Student Experience, Uncategorized, Widening Participation

Philosophy students take to the floor by Claire Jones

Go Higher philosophers have been delivering their individual presentations to the class. This is part of their assessment for Semester Two’s Philosophy module. Our students stood up in front of their peers, with a power point presentation or white board marker in their hands, and proceeded to argue for a variety of philosophical positions. There was a ‘robust’ debate over the ethics of life or death: is it ever justifiable to kill anyone?

Moral philosophers are divided on this as were the Go Higher philosophers; one or two argued from a consequentialist position that ‘yes’, killing is justified if it is for the greater good – but what if our prediction of the consequences turn out to be incorrect? (That serial killer we executed may have been about to discover a cure for cancer and save countless more lives….). Others argued that killing is morally wrong – full stop.  So if we could save a million lives by terminating one person’s existence, we still should not do this.  This led to a discussion of the ‘Trolley Problem’ in ethics: if we could save the lives of hundreds in an ‘out of control’ train by diverting it but thereby killing a handful of people on a side track, should we do it? Is not acting and letting things take their course any different morally from making a decision to intervene?

Other topics included existentialism: what does it mean to say that human beings are free and responsible for their actions? There were some passionate defences of the work and lives of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; some students found inspiration in their philosophies about how to live an authentic life and their presentations were typically personal and surprising. There were also some incisive critiques of philosophical arguments for the existence of god and demonstrations of the ways in which our frameworks for understanding the world (our language, concepts and history) were ‘male’.  To what extent is de Beauvoir’s argument that man is the ‘Subject’ and woman the ‘Other’ still valid today?

DescartesThese issues were underpinned by a healthy discussion about whether we can actually know anything anyway. Some presenters took the sceptical route, arguing like Descartes that we can know very little for sure and that there is not much difference between knowledge and belief. After all, if our senses deceive us, and we all experience the world in different ways, how can we be sure that the reality we think is out there really exists? Indeed, we may just be dreaming it all….

I hope I wasn’t dreaming as the quality of the presentations was, on the whole, really excellent. Of course, there were plenty of nerves but you would not have known it:  the speakers were typically confident, the audience fully engaged and the questions asked quite penetrating.  It was really gratifying to see the students up at the front managing the class, inviting questions, responding to the audience and doing the teaching. I may be doing myself out of a job….

For many of our students, presenting is one of the most challenging aspects of the Go Higher programme. They do two group presentations in Semester One and philosophers deliver an individual presentation in Semester Two. It is amazing to see how far everyone has come since their first time speaking in front of the class; confidence levels have grown enormously and the skills in presenting that students have acquired will help them really ‘hit the ground running’ when they start their undergraduate careers. Studying for a degree involves far more than writing essays or reports and undergraduates have to quickly get used to giving presentations, critical thinking and arguing their case in class debates and seminars. This is something that Go Highers, as mature learners with life experience to their credit, tend to take to like a duck to water – despite typically doubting their own abilities when they begin the course.

Well done to everyone who presented in the last two weeks.


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