Category Archives: Ethics

Robert Blakey – “Will criminal behaviour be treated one day like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil?”

Monday the 4th of December marked the last Williams Project of 2018, as well as the last Williams Project with Mr Lord at the helm. With this in mind and with so many wonderful and insightful talks preceding him, Mr Robert Blakey, criminology doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, had a hard task ahead of him. I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that he did so with pure charisma and flawless knowledge with regard to his subject. Mr Blakey began his presentation by outlining the big question he would be attempting to answer: ‘Will criminal behaviour be one day treated like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil?’ He began by giving us four concepts that contribute to a person’s offending: genes, social environment, brain activity and free will, and asked us to decide in what order they run in when contributing to a criminal committing a crime. We then proceeded to have an interactive discussion as a group in an attempt to order these notions, culminating in our successful ordering of the ideas. Mr Blakey then read us two scenarios about free will: one where, from a psychological point of view, our decisions were all caused by factors outside our control, and another similar but described in terms of chemical activity in our brains. He then invited us to stand on the left side of the room if we still believed the person in the example had free will or the right side if we believed they didn’t. It was interesting to see how many people moved to the side of no free will, particularly in the chemical scenario. This activity was thoroughly engaging and gave us a real opportunity to think things through for ourselves. Mr Blakey continued his fascinating talk by presenting the idea of rehabilitating criminals, especially young offenders, in good social environments instead of prisons as he noted that prisons are poor repairing facilities, as well as being detrimental to the mind of a youth offender. We spent the final minutes of the presentation trying to decide how to rehabilitate offenders, and whether there would ever be a perfect way to help lawbreakers. It was a captivating and highly perceptive talk that challenged us to think laterally with regards to many issues. Many thanks must go to Mr Blakey who we are sure would be very welcome to return to Chigwell in the near future.

Rory Hankins and Julie Vytrisalova

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

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Priscilla Alderson – “Can children have international inalienable human rights?”

Priscilla Alderson (Professor Emerita of Childhood Studies, UCL) led the Williams Project in a thoughtful discussion of the philosophical basis for children’s rights, taking as starting points issues and questions raised by the young people there present. Her style was refreshingly different, and mirrored in itself her emphasis on the importance of listening to young people themselves.

Richard Maynes: “That’s not funny!” Are there any topics that shouldn’t be joked about?

A pop-up WP, for the VIth form only. Mr Maynes took us through a whole gamut of types of offensive humour, and, with admirable openness, tact and skill, engineered an intelligent, and at times impassioned, discussion about humour. Audio clips from comedians, with audience laughter, brought home the difficulty of finding something ‘funny’, but not wanting to laugh. Is it OK to share such jokes if no members of the target group are there, and if the teller knows no one will be offended? Or should one only tell jokes which one could tell to anyone?

The conversation continued over dinner, where several students expressed with relief that now for the first time they felt able to discuss things like gender and race in an official school setting.

Florian Steinberger: “Animal Rights” and “To Infinity and Beyond”

Dr. Florian Steinberger, philosopher and lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, spoke to both branches of the Williams Project. He spoke to us about two very different philosophical topics, beginning with “animal rights”: what are they? Do animals really have them and should we respect them? There were multiple discussions, questions and debates on whether animals could really have preferences and feelings to be deserving of rights as humans do. We also covered the issue of why we are willing to protect them to a certain extent, nonetheless, also willing to consume them. We outlined the religious, moral and health aspects linked to the matter to delve deeper into if we could and should give animals rights. The discussion was thoroughly enjoyed by all of us of all age groups, being a very controversial and interactive talking point.

He continued with second session on the topic of “infinity” – a more mathematical approach towards philosophy and the possibility and impossibility of infinity, the contradictions and the proof – in particular whether some kinds of infinity can be greater than others (for example the infinity of real numbers can be shown to be larger than the infinity of integers). Although complex for a few of us(!), many were able to grasp the concept of how infinity could be perceived; it was an engaging and stimulating lecture on a rather unfamiliar topic.

We are grateful for the discussions led by Dr. Steinberger, and thank him for enlightening us on two of the many contemporary philosophical issues we face today.

Talia Eringin

Mark Pottle: ‘”The worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”: Winston Churchill, Isaiah Berlin and Democracy’

Mark Pottle is Isaiah Berlin Legacy Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Having studied Modern History at Sheffield University and done his doctoral research at Oxford University, he continues his work on modern British history at Oxford and with emphasis on Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was a Latvian-born Jewish philosopher and political theorist, whose family came to England in 1921, some years after the Russian Revolution. Mr Pottle gave us an insightful talk on democracy – “the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried” as said by Winston Churchill. It was the principal idea behind this quotation that the discussion revolved around: the huge injustices we see in modern day democracies while also knowing its worse alternatives. Mr Pottle also introduced Isaiah Berlin to those of us who had previously been unfamiliar with him, and along with that – his key ideas on Liberalism, Pluralism and their place in, and importance to, democracy.

Ashok Oberoi

Simon Webb: ‘Slavery in Mid-20th-century Essex’

On the 26th of September, author and historian Simon Webb spoke to the Williams Project on the idea of British concentration camps after the second world war, where German prisoners of war were kept to provide forced labour for farming and rebuilding after the war. This is an idea that makes the listener inherently uncomfortable, and a topic that most historians simply gloss over. However, throughout the hour, Simon Webb went into great detail around the events and details that resulted in this, the loopholes that allowed surrendered prisoners of war to be kept for forced labour, and the eventual cancellation of the program during the Nuremburg Trials. Simon kept the audience captivated throughout the talk, which culminated in his excellent answering of the questions proposed to him from the attentive audience.

Michael Newman

Freddie Meier: The ethics of shooting a young Adolf Hitler

Our topic on May 24th was ‘The ethics of shooting a young Adolf Hitler’ – a talk and discussion led by Mr Freddie Meier (MFL department). Mr Meier took us through various scenarios, real or imagined, about the early years of Adolf Hitler, before expanding his theme into a full discussion of utilitarian and deontological ethics: whether an action is good because the consequences are good, or because the action is just good in itself. We soon understood that there is no easy easy of deciding whether an action is good or not, and left the meeting puzzled yet enlightened.

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