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I would like to buy some books on philosophy for the child of a friend. He is very intelligent and mathematically able and clever for a nine-year-old. I remember near that age really enjoying the idea of logic (in particular syllogisms and some of Lewis Carroll's puzzles) as well as paradoxes such as Zeno's.

Are there any books anyone could recommend? I want a book this child can read on his own so not a manual for teachers or parents.

  • I'd be very tempted to look at Pooh and the Philosophers : In Which It Is Shown That All of Western Philosophy Is Merely a Preamble to Winnie-The-Pooh though its been so long since I've read it that I can't recall if its a good book for a 9 year old, or a 29 year old. – user10806 Nov 21 '14 at 16:29
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    One of the best things you can do for him is to not call him smart. Instead encourage him to struggle with hard concepts. (See growth mindset) – Gustav Bertram Nov 22 '14 at 7:28
  • @GustavBertram That I 100% agree with! – Lembik Nov 22 '14 at 7:29
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    John F. Barell : Critical Thinking Skills in all Children: Teaching for Inquiry. ISBN 10: 8132116127 / ISBN 13: 9788132116127 Published by Sage Publications, 2013 – Geoffrey Thomas Mar 5 '18 at 16:32
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    I'd go for 'The Making of a Philosopher' by Colin McGinn. Very accessible, and although he doesn't solve any he presents various problems very simply and clearly. He recounts his thoughts as a teenager and this should be interesting to the lad. – PeterJ Mar 9 '18 at 10:55

12 Answers 12

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Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (Worldcat link) might be better for an 11 or 12 year-old, but is worth mentioning. It follows a 14 year-old girl who starts wondering about philosophical questions and engages with a philosophy teacher to discuss in an accessible way ideas from early modern philosophy.

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    Interestingly, according to online reviews The Solitaire Mystery by the same author may be even better. What do you think? – Lembik Nov 21 '14 at 14:51
  • @Lembik My wife read Sophie's world and she loved it, still forces me to read it. I should start reflecting on the question if i am a nine year old :) – Asphir Dom Nov 23 '14 at 16:12
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When I was young I really enjoyed the books of logician Raymond Smullyan, who wrote several books of logic puzzles held together with minimal but amusing narratives, including The Lady or the Tiger? and To Mock a Mockingbird. They are very accessible, even to a young audience, but cover some surprisingly sophisticated and advanced concepts. Lewis Carroll himself wrote a similar book called A Tangled Tale (but it can be a bit rough going for a modern reader). If you don't care about the narrative, Martin Gardner has several entertaining books of puzzles and paradoxes. There's also the justly famed Godel, Escher, Bach which might appeal to a young reader of the right temperament. Flatland is more math than philosophy, but still food for thought. Likewise, The Phantom Tollbooth introduces advanced concepts in mathematical philosophy within the context of a thoroughly entertaining children's novel.

As far as more directly philosophically oriented work, there are a number of popularizations of philosophy for younger readers. With that said, I'd urge caution --no less an authority than Plato warns us that the study of philosophy can be counterproductive for the very young because it confuses them at the same time they are developing their sense of right and wrong. You also might encounter friction if the book you choose promotes views different from those of the child's parents.

Lastly, there are a number of works for children which are primarily novels, but that have rich philosophical underpinnings. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Neverending Story, Figgs & Phantoms, A Wrinkle In Time, Lewis Carroll's Alice books and Sylvie & Bruno --these and many others provide a gentler introduction to some very weighty concepts. Even books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games explore some mind-opening territory if you look beneath the surface --subjects such as the nature of good and evil, the meaning of life and death, personal sacrifice, poverty and class inequity, racism and war.

  • A great list. Thank you! And thank you for the reminder from Plato. This is why logic seems suitable I think. – Lembik Nov 21 '14 at 21:40
  • And no less an authority than Socrates thought you shouldn't learn philosophy by reading anyway, you should learn through dispute with your teacher. Those who think watching TV is "dumbing down", take note ;-) – Steve Jessop Nov 22 '14 at 1:07
  • I like the idea that reading is dumbing down! :) I just looked up "What is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles " by Raymond Smullyan which does seem a lot of fun. I will definitely get The Phantom Tollbooth too. – Lembik Nov 22 '14 at 7:36
  • You are the first person I've found who has heard of Sylvie and Bruno! Such a great book! (Sadly, Project Gutenberg only had the first half last time I looked.) – daviewales Nov 23 '14 at 3:08
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    @daviewales It's always been one of my most favorite books --but it's definitely not everyone's cup of tea. As a crazy mash-up of a Victorian romance, a twee children's fantasy, and a weighty theological and philosophical treatise, it still seems wildly ahead of its time today. (Also, it apparently was a direct inspiration for Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.) – Chris Sunami Nov 24 '14 at 15:06
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I think Orwell's Animal Farm can also be a good read for 9 year old. Its not strictly philosophical but still worth a read for every smart kid ( and adult ), I think.

