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Conference Makes Philosophy Real

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A trio of fascinating speakers and over 100 delegates from five schools in the north-west joined students from the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions for the annual Spring Conference hosted by the Boys’ Division. The theme for 2019 was ‘Making Philosophy Real’ and the guest speakers brought into focus three examples of real-world issues which have at their hearts philosophical concepts: financial crime, personal identity and climate change.

Speaking to open the conference, Headmaster Philip Britton encouraged the student delegates to enjoy the presentations, engage in discussions, and think and challenge themselves throughout the morning. He added that philosophy is not obscure and irrelevant, but rather advised that philosophical ideas can bring to bear on even the most modern of topics.

The first speaker was Old Boy Mark Bisson (1975 to 1984), who is now Director, Anti-Financial Crime at Deutsche Bank. After giving a brief overview of his career, he asked ‘Who’s the victim?’ when it comes to financial crime. This included an in-depth look at money laundering and its links to other types of crime, such as drugs, cybercrime, terrorism and human trafficking, and comments on corruption, bribery, fraud and terrorist financing. Throughout, he discussed how impactful these non-violent crimes can be on everyone.

Next delegates heard from Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell (Bolton School Class of 1983), Professor of Philosophy at the Open University, about personal identity and the philosophy underpinning debate around identity and transgender issues. She began with a quote: “Can you see the real me?” from The Who’s Quadrophenia track, which led her to ask, “What makes me the real me? What is it to discover the real you?” She focused on addressing and explaining some of the “myths of transgender” in the hopes of giving delegates greater understanding and empathy, and ended by pointing out that being trans is “just another way of being human”. Her talk was wide-ranging, touching on topics within ethics, Classics, religion and history as well as discussing the ‘Gender Police’ and gender roles.

Finally, the question, “Is it too hard to change the world?” was posed by Professor Derek Bell, Professor of Environmental Political Theory at the University of Newcastle. He addressed personal and political responsibility in the age of climate change, encouraging delegates to think about what each individual should do to address the threat of climate change in relation to the harm principle within philosophy. Delegates were asked to become moral philosophers for the session, sharing their thoughts on specific example cases. Professor Bell ended his talk by pointing out that everyone has a responsibility to change their individual behaviour, but we may need to take political action.

The morning ended with questions and a panel discussion featuring all of the guest speakers.

Bolton School students and delegates from King’s School Chester, The Grange School, Turton Sixth Form, Bolton Muslim Girls’ School and Withington Girls’ School all benefitted from this thought-provoking morning spent considering philosophy and its relevance to current issues.

This is the fourth year that Bolton School Boys’ Division has hosted a Spring Conference, the aim of which is to address a major and current educational issue through stimulus from expert speakers, panel discussions and time for participants to discuss and deliberate.

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