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An Enquiry into Philosophy

World Philosophy Day is on Thursday 16 November 2023

by Claire Law

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To define philosophy and consider the benefits of philosophical enquiry.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (An Enquiry into Philosophy) and the means to display them.
  • Have available the YouTube video ‘The trolley problem’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 1.37 minutes long and is available at:


  1. Show Slide 1.

    Welcome the students to the assembly.

  2. Explain that you are going to begin with some questions to get us thinking. Ask the students to raise their hand if they think they know the answer.

  3. Show Slide 2.

    Click to reveal the first question: ‘What is the capital city of France?’

    Listen to a range of responses before confirming that Paris is the correct answer.

    Click to reveal the second question: ‘How many days are there in a leap year?’

    Listen to a range of responses before confirming that 366 is the correct answer.

    Click to reveal the third question: ‘What was the name of the first person to walk on the moon?’

    Listen to a range of responses before confirming that Neil Armstrong is the correct answer.

  4. Point out that these questions hopefully got us thinking and some of us may not have known the answers. However, they were straightforward questions in that they each had one correct answer, so our answers were either right or wrong. Simple!

    But how can we tackle more complex questions?

  5. Show Slide 3.

    Click through the slide to reveal each of the three questions.

    - What is the meaning and purpose of your life?
    - How do you decide what the right course of action is when any choice will result in suffering?
    - What is love?

    Encourage the students to think deeply, rather than providing a verbal answer.
  6. Point out that these questions are much more complex. They require thinking, questioning and reasoning. We can call them ‘philosophical questions’.

    Among us here, there will be a range of different answers to these questions, but that’s a positive thing. For us to discuss and debate these questions, we need to listen, respond and be respectful of each other’s views. Doing so can help us to think more deeply about our responses and strengthen our ability to collaborate.

  7. Philosophical questions get us to think critically. But what is philosophy?

    Show Slide 4.

    The word comes from two Ancient Greek words: philos (meaning ‘love’) and sophia (meaning ‘wisdom’). So, the word ‘philosophy’ literally means ‘love of wisdom’.

    Engaging in philosophy involves seeking wisdom as well as finding it. By asking ourselves complex questions - and considering the ideas and responses connected to them - we are doing philosophy, even if we don’t come up with a clear answer to the question.
  8. Every year, on the third Thursday of November, UNESCO promotes and celebrates World Philosophy Day. Thinking critically about philosophical questions - and listening respectfully to other ideas - helps us to be caring, critical, creative and collaborative.

  9. Philosophy is far from new! Some of the most famous philosophical thinkers were from Ancient Greece, including Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, all of whom lived centuries before Jesus’ time.

    Many of the figures that are associated with major religions can also be thought of as philosophers. For example, Jesus’ parables got people thinking and seeking wisdom, as did the sayings and teachings of the Buddha

  10. Let’s consider now a more modern philosophical problem. It’s called the trolley problem and it was created by British philosopher Philippa Foot in the 1960s.

  11. Show Slide 5.

    I want you to imagine that you are the driver of a runaway tram (known as a trolley or streetcar in the USA). The tram’s brakes have failed and it’s gathering speed. Up ahead, the track divides: on one track, there are five men working, and on the other track, one man. Anyone on the track that you select is bound to be killed: what do you do? What is the right or moral thing to do? 

    To navigate how to consider this complex dilemma, Philippa Foot offered some hypothetical options. The aim is to think critically and creatively about how we make decisions as to what is moral

  12. Let’s watch a video that explores this dilemma.

    Show the YouTube video ‘The trolley problem’ (1.37 minutes long).

  13. In the video, we saw that there is no one, clear answer that everyone agrees on. Different people have different views and reasons for their choices. It is a complex problem that has a bad outcome no matter what choice is made.

    The trolley problem is a famous philosophical exercise that encourages us to consider whether it would be worse to see something bad happening and do nothing, or try to make it ‘better’ by doing something bad.

    I hope that it’s got us thinking about what we’d do - and how we make moral decisions in general. If so, we’re doing philosophy!

Time for reflection

As we take time to reflect on this philosophical question - and any others that have arisen for us during the assembly - let’s take a moment of stillness to gather our thoughts and consider how we want to live our lives. Let’s consider the principles on which we want to base our choices, particularly when those choices are complex.

Socrates believed that truth, goodness and usefulness were three pillars that we should use to base our decisions on. When we are pondering difficult choices, we can filter the information that we are considering through three tests: is it true, is it good and is it useful?

Ask the students, ‘How do we feel about using truth, goodness and usefulness as principles?’

Pause to allow time for thought.

For Jesus, trust in God’s love and mercy was a key principle on which his decisions were based. When he needed to make complex decisions, he trusted in a loving and forgiving God.

Let’s consider how we feel about trusting in a loving and forgiving God as a way to guide our decisions. 

Pause to allow time for thought.


In the spirit of today’s assembly, let’s take time in silence to consider what prayer we want to make. What words, ideas, thoughts and hopes arise in us? These can, if we choose, be our prayer.

Pause to allow time for thought.

We conclude our assembly today by saying, Amen.

Publication date: November 2023   (Vol.25 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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