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Oxford friends of philosophy: Morality and ethics at Blackwell’s

An unexamined life is not worth living (so Socrates said, according to Plato). And in this spirit, EF Academy Oxford’s Friends of Philosophy set out one evening in late January to hear one of the Oxford Brookes Philosophy Public Lectures – an evening with Professor Robert Stern from the University of Sheffield, who was discussing the question: ‘Too Demanding? How Much Does Morality Require of Us?’

Around 20 students interested in philosophy attended the debate, along with Oxford IB Philosophy teacher Leo Bowder, who is currently writing an IB Diploma textbook in Philosophy.

The event was hosted at the famous Oxford bookshop, Blackwell’s, which billed the event as follows: “Peter Singer has famously argued that just as a person ought to help someone whose life is threatened right in front of them, so they are under a similar obligation to help someone starving in another country; but critics have responded that this makes morality over-demanding in various ways.”

Of the event, Emma Jaffe, IB1 philosophy student (Higher Level), from Italy said, “During this debate, the main subject was morality and ethics. We went through some important ideas from the famous ethical philosopher Peter Singer. He says that if it’s in our own power to prevent any bad occurrences, we should stop it, if it doesn’t require us to sacrifice anything of comparable moral significance. We also heard about Immanuel Kant – according to him, beneficence (being good to each other) is an imperfect duty- one that we can never finish.”

“Knud Ejler Løgstrup – not a utilitarian, said that ‘the fundamental feature of human existence is that we are vulnerable and dependent creatures. This gives us power over each other and therefore we need to help others.’”

Non-philosophy IB1 student from Norway, Peter Grinde-Hollevik reflected saying, “Yesterday’s talk on moral truly awoke certain feelings of mine. The speaker was a well-known philosopher who discussed moral demands. The main thesis was well presented as follows; ‘At which stages do moral and ethics become over-demanding?’ He brought upon three different philosophers which all share certain features, but which also are divided on certain things. The most used example of this was an example of a drowning baby in a pond. Using the thesis of these different people; Peter Singer and Danish philosopher Løgstrup, and Kant, the audience experienced fluctuations of moral belief and disbelief. Because should we alwayssave that drowning baby? Some argued we should not do so” [or at least that it did not relate exactly to the obligation to give to charity].”

The next debate in the Blackwell’s Philosophy series is, “What makes a good life?” – and the Friends of Philosophy can’t wait to find out.

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