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I don't want to generalize, but when i was 9 years old (also a fan of logic) i loved reading fantasy novels. I'm 19 now and i don't claim to have any knowledge on how to bring up a child, but maybe it's a good idea to buy him a book he enjoys to read.

What i would suggest (if he likes fantasy): Artemis Fowl it's a book/series about a teen super genius who loves money and kidnaps a fairy elf to get the gold of the fable creatures ;-) my favorite book series for ages under ~12

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    I think this is a nice idea too. – Lembik Nov 21 '14 at 14:51
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    Fantasy is, like, way overdone. Harry Potter is no help either. My dad says, "guide the child's interest, but don't force feed anything." Harry Potter and fantasty stuff is way too forced in public education (it's mistakenly called "social training.") But, it's more like social acceptance. You take it or else your not cool. Multiculturalism and diversity is the same deal. We are the frogs in the ever increasing heat of the soon to boil pond. Croak! Croak! – Darcy Davis Nov 23 '14 at 20:36
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"Cultivating an interest in any subject or discipline is more a part of chance than necessity (what we would like to do for our children)." This is what my dad says anyway. I began my own studies by reading through an old edition (1987) of World Book Encyclopedia. It's really fun even now! My dad picked up the entire set for $10.00 at some thrift shop. That was third grade. I was nine-years-old. He was pretty proud of that buy. But I remember turning to the philosophy section (quite by chance), and here my dad and I had the longest conversation I can remember about anything. He's really gifted. He makes everything exciting. Almost a life-and-death situation. But, he knows, and teaches my little sisters and I not to take things too seriously.

Well, to answer your question, my dad recommends children's poetry and the Classics Comics (yet around if you can find a few; maybe 'e-bay'). Also, he says the classical Greeks were first interested in poetry; myth and the theogonies preceded the pre-Socratics. Then came philosophy. Drew Hyland says the same thing in his book, The Origins of Philosophy (1973). He's also a big proponent of myth as a source for interest in philosophy. Over time, see to it that your nine-year-old reads the Iliad and the Odyssey (this is probably best at age eleven or twelve if he is in a G&T program somewhere). At nine-years-of-age, perhaps movies are better. I rembember the movie Troy with Brad Pit. I was really young; but, what a great movie! It inspired me to read Homer.

Also, there's art. My day tells me and my little sisters of his college days and how he took an art history course by chance. The world of philosophy opened up to him in the study of art and architecture. There's tonnes of stuff on that.

Better, if your's is a Christian family, there are stories about our Juedeo-Christian heritage. The Holy Bible Picture Book or The Living Bible for Children are really great! It would be especially exciting if your child could memorize whole passages from the KJV conjunctive with The Children's Bible. My dad says, "...this is good advice for ages five and up." Grandma, too, reads these. She is genuine about this. The children's section at your local Christian book dealer or Barnes & Nobel is a good place to begin. Or, better, the public library. We go there most every day, but not weekends.

Basically, pick up anything. You never know what might be of influence. But, my mom says: "Buy for the child's interest." My dad agrees: "...first, know your child; never stop listening; listen well." But, of course, as you know, don't be forceful.

My dad asked me to tell you, "...buy an old empty bookshelf; put it in the child's room; over time, just fill it up; it will take more than one book or movie; ...it's a life-time's work" Whew! At least until the kid is seventeen, or so. My dad says, I'm "...not there yet."

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After reading your title, I was going to recommend any book, so long as you read it with the child and engage philosophical discussion from the context of the story.

However, you appear to not be asking as a parent, but as a friend of his family, so you may not have that level of rapport. Logic, reason and philosophy are all around us and philosophical questions can be formed from any story because every story is saying something.

If you have a friendship with this youth, you could still take this approach. Buy a book, read it yourself, give it to him and then ask him in a week or two if he's read it. If he has, start asking him philosophical questions about the story, even if those questions aren't necessarily raised in the book.

This could also help the child learn to question the world around him. This is because some stories are designed to make you ask questions, while others are loaded with assumptions that we are quick to accept for the sake of the story. This tends to be true in life. We tend to question the immediate injustices in our own lives that directly affect us, while we are a little more easily accepting of the injustices that don't affect us or that we may not see around us every day.

