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).

A day enthralled in monastic life

A small group of 6.1 students travelled to Worth Abbey, a community of 25 Roman Catholic monks who follow the rule of St. Benedict, on 5 June for a spiritual retreat. Courtesy of Clare Jarmy, we were introduced to one of the monks, David, who showed us to our humble but comfortable accommodation. That evening he took us to the chapel where we spent 30 minutes in utter silence- a rare and special experience for people who go to a boarding school! The church itself looked like a spaceship from the outside, owing to its 1960’s design; inside it’s round shape ascends towards a window in its roof which illuminates the chapel and creates a beam of light at its heart. It was interesting to experience the transition between the arduous journey there and the peace of the chapel at night compared to that of the first 6.20am service the next morning. Despite the early start, the service was made up of psalms focused on nature and the beauty of our world which set us up for a day enthralled in monastic life. After, we walked to their quiet garden filled with flowers, trees and bird song, it also provided a beautiful view of the monastery. The second morning service ‘matins’ began just past eight back in the chapel- another psalm filled service with readings from the Old Testament.

Then, David joined us for breakfast where we had the chance to ask him about his faith and life as a Benedictine monk. David presented the very human side of being a monk which enlightened our perception of this way of Roman Catholic living. Mass followed; the third service of the day which brought a greater number of the public. Here, we were able to witness the breaking of bread and blessings- it is obligatory for the monks to partake in this daily Mass service and was special for us to join this essential part of their lives. After a brief visit to the chapel library we made lunch, thanks to a welcome Tesco’s delivery, and were able to discuss thoughts on our experience of monastic life so far. The last service we attended lasted for ten minutes and was a perfect end to what had been a thoroughly thought provoking and enriching experience. Thank you Clare and Benedict for taking us!

By Becky Grubb and Esther Palmer, 6.1

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.

Reading each other’s minds

Alongside running through a brief history of Artificial Intelligence (AI), in a recent Jaw on the topic of AI I posed questions such as “What would it take for a computer to be considered minded?” and “What is intelligence?” I also considered in what ways we ourselves might exhibit ‘Artificial Intelligence’. A human can follow instructions to accomplish a task of which she is ignorant, can regurgitate arguments that appear to demonstrate high level analysis but are only acts of remembering and can even reach a conclusion without understanding what it means. To be pawns in a game we do not understand, to be made to think we have arrived at a conclusion ourselves when the result was pre programmed; in these ways we might exhibit Artificial Intelligence. Working in tandem with Roly Botha (Block 5), we were able to demonstrate this principle when the crowd chose two teachers, one of whom who appeared to read the mind of the other, without either party knowing how the very ‘trick’ (effect) they performed had been accomplished. I concluded on a cautionary note by inviting the audience to consider how humanity’s future relationship with Augmented Reality technology might, if used uncritically, allow us to live passive lives, acting without understanding and without intelligence.

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.

Philosophy education starts early at Bedales

At Bedales pre-prep Dunannie, little people are encouraged to think about big ideas. This academic year, pupils in Year 3 (age 7 – 8 years) have started dedicated lessons in Philosophy led by Bedales Head of Philosophy, Clare Jarmy and Dunannie Year 3 teacher Catherine Claasen. The sessions follow the form of a Community of Inquiry, where students have a stimulus for discussion, break into groups, and reassemble to address big questions.  Students have asked whether we can know that this world is not a dream, whether there would be any reason to be good if you were invisible, and whether we can think of nothing, amongst many other things. When they were discussing nothingness, the children were also asked to listen to a unique orchestral recording by John Cage entitled ‘4 minutes & 33 seconds’ and give their own opinions on what he was trying to achieve through devising the piece.

The children took part in a three schools video on Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE), which featured students across Dunannie, Dunhurst and Bedales and their thoughts on Philosophy.

At Bedales, an innovative curriculum, where students study everything from time travel to artificial intelligence, to whether good is only what society permits, is augmented with lectures and workshops with professional philosophers. Nigel Warburton, who is one of the most celebrated interpreters of Philosophy for a younger audience, is the judge for the Bedales Philosophy Essay Prize.

Last term the school welcomed its first ever Philosopher in Residence, Professor Keith Ward, Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University. Professor Ward spent time discussing philosophical questions with students, including such diverse topics as the nature and possibility of a utopia, whether genes define us, ethics, religious language, the existence of evil, quantum physics and the nature of reality. In addition to partaking in intellectual debate, the students benefitted from his advice on their studies and university.

On the subject of PRE, Clare Jarmy, Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics at Bedales commented that “Among educationalists, Philosophy is accepted as a means to develop more complex and rigorous thinking in students. What is so refreshing about Bedales is that philosophical thinking is utterly embedded in both the curriculum and the mindset of the school. Talk of ethics doesn’t begin or end when students walk into or out of my classroom, but can be seen in the work of The Green Committee, The Vegetarian and Vegan Society, Amnesty and numerous other student ventures. Bedalians can and do live by what they believe in, which gives the experience of teaching PRE a real richness.”

