Report on the 2022 Philosophy Convocation

What is a philosophy program for? On Friday 24 June 2022, 31 philosophers (a mixture of staff, HDRs and undergraduate students) gathered at Deakin Downtown for a living exploration of this question.

The day began with some thoughts from Cathy Legg about how the discipline of philosophy predates the institution of the university, and in its ancient context, philosophy arguably originated in a “choice of life” that was never made in solitude.

Patrick Stokes challenged the gathering to discuss “What’s Philosophy Good For?” and how we might answer criticisms by noted public figures that philosophy: i) is obsolete, ii) makes no progress​ itself and iii) impedes progress in other, more productive fields. Many useful suggestions were made, including that self-examination can be an important precursor to genuine progress, that philosophical investigation has a certain intrinsic ‘freshness’, which is compelling, and that engaging in philosophy is not a choice, so we might as well do it well.

Marilyn Stendera took up the thorny question of “Minorities in Philosophy: Representation and Accessibility”. Diagnosing: i) excluded voices, ii) the leaky pipeline and iii) structural factors, she insightfully addressed each in turn. She presented research showing the negative effects of a discipline’s field-specific ability beliefs (e.g. ‘innate philosophical brilliance’) on its diversity, and skilfully gathered data on the audience’s own career experiences using mentimeter. Her presentation ended with a host of practical suggestions for making a difference.

Chris Mayes presented an engaging talk on “Field Philosophy,” which goes beyond merely “applied” work by stepping outside the walls of the University to assist problem-solving in particular lived contexts, alongside practitioners of other disciplines (whose methods we can learn from, as well as them learning from us). He played fascinating snippets from his recent oral history work with Melbourne-based early practitioners of philosophy beyond the ivory tower, such as Peter Singer and Robert Young.

[In an interlude, our HDR students received some advice from YouTube on maintaining motivation while writing a thesis, not all of which was judged to be without merit.]  

Finally, Leesa Davis presented an eye-opening presentation on “The Philosophical Basis of ‘Mindfulness.’” Drawing on her deep knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, she showed how large an intellectual gap can yawn between the rigor and detail of the traditional program for training the mind, and certain ‘corporate co-options’ of mindfulness as a kind of easy, blissful cure-all.

Huge thanks to everyone who came and participated!

Cathy Legg