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Making the Implicit, Explicit: Looking at the philosophical method employed in P4C

Thesis: that Philosophical method is a method for making the logical relationships between concepts explicit.

The provocation which prompts a philosophical discussion is the feeling that there is some conceptual relationship in the story that is puzzling or interesting. This feeling-what I will call an Intuition-arise naturally in the course of experience when various concepts are acknowledged to be in a relationship that is in some way problematic. Thus, for example, we intuit that the way we use the concepts 'mind' and 'brain' in relationship to each other gives rise, on occasion, to logical/ontological/epistemological oddities, e.g., I might assume that the mind is located inside the brain and then feel logically uneasy about what I meant by 'inside'. One way to clarify such intuitions is to subject them to a kind of consistency analysis that involves exploring the assumptions and implications that radiate in all sorts of directions from the particular relationship between the two concepts that are related in the intuition. 

A good example is that fact that music prompts certain feelings in us that we quite naturally call emotions. This characterization of them as emotions is our intuition about these musical effects-our intuitive attempt to grasp the nature of the effect that music has upon us. Now when we do philosophy, we ask ourselves what musical emotions are like, how are they different from the other feelings we call emotions, etc., etc. It is the nature of these questions and what we subsequently do with the answers that constitutes the whole dialectic (or philosophical method/process) that P4C tries to make explicit. 

It tries to be explicit about these procedures so that its practitioners-who are usually not trained philosophers-will know how to prompt students in such a way that their discussions become philosophical enquiries. What I want to do now is to organize the prompting techniques (which are the basis of the P4C method) in such a way that their relevance to the process of initiating philosophical enquiry will be clear.

 But before I do so let me illustrate once again the genesis of philosophical inquiry. Following Wittgenstein I am assuming that philosophical inquiry would never occur if the logical relations between the concepts that make up our language were consistent and therefore coherent. Thus I assume that philosophical inquiry is prompted by the fact that, in the course of using our language we occasionally experience a sense of incoherence revealing some underlying inconsistencies in the use of our concepts. Let us further assume that the source of this sense of incoherence is a function of the fact that a word being used coherently in one language game may then be used in some related language game and somehow not quite fit the rules of the second game. 

This related use yields a sense of incoherence, i.e., a feeling that we don't thoroughly understand what we are talking about, Thus to stick to our example, I understand ordinary emotions as feelings which arise in accordance with my understanding of the situation I am in. Thus, ordinarily, I only feel pride if I understand that I have accomplished something through my own efforts. But when I feel a musical emotion I don't understand anything about the situation that evokes it in me. So why do I regard the feeling which music evokes in me as an emotion? Here I have uncovered an inconsistency that explains the background feeling of incoherence that accompanied my use of the word 'emotion' in the musical context. The occurrence of this background feeling of incoherence indicates that we have a capacity to detect whether or not what we hear or read follows the rules that govern the concepts we employ in our language. When I say "That doesn't make sense", or "I don't follow you" or "That doesn't sound right'" these are our common ways of signaling that we have detected some inconsistency in the use of these rules. Now given that we have this inbuilt capacity to detect potential philosophical problems, how can we move forward in such a way that our subsequent discussion will constitute a philosophical discussion of the problem detected. 

The techniques that P4c employs are meant to ensure that the subsequent discussion will be philosophical. What this in turn means is that after the discussion we will feel a better sense of understanding the issue than we did before it was initiated. This improvement marks the discussion as an instance of critical thinking where 'critical' means: we are clearer in our minds after the discussion then we were before, about what was the source of our sense of incoherence. Now what are the prompting techniques P4C employs and how can we organize them in such a way as to understand how they are related to above characterization of how philosophical problems are generated. 

First prompt (Focusing the discussion) We read aloud the little story or excerpt that contains the inconsistency that is guaranteed to prompt a sense of incoherence. What is it that puzzles you? What did you find interesting? These questions are used to generate our intuitions: they simply direct us to articulate whatever felt sense of incoherence we encountered in the story. They focus the discussion. These intuitions will be expressed in a variety of ways by different members of the Community of Enquiry (CE) because the distortions of the logical links between the key concepts will be numerous. Roughly, if you find something puzzling this will be because you do not share the assumptions of the author; if you find something interesting it is because you sense implications of the assumptions you hold that illuminate or call in question some unexamined area of life. (Thus 'puzzling' often looks back to discover different assumptions which differ from assumptions you hold and which create an alternative world; 'interesting' often looks forward to implications which make your world larger, sometimes in unexpected and perhaps unsettling ways.) 

Second Prompt (Asking for Reasons) What makes you say that? What reasons do you have? Why do you agree or disagree with X? The next step is to ask the person why they thought x was puzzling/interesting. They will have a reason ready at hand because no one could answer the first question "What did you find interesting/puzzling about X" without having a reason. Asking what this reason is will clarify and serve to make explicit what it is that is the real source of the puzzlement or interest.