Clare’s book Arguments for God, is published by Pushme Press, and will be available in the summer.

This term, Bedales welcomed Father Luke Jolly of Worth Abbey as Contemplative in Residence. As part of his stay, Fr Luke ran a special school assembly, know in Bedales as a ‘Jaw’, on the topic of vocations. Fr Luke also accompanied the students on walks around the school’s estate and a special early morning walk to the Poet’s Stone with breakfast. His stay gave the students some respite between study and exam revision to enjoy calm and quiet reflection.

Commenting on the Bedales approach to philosophy education from age 7, Jo Webbern, Head of Dunannie said “In their first lesson, the children really embraced the questions that were posed to them and enjoyed expressing their thoughts with some impressive answers. Given the successful take-up of Philosophy in Year 3, the next step is roll-out these classes to our youngest children. It is not only a fascinating subject for the children to explore but is also an essential part of what makes us unique at Bedales – inspiring a love of learning by developing independent thought and enquiring minds.”

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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.

“We’re not human doings; we’re human beings”

In a busy world of exams, deadlines, standards to achieve, revision to do, and university offers to make, it can feel as though life is constant activity; that we have become human doings and not human beings. Fr Luke Jolly joined us last week as Contemplative in Residence, offering students opportunities for calm and quiet reflection during this busy term. “Everyone”, Fr Luke says “has a contemplative side”, but modern life doesn’t always make it easy for us to use it.

The programme for the week offered quiet walks on site, as well as an early morning walk to the Poet’s Stone with breakfast. There were also times to reflect on themes like “who am I?” and “what’s important in life?” Students were able to come and talk to Fr Luke, whether just bumping into him around the site, or more formally, by setting up a time to see him. On Wednesday, Fr Luke gave Jaw, in which his topic was Vocations – a word used often in a religious context, but much less often in our own. Your vocation is that which you are called to do; leading a life that best fits who you are. Fr Luke encouraged students to think about their life not in terms just of what they do, but of who they are – to seek in life something in which they can flourish by finding their niche; the way in which they can uniquely contribute to the world.

Watch a video of Fr Luke speaking about vocations.

By Clare Jarmy, Head 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.

Dunannie’s young minds inspired by Astronomy, Morpurgo, Flight and Easter chicks

Pupils from Bedales Pre-Prep Dunannie have enjoyed studying subjects inspired by a variety of influences from aeronautical engineering to a stage play of Michael Morpurgo’s Farm Boy. As the term draws to a close they also witnessed the hatching of live chicken eggs, with the children watching enthralled as two chicks hatched during a lesson. Seven chicks are now thriving in the incubator located in Year 1’s classroom and the children are taking it in turns to help feed and care for them before the Easter break when they will be cared for at home by the teaching staff.

Across the school, the children have been busy understanding astronomy with Bedales Head of Maths; studying gravity and the first lunar landing with Bedales Head of Physics and discussing economics and politics with Bedales Head of Economics, Ruth
Tarrant
. Philosophy also features in the curriculum for Year 3, with a session led by Bedales Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics, Clare Jarmy as part of the school’s RE lessons.

Visits this term have included the South Downs Planetarium for Year 1. Year 2 enjoyed a tour of the Museum of Army Flying as a conclusion to their project on flight. The children explored military aircraft from the last hundred years, including gliders; helicopters and hot air balloons. They enjoyed the simulated experienced of flying a helicopter, listening to the crew giving orders in an operation and learning how difficult
it is to keep a helicopter level. They also dressed up in overalls, boots, helmets and flying suits. The boots had actually been taken from a German prisoner and were huge.

A stage play of Michael Morpurgo’s Farm Boy took to the stage at the Bedales Olivier Theatre earlier in the term and pupils from Dunannie enjoyed the performance along with pupils from Dunhurst’s Group 3 (Year 6), Harting Primary school and Greenfields School in Woking, Surrey. The children described Scamp Theatre’s production as
‘awesome’ and ‘funny’ and enjoyed the beautifully written tale, which was a sequel to War Horse.

Commenting on the Spring term, Jo Webbern, Head of Dunannie, said, “The children have been through a whirlwind of learning, visits. workshops and activities over this term with many interesting and inspiring visitors passing through the doors of the school. We welcomed a knight clad in armour to our reception class for their study on castles and our nursery enjoyed learning the hokey-cokey in French during a weekly visit from Dunhurst’s French teacher Ellie Chilton. In the run-up to Easter, we took delivery of eggs in an incubator that have now hatched into chicks – much to the delight of the children. Over the coming months we are hoping to roll-out the lessons with
Bedales Heads of Departments with our younger children.  Learning through doing
is the cornerstone of our approach at Dunannie and the children have thoroughly
enjoyed their learning journeys this term”

Dunannie children and chicks

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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.