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An extract from Nasty Brutish and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with Kids, by Scott Hershovitz
I was a philosopher almost from the time that I could talk, and I am not alone in that. Every kid—every single one—is a philosopher. They stop when they grow up. Indeed, it may be that part of what it is to grow up is to stop doing philosophy and to start doing something more practical. If that’s true, then I’m not fully grown up, which will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me.
I remember the first time I pondered a philosophical puzzle. I was five, and it hit me during circle time at the kindergarten. I thought about it all day, and at pickup time I rushed to tell my mother, who taught a preschool class down the hall. “Mommy,” I said, “I don’t know what red looks like to you.”
“Yes, you do. It looks red,” she said.
“Right . . . well, no,” I stammered. “I know what red looks like to me, but I don’t know what it looks like to you.”
“Red looks like that,” she said, pointing to something red.
“Right,” I said, “but I don’t know what that looks like to you. I know what it looks like to me.”
“It looks the same, sweetheart.”
“We call the same things red,” I attempted to explain, “because you pointed to red things and told me they were red. But what if I see red the way you see blue?”
“You don’t. That’s red, not blue, right?”
“I know we both call that red,” I said, “but red could look to you the way blue looks to me.” (Philosophers call the puzzle I pressed on my mother the shifted color spectrum. The idea is typically credited to John Locke.)
I don’t know how long we went round on that, but my mother never did see the point I was making. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m happy to try again.) And I distinctly remember her concluding the conversation: “Stop worrying about this. It doesn’t matter. You see just fine.” That was the first time someone told me to stop doing philosophy. It was not the last.