Photo of the participants in the 2015 Philosophy Student Symposium.
Photo of the participants in the 2015 Philosophy Student Symposium.

The Trent Philosophy Society, the university’s oldest undergraduate society, added another successful event to their year with the Philosophy Symposium held at Traill College on Saturday, March 28.

Approximately 40 attendees gathered in Bagnani Hall to listen to six Trent students present their papers on topics relating to virtue theory, political philosophy, or objectivity.

Facilitated by the Society’s Student Coordinators, Nicole Fice and Derrick Burgman, the student papers and proceeding discussions covered a range of philosophical concepts.

Brendan Rowe’s paper ‘Social Media and Virtuous Friendships’ explored the impact that social media services such as Facebook have had on interpersonal relationships, arguing that the expectation of being constantly connected has actually diminished the number of meaningful shared activities between friends.

Duc Hien Nguyen presented ‘Can Animals Be Virtuous? Can They Be Happy?’ and concluded that while their form of happiness may differ, animals can experience the emotion.

Quinn McGlade-Ferentzy compared and contrasted viewpoints in her paper ‘Human Nature and Politics: Aristotle and Marx’, while Nathan Prendergast explored the methods through which politicians are using specific methods of reasoning to dodge questions in ‘Politics and the Art of Reasoning’.

Eric Prachar’s presentation, ‘Tolerance and Objective Truth’, made the case that an absolutist approach to truth may be the best method.

Peter Del Villano discussed the concept of self in ‘The Subjective and Objective Self in Borges and I’, and presented the idea that “the present belongs to the subjective self,” whereas representations of one’s identity outside the present are purely objective.

Following each of the speakers, there was an open floor for questions and discussion, an opportunity that was well used at each possible opportunity. Vibrant and engaged dialogue  resulted after each presentation, as ideas were proposed and tested. Once the presentations were complete, the group moved over into the Trend, where further discussion continued over food.

Along with the student presenters, other philosophical Trent minds were in attendance as well. Though he was unable to stay for the full extent of the event, as he had to catch a flight to a conference in Ireland, Trent University President Dr. Leo Groarke helped open the event with a speech on the importance of philosophy. He said that philosophy is both a refuge from and a connection to the regular world and that “it can make a huge impact on our daily lives.”

Trent Alumni and award winning author Yann Martel was also present through a video he had recorded to help open the Symposium. He recalled his “fond memories of studying philosophy at Trent University,” and encouraged the discussion and study of philosophy, stating that he feels “a lot of dysfunctions in our society today are due to a citizenry that hasn’t thought enough about the fundamental questions that philosophy asks.”

Other attendees included Martel’s philosophy professor Bob Carter, and David Beattie, a Trent Philosophy graduate who worked in the House of Commons after graduating. Beattie actually established the Cockalorum Fund at Trent University, which has the goal of assisting and promoting philosophy-related events such as the Symposium.

Following the Symposium, Beattie said that he “could not think of a better use of the money,” and that he is “really, really excited to see how articulate and ready the students are.”

Fice, as Student Coordinator, and Michael Hickson, the Trent Philosophy Society’s Faculty Advisor, were also very pleased with the event, and the year as a whole. Fice is a fan of the event as it provides an introduction to presenting at events for the students. “It really offers students an opportunity to experience a conference setting,” she said.

Hickson was pleased with the turnout at the event, and noted that the other Philosophy Society events throughout the year also drew a crowd, citing the Interdisciplinary Roundtable on Canada’s Prostitution Legislation, guest speaker events and numerous others. In an email to Arthur following the event, he expanded on the importance of large turn-outs at such events.

“There is reason to be proud of the success of these events.  As President Groarke said in his opening remarks, philosophy is not a top priority of most universities these days.  As Yann Martel pointed out, this is ultimately a bad thing for our society.  But at Trent, philosophy is absolutely flourishing, as the success of the above events demonstrates.  The students at Trent clearly want to think about the big questions of philosophy, and they’ll be better off for having done so. The Philosophy faculty are always happy to think along with the students, both in and out of class–notice that 100% of the full-time faculty in philosophy were present at yesterday’s Symposium!  I would encourage all Trent students to come out next year to some Philosophy events, if they haven’t done so already.”