Covering topics ranging from mask-wearing controversies to standardized English and Kant, the student papers presented at Haverford Philosophy Department’s Undergraduate Philosophy Consortium explored myriad topics. On Sept. 24, around 50 attendees, ranging from senior philosophy majors to first-years taking introductory classes in the department, entered the Gest Center to hear presentations by six of their fellow Haverford and Bryn Mawr students.
The consortium was just for students. They were the attendees and presenters; faculty weren’t even invited to attend. “The purpose of the event is to foster informal and accessible conversations about philosophy, without the pressure that having faculty or staff at the event might add,” said philosophy major Sofia Esner ’22, who organized the event with Amolina Bhat ’23.
The guest judge, Isabelle Guotaco ’18, graduated from Haverford College as a philosophy major, and currently works as an investment analyst for the College. “[She] was suggested to us by Professor Danielle Macbeth and after speaking with her, we saw how excited she was about the event,” said Esner.
Prior to the event itself, the Philosophy Department hosted a call for undergraduate papers. Guotaco chose three level-100 papers and three 200- and 300-level papers that would be presented at the in-person event. (Last year’s event was held over Zoom.) Those papers were Jade Rousseau’s “Sculpture and the Aesthetic Capacity of Touch”, Jianan (Joanna) Gu’s “Debates on Wearing Masks: Responses to Infectious Diseases in Western and Non-Western Countries,” Emily Shein’s “Acknowledging our Limits to Make Room for Knowledge: a Defense of Kant’s Things in Themselves“, Bella Khanna’s “Saving Sainthood: Offering Wolf’s Moral Saint a Bit of Character Development”, Benjamin Haile’s “A Nietzschean Interpretation of the Mathematical Sublime”, and Adena Kibel’s “Prior and Passing Theories of Hegemonic Standardized English”.
Presenters not only shared their ideas but also engaged with the audience. “I presented last [year], and presenting on Zoom felt like I had to remind myself I was talking to someone and I wasn’t merely talking to myself about my own pape,” said Rousseau, who was the first in-person presenter this year. “Whereas being in the room was incredibly different. You can feel the stares of the people, and you can look around at different people and feel like you’re actively engaging.”
After the presentations, presenters and audience members gathered outside of Gest for a small, informal reception where they discussed philosophical ideas, some proposed in the papers and some not. “The consortium exceeded our expectations in every way. We had six wonderful presentations, 50 engaged attendees over the course of the afternoon, and a cheerful reception afterwards.” Esner said.
A few days after the event, Guotaco announced the winners: Khanna’s “Saving Sainthood: Offering Wolf’s Moral Saint a Bit of Character Development” and Haile’s “A Nietzschean Interpretation of the Mathematical Sublime”.
“It’s not daunting, it’s not pretentious, who wins,” said Rousseau. “I don’t think it matters very much, and I think that it’s good that it doesn’t matter.” The consortium’s goal is to spark philosophical conversation and philosophical thinking, without the pressure of grades or teacher approval, and that’s just what they did.