By Robert Wheatley – Head of Editorial
Philosophy is a fascinating subject and one I am proud to be majoring in. It’s a study that dates back as far as Ancient Greece, and it developed an abundance of schools of thought as its practice grew of interest across the world in Japan, China, India and in the Middle East.
It’s a subject still widely popular today and has many useful applications in a variety of subjects like law, medicine and journalism. Sometimes, however, you don’t always want to think about the academic side of philosophy, like writing essays and attending seminars: sometimes it’s just nice to socialise with others interested in looking a little deeper into the nature of our existence, or learn about a subject you don’t need to be tested on a few months later.
I spoke to Michael Slade, this year’s chair of PhilSoc: the University of Hertfordshire’s official philosophy society. Now in his fourth-year, Michael plans to bring more of a social aspect to PhilSoc this year and explains that the society, and philosophy in and of itself inspires an understanding of debate, formulating an opinion and provides a space to discuss typically jarring subjects.
So, what’s your society all about?
I currently chair PhilSoc, which is the philosophy society at the University of Hertfordshire. The society largely focuses on extending philosophy outside the parameters of the lectures, and it’s open to both people who do philosophy as a subject, but also those who might just have an interest in philosophy.
How much is it to join?
Right now, membership is £5 but that’s not exclusive: you can come along to the talks and see if you want to invest in the society, so we’re always more than willing to have people come along to see what it’s like and meet some of the members of staff, the committee and speakers. We do advise later on people buy a membership to help support the society.
What events are held, and when are they held?
We have talks that are held bi-weekly in the MacLaurin Building (across the road from de Hav), and what happens is members of staff will organise guest speakers throughout the year… there are two levels of talks given: research, geared more towards staff and academic researchers, and then PhilSoc lite which is more philosophy at a consumer level — making [the topic] easier to get into, and gives you insight into pursuing a particular topic or area.
For the second half of the year, we have a retreat, Cumberland Lodge. It’s just above £100 for a full weekend, full-board — food as well — and a chance for people to attend seminar-style talks. We advise people to go if they do it as a subject, but it’s just a beautiful place so people might sometimes go for mass, or ‘queen-spotting’.
What’s new this year?
What we’re aiming to do this year is have a more social-kind-of-vibe, as that was harder for me to organise last year… but hopefully, we’ll have more social gatherings.
What I would like to achieve this year is more outreach. We’ve spoken a lot about doing stuff with other societies… so this year perhaps we need to approach it less like a formal debate and just have a simple social. Maybe a meeting at the Elehouse, meeting with people from another society, so I think this year might be more about having conversations with students.
Right now, from what I understand, the SU is trying to build more around the community aspect and I’m right behind them as I feel a lot more could be done for the community side of the student experience…
What can your society bring to students who might not think it’s for them?
One thing you pick up as you do philosophy is more of an understanding that differences in opinions aren’t necessarily supposed to be offensive towards you; and more so than anything, it’s about understanding what the argument structure is.
From a community standpoint, what we’ll be offering is a space through the [PhilSoc] talks where people can engage in a material and have conversations around it, and hopefully, that space is catered to make them feel more comfortable…
What do you think is the best thing about this society?
It’s inclusive. When people come to find who philosophers are, average everyday people, they’re not as middle-class, white male as you think, and I think that’s reflected more in our faculty as well as the student body — it’s very diverse in this university.
Philosophy touches on a lot of different topics: it doesn’t just touch upon philosophers, it looks at ideas. Things like pornography, terrorism; those are things we talk about in our lectures, but they might also be subject material people bring from their universities to have a conversation about it… philosophy can give you anything from fiction to games to movies, literature; god-complexes to deities, anything, really — there’s a bit of philosophy in anything.
If you want to learn more about PhilSoc hop on over to their Facebook page, which will give you updates on their events and activities for the upcoming semester. Keep checking Trident Media, as we hope to bring you plenty more Society Showcases!