An occasional newsletter from The Philosophy Club
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Dear friends,

As another strange and difficult year wraps up, we send our thoughts to everyone whose lives have been strained by COVID19, by the climate crisis, and by the weakening of democracies around the world. We hope that in 2022 kindness and reasonableness will prevail, and we are redoubling our efforts towards those ends.

I'd like to offer my warmest thanks to those of you who made a donation to support The Philosophy Club's work, in response to the appeal in our last newsletter. I am personally grateful for your support. If you missed our appeal for $5, there is another opportunity to contribute at the end of this newsletter. 

        Newsflash! A FREE summer holiday workshop in the Blue Mountains, NSW
           - A free workshop on environmental ethics for 12–16 year olds
        Short video: 'The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters'
           - A 2-minute introduction to our Philosopher-in-Residence program
        What’s new on The Philosophy Club blog?
           - Unveiling and Packaging
           - Combustible Philosophy
           - The Real-Life Truman Show
           - The Jazz
           - Flint and Stone
       A new academic publication
           - Unveiling and Packaging: A model for presenting philosophy in schools
       A new episode in our series of very short films 
           - Glimmerings 12 on philosophy and humour
       Two wishes for 2022


Newsflash! A FREE summer holiday workshop in the Blue Mountains, NSW

Young people aged 12 – 16 are invited to join in a morning of collaborative thinking about our individual and collective responsibilities in the face of the climate crisis. 

Young people: This is a opportunity for you to meet with others in a comfortable environment where you will be invited to

  • deal with controversial questions that don’t have clear-cut answers
  • express your thinking and hear reasoned arguments from others
  • collaborate with others with open-mindedness and respect for different perspectives
  • question the assumptions underlying different points of view
  • evaluate different ideas, and weigh up more or less convincing arguments

When: Saturday 8 January 2022. Please arrive at 10:15am (for a 10:20am start). The workshop will end at 12 noon.

Where: 7 Spencer St, Leura NSW

Presented by: Michelle Sowey (The Philosophy Club, Australia), as part of a project in partnership with Grace Lockrobin (Thinking Space, UK).

Covid safety: All participants must be double-vaccinated, and proof of vaccination status will be required upon entry.

Bookings: This workshop is free of charge, but numbers are strictly limited, and you must book your young person's place here by Monday 20 December. Be quick – there are only a few places left!

Further information:
This workshop is associated with a research project. Following the significant COP26 meeting in Glasgow, philosopher Michelle Sowey of The Philosophy Club (Australia) is working with philosopher Grace Lockrobin of Thinking Space (UK) on a project that encourages young people to use their philosophical skills to think about questions of individual and collective action raised by the climate and ecological emergency. Together Michelle and Grace are writing a chapter for book edited by Joshua Forstenzer and Teacher Educator Fufy Demissie all about philosophical inquiry with young people. Rather than simply writing an academic description of the kind of work we do together, we want to include the real words of young people in the chapter, to reveal how young people can actively engage as philosophers and citizens in these urgent conversations about the environment. This philosophical inquiry workshop will therefore be filmed, so participants must be willing to be recorded, and allow that recording to be shared between the authors, to be transcribed, and for sections of the transcription to be included in the chapter. Please read the consent information on the bookings page.

Enquiries: Contact Michelle Sowey on mobile 0425221604, or via The Philosophy Club's contact form.

Short video: 'The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters'

Our 2-minute video The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (inspired by the famous aquatint by Goya) is a quick and accessible introduction to our Philosopher-in-Residence program.

In the video, I explain how we use philosophy to awaken your powers of reasoning, connect your reason with your imagination, and discover what wonders emerge.

Take two minutes to enjoy some examples of our unique audio-visual stimuli, and get a taste of some questions we love to get our teeth into!

What's new on The Philosophy Club blog?

Check out our new five-part blog series on the presentation of philosophy in schools!

Part 1: Unveiling and Packaging

Early one summer morning, a young Australian philosophy graduate was awoken by a phone call. It was the eminent professor David Lewis, calling from Princeton University’s philosophy department. “You’ve been admitted to our graduate program,” Lewis said. “Do you have any questions?” Still in the fog of sleep and desperate to think of something to ask, the student blurted out: “How many Australians are in the department?” After an uncomfortably long pause, Lewis replied: ‘Depends how you count Australians.’ This anecdote, recounted by the erstwhile student Alan Hayek, shows that even the most commonplace concepts can turn out to be polyvalent. Especially if you let a philosopher loose on them. 
Chon Day cartoon (1954)
"So you think I’m too pedantic, eh? And what exactly is your definition of pedantic?"

No surprise, then, that when I was asked to write an article on how philosophy should be presented, my reflex was to think: “it depends on what you mean by ‘presented’.” I went on to mull at length over two senses of presentation, taking it first as an act of unveiling (that is, revealing a philosophical practice), and secondly as an act of packaging (that is, designing, curating and arranging philosophical materials). Having done all that mulling, I would very much like to share here what these notions of unveiling and packaging have led me to conclude about how philosophising with school students might be done.  Continue reading..

