Ekkehard Martens is an authority on Philosophy for Children (P4C) in Germany, offering a comprehensive theoretical and methodological basis for teaching philosophy in schools. However, his work is not well known in the English-speaking world as the majority of his work has not been translated. I’ve been exploring Marten’s work in my academic research, translated by Sarah Rimmington. Cambridge Thinking Press, has recently acquired the English translation rights to Marten’s book, Methodik des Ethik- und Philosophieunterrichts: Philosophieren als elementare Kulturtechnik (Methodology of ethical and philosophical education: philosophising as an elementary cultural technique) to publish in English in the coming year in a translation by Sarah Rimmington, and so ahead of that I offer an introduction to Martens’ work and its value to P4C practitioners.
Martens spent most of his career at the University of Hamburg, where he is now Professor Emeritus, and has produced a considerable body of work which connects the academic study of philosophy with the activity of philosophising. He has argued that philosophising constitutes an elementary cultural technique, similar to learning to read or to do maths, which can be carried out by everybody, including children. His work remains valuable in Germany today: giving seminars at the Akademie fur Philosophische Bildung und Werte Dialog (Academy for Philosophical Education and Dialogue of Values) in Munich, and his work is the basis of Eva Marsal’s book series Ethik entdecken mit Philo, (Discovering Ethics with Philo – Philo is a mouse character in the books). Marsal’s books are a resource series for primary school teachers and learners, and were nominated for the School Book of the Year in Germany in 2017
Martens work centres around the ‘Five Finger Model’ , a detailed breakdown of philosophical skill acquisition that allows children to approach philosophical stimuli from different perspectives:
Finger 1 – Phenomenological (perceiving, observing and visualising)
Finger 2 – Hermeneutic (understanding connections and different perspectives)
Finger 3 – Analytical (evaluating, explaining and recognising arguments)
Finger 4 – Dialectic (arguing for and against, acknowledging other viewpoints)
Finger 5 – Speculative (exploring broader perspectives, possibilities and alternatives)
Martens is clear that children are capable of philosophising, but also stresses that we must not be too quick to designate their every thought and question as examples of philosophical thinking because some of these questions (such as ‘Why is a tree called a tree?) can be ascribed to their newness in the world rather than examples of philosophical thinking.
Each of the ‘fingers’ of Marten’s Five Finger Model aims to develop children’s thinking from their initial point of wonder and stems from Socratic reasoning in which the skills of philosophising “can be practiced and acquired gradually without having to forgo the moments of sudden, spontaneous insight” (ibid p.107).
This model seems to offer a means by which learning to philosophise can take its place alongside other school subjects in the primary curriculum: while engaging in dialogue about themselves and the world around them, children can become more skilful in their thinking. It preserves the openness of mind which characterises the inquiry-based methods of P4C while at the same time providing education practitioners with criteria along which to progress children’s thinking in each of the five categories.
In English-speaking countries (notably the UK, Ireland, the US and Australia), philosophy for children is continuing to expand: a greater number of schools are carrying out philosophy sessions, more teachers are receiving training, and universities are offering modules in philosophy for children in both education and philosophy departments. To extend the reach of P4C, a more systematic approach such as Martens’ helps to ensure that P4C is not seen as an optional extra which is carried out as a circle time activity if time permits, but has a place in the school curriculum.
Laura Kerslake is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. Her work, the Playground of Ideas, is a guide to philosophising with children while developing their thinking and talking skills and dispositions. It has recently been published by Cambridge Thinking Press and more information is available here: www.playgroundofideas.co.uk
Sarah Rimmington is a professional translator of German and French whose specialisms include literary and academic translation. She recently translated the Playground of Ideas into German (Der Gedanken-Spielplatz) and is working on the translation of Martens. She studied German and French at the University of Cambridge. www.germanfrenchtranslation.solutions
 Marsal, E. (2014) Ethik entdecken mit Philo. Unterrichtswerk für Grundschulen Bamberg: CC Buchner
 Martens, E. (2003) Methodik des Ethik- und Philosophieunterrichts:Philosophieren als elementare Kulturtechnik Hannover: Siebert Verlag
 p.101 Martens, E. (2009) Children’s philosophy and children’s theology: a family resemblance in Hovering over the face of the deep: philosophy, theology and children (eds. Iversen, G., Mitchell, G. and Pollard, G. pp.97-116 Münster: Waxmann