Question the stories assumptions, their validity, ask why we are willing to easily accept them and this will help the child consider the intent of the book, the messages that are being claimed and (hopefully) make arguments for, or against, whatever subtext the author is presenting. Essentially, knit-pick it from a philosophical standpoint and you will be achieving your desired goal.

As an aside, it is interesting that Animal Farm has been mentioned as a good starter-book. I must certainly agree-- it is one of the most simply written stories with deep philosophical undertones. Agree with Orwell, or not, it is an excellent, quick and easy-to-read book that raises numerous philosophical questions of politics and government.

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Philosophical Physics

The Institute for Advanced Physics's A Kid's Introduction to Physics (And Beyond) by Anthony Rizzi (purchase here) and associated video do an excellent job introducing philosophical physics (substance, accidents, matter, form, etc.) to children as young as 6 years old.

Logic

A 9 year old might be able to work through the first book on formal logic of Memoria Press's traditional logic and rhetoric series.


See also: the juvenile books by Matthew Lipman of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children

  • "Along with a basic understanding of the Christian theory of knowledge, the text presents the four kinds of logical statements[...]" What is the Christian theory of knowledge?! I like the idea of puzzles because then he can confuse his friends too :) – Lembik Nov 22 '14 at 18:32
  • @Lembik: See its contents, sample quiz, and ch. 8; it definitely has "puzzles." I have no idea what they mean by "Christian theory of knowledge"; it's probably something their marketers wrote. I'd guess that by it they mean that truth exists and is absolute, we are capable of coming to it (contra skepticism), there is an extra-mental reality, etc. – Geremia Nov 22 '14 at 19:02
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Check out Logicomix. It's a graphic novel about the quest for the foundations of mathematics and logic. A 9 year old probably won't understand certain parts of it yet, but most of it is about the history surrounding analytic philosophy and why Bertrand Russell was both a philosopher and a mathematician. It's a great background for much harder topics that he might get interested in later (formal logic, proofs, set theory). It talks about many important philosophers and mathematicians -- Russell, Goedel, Wittgenstein, Hilbert, and more.

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    That is definitely too advanced! – Lembik Nov 22 '14 at 18:57
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    Logicomix is not — in my impression, having read it — for children. – ChristopherE Nov 22 '14 at 23:03
  • A lot of books that kids can benefit from reading weren't written specifically for children. Many of the books that had the biggest impression on me as a kid were books that I didn't fully understand at first. Logic is a difficult topic, but I think the historical context is something that an "intelligent 9-year-old" who loves math and Xeno's paradox might benefit from being exposed to. Having read Logicomix as well, it doesn't go in depth to the intricacies of logic, it's a gentle intro. – lk145 Nov 25 '14 at 4:18
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One book that I would recommend is Clear Thinking: A Practical Introduction by Hyman Ruchlis.

The original edition came out in 1962, and an updated edition was released in 1990.

While not strictly philosophy, it's an introduction to inductive reasoning and analytical method which is specifically aimed at kids. It introduces the basic concepts of logic, fallacies, and rhetoric, without relying on technical terminology or use of symbols.

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I think the Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton would be an excellent choice. The writing is simple enough for a child (I have given this to a six year old myself) but the themes are important, complex, and very much worth contemplating at any age. It's also a short read and therefore not overly intimidating.

The book consists of poetry and short prose based on the longer works of Chuang. I believe Father Merton created it from notes he took while reading translations. He was a serious student of Eastern thought and in my opinion he really did a beautiful job with this book.

It may be worth stating that this work does not contain any particular Catholic slant, at least to my eyes.

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+1 for Animal Farm.

The Little Prince (may be young, but still a great book). Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Walden.

  • I am a little concerned the last two books seem more suitable for teenagers but thank you. – Lembik Nov 21 '14 at 18:10
  • If it's to be fiction then I would say Candide. Some of the satire might be lost on someone with no prior reading in philosophy, but that just means when he does encounter philosophers he'll be prepared. – Steve Jessop Nov 21 '14 at 18:28
  • Non fiction would be good too. – Lembik Nov 21 '14 at 18:49
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    @SteveJessop: Some might consider Candide rather lewd and/or gory for a 9-year-old. Then again, others might not. – Nate Eldredge Nov 22 '14 at 4:34
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Go to your local Christian book store and get him an age appropriate Bible. He will get truth from it and a solid background from which to measure any religion or philosophy against.

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    On Philosophy.SE, like on any SE site, we like answers supported by facts. This, however, seems to be pushing a personal view - apart from the discussion whether the Bible is really about philosophy. – Keelan Nov 23 '14 at 22:13

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