Third Prompt (Uncovering assumptions) How do you know? Why do you think that? What have you based that on? The next step in this process is to get the person to identify the assumption that makes her reason for finding X puzzling a plausible reason. When I find out what assumptions a person was making then I understand the reason why they thought that x was puzzling/interesting. This sense of insight is expressed in common language in the sentence. "Oh, now I see why you think X. You were assuming that Y. Making assumptions explicit reveals the implicit reasoning that underlies the intuition.

Fourth prompt (Compare and contrast) Suppose in the CE we went through this process three times and uncovered three different assumptions. A useful technique at this stage would be to compare and contrast the different assumptions that have been uncovered. How is that different from (or the same as) X? What is the difference between X and Y? Do you think X and Y are actually the same? 

This is an important step because the assumption I am making in this exposition of P4C techniques is that the intuition (the sense that something in the story is incoherent (we feel there is something interesting and or puzzling at its heart) is a function of the fact that in the story we used a concept from language game (A) (where it fits) in a second language game (B) (where it doesn't quite fit.) Therefore, there should always be a positive response to both the 'how are they different' and 'how are they the same' questions when it is directed at the assumptions that have been uncovered. Now whether you say that two assumptions are the same or different you will be ready to give a reason for your answer. 

Fifth prompt (Uncovering new implications of the assumption) If that is true, what else follows? What can we work out from that? What does that tell us? What follows from X? Every assumption has a number of wider implications. So we say "To be consistent, if you believe x you must also believe y". Often we are unwilling to accept the wider implications of our position (unwilling to "bite the bullet") and we are thus forced to go back and reconsider the assumptions that generated them. Exploring implications and acknowledging their absurdity is the step that forces us to question our assumptions. These are now the items that are puzzling or interesting. I'm now asking "Why have I been assuming that X was a case of Y" since this assumption now seems puzzling given the implications which I have uncovered. 

Once again I look for the reasons which underpin my assumption. What makes you assume that? What reasons do you have? This is the crucial step because (given my assumption about how philosophically interesting intuitions are generated) the reasons given must gain their force from the fact that the logic of the concept that has been transferred from game A (where it makes sense and generates implications I find acceptable) does not work properly in game B. There it generates implications that are the source of the intuitions which prompt the philosophical discussion. The sense of clarification that we achieve is striking. The unease that we felt originally is now intelligible. The technique has led us to, in Wittgensteins phrase, 'a perspicacious overview' of the related language games. 

So to summarize: 

1) There will be no philosophical interest in the story unless there is something incoherent in it. (Assumption: that the incoherence is a function of overlapping language games) That incoherence will be sensed in terms of an intuition ( what interests us/ puzzles us about the story) (Assumption: we have a capacity to detect when a concept is not being used properly) 

2) We will be able to give a reason for focusing on this item. 

3) That reason will be based on an easily identifiable assumption. 

4) That assumption will have implications which go beyond the original intuition and these further implications will be clearly absurd not simply 'puzzling' or 'interesting'. The absurdity will force us to question our assumptions. 

5) That reconsideration will reveal that the assumption makes sense in one language game but not in the other related game. Our intuitions that something is 'wrong' will now be intelligible. 

6) Project: to seek a cognate assumption for the related language game that will make it coherent in its own right. 


 Vegetarians and meat eaters trying to Understand each other. 1 Incoherence: Why should vegetarians want meat eaters to give up eating meat while meat eaters don't particularly care whether vegetarians eat meat? 2 Reason: Vegetarians think meat eating is morally wrong. Meat eaters think it's just a taste preference. 3 Assumptions: Animals have rights. Preferences are a matter of personal taste. 4 Implications: All animals have rights including houseflies. Its perfectly all right to drop horses off high buildings if you like to see them splash. 5 Questioning assumptions: All humans have rights but are animals to be counted as humans? Humans may be animals but are animals humans? It's all right to prefer chicken to pork. Is it all right to prefer splashing horses over splashing waterfilled balloons. 6 The project forming new assumptions How should we think about animals so that we could eat them with a clear conscience? How should we think about preferences to avoid splashing horses? The two related language games concerning moral choices and preferences are now distinguished and we see why the uneasy intuitions arose. 

