The next Inter School Philosothon will be held at King's College, Taunton on Tuesday 23 January 2018 from 5.30pm until 8.45pm.
To express an interest and find out details please contact Father Mark Smith
INTER SCHOOL PHILOSOTHON AT KING'S COLLEGE ,TAUNTON TONIGHT
24 JANUARY 2017
Excitement is mounting ahead of the 4th annual inter-schools Philosothon at King's College Taunton this evening. The winning team last year was Wellington School in Somerset. This year the following schools are taking part:
King's College, Taunton
Monkton Combe School
Bristol Free School
Bristol Grammar School
Wells Cathedral School
The four rounds consist of four pieces of stimulus material
The Overcrowded Lifeboat
In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain's decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?
Robert Heinlein (1907-1988), The Libertarian in the Lifeboat
- Can anyone in your group define ‘murder’ and do you think the captain is guilty of murder?
- Discuss whether you think he made the right decision.
- Imagine if, having decided that 23 people were to be thrown overboard, the captain then shot each person before throwing them overboard.Is there any moral difference between throwing them overboard alive or shooting them first?
- When the Titanic was sinking the captain insisted that the weakest went into the lifeboats – the women and the children. He subsequently died, when the Titanic went down, but most of the women and children survived the tragedy. Discuss whether you think he did the right thing.
- Given that both captains saved as many people as possible is there any moral difference between these two captains?
- The Declaration of Human Rights assumes that all human beings are of equal value. Discuss what you think that means and whether you think it is true. How was the principle of equality valued by the captains?
- Imagine that a full-grown orangutan was discovered in the lifeboat (think life of Pi). Does she get equal consideration with the people? Why, why not? What if she can row?
On 7 January 2015 Corrine Rey, a cartoonist at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and known by the name "Coco," returned from picking up her daughter from kindergarten. She was confronted by two French Jihadist gunmen, who threatened to shoot her daughter unless she keyed in the entry code at the door for the magazine. She did; and the gunmen entered to murder twelve people, including two policemen, as well as shooting eleven others. During the attack, the shooters said that they would not kill women, but that they needed to convert to Islam and wear a veil.
Should Corrine Rey have been willing to sacrifice her daughter and herself rather than allow obvious murderers to enter the magazine and possibly kill everyone? Can a mother be blamed for only thinking of protecting her child?
Most of the murdered members of Charlie Hebdo probably would have been willing to die rather than have Corrine's daughter killed. However, the mother should have not been put in that position. A publication under such threats as Charlie Hebdo was needed to have a door that could only be opened from the inside, ideally leading into a hallway with another locked door, and an armed and shielded guard, at the other end. The police protection that the magazine was receiving not only was ineffective, but it did not even prevent the murder of the policemen on the job.
- Nobody feels inclined to judge Corrine because we all feel that in the same situation we might have done the same. But did she do the right thing?
- Consider Corrine’s strong emotional attachment to her child. Are strong emotions an obstacle or an aid to right decision-making? (‘Reason is the slave of the passions’ – David Hume)
- < >Is self-interest a virtue? Why would anyone sacrifice themselves for others if they could avoid it?
- Discuss whether there was any moral imperative for Corrine to sacrifice her child for the others.
- If there was does that place a moral imperative on us? Should we be prepared to sacrifice and suffer for others, if we don’t have to? (Kant’s Categorical Imperative)
- Charlie Hebdo had published satirical cartoons about Islam. The Jihadist gunmen attacked the office to defend their faith. The threat of violence has succeeded in silencing Charlie Hebdo and others. Is it a success story?
The Tortured Child
Dostoyevsky, who has in these pages come in for comment in relation to Existentialism and atheism, imagines a classic right vs. good dilemma:
"Tell me yourself -- I challenge you: let's assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of human destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquillity. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let's say the little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears you could build that edifice, would you agree to do it? Tell me and don't lie!"
