Put 20 philosophers in one room… and manage to survive

I put Terry blog on my to-do list for Tuesdays, but as you can see, it didn’t work out as I have planned. Oh well, October is usually the time when people start to disappear.

Anyway, in my attempt to get more involved on campus and specifically with the philosophy community, I have landed myself at the Philosophy Student Association tonight.

Being a philosophy major myself, I have to admit I have mixed feelings about philosophy: on one hand, I love it to the dearest of my heart; on the other hand, it has always been a tricky topic for me. For example, imagine you are at a dinner party. Someone approaches you and ask: “so, what do you study?” And you reply with a smile: “philosophy.” – Then what?

“Okay… So, what do you study exactly?” is what I often get. Interestingly enough, when I think about it, there doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory answer. To me, philosophy is the study of ways of thinking, but it takes a lot of courage to say that “I study how to think”. And of course there are also people who think that, being a philosophy student, I must want to argue about anything and everything all the time.

It's what I expected... more or less (Photo by Adam Arroyo)

With reasons like these, I am not inclined to bring philosophy outside the classroom, which is why I’ve been a little worried about today’s event. According to the email announcement, the first philosophy student association (which I will call “PhilSA” from now, to separate from the PsychSA of which I am also a member) event of the term involves executive election, a short movie clip, and an open-ended discussion. As much as I’d love to meet other fellow philosophy lovers, needless to say, I was more or less worried that I might have signed up for a battlefield.

As I finally summoned up enough courage to step inside that door, my worry completely turned upside down: there were about 7 or 8 people in the room, half of which were execs.

I rarely worry about groups being too small, but this time it was hard not to notice. I guess there is something about philosophical discussions that even philosophy students tend to have hesitation over.

It went on like this for the next 45 minutes, which was supposed to be election time. Three people (including myself) offered to run and succeeded in the three exec openings that they had, which was unsurprising. As the night approached, and debates started to happen on epistemology on one side of the room, moral theory on the other, people finally started to arrive.

It turns out I was rather over-pessimistic about philosophy – it looks like people are just not very interested in electing execs.

This photo isn't relevant to this post... but it's a cool photo. (by Jack Lyons)

As I was wondering about people’s attitudes towards philosophy, coincidentally, our topic of the night turned out to be (or ended up to be) the popularity of philosophy and why we have such a bad name.

Without going into too much detail, I have to say it was much, much better than I had expected, or even hoped for. First of all, although the discussion was a bit heated at a point, we didn’t start a fight. With over two dozens of philosophy students and no mediator, I was rather surprised at how people managed to disagree and be civil and friendly at the same time. I think because we philosophy lovers are so used to arguing over things, we are actually better at dealing with disagreements. My favorite quote from Aristotle – “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a  thought without accepting it.” If I have to pick only one thing to tell people about philosophy, this should be it.

Secondly, it was an interesting topic. Of course, it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who’s getting the “ooh, philosophy” treatment, but it’s also intriguing to hear how others think about this. Some people have their own theories as to why this is the case; others are not bothered by it at all; and still others think people are missing out big times when they refuse to take that first step because they’ve been misled about what philosophy actually is. In short, I had an unexpectedly amazing time.

So, now that I am somewhat more involved with UBC’s philosophy community, what will change? Not much, I guess. I am still procrastinating by blogging randomly. I still have to eventually find a way to finish my papers. And I will still swear over Hume’s brilliant ideas expressed in his 300-year-old English (which is only slightly better than Shakespeare, in my opinion).

But I am at least a little bit less fearful of philosophical discussions now. I might rant more about these things when next time we have a similar discussion.

Just out of curiosity: for those who have bore with me so far, what do you think? What does the word “philosophy” remind you of? And of course all of you are welcome to these discussion events. No background necessary.

Take care during the long weekends!


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