Ariadne’s Clew Absence and presence in the facilitation of philosophical conversations

Peter Worley


Drawing on fifteen years of experience as a practitioner of doing philosophy in primary (ages 3-11) and secondary (ages 11-18) school classrooms, I will describe and attempt to justify (appealing to ownership and philosophical dialectic) two broad, over-arching principles, presence and absence: the extent to which a facilitator influences (presence) or deliberately refrains from influencing (absence) philosophical enquiry. While it is expected that the facilitator will and should be present in the discussion, this paper pays special attention to the extent to which a facilitator judges that presence appropriate. I revisit the notion of open and closed questions but, instead of considering the structural aspect (Worley 2015b), I address the psychological dimension of open and closed questioning, what I have called ‘Open Question Mindset’ (OQM) and its opposite ‘Closed Question Mindset’ (CQM). I consider two of the main ways in which teachers commonly demonstrate CQM: ‘Guess-what’s-in-my-head’ questioning and ‘Guess-what’s-in-your-head’ questioning/inferring. OQM, together with the notion of ‘intentional sensitivity’—sensitivity to the student’s intentions rather than only to the surface-meaning or logical implications of their utterances—allows me to suggest ways in which one may practically meet the requirements of presence and absence. One particular aspect of facilitation that I consider, and recommend being mindful of, is paraphrasing or interpreting, especially with regard to hidden premises that might be thought implied by things children say. I recommend consciously refraining from interpreting children’s contributions (absence), and instead working hard to elicit or ‘excavate’ children’s intentions and meanings through careful OQM questioning (presence). 

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY- 4.0) -