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Connections between philosophy and other subjects

While philosophy has its own traditions and body of knowledge, it is primarily a way of approaching issues and questions that arise out of different contexts. For this reason, learning in philosophy can usefully be integrated with learning in any area or subject and asks questions deserving of philosophical investigation and discussion.

Philosophy encourages students to uncover fundamental assumptions in issues by questioning them. For example, ‘What is land?’ ‘Is zero nothing?’ ‘What is freedom?’

The following are examples of ‘shared spaces’ where learning in philosophy can support learning in other subjects and vice versa. There are many other possibilities.

English and learning languages

Philosophy, like English and other languages, emphasises clarity and precision in communication.

Philosophical thinking:

  • interprets and communicates ideas from texts
  • makes meaning from different cultural sources
  • creates meaning by interpreting ideas in different ways
  • examines language and what it means to mean something through the study of signs and the study of the sound systems of language.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • How the aesthetic quality of poetry communicate meaning? (Wordsworth, Sam Hunt?)
  • In James K Baxter’s poems, what does it mean to be a New Zealander?
  • What is personal identity?
  • How does understanding identity help people to be fully human?
  • Are there miracles? (The Green Mile, The Insatiable Moon)
  • Is there such a thing as destiny or karma?
  • What is the nature of innocence and guilt? (The Green Mile)

The arts

Philosophy explores underlying concepts across different types of expression and encourages innovation and non-conventional expression.

Aesthetics, a branch of philosophy, explores theories of art and reality and participation in different visual worlds.

Philosophy develops ideas about what the visual arts, dance, drama, and music actually are; what culture, self, and community actually are; and what the relationships between them are.

Philosophy explores what it means in different cultures and societies for something to be a work of art, and whether these ideas are personal or social.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • Why does some music make me feel good?
  • Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?
  • What is it for something to be beauty?
  • When is something art?
  • What is the relationship between culture and art?
  • Is the New Zealand landscape beautiful? (Colin McCahon)

Health and physical education

Health and physical education challenges social expectations to help students develop personal identity, empathy, and a sense of self-worth. In health and physical education, many human dimensions are explored, including spirituality and sexuality.

Learning in philosophy can help students frame and explore such questions, and to develop ideas about well-being and what it is to be healthy.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • Who am ‘I’ and what is my relationship to others?
  • What kind of person do I want to be?
  • What is the relationship between physical activity and well-being?
  • Is my physical health as important as my mental health? (Hauora encompasses health for the body, mind, and spirit.)
  • Do the choices I make give me what I want?
  • How free am I?
  • Why play sports?
  • What is fair play?
  • What role do sports supporters play?

Mathematics and statistics

Because mathematics attempts to provide a language that can describe the physical world, and to model relationships found in the physical world, it has always been a rich source of philosophical questions and speculation.

In philosophy, students engage in the same sorts of questions as are valued in mathematics by:

  • exploring patterns or systems
  • testing the logic of arguments
  • creating and constructing logical systems, and expressing and explaining relationships in ways that make sense of the world
  • exploring paradoxes
  • using models to generalise and specify outcomes and consequences of beliefs
  • inductively evaluating, using uncertain or variable information
  • exploring ideas such as what it means for one event to be more probable than another.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • What is mathematics?
  • Why study mathematics?
  • Can 1 ever equal 2?
  • Is zero nothing?
  • What are negative numbers? Irrational numbers?
  • What is the square root of –1?
  • Can a finite being comprehend infinity?


Sciences raises countless interesting questions that are open to philosophical investigation. These include questions about the nature of science itself. For example:

  • What are the origins of the assumptions on which the various specialised sciences are based?
  • What is the real status of scientific discoveries about the universe?

Like science, philosophy is concerned with interactions in the world. Both share the methodology of generating hypotheses and testing them against experience.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • Is the universe reducible to physical particles?
  • Is scientific method based only on falsification?
  • Can science answer all questions?
  • What contribution does philosophy make to scientific understanding?

Social sciences

The social science focus on inquiry is reinforced by philosophy’s emphasis on exploration of values, concepts, and perspectives.

As in the social sciences, in philosophy, students:

  • reflect on the assumptions of the various beliefs which shape different groups, cultures, and societies, and try to grasp their significance
  • critically explore concepts such as culture, citizenship, identity, continuity – and even inquiry
  • explore what it means to be part of New Zealand’s heritage, or for an event to be newsworthy
  • examine the development of contemporary viewpoints across cultures and societies.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • How should I live my life in a fragmented modern society?
  • Is there a public good? If so, does it supersede a cultural good?
  • In a multicultural society, what does turangawaewae mean?
  • Do Locke’s ideas on land acquisition conflict with those of Māori?
  • Is cannibalism ever justifiable?
  • What is society? What does society owe me?
  • What is sovereignty? Is it the same as tino rangitiratanga?


Technology is ‘intervention by design’: the application of the human mind to solving human problems and improving our lot. Philosophy can be particularly valuable in helping students explore the nature of technology, and technology’s impact on the social, economic, and environmental fabric.

Philosophical questions that could be explored

  • Can we build computers that are consciously intelligent?
  • Should the atomic bomb have been developed?
  • Should we clone human beings?
  • Should we make designer babies?
  • Can we say ‘no’ to a new technology?
  • Is what is ‘new’ also what is ‘better’?

Last updated October 6, 2011