At least once every year, the Uehiro Research Division for iPS Cell Ethics visits junior high schools to directly teach students about iPS cells. (Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been conducting these events remotely.) These programs include lessons on the basic science, but they also include discussions on relevant ethical issues. These discussions ask the students to consider what are the donors’ concerns when they donate blood to generate iPS cells and what researchers should consider the research done using those iPS cells. The purpose is to have the students realize the many circumstances that can emerge, including ones they never gave much consideration before. Importantly, we have designed these programs for the students to view positions from different perspectives. Upon reflection, the success of this program is partly because the school setting provides a safe environment for the students to express their opinions.
Recently I had a chance to practice a program known as Philosophy for Children (commonly known as P4C; P4C.com). P4C is an innovative approach for people to develop the ability to think for themselves using philosophical dialogue.
In this program, all children are encouraged to submit a question, but only one question is open to further dialogue by a vote. The fact that the question was selected by the children themselves is important. In addition, the dialogue needs a space where the children feel safe to speak their thoughts freely. Many methods are available, but one P4C encourages is the community ball (P4C Japane | Community ball). This is not a dance. Rather, the person holding a physical ball has the privilege of speaking, and all others are expected to direct their attention to the person. Other rules of dialogue are also important. Namely, one cannot be denied an opinion. Instead, a dissenter is expected to recognize the other persons’ opinions.
The expectation of this design is that children will develop an ability to think for themselves. It is also expected to change some minds. Simply passing the ball around and expressing one’s own thoughts give everyone an opportunity to find an answer.
These experiences suggest to me that researchers and the general public need a similar scheme for dialogue, where no one feels their opinions are thoughtlessly dismissed and ideas are given respectable responses. Engaging dialogue might be the best ways to solve ethical inquiries.
I think of it like walking up a spiral staircase step by step.