What is Good?

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By Clare Jarmy Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

On Wednesday, Bedales was very lucky to welcome Professor Simon Blackburn to speak on the subject ‘What is Good?’ in the newly renovated Lupton Hall. Mainly aimed at the Sixth Form, Bedales PRE A Level students were joined by around 70 students from Churcher’s College, Alton College and Queen Mary’s College.

Professor Blackburn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, started with a very contemporary dilemma. On the one hand, it is hard to say that ‘good’ or ‘evil’ are part of the world in the same way that dogs, chairs and pizzas are part of the world (as GE Moore would say, this is to make something non-natural into something natural –a naturalistic fallacy), yet, don’t we also want to say that there are things that are good, and things that are evil?

Many students are faced with the dilemma that perhaps in ethics, it is all just subjective: just a matter of taste. On the other hand, we also feel passionately about ethical issues. Students want to convince others about the morality of veganism, or the immorality of factory conditions in less developed economies. No problem, Blackburn says. We can meaningfully talk ethically, even if we are dubious about ethical ‘facts’. Look to the practice, he says: what would someone with practical wisdom, someone who is good at ‘acting well’, do?

After a great talk, there were some excellent questions, and some meaningful discussion. Professor Blackburn was extremely generous with his time, staying into the evening with a smaller meeting of the Philosophy Society. In this talk, he was trying to convince us to become ‘infidels’ – something beyond atheist – we should not care about the question of God’s existence. To read more about his views on religion, see here (site-wide access at Bedales; subscription required elsewhere).

What can we get out of doing exams?

“What can we get out of doing exams?” I asked the students at assembly on Monday.

This term is the most beautiful of the year at Bedales, yet it is a serious term, too, during which every student will sit exams of one sort or another by the end of term. We started addressing this question by looking at different motivations for doing something: extrinsic goals and intrinsic goals. Exams are generally thought to be good ONLY for extrinsic reasons: they are the ticket by which you access lots of other things you want, such as places at competitive universities, or jobs in industries where particular skills and qualifications are valued. There is a problem, though, in only going after extrinsic goals. Aristotle pointed this out in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he noted that if we only ever do something in order to achieve another goal, then we have no real reason for doing anything. To make this clearer, I used the example: if learning is for exams, and exams are to get you to university, and university is to get you to professional training, and the professional training is to get you to a job, what happens if, after all that, you don’t like the job you were aiming for? If we can find something intrinsically good about doing exams, all the better.

I was arguing that exams are good because they allow students to become the authors of their own learning. We talked about different philosophical/psychological theories of knowledge acquisition, including Locke (which we rejected), Piaget and Vygotsky. It was Vygotsky’s vision we settled on – that when students receive the right support (scaffolding) with their learning from peers and adults, they can progress much better, such that they develop the structures of mind to begin to learn independently. It is this that the revision period gives to students: the opportunity to make learning their own, to move from needing the structures, to taking the content on as theirs. This is part of the conceptual furniture of their mind, not simply some knowledge fed in by a teacher and received passively by the student.

I was arguing that the term ‘revision’ is misleading, because it suggests you are looking at something again; in fact, I think revision allows students to see the material for the first time through their own eyes, as opposed to through the eyes of their teacher. A student of mine in 6.1 proudly said to me the other day that she “owned Plato” now she had revised that material. Intentionally or not, she hit on something by saying this: in her process of independently working through the content, it has ceased to be my content, presented to her – her learning has become authentically her own. And this is something, I think, that we can say is intrinsically worthwhile, and in line with the school’s aim that we “cherish independent thought”.

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Academic Enrichment and Oxbridge, and Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

Read an article in the TES by Clare Jarmy on the subject of revision (with a slightly different argument)

Watch a video about Vygotsky:

Examining theories of truth

On Wednesday before half term, Jaw was set to be given by Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, but with the Human Rights Act called into question by the new government, she had to postpone until next year, when we really look forward to hearing about human rights from her. As happens on these occasions, I summoned together some disparate thoughts, made a powerpoint, and stepped in.

That Wednesday was the 1690th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, a really significant moment in defining Christian doctrine. When Constantine overturned Emperor Diocletian’s edicts about the treatment of Christians, eventually converting to Christianity himself, he hoped to unite the Roman Empire under a common religion and one God. It was not as easy as that, however, because there were huge debates and infighting going on amongst Christians about the nature of God, and whether Jesus was God, or man. We used this as an example in examining some theories of truth. Is truth correspondence with the facts, or is pragmaticism right, the view that truth is something where we have to ‘wait and see’, gathering evidence and forming a picture. Truth, on this view, emerges over time. There is a lot of merit in looking at truth this way, especially when looking at court cases, history or developments in science. I think it’s also a helpful way perhaps to view the Council of Nicaea. The Council took place around 329 years after the birth of Christ, and it takes that long to decide what direction Christianity would take. From a correspondence view, it looks like the Church is confused about the facts. From an pragmaticist view, perhaps the truth took a long time to emerge.

