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Young philosophers step up to the podium

Date Released: Tue, 5 April 2011 12:01 +0200

Rhodes University’s Philosophy Department takes centre stage this week as it hosts a national conference for up-and-coming philosophers. The annual conference of the Postgraduate Philosophy Association of South Africa (PPA (SA)) will unite scholars from eight South African institutions, including one international university.

Twenty-one students will present their own academic papers over the course two days, beginning on Tuesday, 5 April. Well-known international philosophers, Prof Marilyn Friedman and Prof Tom Stoneham, will also attend as keynote speakers.

The main purpose of the PPA conference is to allow emerging scholars a platform to share their work and to refine their craft. “It puts [students] in a position to be thinking seriously about an academic life,” said Prof Tom Martin, Head of the Rhodes Philosophy Department, “presenting papers is one of the things academics do.” The conference provides a relatively supportive space for students to practice critical skills, said Prof Martin.

Credit for the event’s organisation is owed to the postgraduate Philosophy students of Rhodes, who volunteered their campus while at last year’s conference. “The students have taken total initiative,” said Martin. Commenting on the significant of the event, he added, “Though our students have contributed to a number of conferences in the past, it is a great opportunity for our postgraduates to have one here.”

Undoubtedly enhancing the profile of this year’s conference is the attendance of prominent international philosophers, Marilyn Friedman and Tom Stoneham. Friedman, a professor from Vanderbilt University, who is perhaps best know for her work on feminism, will give an address entitled, “How to Blame People Responsibly”. 

Stoneham, professor and Head of Philosophy at the University of York also serves as assistant editor of the philosophy journal, Mind. His address, entitled, “Perception and Imagination: A Quick Way with Consciousness”, deals with the philosophy of knowledge. Prof Friedman and Prof Stoneham will speak on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Both addresses are open to the public.

Rhodes’ own scholars will not only lead the conference in its logistical planning, but also in terms of academic content. Of the 12 students selected to present papers, five are from the Rhodes faculty. Paper topics engage with a range of issues, from arguing the virtues of vegetarianism to discussing the merits of beauty as a matter of subjective truth. Sharli Paphitis, Rhodes student co-ordinator and presenter at the conference, believes this is an ideal place for postgraduates to exhibit their work. “A lot of post-grads have interesting ideas, even though they’re just starting out. This space allows students to challenge themselves and to get a feel for what people at other universities are doing.” Lindsay Kelland, also a presenter and student co-ordinator from Rhodes, commented, “[The conference] is a big gateway to feeling confident to present your work.”

How to Blame People Responsibly”, given by Prof Marilyn Freidman, will take place Tuesday, 5 April from 14.30 – 15.30 in Zoology Major.

“Perception and Imagination: A Quick Way with Consciousness”, given by Prof Tom Stoneham, will take place Wednesday, 6 April from 14.15 – 5.14 in Zoology Major.

By Hailey Gaunt