and Münster and has a lot of experience with philosophical didactics for children and young people.

"The book has a great beginning and a great ending. But I don't know anyone at a young age who would have read it to the end. The guide is the history of philosophy and that chronologically too (..) When it then goes from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, etc. . And I find that rather boring. It fluctuates between instruction and entertainment. I wanted to do that differently. "

"Other Worlds. A Fabulous Introduction to Philosophizing"

Gabriele Münnix succeeded in this in part when she wrote her novel "Anderwelten.A fabulous introduction to philosophizing "published with an appreciative foreword by the philosopher Vittorio Hösle. In this philosophical novel, the siblings Phil and Feli, he is 14, she is 10, visit their grandparents in the country and spend their holidays there In the attic, the two discover an old book with fascinating animal fables, which the two children are increasingly concerned with and which stimulates discussion about questions that lead them more and more into philosophical terrain.

The mysterious book asks her to write down her questions and answers on the blank pages between the fables. In the framework story, the thoughts of the grandfather, a retired philosophy teacher, play an important role. In the end, however, the rather housewife grandmother surprisingly emerges as the author of the mysterious book. This is not particularly conclusive and a weakness in character development. But the idea of ​​dismantling the constantly philosophizing grandfather as an authority is a funny move. The best thing about this book, however, are the philosophical animal fables by Gabriele Münnix that are embedded in the framework. These witty stories process complex philosophical material in the smallest of spaces.

The philosophical children's novel "Philosophy is like tickling in the head" by the author Gudrun Mebs and the astrophysicist Harald Lesch has little of this. The first-person narrator Ida wants a philosophy professor for her birthday who goes camping with her and her friends. So camping holiday as a philosophy course! What is staged here as relaxed thinking fun with Kant & Co. around the campfire seems very hard-working and over-constructed.

Far more interesting, on the other hand, is a completely new book, the novel "Mr. Swart's skull is buzzing or how thinking in the head can change direction" by the Dutch author Janny van der Molen.

"Mr. Swart is now sitting on one of the empty tables.

"And what is your name?" He asks the only girl with a headscarf.


"Put away your writing, too, Loubna. You don't need any of that for the time being. In this lesson you only need one thing: your head. What I plan for this year is to think with you. I want to tell you about people who thought about it to have. (...)

"That can be cheerful", Bram whispers to Sven with a grin. He nods.


"Gelaber", Sanne grumbles. "I could fall asleep now," she says quietly to her neighbor Loubna.

"Why Gelaber?" Asks Mr. Swart.

"Because you are looking for answers that may not even exist."

"And that means?"

"Well, it's a shame about the time."

The new philosophy teacher manages to win over the young people in his class not only for himself and his unconventional teaching method. Above all, with his challenging and open manner of discussion, he sets off a reflection in the students that has an impact on their lives. This can be seen in the intermediate chapters, which give an insight into the problems that young people have at home with their parents, with their social status, with their feelings. Little by little, their perspective on their life changes and this ultimately affects their actions. Even if we have here again the pattern that a male authority figure imparts philosophical knowledge to adolescents, Janny van der Molen has found a convincing form for it. School lessons and the living environment of the young people are intertwined and drive the action forward. What is demonstrated here is practical philosophy in the best sense of the word.

However, the question that arises after viewing all of these books is who is really reading them. It can be assumed that children and adolescents seldom reach for them by themselves and immerse themselves in them, but that they need stimulation and guidance with these books, as mentioned at the beginning with the beautiful "Plato & Co." Books. If the parents are not available for this, the schools are definitely in demand. According to the philosopher Gabriele Münnix, a lot has happened in this regard, particularly in North Rhine-Westphalia, over the past 15 years. She herself was involved in the development of a philosophy curriculum in this state.

"Well, in North Rhine-Westphalia, I can speak for that at the moment, philosophy, practical philosophy, as a teaching subject from year 5 onwards in all school forms that emphasized that the children are so enthusiastic because they are given the freedom and because it is not a normal school subject in which some knowledge has to be tested at the end. It is more about skills. "

"When the birds forgot to be birds"

However, this is by no means the case in every federal state. The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin, for example, in his capacity as President of the German Society for Philosophy, complained in a paper on philosophy and ethics teaching that, in contrast to France, for example, philosophy does not have an equal status in the canon of subjects in large parts of Germany. Germany is the country of origin of great philosophers such as Kant, Fichte, Marx, Heidegger, Hannah Arendt. In addition, the philosopher complains of the teachers' lack of philosophical qualifications.

Where a good philosophy lesson takes place, confirmed Gabriele Münnix among others, philosophical non-fiction books and novels are also used. There is also very good visual material for the youngest in this area, for example the recently published picture book "When the birds forgot to be birds" by the Spaniards Maria Julia Díaz Garrido and David Daniel Álvarez Hernández. A wise parable. And it starts like this:

"One day the birds turned their eyes

from the branches and leaves

and imagined another life:

So began a new age ".

The black and white drawings show birds that are alienated from their nature. They are growing in number, want to rule over the life of other living beings and sow strife where there was harmony before. The story of man's hubris is told in just a few words and in large-format pictures - dressed in an animal story. It is about the question of the good, the right, the meaningful, the just life. A very philosophical topic.


Francoise Armengaud / Annabelle Buxton: Wittgenstein's rhinoceros. In the series "Platon & Co." Des Diaphanes Verlag 2015. 64 pp., 14.95 euros.

Miriam Henke / Jérome Meyer-Bisch: Laotse or the way of the dragon. In the series "Platon & Co." in Diaphanes Verlag 2014. 64 pp., 14.95 euros.

Julian Nida-Rümelin / Nathalie Weidenfeld: The Socrates Club. Philosophical conversations with children. Knaus Verlag 2012. 224 pp., 19.99 euros.

Julia Knop: The big questions. Philosophy for children. Herder Verlag 2013, limited special edition. 189 pp., 14.99 euros.

Richard David Precht: Why is there everything and not nothing? A trip into philosophy. Goldmann Verlag 2011. 208 pp., 16.99 euros.

Jostein Gaarder: Sofie's world. Novel about the history of philosophy. Dtv series Hanser 14th edition 2014. 623 pp., 9.95 euros.

Gabriele Münnix: Other Worlds. A fabulous introduction to philosophizing. Dtv 2009. Tb, 304 S.

Gudrun Mebs / Harald Lesch: Philosophy is like tickling in the head. cbj in the publishing group Random House 2013. 191 pp., 12.99 euros.

Janny van der Molen: Mr. Swart's head is buzzing or how thinking in the head can change direction. Gabriel-Verlag 2015. 240 pp., 16.99 euros.

María Julia Díaz Garrido / David Daniel Álvarez Hernández: When the birds forgot to be birds. aracari Verlag 2015. 32 pp., 14.90 euros.

Further recommended picture book titles:

Oscar Brennifier / Jacques Després. What if it just looks like I'm there? (2011) and: What if I wasn't who I am? (2012). Both books Gabriel-Verlag. 64 pp., 14.90 euros.

Stefan Karch / Dorothee Schwab: When I wasn't born. Luftschach Verlag 2015. 32 pp., 21.30 euros.

Christina Röckl: And then the head bursts. Kunstanstifter Verlag 2014. 64 pp., 26.50 euros.

Mac Barnett / Jon Klassen: Sam & Dave dig a hole. NordSüd Verlag 2015. 40 pages, 14.99 euros.