Why Philosophical Engagement Continues To Matter

I spent Sunday afternoon discussing the ideas of Michel Foucault and R.D. Laing.

We talked about Foucault’s understanding of power, diagnoses of mental illness, and the relationship between psychiatric institutions and prisons. We then talked about the ground-breaking psychiatrist R. D. Laing and how he re-envisioned mental illness as an existential crisis of the self, rejecting the medical model of “mental illness” and situating it instead in a social context.

This wasn’t a conference or a research seminar, it was the 250th session of the Stuart Low Trust Philosophy Forum.  Our weekly discussion group that has been running for over seven years.

Paul-Michel Foucault 1926-1984

How Our Forum Works

Each week a speaker presents a topic for fifteen minutes or so before posing a question and opening it up to discussion in small groups. This term, we’ve discussed “Peter Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism”, “The Miracle of Applied Mathematics”, “Dialetheism: True, False, or Both?”

The presentations are usually informative and accessible, opening up a topic to responses from participants with any level of specialist knowledge or otherwise. Each participant brings their own valuable background and experiences to bear on the topic at hand.

“New facilitators are sometimes surprised by the level and quality of philosophical engagement at the Forum.”

Discussions at the Forum are distinguished by the kindness and respect which participants offer each other. Rather than trying to best each other’s arguments, or prove each other wrong, the emphasis is on listening and building a conversation together. This is a refreshing change from how philosophy is often conducted in academic environments!

My Philosophy Life

I have volunteered with the Philosophy Forum for over two years and have been running it for this past term. I research, teach undergraduates at Kings College London, and schoolchildren through The Philosophy Foundation. My involvement with the Forum, however, is easily the most fulfilling and exciting thing I do. Each week I learn about a new topic alongside the participants, and benefit immensely from their insightful contributions.

I find my understanding of the topics I’m teaching or researching illuminated by participants input at the forum.  I can’t wait to find out what philosophy we’ll be delving into as we go forward into our next 250 sessions!

By Simone Webb, Philosophy Facilitator at the Stuart Low Trust’s Philosophy Forum

For more from Simone, follow her on twitter: www.twitter.com/SimoneWebbUCL

Philosophy Forum

Launched in 2011, running during term time, the forum is led by volunteers under the expert guidance of Philosophy Lecturers Rachel Paine and Haydn Appleby.

Find out more about the Philosophy Forum here.

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