Taunton School at Dusk

Philosophy Conference

Posted: 23rd February 2018

The Taunton School Philosophy Department once again ventured to King’s College for a philosophy conference on the 8th February 2018. The event was well attended, with over 160 students from schools from all across the country meeting together in the King’s College Chapel. It lasted for approximately 6 hours and included lectures and debates from four renowned philosophers.

We started the day off with a lecture on ‘Religious Language’ by Julie Arliss, the Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics at King’s College, a current holder of the Farmington Fellowship at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, and the creator of ‘Academy Conferences’. For the majority of the students attending, religious language was an extremely useful topic of discussion as it comprises a large proportion of the ‘A’ Level Religious Studies course. As such, the talk very nicely supplemented the syllabus and expanded on the knowledge learnt thus far. A usually tricky topic, Mrs Arliss made the complexities seem not-so-complex, and her unique interpretation of the verification principle offered endless ways of thinking about the meaninglessness of non-analytic statements.

The provocative and contentious issue of sexuality was tackled by Dr John Frye in his lecture, ‘Sexual Ethics: without God, is everything permitted?’. Much like religious language, sexual ethics is a major component on the ‘A’ Level syllabus. Dr Frye is the Chief Examiner for the Cambridge Pre-U Philosophy paper and is the principle examiner for ‘A’ Level, affording us the benefit of relevant and easily applicable content. To examine the aforementioned question, Dr Frye utilised the ethical theories of utilitarianism, ethical egoism and Christian sexual ethics, and eventually came to the conclusion that the answer, of course, differs between Christian denominations. However, in most cases, having a God who has provided rules for us to follow allows most things to be permitted.

Perhaps the most alternative lecture, yet arguably the most important, was Dr Tim Mawson’s ‘God and the meaning of life’. Dr Mawson is a Fellow of Philosophy at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and is Secretary to the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion. In spite of this, he failed to include the popularised meaning of life – 42, as asserted in Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Nevertheless, the lecture was certainly intriguing and ended with the bold conclusion that we will all be forgotten in a million years and so any sense of meaningfulness can only be achieved by existing eternally in heaven – a real shame for those, like myself, who are not religious.

The lecture that I enjoyed the most was certainly Professor Keith Ward’s (the Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Oxford) ‘Kant and Bentham’; yet another extremely relevant part of the ‘A’ Level Religious Studies course. Professor Ward explored the differing views of utilitarianism – one should seek the greatest pleasure for the greatest number – and Kantianism – one should do their duty, or deontology. Ward, however, tended to agree with John Stuart Mill’s form of utilitarianism, who thought that a morality of universal compassion and social justice really needs a benevolent God who commands such compassion and justice to provide the element of obligation that such a morality needs.

What followed, and ended the day with a bang, was an impassioned and energetic debate between Dr Tim Mawson and Professor Keith Ward. The duo debated the issue of God’s omnipotence, raising questions about the problem of evil, imperfections in the earth and logical contradictions. Dr Mawson’s defeat came about by his inability to answer the question “if God is omnipotent, could he create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift?”, although this is a question that very few could successfully answer! Nonetheless, such an engaging and fiery debate ended with Professor Ward’s victory.

King’s College once again hosted a fantastic event, and particular thanks goes to Mrs Arliss for creating and organising the conference and to the guest philosophers. The next upcoming philosophy event is the inter-school Philosophy Club, this time hosted by Taunton School and welcoming the esteemed feminist theologian, Daphne Hampson, as the guest speaker. It should be a fascinating event!

Edward Shattock, Year 13 Scholar

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