Philosophy of Kindness

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Area: Film, History and Social Studies
Grade Level: Middle School, Primary/Elementary School
Topics: ethics, Kindness
Estimated Time Necessary: 1 hour
Lesson Attachment: P4C-Ethics-Kindness.pdf

Lesson Plan

To better understand the concept of kindness

Introduction: Have students draw up a page with two columns. Title one side ‘kind’ and the other side ‘unkind’. Get them to list actions or behaviours that they have done themselves, had done to them, or witnessed being done to others into each column. This introduction gets them working on their prior knowledge of the concept of kindness: what constitutes being kind and what constitutes being unkind is assumed, and what constitutes kindness will be developed in greater detail later. For now, we are interested in their prior conception of kindness.

Sharing: Share some of the children’s examples or experiences with kindness and unkindness and place some on the board. Ask students what makes these actions kind (from the kind side). Ask students what makes these actions kind (from the unkind side). Here we introduce the main theme of the lesson which is to get a better understanding of what kindness really means. Students will start here with their ideas of what kindness is in relation to the specific examples they have come up with as a class.

Developing Criteria: Introduce students to the idea of having criteria as a philosophical skill to determine what a concept like kindness really means. Try to develop some of these broad criteria from the specific examples children have already given and start to develop a set of criteria which underpins the concept of kindness. Students should begin to understand what criteria are and how they might be applied. For instance, in the case of kindness, they should understand that all criteria of kindness must be able to be seen in each and every act of kindness. Otherwise it is not a criterion of kindness itself, but maybe just a feature that is applicable in one (but not all) acts of kindness.

Stimulus: Introduce this video stimulus about random acts of kindness. Students will see kinds displayed throughout the video and should be thinking about how their criteria applies to these examples of kindness.

Discussion: Discuss the criteria that the class has come up with for the concept of kindness and analyse each individual criterion’s applicability to the abstract concept of kindness, as well as a few of the specific examples of kindness from the beginning of the lesson. Then get students to try to think of some counterexamples to discuss where this criterion might not fit in with a specific act of kindness. If this can be achieved, the result will be that either; this criterion is not suitable for the concept of kindness, or, that the specific example that has been presented is not really an act of kindness.

Get students to discuss and argue for either side. Students get to analyse the criteria and argue for some or against some in light of their individual conceptions of kindness. Students will also get the chance to specifically attempt to come up with counterexamples that aim to challenge the status of one or more criteria as fundamental parts of kindness. This will build on students’ capacity to conceive of and use counterexamples in other areas.

Students are more likely to think of acts of kindness on small scales, such as one person being kind to another. Move them out of this comfort zone of thinking about kindness and move them into a mode of thinking that analysing larger scale kindness, such as that of a government, hospital, or school.

Ask students whether it is even possible for institutions to be kind or unkind. In order to stimulate discussion you may:

say that it is simply the individuals that make up an institution that determine whether it is perceived as kind or not;
say that policies of an institution determine the amount of kindness that the individuals that make up that institution show, therefore an institution can be kind or unkind.

Examples of these might include:

a government’s policy on refugees or the disabled
a hospital’s policy on the sick or terminal
a school’s policy on upset children or children from troubled backgrounds

Students are forced to move away from their small scale thinking of kindness as an act between one or a few people toward another, and into trying to think about kindness on an institutional level. The goal of the lesson is to understand kindness as a whole, and so it is important to look at all aspects and potential examples of when kindness might occur, and attempt to apply the developed criteria to all situations.

Students may now have a greater understanding of the concept of kindness. Get them now to apply that understanding to their own lives.

Ask students, now that they have a greater understanding of kindness (and therefore unkindness), do you think that they should act more in accordance with kindness than they currently do.

If yes, ask them what behaviours or actions they might modify in order to achieve this.

If no, ask them to explain why they do not think kindness is a concept that they should be aiming to cultivate throughout their life.

This section aims to bring students’ deeper understanding of kindness into their personal lives. We started by detailing events of kindness and unkindness from their lives, then moved into the abstract conception of kindness. Now we must move back to the students themselves in order for them to not only understand the concept of kindness, but to be able to apply it in their own lives.

Review & Reflect:

Has your conception of kindness changed?

Do you think that you will act more in accordance with kindness now, or not?

This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Ben Kilby.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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