Book Reviews

Gareth B. Matthews: The Child’s Philosopher, eds. Maughn Rollins Gregory and Megan Jane Laverty, London: Routledge, 2022[Record]

  • Karen Mizell

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  • Karen Mizell
    Utah Valley University

This volume includes essays that recount Matthews’ journey of inviting children to an intergenerational dialogue within the philosophical tradition as a “shared space” (p. 1). The editors, Laverty and Gregory, credit Matthews with initiating (or helping to initiate) three fields in philosophy: children’s literature, philosophy for children, and philosophy of childhood, all of which are represented in thematic sections of the anthology. The three subdisciplines have long been received by the philosophical world with limited acknowledgement of the significance, productivity, and value of the subject matter. Currently, the three areas of progressive scholarship are attracting interdisciplinary scholars who are introducing lively, and sometimes controversial, directions and methods to philosophy. The book is divided into five sections, each introduced by specialists in Matthews’ work and followed by relevant essays composed by Matthews. Part 1 focuses on children’s literature (Karin Murris), part 2 is on children’s philosophical thinking (Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd and Cristina Cammarano), part 3 addresses Matthews’ Socratic teaching (Peter Shea), part 4 deals with developmental psychology (Jennifer Glaser), and part 5 discusses Matthews’ philosophy of childhood (Walter Omar Kohan and Claire Cassidy). Part 5 also includes the preface to the book The Philosopher’s Child written by Matthews and Susan M. Turner, and a transcript of a conversation between Matthews and Susannah Sheffer that focuses on Matthews’ own overview of his work in philosophy of childhood and philosophy for children. The anthology concludes with an afterword by Jana Mohr Lone and an extensive index. Matthews, who was a highly regarded scholar in ancient and medieval philosophy, recounts his first incursion into philosophy for children/philosophy of childhood when he was a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a father of young children. Matthews realized that he often engaged in spontaneous and sometimes playful philosophical conversations with children that addressed topics that he was introducing in his undergraduate classrooms. At around the same time, Matthew Lipman, Ann Margaret Sharp, and Frederick Oscanyan were developing a structured method for introducing children to philosophical discussions and incorporating the method into the standard course curriculum, generally referred to as philosophy for children. Whereas the approach of Lipman et al. was directed toward educators and primarily designed to introduce philosophy and philosophizing into the school curriculum, Matthews’ approach followed a different path by acknowledging in children their capacity as natural philosophers and accepting them as participating members in the philosophical community. Matthews preferred to engage children in unstructured discussions, often prompted by reading stories with them and pondering philosophical incongruities or perplexities, or constructing thought experiments together. Matthews was captivated by the naïve, open, and authentic philosophizing of young children who had not yet been socialized into conventional thinking. Matthews envisioned philosophy of childhood as a normative subject that addressed competing conceptions of the child and childhood, children’s rights, and philosophical thinking in children. He understood that this area of study would also incorporate applied philosophy in traditional philosophical subdisciplines: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and political theory with a focus on children. A topic that runs through Matthews’ own essays in the book and the topical essays by scholars of his work is Matthews’ inveterate originality in his interpretation of children’s thought and his playful and gentle engagement with children. He is ever quick to perceive the perplexities that children confront regarding language use, perceptions, and whimsical interpretations of words and phrases, and he joins in the fun. Two salient ideas emerge from a careful reading of the collection. The first is Matthews’ sense of moral repugnance over adult condescension toward children and his view that “addressing the ageless questions of philosophy [together] …