Venue - The Royal Oak – Chorlton – Manchester – 15th October 2013
This was a little different than previous meetings, in that it discussed how members feel about the meetings to date and the kind of approaches we have to the philosophical topics we cover each month.
There was a thoughtful short written survey form, presented by Chris Burke, (which we could complete anonymously), summarizing some suggested changes to the way the meetings are set out, and some of the topic areas we cover.
The topic headings were Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics & Society, and Aesthetics.
These subject areas can overlap and there are others too, Metaphysics is defined on the questionaire as the study of existence, though it is strictly speaking the study of that which is outside empoirical testing study – beyond the reach of (meta) physics, as in the study of God, or love at first sight (these can not be measured under laboratory conditions).
The questions on the survey asked if the topics we cover are too broad or too narrow. A subject like what is art? (Which we have addressed in part) could barely be covered in the hour and a half long meetings, as it is just too vast a topic. However, even specific topics such as whether we get too many or few vacations and whether we should return the Elgin Marbles to Greece (from the UK) were hardly covered totally or comprehensively. Philosophy never closes the book on any topic discussed. If Plato’s word on Free Will had said everything there was to say about the subject, Aristotle would have never needed to put pen to paper on the subject.
Ideally, meetings should vary to cover the big topics and the specific ones too. There is clearly room for both, though no subject or method of approach can please everyone.
The questionnaire asked if the member introducing the topics should ask specific questions to steer the groups we break up into to talk about the subject less formally, to a more strictly controlled discussion. This might seem a little too over-disciplined though for a group that prides itself on armchair-comfort rather than tense lecture room style academic approaches to philosophy.
The introductions to our monthly topics have usually fallen to one presenter, usually chosen by our host, Mary Crumpton, but it was felt that at least sometimes we should have two presenters arguing a case from different points of view (even if one has to play Devil’s advocate to do so). This struck us as being a great idea, and we also had suggestions of using short films, or even short but complete readings from established philosophers, such as for example a reading / performance of Plato’s two-performer dialogue, Euthyphro, to start a meeting off.
A diverse approach to the meetings, rather than a rigid set format seemed to appeal to members in attendance here, though the meeting was confusing and disappointing to newcomers who hadn’t seen previous meetings and felt less able to contribute to the discussion here.
It was suggested that meeting groups we split down into are often too large, with four to five people, and one member of that group summarizing their discussion and conclusions (if any) to the rest of the members at the close of meetings.
It was felt that it might be good to split down into groups of three and have more of a chance for others to have a say and a chance to summarize. This seemed good in principle but tricky to put into practice. 1/. More summary time for discussion means less discussion itself. We can have as many as thirty people in attendance, so summaries from ten members instead of about five or six would take up far too long.
2/. Not everyone in the groups has something to say, so a group of three who have two members saying little and one prominent spokes-person could be imposing for those preferring to listen. In a larger group, there are usually more attendees willing to play an active rather than a passive role in the discussion.
It was felt that the summaries often fall to the same individuals, who try to cover the whole range of the topics covered in the group, but often from their own point of view rather than from all points of view. I am quite guilty of this one myself, as in taking notes for my own philosophising; I often end up becoming the main spokesperson for whichever group I end up in. My views in summaries, as in this review are very much my own rather than necessarily those shared by other attendees.
It was felt that the groups might want to spend up to ten minutes of discussion time sorting out a chance for each member to contribute to a discussion of one specific angle of their group’s discussion and topic. This was felt to be rather impractical, as again it would tear out more actual round Robin informal discussion time, and also because some members would not wish to speak up more publicly.
There was lots of food for thought here, with the philosophers turning the spotlight on our own very approach to the meetings for once and some ideas may well be tried as experiments in future meetings.
It was also hoped to generate more topics for discussion online and much more besides.
Undoubtedly, any ideas for topics to discuss and how the meetings should run should be addressed to Mary Crumpton, our founder, and organizer, and I’m sure there will be many more exciting philosophical debates, discussions and topics to cover in future.
Thanks to Chris and Mary for the preparations for this very interesting meeting, followed by lovely lively post-event chat in the bar too.