The central questions that should be asked by every thinking human being are our syllabus: What is the nature of morality? Does God exist? What can we know? What is the nature of reality? Who are we? Do we have free will? Is there life after death? No other subject can excite the teenage mind so much.
Pupils in the Fourth and Fifth Form study Moral Philosophy. Our aims are to stimulate their philosophical imaginations, to give them a grounding in the great moral theories of western philosophy, to give them an understanding of the major religious traditions of the west, to give them an opportunity to reflect on the vital ethical issues of our time, and to hone and sharpen their critical reasoning skills.
Those opting for this course study three components:
- Fundamental issues in moral philosophy, such as environmental ethics, human rights, multiculturalism, the criminalisation of abortion, social inequality, etc.
- The beliefs and teachings of the major denominations of Christian and Jewish thought
- An in-depth and intellectually rigorous study of the earliest extant Gospel – the Gospel According to St Mark
Philosophy Pre-U aims to introduce pupils to the great questions of truth and human understanding and at the same time equip them well with the tools they will need to study successfully at university. Utilising the ideas of the canonical thinkers of the West – Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Mill, etc. – we focus on ethics and the philosophy of religion, discussing issues such as what can be known, whether there is an objective right and wrong, whether we have free will, whether sacred texts can be trusted, whether a god exists, whether there can be life after death, and how we should respond to the pressing ethical issues of our time: genetic engineering, environmental degradation, war, euthanasia, etc.
To study our Pre-U, it is not necessary, nor even particularly advantageous, to have taken our GCSE course.
Reflecting the keen interest that our pupils take in philosophy and theology, there are many school societies connected to the department. Our flagship Isaiah Berlin Society (named after the eponymous Old Pauline) meets every fortnight to hear the world’s top academic philosophers presenting their research. A Joint Theology Society runs according to the same format. There is also a weekly Junior Philosophy Society, a Joint Philosophy Society and a Joint Feminist Society (with the girls’ school), which give pupils a forum to present and discuss their own work. Finally, there is a Philosophy Reading Group which meets to discuss key texts in the history of philosophy and current research. In addition, there is the school’s Blumenau Philosophy Prize Essay competition, as well as several external essay prizes that pupils are encouraged to compete for. We also regularly take pupils to public lectures and conferences in London.
Pupils have recently had significant work published. In 2018, Quentin Mareuse published a paper in Philosophy Now, the UK’s biggest selling philosophy periodical, and Zac Michaelis and Adam Rachman delivered a paper on weakness of will to university professors at the 2017 Joint Session of the Mind and Aristotelian Societies – one of the world’s most important annual philosophy conferences.
The department is actively involved in organising the schools’ programme at the world’s largest philosophy and music annual festival: How The Light Gets In. We run a weekend trip in May to this wonderful festival in Hay-on-Wye.
The department actively promotes peer teaching, both via a programme of Moral Philosophy lessons on misogyny and homophobia delivered by Eighth Formers, and by arranging Philosophy4Children training for pupils who then deliver lessons in local primary schools as part of St Paul’s’ Partnerships programme.