Merchant Taylors' Pupils Attend the Young Philosophers Conference

On Thursday 1st February, A Level Philosophy students attended the 2024 Young Philosophers Conference. Read Nikhil's summary of the conference and some extracts from Merchant Taylors' pupil essays.

By Nikhil - Lower Sixth, A Level Philosophy Student


On Thursday 1st February, A Level Philosophy students attended the 2024 Young Philosophers Conference.

This year’s virtual conference was hosted by our good friend Dr King at his newfound home, Winchester College. The day commenced with a riveting plenary Q&A from Professor Susan Neiman. Neiman studied Philosophy at Harvard and the Free University of Berlin. She was professor of philosophy at Yale University and Tel Aviv University before joining the Einstein Forum in 2000. Neiman’s plenary consisted of a sumptuous and invaluable exploration of the Age of Enlightenment as well as the theological and secular approach to the Problem of Evil.

Attendees then split themselves into three virtual ‘rooms’ containing philosophical channels that ranged from topics such as God, Justice and Ethics, to the Meta-Physical World and Meta-Philosophy…

  • Is ethics a product of evolution?
  • Is having superfluous wealth unethical?
  • Is the existence of private healthcare ethical in a system which promises universal free healthcare?
  • Can thoughts be immoral?
  • Is climate activism morally justified?
  • Does philosophical training come with any moral obligations?

Whilst a number of MTS philosophers engaged in essay responses and posed a plethora of these astute and erudite questions, both Oliver Costigan and Jacob Rose (Lower Sixth) presented their own essays and rose to the challenge of live responses from students in other top schools. A summary of their papers can be read below:

Does Philosophical training come with any moral obligations? – Ollie Costigan

In ‘The Republic’ Plato establishes his idea of an ideal ruler: the Philosopher King. This theoretical is an early idea of a philosopher who has a greater moral obligation than the untrained man. Fundamentally, however this additional obligation, whilst resulting from philosophical training, does not find its origin within it. Similarly, Marcus Aurelius (in many ways the embodiment of Plato’s Philosopher King) felt - as a result from great thought- that it was his duty to be a “good man”.

Crucially however, I would like to note that Aurelius did not feel this obligation because he was a philosopher, but because he was human. Moral obligation can be best understood as a contract to act in a specific way – like with legal contracts it takes a myriad of factors to establish a moral obligation. These factors are not limited to but include: a relationship to an organization or individuals, an ability to act meaningfully within a moral situation/a moral situation existing within the first place and awareness of the obligation by the moral agent. This demonstrates that, philosophical training does facilitate additional moral obligation, but it does not.

The epistemic condition and its role in assessing responsibility – Jacob Rose

This essay takes a brief look at one of the greatest ethical issues – who is to blame for their actions? In a world where crime is rife, this question is key in allowing us to properly comprehend who has moral responsibility, thus allowing us to base a framework for the legal system off the back of this. In this paper, I’ll carry out an examination of the epistemic condition, its relevance in blameworthiness and the extent to which it should be taken into account when considering moral blame or praise. To do this, I’ll answer the ethical question “Is the awareness of our wrongdoing necessary for being held responsible” and cover the views of several different philosophical approaches to this ethical issue, from Aristotle to P.F. Strawson, ultimately arriving at a nuanced conclusion – the capacitarian approach which states that ignorance is only excusable in those without the cognitive capacity to acquire the relevant knowledge (e.g. children or the mentally ill).

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