"No I would not," Alyosha said softly. [Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 1880, translated by Andrew H. MacAndrew, Bantam Books, 1970, p.296]
This could stand as a reductio ad absurdum of Utilitarianism; but Dostoyevsky himself cites one innocent person who is indeed sacrificed to build an "edifice" of "peace and tranquility," namely Jesus Christ. Jesus went to his fate willingly, unlike the little girl of the example here; but those who sent him there had something else in mind. Dostoyevsky's thought experiment was developed into a science fiction short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" , by Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin, however, originally credited the device to William James, having read it in James and forgotten that it was in Dostoyevsky.
- Does the greatest good for the greatest number of people justify the suffering of one child?
- If most people were happy would a society founded on the suffering of one child be a good society.
- Once you knew about the child would you be happy to live in that society?
- Would it make a difference if the child had consented to her suffering and was willing?
- Is innocent suffering an argument against the existence of God?
- If the happiness of everyone depended upon the torture or suffering of a small animal or an insect rather than a child would that be morally different?
A Callous Passer-by
Roger Smith, a quite competent swimmer, is out for a leisurely stroll. During the course of his walk he passes by a deserted pier from which a teenage boy who apparently cannot swim has fallen into the water. The boy is screaming for help. Smith recognizes that there is absolutely no danger to himself if he jumps in to save the boy; he could easily succeed if he tried. Nevertheless, he chooses to ignore the boy's cries. The water is cold and he is afraid of catching a cold -- he doesn't want to get his good clothes wet either. "Why should I inconvenience myself for this kid," Smith says to himself, and passes on. Does Smith have a moral obligation to save the boy? If so, should he have a legal obligation ["Good Samaritan" laws] as well?
- Does Smith have a moral obligation to save the boy?
- When Smith does nothing, does he do anything wrong?
- If he had had a legal obligation to save the boy, and did so because of the legal requirement, would that be morally valuable action?
- Smith is an egoist. His moral code is to put himself first. Is there anything wrong with that?
- Smith did not have to go to a lot of trouble to save the boy. There are people in other countries that we could help, without even getting wet – are we morally any different to Smith if we do nothing?
AN INVITATION TO A PHILOSOTHON IN FAREHAM, HAMPSHIRE, FEBRUARY 2017
A philosothon is a competition where students from school across the county come together to debate and discuss some of life’s big philosophical questions.
There will be three enquiries during the competition which will be independently judged and facilitated. Each school will enter a team of up to 6 students from Years 7-11.
It’s great fun and provides students with an opportunity to debate and discuss at a high level with like-minded individuals. It’s also a competition and prizes will be awarded for the winning school, plus individual performances within each age category.
Wednesday 8th February 2017 (4:30-7:00pm)
Cams Hill School, Shearwater Avenue, Fareham, Hampshire, PO16 8AH
Origins of the Philosothon
Philosothon is the name given to an event inaugurated by Hale School in Perth. For more details of the origins and in particular the early success of the Philosothon, see the Australasian Philosothon website http://www.philosothon.org
Rationale of the Philosothon
The aim of the Philosothon is to promote philosophical enquiry and rigour by bringing students from Years 9-13 together around stimulus material which allows the group to move beyond discussion towards critical inquiry. The model used for the event is the Community of Inquiry, where the idea is not at all to ‘score points’, but to enable the group to move towards awareness of underlying concepts that are inherent within the stimulus sent to schools and critical understanding of different positions and arguments that arise as a result of dialogue around the stimulus. Students are encouraged to ask questions of other students in the group which analyse the issue at stake, which probe deeper and which try to understand and clarify both their own viewpoints and arguments and those expressed within the group. No formal philosophical expertise or grounding is expected of students, and groups should be jargon free zones; what the judges will be looking for is students’ ability to move the argument on through genuine awareness of different responses and the reasons behind them, and critical inquiry into the reasons put forward by group participants.
Students should develop:
- The disposition to care for good reasoning and intellectual honesty;
- The ability to criticize ideas impersonally and to accept the impersonal criticism of one's own ideas.
