Topics and Themes

May Topics

 

This month, across all our philosophy classes for both 9-12s and teens, we’ll be using Homer’s Odyssey for inspiration. Drawing heavily on the the rather brilliant (not that I’m jealous or anything) “The If Odyssey” by Peter Worley of The Philosophy Foundation, we’ll be exploring the philosophical depths of heroes, monsters and myth. Each class will be on its own Odyssey and some might spend longer with the Cyclopes, Sirens or Lotus Eaters than another, so I can’t say what will be happening each week. But wherever we are in this epic tale, we’ll be exploring philosophically rich and challenging ideas as well as enjoying a classic story.

April Topics: P4HE

 

Week 1: No Laughing Matter

What makes us laugh changes from person to person and culture to culture. But are there, should there be rules about what can or can't be the subject of comedy? When does something move from being just a matter of taste to being a matter of right and wrong? Starting from an extraordinary prank played in the 15th century, we'll look at humour throughout the ages and consider if there's such a thing as a morally good sense of humour.

 

Week 2: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

When someone does something wrong and knows exactly what they are doing, it’s not controversial to say they should be held responsible for it. But does witnessing a wrong mean someone has a duty to speak out about it? It seems wrong to say that a completely innocent person “has to” do this or that because of someone else’s bad actions, but we also view those who speak out against wrongdoers as a special sort of hero. When someone has just been in the place of a wrong at the time it happened, do they have to do something about it?

 

Week 3: The Philosophy of Jigsaw Puzzles

Jason recently completed a 1000-piece puzzle by way of research for a puzzle containing riddles. It turned out to be a philosophically very interesting experience that led to a wide range of questions. What sorts of knowledge are involved in completing a puzzle? If you can’t put something into words, is it still knowledge? Is completing a jigsaw puzzle a waste of time? If life is a puzzle, what are the pieces? You might get an extra connection to this session if you have the chance to do a jigsaw, large or even very, very small, in the days leading up to the session, or bring one along so you can puzzle while we puzzle.

 

Week 4: When is it wrong to be wrong?

We normally think that being mistaken about something and doing something wrong are two different things. If you honestly think Stone Age man really could have been fighting dinosaurs, you might need to brush up on your timelines, but nobody is going to think you’re a bad person. But can it be morally wrong to believe something without good enough reasons, or because your facts are “alternative facts"? Or are there times when the only right thing to do is to jump to a conclusion? 


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April Topics: WRANGLERS

 

Week 1: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

When someone does something wrong and knows exactly what they are doing, it’s not controversial to say they should be held responsible for it. But does witnessing a wrong mean someone has a duty to speak out about it? It seems wrong to say that a completely innocent person “has to” do this or that because of someone else’s bad actions, but we also view those who speak out against wrongdoers as a special sort of hero. When someone has just been in the place of a wrong at the time it happened, do they have to do something about it?

 

Week 2: Alien Surveillance Part 1

You are a committee of alien philosophers from various star systems who have convened to analyse the dominant species of an uncontacted planet. An extensive system of remote surveillance has been put in place allowing you to observe the behaviour of these semi-glabrous bipeds. AI systems are still working on the translation of their languages, so all you have to go on at the moment are the things you can physically observe. This may not be a problem, as previous observations of uncontacted species have shown that observation may be a better guide to their underlying beliefs than their stated intentions.

 

Your task is to share your observations of these creatures, how they act individually and in groups, and to philosophically reverse-engineer the beliefs and values that are implied by these behaviours. This will guide the recommendation as to whether the species should be contacted or left as a remote-viewing curiosity for daytime television.

 

Week 3: Alien Surveillance Part 2

Great work has been done by the linguists in deciphering the scripts and vocalised languages of what you now know are called “homo sapiens” in the scientific language of “earth”. This has allowed you to compare the stated principles on which the individuals and societies organise their lives, and to note the discrepancies with the behaviours you have observed and the principles by which they appear to live.You proceed to compile your final recommendations as to if and how homo sapiens could be improved, and whether establishing contact would be helpful or they are best left to themselves.

 

Week 4: You, Better, Believe It

“Is there a God/ gods or isn’t there" is a very well-trodden question, and not one we’ll spend much time on as people are usually quite entrenched in their views. But whether it would be better if there is or isn’t a God, whether it is better for us to believe there is, and whether believing there is makes us better are interesting questions to reflect on, whatever you think about the "is or isn’t" question.