A very successful session yesterday on The Ethics of Farting with 4S at Stivichall School, recently (the school featured in the Sticky Questions video). I was back to do some demos for staff who have joined since my last visit, and refresh how you can plan philosophical questions into your existing curriculum. The topic was “Burps, Bottoms and Bile” which might not seem to be the most promising territory! 

Warmup – Fingertrap
The children stand in a circle around the facilitator, left hand held flat and right-hand middle finger touching the palm of the person to their right.

  

When the facilitator clicks fingers, the aim is to trap the finger in your palm whilst pulling your finger away before it gets trapped. It’s a great exercise for focus listening, as everyone has to be dead quiet to hear the clicking of the fingers.  

Stimulus
As this is a first-person stimulus, you’ll have to adapt it somewhat but it will still work. You can either tell it third person, or perhaps better, as a counterfactual scenario in which you ask them to imagine that this has just happened to you. 
I was running the very same game and, after clicking my fingers in one round, noticed that, masked by the excitable reactions of the players to winning or losing the round, I had farted horrendously. I was saved from embarrassment by a fortunate feature of the geometry of circles. All points on the circumference are equidistant from the centre – in this case, the source of the fart. Hence, by diffusion, my fart reached the nostrils of all players more or less simultaneously, causing them to look accusingly from side to side and wonder who was responsible whilst I, unsuspected, maintained my position in the centre. We explored three concepts using the stimulus. 

Responsibility
If the canteen had served a flatulogenic food, such as beans, at lunchtime, who was responsible for my fart: me, or the canteen? Some said the beans were responsible, but this was challenged by others who said that responsibility required a decision; the general verdict was that if I knew I was apt to fart on consuming beans, I should have insured myself by bringing food from home. 

Confession
Should I have confessed that it was me? After a few minutes on the specific case, we moved onto the larger question of when someone had an obligation to confess that they had done something wrong. Important considerations for them were how serious the matter was, whether others were harmed, and whether innocent people were being blamed.  

Apology
When do you have to apologise for your farts? Some thought you never had to, since everyone farts. Others thought you always should, but out of politeness rather than out of moral obligation. I introduced the possibility that I suffered from fartitis, and some thought this would get me off of apologising, since it would be beyond my control, and others thought that even if you had a condition you should still seek to be treated equally with others.  

It was an excellent session, with a lot of careful analysis and some very good drawing of distinctions, counterexamples and other philosophical moves.  

Best wishes,  
Jason  

PS: I will be running an open course in the New Year on zoom. This side of Christmas, get onto The Philosophy Foundation Stage 1 Course if you can: It’s a superb training in the core skills of facilitation, and I can’t think of a better introduction to philosophy for children than to combine both courses.   

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