By Clare Jarmy, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy

Invitation to parents to attend Philosophy Festival

We are delighted to be able to give you more information on the Philosophy Festival, to be held at Bedales on Saturday 13 September 2014, 10.30am-2.45pm. We are extremely excited to have speakers ranging from Laura Bates and Jeremy Paxman to Emma Bridgewater and Baroness Kishwer Falkner, with subjects ranging from cancer medicines and education to theatre and Everyday Sexism. There are 4 x 45 minute events throughout the day, including a light lunch. Please click here for more details on each of the events and how to book. I dreamed up ‘Philosophy of…’ so that anyone can hear and enjoy inspirational speakers discussing what they love, from a philosophical perspective. I wanted to go to a festival like this and I hope you all would love to join me in exploring the Philosophy of…

By  Oscar Braun-White, 6.1

Philosophy of

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

The Bedales Drone Project

In his 1942 short story Runaround the science fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced his “Three Laws of Robotics”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Robots are now an everyday part of our lives and new drone technology can be seen in mountain rescue, the deployment of weaponry and possibly even the delivery of books! As the relationship of mankind to our creations becomes more and more far-reaching and in every way intimate, there is much to reflect on: the technically possible “coulds”; the philosophical “whys” and “whats”; and the ethical “shoulds”.

Much inspired by last year’s Civics talk by Dr Dirk Gorneson from The University of Southampton on the topic of UAV’s (Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles), I was struck by the implications of this technology for the ethical theory we study in the PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics) department at Bedales; such as in Just War Theory (A2 Level), and the Philosophy of Mind and Artificial Intelligence (studied for BAC PRE Creative Response Block 5). There was growing overlap between the theory and the real world issues emerging in the wake of the technology now available in the field of UAV’s.

Conversing with teachers and students alike it was clear that this was an area well worth exploring. So, with a huge thank you to the BPA for funding the initiative, and to Richard Sinclair and Jack Paxman for their consultation, I can proudly announce The Drone Project’s first acquisition – a quad-copter drone.

This, the first of two drones to be acquired, is well equipped to take steady aerial images and can be remotely piloted and can follow search patterns. The second can be programmed to be (to a certain extent) autonomous and will be able to be fitted with sensors which feedback information that can then be acted upon in real time. We already have a Quad Copter expert at the school, Edward Boyd-Wallis, who has designed his own drone as part of his A Level.

Proposals for upcoming projects include:

  • Philosophy – Machine Ethics Project (MEP)
  • Search and Rescue Project – The emphasis of this would be to consider the ethical judgements around prioritisation, resource distribution etc., alongside the practical applications. We hope to make links with existing rescue organisations, such as the RNLI, in order to participate with the wider community.
  • Science project – create an aerial map of the sand quarry in order to study the regeneration of plants (“succession”) year on year.
  • Geography – Block 3 project Orientation project and mapping of the Bedales site.
  • Computing – Artificial Intelligence programming.
  • Just War Theory – As part of the A-level Ethics course.
  • Design – Modification and implementation, 3D printing.
  • Sport – Analysis and documentation of sports events.

An aerial photo of Bedales taken by the drone:

Image taken by the Bedales Drone

By  Benedict Haydn-Davies, Teacher of PRE

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Save the date for Bedales’ first Philosophy Festival

We are excited to announce “Philosophy of…”, a festival taking place on 13 September at Bedales during which an extremely diverse range of brilliant speakers, including Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Jeremy Paxman, Beatrix Campbell OBE, Sinclair Beecham, John Caird, Dr David Read, Emma Bridgewater, Rev Will Hughes, Dr Kamyar Afarinkia, Philip Young, Dr Valerie Sinason, and Dolores Iorizzo will share their passions, from a philosophical slant, in a series of lectures and debates. The festival is being organised by a group of Bedales students, with the support of Keith. So, please save the date as we’d love to have as large and varied an audience as possible; from students, parents and teachers to the general public. Details of further speakers and how to book will be announced next term. Whatever you love, let’s consider the “Philosophy of” it. Read more.

Jeremy Paxman

By Oscar Braun-White, 6.1

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Philosophy Society discuss Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard intended “to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die”. A light topic for a Wednesday evening! Members of the Philosophy Society met in the comfort of 6.2 Flat to learn and discuss the work of Kierkegaard. He was concerned with the idea of personal existence. Disagreeing partially with Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”, Kierkegaard believed that you cannot simply imagine a personal existence, that you must become visible to oneself, make it yours and shape it. You must acknowledge the relationship between the body and soul – consciousness. Importantly, this must happen from soul to body by thought and reflection, but also from body to soul by passion. Then we learnt how Kierkegaard describes how to not sin against one’s self – his existentialism. All had fun discussing and criticising aspects of Kierkegaard’s work, and we learnt a lot too. Read more.

By Oscar Braun-White, 6.1

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.