Philosophy for Children

 Intellectual excitement and exploration, co-operative and rigorous inquiry. The Subject Matter: Common, Central and Contestable concepts. Truth, reality, knowledge, evidence, freedom, justice, goodness, rights, mind, identity, love, friendship, rules, responsibility, action, logic, language, fairness, reason, existence, possibility, beauty, meaning, self, time, God, infinity, human nature, thought. The Community of Inquiry: Critical, Creative, Collaborative, Caring. Student directed content, facilitator directed procedure, self propelling, self reflective, self correcting, focused on generating understanding, searching for better answers and better questions, co-operative and mutually supportive endeavour. Some skills developed in the Community of Inquiry Cognitive Skills * Evaluating reasons and arguments * Refining and modifying arguments in response to criticism * Exploring and analysing concepts * Drawing inferences * Recognising implications: theoretical and practical * Identifying underlying suppositions and assumptions * Finding examples and counter examples * Making distinctions * Seeing connections * Finding analogies and disanalogies * Identifying fallacies * Seeing broader perspectives * Testing generalisations * Formulating and testing criteria * Formulating questions * Being consistent * Clarifying ideas * Sticking to the point * Constructing arguments * Self correction Co-operative Skills * Listening to others * Being willing to accept and respond to criticism * Open mindedness * Treating others' views with respect * Becoming committed to inquiry * Building on others' ideas * Valuing reasonableness * Confident self expression * Developing intellectual courage * Being willing to offer criticism 


Student directed * Students set the agenda for the inquiry - a set of common goals, problems, questions or puzzles that they wonder about or are curious about * Students provide the content of the inquiry - they come up with all the possible ideas and answers * Students provide the evaluation of ideas * Self-propelling inquiry - students want to accomplish their agenda and take responsibility for making this happen. They ask further questions and keep the inquiry moving forward * Students are responsible for the quality of the discussion Rigorous thinking * Good critical, creative and logical thinking is valued in the community * Many well-thought through ideas are contributed, based on reasons and good Judgements * Each idea put forward is thoroughly tested and evaluated * The discussion is focussed and the students persist in seeking understanding * The thinking is reflective. The students reflect on the topic of inquiry. They reflect on prevailing attitudes, beliefs and values, and they reflect on the processes and tools of inquiry. * Students are willing to self-correct and change their minds. Thinking Together * Building on what others say * Considering all Alternative possibilities and points of view * Thinking is fundamentally social - Our process of thinking is internalised dialogue between two or more people. To get better at thinking, you get better at rigorous dialogue and then internalise this Moving Forward * The object is to make progress in the discussion. This may involve seeking answers to questions, getting closer to the truth and understanding of a problem or puzzle, clarifying some point or idea, creating new ideas or even just realising that things are more complex than they first appeared. It could also involve ruling out bad ideas, forming one's own opinion, making a distinction or connection between ideas, developing as richer conception or constructing or discovering meaning. Safe and open environment * Equality and respect- all ideas are considered equally * Respect shown for each person's ideas * They are comfortable taking risks in their thinking and contributing 


The pattern of talking is different in a student centred dialogue than what it is in a teacher centred dialogue. In a teacher centred dialogue, the teacher talks most. The teacher also talks after almost every contribution a student might make - this may be to ask further questions, to evaluate the contribution made (good point), or just to ask what others think. In a student centred dialogue, the teacher speaks no more than any other person in the class. The students take responsibility for asking questions, evaluating contributions or seeing what others think. The ideal in philosophy for children is to have a student centred dialogue. The teacher's job is to facilitate this process.


 Facilitator of thinking Weaver of ideas Model of good thinking Not the source and arbiter of knowledge * Doesn't provide the answers * Doesn't evaluate the ideas presented * Doesn't lead the students to converge their thinking to a particular point or idea Procedurally strong and inquiry strong * Main responsibility is to have all the features of a community of inquiry present * Responsible for climate and processes, not the outcome ideas * Encourage the students to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own ideas * Encourages student-student dialogue Develops students thinking * Asks questions as an example of good thinking, which get the students thinking * more deeply and broadly * Ask for clarification and the restatement of unclear ideas * Getting them to compare and contrast ideas * Points to philosophical moves made or skills used * Assist them to give birth to embryonic ideas * Ask 'why?' * Get debates between people going 


Teacher is procedurally strong - focuses on the procedures necessary for a good community of inquiry 2. Teacher doesn't give their own philosophical views 3. Uses pre-written philosophy stories as stimulus for discussion 4. Uses the teachers manual as an aid to identifying and exploring philosophical issues 5. Focus on the whole class community of inquiry 6. Classroom conversation and dialogue channelled through teacher 1. Teacher and students are procedural strong. Both groups take responsibility for the procedures of inquiry 2. Teacher is more involved in philosophical issues as a co-inquirer 3. Stimulus materials include a broader range of materials 4. Teacher having "internalised" the structure of the manuals, also constructs their own philosophical questions and activities 5. Flexible- class arrangements for a community of inquiry (small groups . . .) 6. Classroom conversation and dialogue appropriated by the community - students can cooperatively work together without strong teacher intervention 


