Philosophy suggestions for teenage girl?

A reader writes:

I have a 13 year old niece who is showing an (unprovoked, honest!) interest in

philosophy. She refuses to read Sophie’s World and I want to send her something

for her birthday that will provide a good route into philosophical thinking for a

teenage girl. Could you advise?

Your thoughts?

17 thoughts on “Philosophy suggestions for teenage girl?

  1. “Gödel, Escher, Bach” is a timeless classic for people who like to challenge their thinking.

  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously. People may underestimate how well it works on 13-year-olds of all genders. (Thankfully, my brother did not make that mistake, and provided me with his copy when I was sick in bed with strep. Best illness of my 13th year!)

    There’s a lot to be said for Epictetus’ Handbook. It’s provocative and sometimes accessible, other times intriguingly puzzling for teenagers. She can do it at 13.

    We also have this old thread here, which gets more useful as it goes on:

  3. I’d start with a selection of short books she can look though, think about, and see whether she wants more of any. The resources are so rich, I’m reluctant to pick out any! Still, here goes.

    1. Some Plato dialogues.
    2. I think one of the wonderful things philosophy can do is to ask whether we should be doing what we are doing. So I’d put Walden on the list.
    3. Maybe some of the topic books in Oxford’s “very short” list.

  4. As a teen, I kinda loved Camus’s essays. But I’m pretty sure we could throw in some women’s works. Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks come to mind.

  5. Back in my student days, when I was only a few years older than they were, a couple of teenagers– at least one of tim a girl– asked me for recommendations of philosophy to read. I suggested Austin’s “How to Do Things with Words” (I gave away at least two paperback copies) on the grounds that (i) it was good, (ii) not too long, and (iii) not all philosophy is like it but it is different enough from probable preconceptions to be usefully mind expanding. I’m inclined to think it still wouldn’t be a bad recommendation: the concepts it introduces are ones that anyone can enjoy using in thinking about everyday conversation and schoolwork and…

    My guess is that Austin wasn’t particularly sexist by the standards of 1950s Oxford, but those are standards we wouldn’t want to emulate now. (In an account of his famous afternoon sessions with colleagues, there is a report of a conclusion that there was a difference between men’s and women’s language that could only have been reached in a totally one-sex environment in which it never occurred to anyone to ask a woman what SHE would say.) But I don’t think much that’s offensive is in this book– nothing as cringe-worthy as the term “trousers word” in “Sense and Sensibilia.”

    Otherwise, what ELSE is she interested in, and recommend something on the philosophical edge of the other interest. Logic, for instance, if she’s a math geek.

  6. The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

  7. I think Plato’s Apology is very accessible, and narratively engaging. Even my least motivated students have a reaction to Socrates.

  8. Nagel’s “What it’s Like to be a Bat”, Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Ethics of Ambiguity,” and Bertrand Russell’s “Political Ideals” (1917) are very accessible. The latter would be valuable now, in a contentious election season. Anything by Mill will be accessible. I hated “Sophie’s World”– found it completely creepy that whoever was writing the letters said “don’t tell your parents”. Way to set kids up for a predator. . .So I am glad she isn’t keen on that one. Camus’ “The Stranger” is often taught in high schools.

  9. I’m of the mind that science is the best intro to philosophy, but then again I’m a naturalist. In my view, anybody who does not like “Cosmos” is unlikely to like good philosophy.

  10. For philosophical fiction, I’d recommend Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (one of the protagonists is a thirteen year old girl and it’s a lovely existential meditation) and if she would like sci fi, then Ursula Le Guin’s work is philosophically rich; I’ve also heard folks say good things about The Life of Pi. Christopher Phillips’ stuff, like Socrates Cafe, is also pretty accessible and gives a good introduction to philosophical thinking. In terms of philosophical works, if she’s at all interested in feminism, I’ll echo the suggestion of bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody in particular.

  11. I recommend a beautifully written new book by Sophia Vasalou, “Wonder: A Grammar.”
    This enquiry into the metaphysics of wonder might segue nicely into other areas of philosophy that may interest her. She’s fortunate to have an aunt-philosopher like you.

    Here’s the back cover; you can decide whether or not it’s a good choice for her:

    “Wonder has been celebrated as the quintessential passion of childhood. From the earliest stages of our intellectual history, it has been acclaimed as the driving force of inquiry and the prime passion of thought. Yet for an emotion acknowledged so widely for the multiple roles it plays in our lives, wonder has led a singularly shadowy existence in recent reflections. Philosophers have largely passed it over in silence; emotion theorists have shunned it as a case that sits awkwardly within their analytical frameworks.
    So what is wonder, and why does it matter? In this book, Sophia Vasalou sketches a “grammar” of wonder that pursues the complexities of wonder as an emotional experience that has carved colorful tracks through our language and our intellectual history, not only in philosophy and science but also in art and religious experience. A richer grammar of wonder and broader window into its past can give us the tools we need for thinking more insightfully about wonder, and for reflecting on the place it should occupy within our emotional lives.”

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