P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 13
19 August 2001
I. 'The Melbourne Group' Justin Woods
II. 'Citizenship, Thinking and Philosophy for Children'
III. Philosophical Society: Membership Subscriptions
I. THE MELBOURNE GROUP
The Melbourne Group began in August 2000. I had been to a bookshop café
philosophy meeting and liked the venue but not the meetings. The Border's
Café Philosophy meetings were held on the first Tuesday of each month.
Border's bookshop is one of the largest I have ever seen. It sits within an
extremely popular fashion and entertainment district in trendy Prahran/ South
Yarra, taking up the corner of a large cinema complex. There is a huge section
of philosophy books and journals (including 'The Philosopher'). Anyone could
attend the meetings, and the usual suspects consisted of die-hard philosophy
enthusiasts, philosophy meeting buffs, new age meeting buffs, meeting buffs,
evangelist christians, people who had come to read a book with their café
latte and would soon sneak out, red-faced, and bookstore browsers passing by.
The meetings were run by Stan Van Hooft, a lecturer in philosophy from Deakin
University, and George Vasilocopoulos, a lecturer from La Trobe University. The
topics were the stock examples, combining current-affairs with a socio/
controversial flavour that could be poked at with a philosophical stick, such
as 'Is Capitalism Good for Society', etc. Each topic was read out, for about an
hour, by Stan, George, or someone else from the groups listed above. After each
talk there was about half an hour of questions from the audience, which usually
meant about half a dozen people - usually the same people each meeting. There
was a PA system, and a microphone was passed around during the question time.
The numbers ranged from 20-50. The meetings had been running for about a year,
before Stan said he'd had enough of hecklers, and was too busy to continue.
George felt the same. Was I interested in taking over?
Why ask me? In August last year, after going to one of these meetings, I
decided the venue was too good to pass up. So, I booked the café next to
it for a Friday every month and went about looking for devotees. I went around
all the Universities with my catchy fliers covered in serious statements about
the Society and the inevitable Melbourne Group. I wall-papered alumni and
undergrad notice boards with my red, yellow, and blue fliers. I covered up
their important notices with my earth shattering message, 'DO PHILOSOPHY!' The
response was better than expected; about ten. This is how Stan and George heard
The first meeting was 'The Only Knowledge is Scientific Knowledge', a statement
directly quoted out of a recent issue of 'New Scientist'. Six people turned up.
Two philosophy undergrads, a German psychologist in Melbourne on a research
grant, another German, although retired and naturalized, the guy I met at work
who cleans the floors, and me. My format was to introduce the topic and then
break up into groups to facilitate all-party discussion. Since there were only
six of us I didn't need to break up into groups, which was a bit depressing as
it was a constant reminder that I hadn't got many people to come.
More than half the group (four) complained about the background noise and
dreadful music coming from the rest of the café. The manager was also
looking at me funny, as I hadn't told him that booking was for a philosophy
group. So, by October I had decided to invade the same venue as the Café
Philosophy meetings. The Melbourne Group moved ten metres south. Perhaps this
is why our numbers doubled. Border's had nice staff who smiled, there were no
smokers, and free water was served. In January, Stan phoned and put the
question to me.
The first Melbourne Group/ Café Philosophy meeting was born. Fifty people
turned up. The café was almost packed. In remote corners I could see my
old Melbourne Group members diluted by the masses of the old Philosophy
Café. I had emailed everyone on my list and the longer list Stan had given
We have around fifty people each night. The meeting begins with my one-minute
spiel on the Society (where I sound like William Hague, recruiting for young
Conservatives - and hopefully not as badly). The discussion topic is introduced
by a guest-speaker, taking no more than twenty minutes. The whole group is then
divided into smaller groups of between 6-10 people. We encourage them to sit
with new people; if they refuse, we force them together. Then the Groups are
asked to discuss the topic, solve problems, DO philosophy, for about 45 minutes
to an hour. After that, each Group elects a person to give a 2 minute summary of
their discussion (here we use the microphone). The guest-speaker gives a short
conclusion, and we officially finish. However, most people stay, mingle, and
continue discussion until quite late.
By dividing people into small groups, I aim to have every single person
contributing to the discussion, and doing so frequently. This is never achieved
in any other format that I have seen. During the discussion, I wander around
each Group, evaluating the format, ensuring philosophical methods are employed
(this is arrogant, but for the sake of space I take it most would understand
what I mean), and helping with problems.
The Hecklers, mentioned earlier, have been taken aside, spoken to nicely, and
now no longer heckle, but act as my assistants. And may I say, they are rather
good at it.
Here are the meetings we have had so far, and a couple we haven't:
The Only Knowledge is Scientific Knowledge I Justin Woods
The Only Knowledge is Scientific Knowledge II Justin Woods
Case Studies in Applied Ethics Justin Woods
What is Art? Justin Woods
Do I Have The Right? Justin Woods
Other Minds: Are You Insane? Robyn Castle
Philosophy Puzzles: A Philosophy Quiz Night Justin Woods
Did God Create Man, or Did Man Create God? Brent McCauslin
Wimp Liberation David Miller
What is Art? Brent McCauslin
What is an Australian? Brent McCauslin
Global Sex Dennis Altman
It's Illogical to Rely On Logic Graeme Lindenmeier
Justin R. Woods APhS
Australasia Editor 'The Philosopher'
4 Walton Avenue, Preston VIC 3072 Australia
Tel. (03) 9416-7620
(c) Justin Woods 2001
II. CITIZENSHIP, THINKING AND PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN
The 10th Biennial Conference of the International Council for Philosophical
Inquiry with Children (ICPIC)
I attended the UK focus weekend of the 10th biennial conference of ICPIC,
hosted by SAPERE, the Society for Advancing Philosophical Enquiry and
Reflection in Education on the 14th and 15th July. It was held at King Alfred's
College, Winchester, UK.
