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Conducting a Philosothon

Rationale – A Philosothon is an event that provides large groups of school students with an opportunity to investigate philosophical issues in the context of ‘communities of inquiry’. In the process of preparation, they develop skills in inquiry-based learning, ethical reasoning, higher-order reflective thinking and a search for meaning through dialogue about open questions and contestable concepts. During the event, students participate in a series of discussions with students from other schools. These discussions are facilitated by teachers with an interest in or training in Philosophy and adjudicated by a panel with appropriate academic or educational qualifications. While there is an element of competition, Philosothons aim to promote a sense of community by developing a shared understanding of values and purposes in a spirit of cooperation.

Guidelines – Below you will find general guidelines for schools / universities or associations conducting a Philosothon. Applications to vary the agreed structure can be sent to:

  1. Size and constitution of groups:In a Philosothon students are divided into discussion groups. The recommended size of a group is around 7-13 students, although this may vary depending upon the number of schools involved. Normally, there is one student in every group from each school participating in the Philosothon; but if, say, only four schools were involved then there would be two students from each school in a group. Normally students are placed in age divisions for the first two Communities of Inquiry on the night and then for the final two COI’s students are mixed up with roughly equal numbers from each age group. The reason for this goes back to the origins of Philosothons and best practice pedagogy which suggests that truly gifted children rise to the occasion when they are with older students and that the skills being sought are not related to the age of the students.  Alternatively, division into age-related groups can be considered when a range of year levels is involved in a Philosothon. For example, students in Years 9-10 (Stage 5) might be placed in different groups from those in Years 11-12 (Stage 6).
  2. Discussion topics and timing:The number of topics to be included in a Philosothon depends upon the length of time available for the event, but it is usual to have 3 or 4 philosophical topics. Discussion should run for 20-30 minutes on each topic, with appropriate breaks. Philosothons can happen at any time in the year but they are best in the second half of the year in term 4.

Here is a short list of possible topics.

    • Ethics- Under what circumstances should a person lie? Are there any absolute moral values? Is it morally worse to actively kill a person than to passively allow that person to die? Is torture ever permissible? Is human nature either naturally good or evil? Do people have a right to be rescued? What is it to live a good life?
    • Metaphysics – Does God exist? Does the universe have a purpose? Do human beings have free will? Can a robot be Conscious?
    • Epistemology -Can religious belief be justified? Is knowledge more than a matter of opinion? Is science our best guide to real knowledge? Is there anything that we can know with absolute certainty?
    • Social and Political Philosophy – Given that roughly 50% of the population is female should our political institutions be required to have 50% female representation? Is democracy the best form of government? What is it for a society to be free? What is more important for a good society, freedom or equality?
    • Aesthetics – Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? What makes something a work of art?   *Preparing students: It is essential that students participating in a Philosothon are familiar with the community of inquiry process. Ideally, community of inquiry style teaching and learning should have been integrated into their regular studies. At a minimum, students need preparatory coaching prior to participating in a Philosothon.

The following pointers can be used to give students the general idea of what is expected:

  • Guidelines for students
  • Be prepared for a discussion rather than a debate
  • One person speaks at a time
  • There is a need to ask questions
  • Deep listening is integral to the process
  • Take time to reflect and think carefully
  • Give reasons for your opinion
  • Check your assumptions, reasoning and evidence
  • Ask others for reasons, definitions, evidences, examples or assumptions as necessary
  • Define and discuss points of difference as well as points of agreement
  • Admit when you change your mind about something that you may have thought earlier


  • A sense of community is essential
  • All opinions are to be respected
  • The discussion makes the pathway; it is not set by a leader
  • Differences are a fundamental part of the process
  • Accept that others may disagree with you, and you with them
  • Conflict and mistakes made in good faith are to be seen as opportunities for learning and growth
  • This is a thinking process that can challenge assumptions and preconceived ideas
  • It may be that you need to change your mind
  • It is NOT about winning an argument
  • It is about thinking more deeply about matters of importance to you as a member of the community

For a detailed introduction to the practices involved, see the books dealing with classroom practice in our Resources section.

  1. Facilitators and judges: Each discussion group has a Facilitator. The role of a facilitator is to assist students to conduct the discussion, intervening where necessary to spur the discussion along and help students to observe the guidelines. Facilitators are to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity to take part in the discussion. They can ask questions of the group, but they should not air their own views on the topic being discussed. Facilitators must be experienced in the process of conducting this kind of discussion and ideally should be classroom teachers with at least a Level 1 certificate from one of FAPSA’s Associations. For assistance with finding Level 1 trained Facilitators, please contact your local Association. Judges sit outside the discussion circle and grade student performance. Judges ideally should be either academic philosophers, FAPSA Level 2 trained personnel, experienced philosophy teachers, or other people with academic qualifications in philosophy. Below you will find performance criteria and marking schedules for student performance. Variations to the schedule must be approved by FAPSA where a Philosothon is in any way associated with FAPSA. For correspondence with FAPSA on this and related matters see Contact Us. Please note that FAPSA does not supply judges. In case of difficulty finding judges, your local Association may be able to help. (Click here for a list of Associations)
  2. Recommendations for awards:At a Philosothon, it is traditional to make awards for the best individual and overall school performance. While this introduces an element of competition, it should be emphasised that a Philosothon is not a debate and the performance criteria are based upon the extent to which students excel in engaging in collaborative philosophical inquiry.
  3. Scoring: There have been a variety of judging criteria developed by different associations. Where a Philosothon is using judging formula (note that some Primary and Middle School Philosothons don’t use judges scores) FAPSA currently approves of two possible sets of judging criteria. Both raw scores and Z scores can be used in the scoring process. The Australasian Philosothon will be using Judging criteria number two.

