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Our Lady of Mercy Philosophy Club by Jack Cross (Year 11)

Every Thursday lunchtime, the Our Lady Of Mercy College Philosophy Club, run by Mr McKenzie, gathers to discuss ethics, existentialism, knowledge, and reason. The Club has grown in both size and ability over the past few years, and is now preparing to compete in the now online Australasian Philosothon at the end of this month.

At its weekly meetings, students and teachers engage in a constructive discussion aimed at building understanding regarding a particular topic. Unlike other academic pursuits such as debating, philosophy is not adversarial – it is not an argument, and there are no sides. Instead, participants aim to further the group’s knowledge and work to create a solution or common agreement on an issue, whether that issue is a moral dilemma, logical fallacy, or contradiction in the world around us.

While the Club is open to all and is primarily aimed at encouraging critical thinking and greater understanding, philosophy is also open to competition. Philosophy competitions are unique in that competitors are graded based on the quality of their contribution to the discussion and how they interacted with the other participants and their points. In essence, the be competitive you have to present good arguments that progress the discussion, but at the same time, you must acknowledge and either refute or build upon the arguments of others.

"Cogito, ergo sum, I think, therefore I am”

The College has entered a team in the local South West Philosothon since 2017 and has won in both 2018 and 2019. Besides the team wins (the perpetual trophy can be seen at the front office), team members also have a wide collection of individual wins and second places. Along with the Philosothon, the Club also took up the challenge of last year’s Perth Ethics Olympiad, coming in a respectable sixth against teams of older students, many of whom were enrolled in the ATAR Philosophy course.

In the immediate future, the Philosophy Club is gearing up for the 2020 Australasian Philosothon (AAP), which the OLMC team qualified for after winning the 2019 South West Philosothon (SW Philosothon). While the team also qualified for the 2019 edition of the AAP, a lack of numbers made it unfeasible to attend. While the SW Philosothon requires a team of four and one reserve, the AAP requires a team of eight – and this year the Club has a team ready to compete.

If all had gone to plan, the team would currently be preparing to fly to Melbourne to compete in the AAP at Wesley College. Unfortunately, the in-person event was first postponed to 2021 and then reorganised to be held online. While this will present a fresh set of challenges, the AAP team have been readying themselves for a close competition which will focus on:

  • The trolley problem, the famous ethical dilemma invoking both utilitarianism (prioritising the welfare of many) and personal responsibility.

  • The case of the four causes, a discussion heavily based in philosophical theory. Every object and event has four causes: material, formal, efficient, and final.

  • Science and emotion, more specifically, can reason and emotion exist in isolation?

  • The reality of the external world, a philosophical issue made common knowledge by movies such as The Matrix. How can we prove that the world around us actually exists? We can be certain we exist (René Descartes Cogito, ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”), but can we be certain other minds exist?

Later on in the year, the AAP team will split in two to compete in the 2020 SW Philosothon in the hope of again qualifying for the following year’s AAP. There, the two smaller teams will discuss the consciousness of machines and computers, the ethics of using relationships for entertainment (reality TV), the rights of a nation to control its borders, and when civil disobedience is justified.

Our Lady Of Mercy College Philosophy Club would like to thank the following individuals and businesses for their generous support towards the club's resources: Colin Holt MLC, the Duffy Family, Savannah Maintenance, Barr and Standley, Pack and Send Welshpool.


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