P4C: When should we put others’ needs before our own?

“Need” feels like a very important concept at the moment. Education, business, the hospitality industry etc. all have competing needs – and how much does society need each of these areas to thrive?   This got me thinking about ethical questions surrounding need. We can divide them into two categories:  
Descriptive (on how things are)   When do we put others’ needs before ours? (e.g. distance / immediacy / reciprocation / existing ties)  Normative (on how things should be)   When should we put others’ needs before ours?
  You can introduce these questions to children by giving an example scenario where someone has to decide whether to put someone else’s need above their own. For example: Someone on their way to an important job interview. They ignore a charity campaigner asking for a donation that will save someone’s life, but rush to the aid of someone bashed by a car.A parent on their way to a meal who ignores a homeless person but brings back leftovers for their childrenA child who decides to donate all of their Christmas presents to a local charity For each, ask why did they do what they did, followed by what should they have done and why (if anything different)?   Of course, we can only speculate about their motives (especially as they are imaginary people!). But it’s interesting to compare what we do and why, and what we should do and why, and if there is a difference, exploring why this is. Which is a descriptive question in itself! [ed. Jason – Along with the distinction between subjective and objective, the distinction between descriptive and normative is probably the most useful to teach explicitly. Without it, people end up talking past one another, for example saying, “Gender doesn’t matter” when, whatever the merit of that as a normative claim, if you think it describes the world now you are at best optimistic! You can use “is” and “ought” with the youngest children.]   Your discussion might lead to questions like:   Is it right that people tend to care more about those they know? Should charity begin at home? If you put someone’s need above yours, should you expect them to reciprocate? If they didn’t reciprocate, would you do it again? When do you have a duty to put someone else’s need above yours? If inequality exists, is this proof we are putting our own needs first too much?   Best wishes,   Tom   P.S. Online Zoom philosophy, improv and debating courses at www.p4he.org and www.giftcourses.co.uk are back to a broad timetable after scaling back for the summer. At only £25 for a block of four, these are a superb way to use Pupil Premium funding or equivalent schemes to support children at risk of disadvantage. Classes for 6-8, 9-12 and teens. The 6 p.m. Thursday class on p4he.org would be a great opportunity for bright 9-12yr olds in particular, who often miss out on support from PP funding with their name on it, as they are deemed “not to need it”.

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