Brazil has apparently hit upon a piece of wisdom.
The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality....
"[I]f you want to build a just and democratic society, isn’t it useful to get as clear as possible on what you mean by justice and democracy and to examine if you have good reasons to pursue these?” I asked. “And aren’t your intuitions about knowledge, goodness and beauty worth investigating?”
Well, perhaps. But first the students had more questions for me. Is it true that Canadian bacon is the best in the world? What do people abroad think about Brazil? How did I get into philosophy? And—still more personally—do I believe in God, a question I encountered almost every time. I tried to get out of it by mentioning Spinoza’s impersonal God. That didn’t mean much to the students and, truth be told, I don’t even believe in the God of Spinoza. “We knew it—all philosophers are atheists!” they would say. When I asked who was a Catholic, who was an evangelical, and who practiced the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé (Salvador alone has more than 2000 terreiros, Candomblé’s houses of worship), all students raised their hand at least once.
I assured the students that until the nineteenth century hardly any philosopher was an atheist. Plato’s Euthyphro—with its argument about the relationship between ethics and the will of the gods—gets us into a lively discussion.
I asked them, “Do moral norms depend on God’s will? Would it be fine to murder an innocent child if God says so?” The students found the idea outrageous.
“But doesn’t God order Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?” I asked. There was a moment of confusion.
“But Abraham also holds God responsible when he wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorra,” one student replied. That can be interpreted as an independent norm of justice, I admitted.He goes on to ask whether God can be held to account to an "objective" standard of justice; but the kind of God who is posterior rather than prior to justice is a different kind of God than most believe in. It's a holdover from the earlier period, when the God of Abraham was one of very many Gods, and not yet the God who is responsible for existence. Justice is posterior to existence -- that is, its structure of 'what is just?' arises from the nature of that which exists. If nothing existed, nothing would be just or unjust; and if the world was substantially different, our ideas about justice might be as well.
Since God is the source of existence in Christian, Jewish and Islamic metaphysics, God would have to be prior to justice. He may very well choose to submit to the standard, but it is not an "objective" standard -- it is God's own standard.
Still, there are other metaphysics, and the important thing is that these kids are wrestling with the big questions. The article goes on to cite some professional philosophers who mock the effort to teach kids who can barely read and write to think about these things; but that is foolish in the extreme. Reading and writing are technical skills, and one learns a technique in order to achieve some higher end. Thus, if you cannot show them a higher end to justify the effort, they will not bother to master the technique. If you inspire them to pursue a higher end, they'll find their way to mastery of whatever technology they need.