Speaking to The TES Scotland after addressing a philosophy conference for senior pupils last week, Peter Vardy, vice-principal of Heythrop College, University of London, said young people need to think deeply about major issues and to be given the tools to do it.
Iraq, Dr Vardy said, is a classic example."It is not just a question of what you think but how well you think and how you evaluate your own views and those of other people. That is what philosophy does."
The conference, at Hutcheson's Grammar School, Glasgow, was attended by more than 300 students from 25 schools across Scotland, double the number that attended a similar conference three years ago. Most of them are studying Higher philosophy.
Latest figures show a growing interest in the subject, with entries for the Higher exam more than doubling in four years from 305 in 2000 to 797 this year.
Dr Vardy acknowledged the importance of equipping young people for life and the world of work by encouraging them to think deeply about ethical issues.
But he also pressed the case for a "philosophy-based approach" lower down the school.
"We should be starting in the junior school, getting kids not just to discuss but to distinguish between a good argument and a bad argument," he said. "We are failing sometimes to equip our kids with the tools to be able to think deeply about issues for themselves and that needs to be done earlier."
His young audience seemed greatly impressed, judging by the prolonged and sustained applause which greeted Dr Vardy after his series of presentations on the works of Plato, Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant.
Jennifer Hamilton, a 17-year-old student at Carluke High who is studying Kant and hopes to take philosophy at university, said: "Today gave me more insight into other philosophers and how they influenced people like Kant and will also help me in my Higher."
Scott Malcolmson, who is studying religious, moral and philosophical studies in fifth year at Castlehead High in Paisley, saw the conference as a good starting point for university philosophy.
Marese Carroll, principal teacher of religious education at St Joseph's College in Dumfries, said that the conference had enabled her students to see how widespread interest was in philosophy and to mix with other students.
"It is also good for them to hear someone as excellent as Dr Vardy affirm that they are on the right path," she said.