from left to right: Joel Mason, Lindsay Lyon, Rachel Brown, and John Ashton

Philosophy students attend the 2012 British Undergraduate Philosophy Society conference

Philosophy students attend the 2012 British Undergraduate Philosophy Society conference

On the weekend of the 2-3rd June, a group of four delegates from the University of Exeter travelled up to Leeds to join with around 70 of their peers from other philosophy departments across the UK to attend the British Undergraduate Philosophy Society conference.

After grabbing a coffee, the first two talks were presented – the first looking at the philosophical problems highlighted by the ‘Frankfurt cases’ and their implications for free-will, determinism, and moral responsibility; and the second, a much contested look at the notion of haecceity from a scholastic perspective, drawing on the work of Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus.
The format of the conference was such that each paper was presented for around forty-five minutes, and was then followed by a further forty-five minutes of questions and debate. In between different papers, there was time to meet and discuss ideas with students from other universities.

The final presentation of the first day was the keynote talk, given by Professor Timothy Williamson of Oxford University, which focused on the ‘philosophy of philosophy’ – the subject of one of his recent books. In a talk punctuated with interesting anecdotes, he explored the methodology and nature of philosophy and how this had changed, particularly with the rise of linguistic philosophy and the focus on meaning in the twentieth century, ultimately arguing in favour of inference to the best explanation as the principle which should guide our philosophical pursuits.

On the Sunday, a further three papers were presented. The first looked at the work of Leibniz, and different theories of mind-body interactionism. The second talk of the day focused on Kantian constructivism in the work of John Rawls, exploring how idealisations weaken ethical theories. The final talk, which provoked much debate, examined our intuitions about the concept of harm, defending the claim that an individual can be harmed by something only if they have an unpleasant experience as a result of it. Indeed, this discussion continued long after even the conference was over, as we were fortunate enough to be sitting in the same carriage as Professor Williamson on the train home, who kindly spent an hour and a half of his journey discussing further with us the ideas which had been raised.

As well as demonstrating an impressive maturity of thought among undergraduates, the weekend was an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience for all who attended, providing a fantastic opportunity to discuss philosophy and meet enthusiastic, like-minded people from across the country.

The sincere thanks of all who attended go to the department here at Exeter, who generously agreed to fund the trip.

[Joel Mason, Philosophy Undergraduate]

Date: 9 August 2012

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