- A willingness to listen with an open mind to the ideas of others;
- The capacity to identify and tackle problems;
- An interest in exploring ideas, and;
- A willingness to take the intellectual risk of offering ideas for evaluation and
criticism from one’s peers.
Preparing for Participation in the Philosothon.
- The first task of the organising teacher from each participating school is to select 11 students, consisting of 2 students from Years 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 respectively. (If your school finishes at GCSE and there is no year 12 & 13, you can enter 6 students from year 11) You should also enter one reserve who can be from any of those years. The reserve student should be prepared to step in to any of the discussions on the evening should a student be absent for any reason. In addition to this, the reserve student is allowed to participate in a maximum of two communities of inquiry, by taking the place of a representative of the school from any year, on two separate occasions (even if the student or students the reserve is replacing is/are not ill). Thus, the reserve student is allowed to replace different students in two different rounds if so desired, or the same student in two rounds, but cannot participate in more than two rounds. This is to save the reserve attending the event but not participating.
When these students have been chosen, please meet with them to explain the concept of the Philosothon, and to distribute the student letter which I will send once you have registered. It will be fruitful also to engage the group in a few communities of inquiry so that they are familiar with the concept before the event.
- Please collect the entrance fee of £15 from each participating student including the reserve student, which covers the running costs of the Philosothon (a total of £165). Please complete the bottom tear off slip of this letter and send with payment – cheques made payable to King’s Schools Taunton Ltd or email your reply and arrange a bank transfer to King’s Schools Taunton Ltd A/C No. 60-80-06 70884811. Forms and cheques should be sent to Father Mark Smith, King’s College, South Road, Taunton TA1 3AR
- In the next communication, schools will receive the questions that are going to act as the stimulus material for the evening’s communities of inquiry and it is advisable that you have discussed this material as a group. As noted above, there is no expectation that the students have studied Philosophy or Ethics, but a familiarity with the material/questions that will act as stimuli will obviously be helpful.
- On the tear off slip or by email, please give approximate indication of the total number of people who will be attending the Philosothon, including parents and other members of the school, who are warmly invited. This will help in gauging catering requirements at King’s. Supporters from schools are warmly encouraged to sit round the edge of the communities of inquiry as they proceed, whilst minimizing movement during the dialogues.
On the evening, all participants and teachers are to register at King’s College from 5pm onwards. Students and teachers will receive a folder giving notice of the running order for the evening and the communities of inquiry in which they have been placed. Light refreshments will be served, before the evening commences formally at 5.40pm with introductions, etc.
During the evening, there will be four 20 minute Community of Inquiries run consecutively. Group members will remain in Year level groups (9,10,11,12,13) for the first two Communities of Inquiry. Thus, there will be two Year 9 groups running, two Year 10 and so on. Your two students from the same year will not be placed in the same community of inquiry. After a short break, in rounds 3 and 4 students are placed in mixed year groups.
Each community will be assigned a facilitator to assist in the dialogue, and a judge will sit outside of the group to assess each participant’s contribution. Students are encouraged to address their reflections to each other rather than through the facilitator, and will wear name badges to help facilitate this. It is recognised that the facilitator will help arrange the order in which students offer their reflections if many students wish to speak at the same time. The judge, a specialist in the area of Philosophy, will award marks according to set criteria, which will be sent to all schools before the event.
After 4 rounds the judges will retire to collate marks awarded to individual students, who, whilst awarded marks individually, will also be gaining marks for their school. A magnificent trophy will be awarded to the winning school, and other awards will be given in various categories. All students will receive a certificate to honour their selection by the school and participation in Philosothon.
Participating Schools at the very successful event in January this year were:
Bristol Grammar School
Monkton Combe School
King Alfred School
King’s College, Taunton
Bristol Free School
Please let me have your payment and the names of your school’s team by Friday 16 December 2016. Final numbers in your party for catering purposes (with dietary requirements) by Monday 16 January 2017.