This is about thinking. It is about finding out how and whether things make sense. It deals with questions of morality and ethics. It takes seriously the nature of reality, knowledge and existence.
In the context of RE, we have defined ‘philosophy’ as “conversations about thinking, reasoning and making judgements: investigating the nature of knowledge, reality and morality and the way in which we reason about them”.
For many thousands of years, human beings have asked questions about meaning and existence.
Around the 6th century BCE these questions began to be systematized in religious philosophies in different areas of the world. This is the starting point for the discipline of philosophy.
However, curiosity on its own is not enough; we also have the capacity to reason as well as wonder. It is this process of reasoning that lies at the heart of philosophy.
Philosophy is less about coming up with answers to difficult questions and more about the process of how we try to answer them. It uses dialogue, discussion and debate to refine the way in which we think about the world and our place in it.
Philosophy contains three fields of enquiry that would be applicable to a balanced framework for RE:
Metaphysics: metaphysics considers the nature of the world around us; using our senses and reason to think about the world and to ask questions about it; asking epistemological questions about how we know; examining how people make sense of the world they live in; examining and analyzing definitions of things, e.g. what we might mean by happiness, hope, truth or knowledge; looking through the lens of metaphysics would help pupils consider what the object of study might tell us about the nature of existence and reality.
Logic: investigating the process of reasoning that takes place when we ask questions about the world and our place in it; this branch of philosophy considers the way in which statements are put together to form conclusions; looking through the lens of logic would help pupils consider whether they are asking reasonable questions of the object of study, as well as thinking about whether the object of study is providing a well-constructed and coherent response to questions of existence, reality, truth, morality, etc.
Moral philosophy: moral philosophy considers the nature of good and evil, asking questions such as, ‘How do we decide what is good? What is the nature of goodness? and, ‘What is a ‘good’ life?; looking through the lens of moral philosophy would help pupils explore what the object of study is telling believers about the nature of goodness, how to make decisions and how to live a ‘good’ life.
As a discipline, philosophy has long been associated with the study of religions and beliefs, which is evidenced in the specialised field of philosophy of religion.
Indeed, RE may be the curriculum area in which many children and young people first encounter philosophical ideas and thinking.
This is not to say that philosophy is limited to a study of religions and beliefs, but it is to acknowledge that is a key element of a balanced RE curriculum.