Pupils forging their own understanding of humanity

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Pupils forging their own understanding of humanity


Plato had Socrates. Descartes his worldly travels. Heidegger his local countryside. Kant the religiosity of his family. Every philosopher has had that one source of inspiration for their work, the one tipping point which inspired them to enter the philosophical domain.

For Exeter School, this was the Philosothon on 29 January, a one-night event at King’s College, Taunton in which 11 of our pupils took part from each year group from Lower Fifth to Upper Sixth. Its aim: to foster more reflective, objective and variegated thinking in each pupil, in organising various “communities of inquiry” with pupils from other schools.

Upper Sixth Former Cosmo Coish reported on the event.

This was, in essence, a group of participants discussing, and attempting to find an answer to, some of the biggest questions that permeate modern thinking. The nature of these “communities” is somewhat implied by their name. Even though individual students were technically competing for a prize, one actually received more points for being a team player, collectively aiding group understanding, rather than simply blurting out one’s opinion without thought or consideration. In this way, the communities of inquiry rewarded true rationality and empathy, the makings of any good philosopher. Some of the questions discussed were:

  • Do computers think, or do they merely act as if they can think?
  • How would you define Justice?
  • If morals are relative, does anything go?
  • Say you were to design a world, and be its god. Would you completely remove suffering from that world?

The evening was fun, exciting, and fresh, offering all pupils a new perspective on themselves, others, and the universe around them. These are the lessons and qualities which are useful throughout life, not solely within philosophy. More importantly, though, it is simply enjoyable to exercise and develop one’s critical and argumentative faculties in such a broad, yet still pointed manner. It’s indescribably rewarding to forge your own understanding of the questions which define us as humans. One could argue that Philosophy is purposeless, simply noise and pretension which impedes the living of ordinary life. But in the consideration of others’ points, students are forced to greater inform their own perceptions, giving a symbiotic sense of certainty and scepticism regarding their relationship to the questions posed, and by extent to the wider world. And that is an asset rarely gained anywhere else.

Of course, for such a great activity, on behalf of all of those who went on the trip, I’d like to thank Reverend Tom, Mr Dobson, and particularly Dr Wilson, who organises the weekly Philosothon meetings every Wednesday lunchtime in Room 12, in addition to co-ordinating the event on Tuesday.