Keep the conversation going: If you hurt someone’s feelings, without getting caught, are you harmed in any way?

A plethora of philosophers: ‘The School of Athens’ (1509-10), one of Raphael’s series of  frescoes (1509-1510)  in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican

A plethora of philosophers: ‘The School of Athens’ (1509-10), one of Raphael’s series of frescoes (1509-1510) in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican

Tue, Nov 19, 2013, 12:14

The story of the “Ring of Gyges” is more than 2,000 years old but it still generates debate among intellectuals. It is also cited in Philosophy for Children (P4C) textbooks as an ideal conversation starter.

In Plato’s Republic, it tells the story of a mythical ring that makes the wearer invisible. The question is posed: If you could put the ring on what would you do? Would you do good deeds or would you do harm in the knowledge that you’d get away with it?

These questions set the scene for a deeper inquiry. Would it be wrong if you took something that didn’t belong to you, while wearing the ring? Would it matter if you harmed another person so long as you didn’t get caught? (This might be framed in the context of cyber-bullying.) Is virtue simply a matter of being seen to be virtuous?

In The If Machine: Philosophical Enquiry in the Classroom (Continuum), Peter Worsley suggests teachers could relate the discussion of Gyges’s ring to superheroes who are often anonymous, “which means they are greatly motivated by the intrinsic value of doing good rather than for recognition or reward”.

He adds a further tip: “When carrying out philosophy sessions . . . it is extremely important to resist the temptation to moralise.” It is important, he writes, children “do not feel they might be ‘caught out’ or condemned for their ideas.”


The Irish Times invites students to think deeply. Send your responses to the question, “If you hurt someone’s feelings, without getting caught, are you harmed in any way?” to education@irishtimes.com or submit in the comment box below, with “P4C Challenge” in the information line. Include your name, age, and school. A selection will be published in Education, and one entrant will win a goodie bag from The Irish Times.

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