The point of a warm-up is to do one or more of the following: * Reflect on their thinking or the process of discussion * To open up the topic of discussion * To have the students start to put views forward to the community Ideally a warm-up should have every student thinking, should give an opportunity for each person to contribute, be a non-risky question and engage past knowledge linking their thinking to other areas of their experience Questions (these can be tailored to the specific topics - eg. What do you know about Rights?) * What is the most inconsequential thing about you? * What is something no-one else knows about you (and which you want to share)? * What is something you know / something you feel sure about? * What is something you don't know / don't feel sure about? * Say something true about yourself * Say something false about yourself * Say something true and something false where no-one can tell which is which * What do you have doubts about? * What are you puzzled about? * What have you wondered about? * What is something you have imagined? * What things do we need to improve in the community? (Refer back to this during closure and ask whether these things were improved or not) * What things can you improve personally that would help the discussion? (This can be an invitation for quiet reflection rather than a spoken answer) Prompt Statements • One thing I know is . . . • An idea I have is . . . • I wonder. . . • A question I have is . . . • What if . . . • I think . . . • I predict . . . • This compares to . . . • What if . . . 


 The point of a closure to a class is to do one or more of the following: * Review and evaluate the process we went through * Review and evaluate the progress we made on the content of the discussion * Review and evaluate our own contribution to the class * Link our ideas to other ideas, classes or to the rest of our life * There are various ways these goals could be achieved: Ratings The students can be asked to rate various things: [1] how well they used a particular skill [2] listened [3] thought [4] followed the rules we set [5] enjoyed the discussion [6] questioned [7] gave reasons [8] participated etc. For a rating you can use: [1] physically lining up in a continuum [2] thumbs up or thumbs down [3] rating out of ten by holding up fingers [4] lining up across the room to form a physical continuum from positive to negative and they pick where they are [5] smiley face for positive, unhappy face for negative, neutral face for neutral Questions * How well did the discussion go? * What was one thing you liked / noted about the discussion or what someone said? * Is there a difference between this discussion and other classes? Between this class and having a chat? * Why are we working like this? Is it useful? * Did we make progress on the issue? Have we moved forward? 

* What do you think philosophy is? (summarise in one sentence) * What do you learn out of philosophy? * Have we improved our (thinking, listening, giving of reasons . . .)? * Ask about any skill in a closure - where would it be useful? Where would it have been useful to use it? * Did you learn something or discover something? What? (This could be about the topic, about yourself or about someone else) * What was the main point we were discussing? * How close did we get to hitting what we focussed on? (actually draw a target on the board and have them show where they think the arrow hit and why) * What are our final conclusions? Could someone summarise what we talked about? * Did you change your opinions? What made you change them? * What do we need to do to deepen our understanding or make more progress? Prompt statements • I learned . . . • I wonder. . . • I have learned . . . • I discovered . . . • I think . . . • I have experienced . . . • I'm pleased . . . • I'm concerned . . . • Now I'm ready to . . . 

Procedural Questions Focus:

 Definitions: What is it that puzzles you? What does this mean? What did you find interesting? Does it mean anything different from X? Clarification: Assumptions: Can we say more about that? How do you know? What does that mean? Why do you think that? Can we explain it more clearly? What have you based that on? Is there any part of what has been said that is unclear? Are there any questions we have to answer first before we consider that idea? Can anyone help X explain that more clearly? Information gathering: Does anyone have any questions for X? What do we know about that? 

Reasons: Consistency:

 What makes you say that? Is that the same as what you said before, or have you changed your mind? What reasons do you have? Does that fit with what was said earlier? Why do you agree or disagree with X? Explanation: Examples: Can you explain that? Could someone give an example of that? What are the possible explanations for that? Evidence: Counter-example: What evidence is there for thinking that? Can you think of a case or a time when that wouldn't happen? How could we get evidence to prove that claim? When wouldn't that happen? When wouldn't that be true? Testing: Speculation: How could you find out if that was true? How might that have happened? Why might someone believe that? 

Consequences: Alternatives: 

What would the consequences of that be? How else could we think about that? Can we accept those consequences? What would be a different view about that? If someone disagreed, what would they say? Implications: Summarising: If that is true, what else follows? What have we found out? What can we work out from that? Where have we got to? What does that tell us? What have we decided? What follows from X? Have we answered X's question? Have we made any progress? Evaluating reasons: Questions: Is that a good enough reason? How is that question going to help us? Do you agree with the reasons given? What questions do we need to answer first? What questions would be most useful now? Connections: Participation: How does that fit with X? What do you think about this? Is that the same or different to X? What do others think? Do you agree/disagree with X? Who agrees? Who disagrees? Why? Can both those claims be true? How are X's and Y's ideas alike/different? Distinctions: How is that different from X? What is the difference between X and Y?