(Click here for a list of Associations)

Performance Criteria


  • Shows superior ability to engage in the collaborative inquiry process
  • Demonstrates sophisticated understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Employs rigorous and sophisticated justification and reasoning
  • Consistently tackles areas of difficulty through effective questioning
  • Always develops own and others’ ideas insightfully


  • Shows considerable ability to engage in the collaborative inquiry process
  • Demonstrates a sound understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Nearly always gives justification and employs good reasoning
  • Often tackles areas of difficulty through questioning
  • Usually develops own and others’ ideas insightfully

Highly Competent

  • Engages consistently and competently in the collaborative inquiry process
  • Demonstrates reasonable understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Often gives justification and reasons well
  • Occasionally tackles areas of difficulty through questioning
  • Occasionally develops own and others’ ideas insightfully


  • Makes a limited contribution to the running of the inquiry process
  • Demonstrates limited understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Sometimes provides justification and engages in reasoning
  • Engages in some discussion but with limited insight


  • Hinders the running of the inquiry process; e.g. by asking rhetorical or disjointed questions  
  • Demonstrates little understanding of the concepts central to the topic
  • Virtually never provides justification or attempts to reason
  • Offers nothing but the occasional comment

Experiencing Difficulty

  • Dominates or withdraws from the inquiry process, failing to treat peers with respect or to share responsibility for the conduct of the discussion


                                                                                                                                                                      MARKING SHEET





















Promotes the inquiry process
Understands concepts
 Justifies and reasons
Develops own and others’ ideas

TOTAL:               / 20

History of the Philosothon In October 2007 eight schools accepted the invitation to send their best philosophers to participate in the first ever Philosothon at Hale School in Perth, Western Australia. It was a concept conceived by the Head of Philosophy and Ethics, Mr Matthew Wills and the Head of Gifted and Talented Ms Leanne Rucks. Each year since then the number of schools has grown prolifically and in October 2012 twenty six Western Australian schools participated in the sixth annual WA Philosothon at Hale school. This growth has been replicated by schools in other states of Australia where they have been building their own Philosothons. Recently 22 schools participated in the 4th Sydney Philosothon at Ascham School while 18 schools participated in the 4th Annual Melbourne Philosothon at Ballarat Grammar’s Melbourne city campus. AB Paterson College on the Gold Coast hosted the first Queensland Philosothon and most recently Philosothons have been held annually at the University of Queensland. Philosothons are currently being held in 16 locations around the country, New Zealand and the UK. The first Primary School Philosothon was held at the National Art Gallery of Victoria in 2012 with eight primary schools involved. For more information about the history and organisation of the Philosothon see the article Fostering the Exploration of Philosophical and Ethical Questions among School Students in Australia by Matthew Wills, published by the American Philosophical Association.

RESOURCES: Resources are available on the Philosothon website.   ENQUIRIES: If you have any general enquiries regarding running or participating in a Philosothon, please email Matthew Wills.


2016 FAPSA Australasian Philosothon Anglican Church Grammar Qld


11 August 2017

FAPSA receives Templeton Grant to fund Philosothon Project

The Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Associations (FAPSA) is delighted to announce that it has been awarded a substantial grant from the Templeton Religion Trust to fund a philosophy in schools project over the next three years.

The Philosothon project was conceived by Mr Matthew Wills, the Head of Philosophy, Values and Religion (on leave) at Hale School in Western Australia. A Philosothon is a competition that sees students engaging in a Community of Inquiry, seeking to investigate a complex ethical or philosophical problem in a collaborative manner. Unlike debates, the views of students are not necessarily pitted one against the other, and students may change their mind or refine their thinking on issues as the dialogue unfolds. In this way, Philosothons promote critical and creative thinking and collaboration skills.

The funded project has been awarded $281,656.00 AUD to further develop Philosothons in Australasia. It will grow existing Philosothons and support the establishment of new ones, particularly in remote schools and at schools catering for students from low socio-economic backgrounds. The success of the grant application has been “the culmination of a lot of hard work, patience and persistence by a lot of people”, said Mr Wills.

Sir John Templeton was a US-based Philanthropist who sought to encourage learning, and believed in the centrality of spiritual life. Wishing to fund research that assisted understanding the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind, he created the John Templeton Foundation in the late 1980s and later established affiliated organisations, such as The Templeton World Charity Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust, which deal with non-US based projects predominantly in universities around the world.

Following the news of the successful application, the Chairperson of FAPSA, philosopher Dr Laura D’Olimpio, said, “This grant is a significant vote of confidence in the role philosophy can play in the lives of young people. It enables us to further encourage schools to teach philosophical thinking skills to students using a fun and effective pedagogy that will equip them with lifelong skills such as problem-solving, respectful communication and moral decision making”.

FAPSA is an umbrella organisation which seeks to enrich and expand philosophy education in primary and secondary schools in Australasia. It supports the interests of its nine affiliated Associations through professional development and advocacy initiatives and holds a biennial conference. The official journal is Journal of Philosophy in Schools ISSN 2204-2482.

Click here for the Philosothon FAPSA TRT Project Summary

Contact: For information, interviews or photo opportunities please contact the project co-ordinator Mr Matthew Wills on (e) |  Ph: +61 (0)400 029 660