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Philosopy Symposium a Rewarding Experience

The professor/student dynamic was broken down during the symposium, as we all just became listeners and presenters.” – Andie Britton-Foster

On March 24, The Philosophy Society hosted the annual student symposium which featured the work of six philosophy students. At the symposium, the participants presented their papers and fielded questions from members of the audience, which was comprised of students, professors, and members of the community. Arthur had the opportunity to speak with these six students, as well as two professors who attended the symposium, about its importance in the student community. Sarah McLay, who presented in the symposium last year and decided to participate again, presented her work, “Forgiveness and Reconciliation: On Forgiving Unwelcome Wrongdoers.” She argued that forgiveness does not rely on the victim’s reconciliation with the wrong-doer. More specifically, she argued that though the victim may forgive a wrong-doer and choose to reconcile with them, a victim can also forgive a wrong-doer and choose to not reconcile with them, especially if the victim suspects the wrong-doer has embodied immoral principles, rather than have just made a mistake. Sarah said the symposium is valuable because essay writing is a “very individual process,” which makes it hard to know what fellow classmates are working on. She told Arthur that her favourite part of the symposium is the Q&A segment because “answering questions from others and discussing ideas is the best way to learn!”

Andie Britton-Foster presented her work, “Open-Mindedness: The Expanded Understanding and a Proposed ‘Next-Step,’” arguing that open-mindedness is the champion virtue that allows social progress, as it promotes truth and truth-seeking. She described open-mindedness as “active opinion” which means that it is not solid, unalterable opinion, but opinions that are subjected to continual scrutiny and open to consideration of other opinions. Andie told Arthur that the symposium was “particularly cool” because the papers being presented were from assignments in classes that she had also taken: “…it was interesting to see how the presenter’s interpretation of the question and the material was different from mine.  It was a lovely revisit to a topic I had sort of forgotten.”

Tavish Farrell presented his work, “Nietzsche and Mill on Christianity and Active Morality,” arguing that morality, or the ‘good life,’ should include positive and creative activity, and that too much emphasis on moral restrictions is bad. When Arthur asked Tavish why he wanted to participate in the symposium, he answered: “I’ve always really enjoyed talk, discussion, and argument, and when I’m done writing my essays I’m usually excited and running over all the arguments and thoughts in my mind. It’s nice to be able to share those ideas with an interested audience and hear their own ideas in turn.” He also noted that the gathering of professors and students outside of class is beneficial to students because there are no grades on the line.

Krista Naylor presented her work, “Aristotle’s Virtue Ethic on Friendship, Fortune and the Wish,” arguing that a virtuous person can hope that another virtuous person who is playing the lottery wins because a virtuous person would spend the winnings in a reasonable or constructive way, while a normal person might succumb to their vices and spend the money irresponsibly. Krista said that the symposium provides an environment that is “academically accessible to students in any year of study.” She also told Arthur that “this kind of sharing and communal learning structure should happen more often in classes and across the department because students can get a lot more from reading course materials and writing essays when we hear each other’s perspectives and informed opinions.”

Allison Preyde presented her work, “In Defence of Radical Feminism,” arguing that radical feminist theories should be taught in philosophy classes because they provide methods of questioning power structures that are relevant to philosophic inquiry. She argued that radical feminism should not be seen as scary and/or outdated. Allison told Arthur that gatherings between students and professors, like the symposium, are very important because “getting to know my professors outside of classes has been key to my developing interests in the material that extends beyond what we’re learning about in class.” She also said that events like the symposium are important because “they give students an opportunity to develop their thoughts and engage with peers and professors in an environment that’s both supportive and challenging.”

Anthony P. Gulston presented his work, “Testimonial Injustice,” arguing that the backlash he received for the article published inArthur in September entitled “Curve Lake Pow Wow,” was an instance of testimonial injustice and that his testimony had intrinsic value. When Arthur asked Anthony about the effect of the Q&A period, he answered: “it provided me with some nuance to my ideas that I can later add to the paper. It also provided me with an idea of how my writing comes off to others.” Furthermore, he told Arthur that the symposium provided him with “lots of confidence and pride in my academic writing.” He emphasized the symposium’s building of community when he said: “I got to feel like part of the department and society in a much bigger way. It was nice to build community surrounding philosophy.”

Every participant agreed that symposium provided a positive academic atmosphere, and that one of the most valued aspects of the symposium was the discussion it created. When Arthur spoke to the two philosophy professors that attended the event, it was clear that the symposium is just as important to professors as it is to the students. Professor Byron Stoyles described the symposium as the “highlight of each academic year” and “a way to acknowledge and celebrate students’ success.” When Arthur asked Professor Stoyles about the importance of gatherings involving students and professors, he answered: “thinking and learning should not begin and end as we enter and exit our classrooms. As professors, we hope that students take what they are learning in the classroom and make it their own.It is a privilege to engage with students’ original ideas.  “Each year, I am struck by the high quality of both the questions students ask and the answers the presenters provide.Even more striking, however, is that the question period at the end of each session tends to mark the beginning of discussions that continue throughout the day and afterwards.To my mind, this is the most valuable aspect of the symposium. Sharing our ideas and learning with others should always be the heart of the university experience.” – Professor Stoyles.

Professor Liam Dempsey noted that the symposium is a “great opportunity for students to practice public speaking…which is important for graduate school and many sorts of careers.” He also stated that the symposium is “an opportunity for philosophy majors to do one of the things that professional philosophers do: write papers and present them in public forums.”  Professor Dempsey commended the Trent Philosophy society, saying that “Trent Philosophy is lucky to have a very active student Philosophy Society and the symposium in one way in which the Society fosters a dynamic philosophical community here at Trent.”

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