During adolescence most of us go through a philosophical phase. Some of us never get beyond it. We challenge authorities to tell us why we should obey them. "Do it because I told you to do it" won't wash. Above all we seek reasons, not just neatly-packaged answers.
Yet there is very little opportunity for most teenagers to study philosophy at school. There is a Philosophy A level, but relatively few schools offer it. There is also a Critical Thinking A/S level, and some philosophy is included in Religious Studies A levels. For most students, though, the only way to study philosophy formally is to take an undergraduate course in it. But that's a risky strategy, because they may have little idea what the subject involves. Very few sixth formers would dare tell their parents they are about to embark upon three years of studying a subject which is completely new to them, doesn't appear to have any practical applications, and may even be subversive.
This is sad, because philosophy can change your life for the better. And the first few years of studying it make the most difference. A training in philosophy is in part a training in recognising and analysing flaws in arguments as well as in constructing your own and interpreting those of past philosophers. Above all it is a process of learning to think for yourself about some of the most profound questions we can ask.
Of course, this does not guarantee a smooth ride for those who study it: it can be disconcerting to question the assumptions we live by. As Bertrand Russell remarked: "Some people would sooner die than think. In fact they do."
The skills that philosophy teaches are essential skills for any responsible citizen. If you don't want to be duped by rhetoric, you'd better learn the difference between a good and a bad argument, between logic and mere persuasion. Such skills have applications in a wide range of situations beyond philosophy. No surprise then that philosophers such as Bernard Williams, Jonathan Glover, and Mary Warnock have been effective chairs of important ethical committees. Nor that the well-known lawyer Michael Mansfield has gone on record as owing his success as a QC in part to his philosophical training.
You might think that philosophy is just too difficult a subject to be taught to adolescents. Stephen Law's The Philosophy Files demonstrates that this just isn't so. This is a lively and interesting introduction to the subject which a bright twelve-year- old could follow and enjoy. It doesn't shy away from difficult topics either: the existence of God, the source of right and wrong, the nature of mind, even Plato's theory of forms are all addressed here. Law has pulled off the difficult trick of writing in an accessible and entertaining style while remaining philosophically respectable. …