After registration and coffee on Saturday morning, SAPERE Chair Roger Sutcliffe
introduced a presentation by two writers of introductory philosophy books;
Stephen Law, author of "The Philosophy Files", and Nigel Warburton, who wrote
"Philosophy, the Basics". Their aim was to discuss "Philosophy and Citizenship:
the concept of authority in moral education".
Stephen Law argued that rejecting moral relativism need not mean rejecting
liberalism, because you can think there are objective moral values but still
believe that people should be free to discover them for themselves.
Nigel Warburton asserted that if philosophy is taught well to receptive
students, it can assist them in recognizing the fallibility of their own
thinking, and in defending themselves against authority trying to impose views
on them; but he also gave examples of less desirable results of studying
academic philosophy, such as becoming an argumentative show-off!
Following a buffet lunch, three teachers presented a demonstration
philosophical enquiry with a group of 22 children aged between 7 and 10. They
read the picture book "Willy and Hugh" by Anthony Browne, then discussed the
question (formulated by one of the children): "Why do some people have the
audacity to pick on people smaller than them when they can't pick on people
bigger than themselves?" Some children cited personal experience of bullying.
At the end, delegates were able to ask the children questions.
After a short break, Professor Robert Fisher, Head of the Centre for Teaching
Thinking at Brunel University, and Don Rowe, of the Citizenship Foundation,
gave a presentation on "Thinking and Citizenship within UK Schools/ the UK
Don Rowe talked about the requirements for 'citizenship education' currently
being introduced into the National Curriculum, and why philosophy with children
might not be the best way of satisfying these requirements. Bob Fisher argued
the case for the use of philosophy with children.
After tea, various workshops were offered. I attended a talk by Dr Karin Murris
on "Storywise", a resource that she and Joanna Haynes have written, to help
teachers introduce philosophical enquiry to nursery and primary school
children, using picture books to stimulate questioning, discussion and
There was a final plenary session, then everyone was free to go to their
accommodation at the West Downs student village.
The day ended with dinner, at which Professor Richard Pring, Director of the
Department of Educational Studies at Oxford University and President of SAPERE,
gave a humorous after-dinner speech about the subversive nature of philosophy!
Sunday morning began with the SAPERE AGM, which was followed by a presentation
by Dr Karin Murris and Dr Roy van den Brink Budgen, Chief Examiner in Critical
Thinking. They spoke about "Critical and Creative Thinking". Both were
optimistic about the benefits of doing philosophical enquiry with children and
young people, and they cited their own personal experience to support this
After coffee, more workshops were offered: this time I watched a video of a
project that James Nottingham, of the Berwick RAIS Project, and Liz Hilsdon, of
the Northumberland Education Development Centre, had done in a nursery school in
Berwick. They were attempting to introduce philosophical discussion to a small
group of three-year-olds, and asked whether people thought what they had done
could really be called 'philosophy with children'?
Following lunch, Dr Terry McLaughlin of Cambridge University spoke on the
subject of "Schools/ Curriculi of the Future: how things might be in 20 years'
time". He referred to the ideas of Ivan Illich, a radical anarchist, who
believes that schools restrict people's freedom unacceptably. Dr McLaughlin
suggested that there are some educative functions that only schools could
perform - that some things can only be taught by direct human contact.
Further workshops were available. I attended Roger Sutcliffe's presentation of
the "Newswise" resource, written by himself and Steve Williams, which presents
newspaper stories and questions arising from them, for use in English,
Citizenship and PSHE teaching at Key Stages 2 and 3.
After tea, the final presentation of the day was given by Dr Walter Kohan,
ICPIC President. He spoke on the subject of "Liberation Philosophy - should
philosophy for/ with children be more radical in its aims and practice?" Dr
Kohan's presentation was followed by some constructive debate from delegates.
I had a wonderful weekend which was by turns interesting, amusing and of real
For more information on SAPERE see http://www.sapere.ne t
(c) Katharine Hunt 2001
III. PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY: MEMBERSHIP SUBSCRIPTIONS
If you are a member of the Philosophical Society of England, and have not yet
paid your membership subscription for this year, it is still not to late to do
An easy and convenient way to pay your membership subscription is via the
NetBanx facility on the Pathways web site.
Here's what you do. Go to the blue WWW form on the Pathways web site:
Click on the NetBanx icon. This will take you to the Pathways online card
transaction form. Complete all the fields and select 'Full Society membership'
if you are a full member, or 'Reduced Society membership' if you are a
full-time student or retired.
One year's full membership is 12 Pounds Sterling, reduced membership is 8
After you have submitted the NetBanx form there will be a button to return you
to the blue WWW form. If you are renewing your membership, there is no need to
complete all the sections. Just put your name and current e-mail address, and
write 'membership renewal' in the comments box.
Alternatively, you can send a cheque or money order in Pounds Sterling, payable
to 'The Philosophical Society of England' to:
Dr Geoffrey Klempner
Director of Studies
The Philosophical Society of England
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN
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