CLUB LIFE: Learning to Think at the New Philosophers’ Club

The New Philosophers’ Club is the place to demonstrate your thinking skills.

Students discuss Eric Halterman’s talk “The Source of All Problems in Philosophy” at a meeting of the New Philosophers’ Club.

For a number of Haverford students, philosophy isn’t just a course they sign up for. It’s something they do—on a Friday night, over pizza. Long into the night, the members of The New Philosophers’ Club have fun discussing philosophical ideas and learning discourse skills.

What: The New Philosophers’ Club was launched last spring.

When: The monthly Friday night meetings in the seminar room of Gest have been attracting between 15 and 25 participants and follow a simple structure. One speaker, chosen ahead of time, gives a short, 10-minute presentation on a topic of his or her choice. Then the floor is open for general discussion. The lively debates often go on long after the scheduled hour is up.

Mission: “What we wanted to do with the club was create a space for people to come and have fun discussing interesting philosophical ideas,” says club co-founder Sara Jaramillo ’15. Students don’t need to be a philosophy major to join in. The meetings are open to all. What she hopes people will get out of the club, says Jaramillo, is “how to clearly articulate a set of ideas; how to formulate your thoughts on a subject that you might have just learned about for the first time, and how to argue intelligently with people who may disagree with you. So it’s not just about learning new philosophical ideas, but also new philosophical skills.”

Sara Jaramillo ’15, club co-founder, speaks to students at the New Philosophers’ Club meeting.

According to club co-founder Dylan Verner-Crist ’16, the three keys to the practice of philosophy are reading, writing, and speaking. “We often underemphasize the third today, but it was how philosophy was, of course, founded,” he says. “The problem is that it is difficult to develop good discourse skills in a class where many students are afraid of screwing up in front of a professor and therefore don’t really go at it. The goal [of the club] is to give students an arena in which they can practice talking philosophy without such fears.”

Did You Know? The club was actually inspired by a small discussion group that had been meeting once a week to consider a shared reading in philosophy, says Verner-Crist. “We felt that the group had really helped us academically and wanted to try a similar sort of thing that would be open to all.” But he knew the required reading wouldn’t work on a larger scale, and would likely discourage attendance. After mulling ideas for the club over the course of a semester, Verner-Crist says it was Assistant Professor of Philosophy Joel Yurdin who helped come up with a workable format. “Joel suggested structuring the club in the same way that the famous Cambridge Moral Sciences Club worked. Basically, Joel gave us this structure.”

“I didn’t belong to such a club in college,” says Yurdin. “It would have been nice if there were one. But I’m really pleased that Dylan and Sara created one here. The students get together, even at the busiest time in the semester, for serious intellectual inquiry with one another, and they do it just for the value and fun of that sort of activity. That, for me, is Haverford at its best.”

—Eils Lotozo

Photos by Brad Larrison