Part 2: Combustible Philosophy

“It’s been pouring all day… the firewood is totally soaked.” It’s the lament of every soggy camper. Fire-lighting is hard in these conditions, and the quality of the tinder and kindling will make the difference between roaring success and miserable failure. 

Throwing a philosophical question out cold to a group of kids in hopes of sparking a lively discussion is as unpromising as igniting a bundle of damp wood. This is where philosophical stimuli come in. Stories and other kinds of stimuli serve as tinder to get things started, and as kindling to keep it all going. A good philosophical stimulus has the virtues, as Peter Worley says, of engaging attention, helping students to grasp otherwise arcane concepts, activating students’ moral agency, and helping them rehearse for life.

So while each of my student workshops revolves around a particular theme, I make sure to set it alight with a series of carefully-designed stimuli, allowing space in between for collaborative inquiry and dialogic argument to emerge.

When I look back over my experiences of workshop design and facilitation, five criteria for an effective philosophical stimulus come into focus. Continue reading...

 Part 3: The Real-Life Truman Show

There’s often a troubling gap between understanding educational principles in the abstract and applying them in real-life situations. To help bridge the gap, the next three posts will offer detailed examples drawing on the design and structure of several of my philosophical workshops.

To activate emotions, to induce perplexity, to challenge intuitions, to ignite controversy, to elicit reasoned argument: these, I’ve argued, are what give a philosophical stimulus its juice. And these are the ambitions that inform my curation of stimuli when I’m designing new workshops. To illustrate, here’s an overview of The Real-Life Truman Show, my high school workshop about therapeutic deception in the context of dementia care. Continue reading...

Part 4:  The Jazz

My favourite cookbook, Cooking Com Bigode, is both more and less than a standard recipe book. Less, in that it’s low on specificity, with recipes vaguely suggesting “some onions”, “lots of carrots” and “enough water”. But also more, in that you don’t just get recipes: you get patterns. As the author Ankur Shah puts it, “For each recipe the general theory (pattern) is explained and variations are offered.” He calls the process ‘The (culinary) Jazz’. I owe my own cooking skills to this approach: improvising around patterns, learning by trial and error, exercising resourcefulness and creativity with whatever’s in the fridge, rather than shopping for particular ingredients and measuring them precisely.

Today I want to offer something similar for workshop designers. It’s time for ‘The (philosophical) Jazz’. I’d like to introduce the Provocation-Complication sequence: a basic pattern for juxtaposing stimuli within a workshop. The sequence consists of an initial stimulus that’s likely to elicit particular responses from students, followed by another stimulus that motivates more nuanced reflection on those responses. 

Let me illustrate by describing ‘Stuck in a Loop’, a workshop on free will that exemplifies the Provocation-Complication sequence.  Continue reading...

Part 5: Flint and Stone

"I get the same charge from the juxtaposition of colors as I do from the juxtaposition of chords." – Joni Mitchell

"The creative is always an act of recombination…as making a spark requires two things struck together." – Jane Hirschfield

"…two separate shots … [spliced] together resembles not so much a simple sum of one shot plus another shot as it does a creation." – Sergei Eisenstein

"What we’re trying to do is find two or more shots the juxtaposition of which will give us the idea." David Mamet

Songwriter, poet, film director, playwright: What they mutually recognise is the creativity inherent in combining disparate elements in novel ways, and the powerful impact this can have on an audience.

In philosophical workshops, too, I’ve seen what can be achieved through the interplay among carefully-chosen stimuli. Beyond arranging stimuli in a Provocation-Complication pattern (as described in my last post), we can use more complex combinations to generate diverse intellectual puzzles for students to grapple with. By way of example, today’s post will describe ‘So Entitled’, my philosophy workshop concerning rights and legal personhood. Continue reading... 

A new academic publication

I’m pleased to announce that my article Unveiling and Packaging: A model for presenting philosophy in schools (on which the above blog posts are based) was recently published in the journal Human Affairs. While the journal is currently still transitioning to open-access, a pre-print of my article is accessible here for anyone interested.

I'm grateful to the two anonymous reviewers who recommended the publication of this article. Here are some words from their very encouraging reviews:

"The piece is a thoughtful and interesting account of the criteria needed for the successful instigation of philosophical discussion within a school setting. Five criteria are isolated (activation of emotion, the inducing of perplexity, the challenging of intuitions, the ignition of controversy and the elicitation of reasoned argument) and the value and interplay of these are made clear. It seems that, from my view, these criteria point towards an attempt to make philosophical issues mean something to the students; to take them from the abstraction of academic philosophy and reground them in real world situations of personal importance to the students. The author does a good job of demonstrating how this can be done, and how dialogic exploration of the problems are of vital importance to an enriching engagement with philosophy. Of special interest are the passages concerning the use of unorthodox materials (images, games, objects and the like)—I find myself in agreement with the author that the careful curation of such materials is a key element of creating an effective philosophical stimulus."

"In this very readable piece, the author gives an account of how and why philosophy can be presented to secondary school students in a way which aims to promote the whole person together with preparation for wise participation in deliberative democracy. The rationale and structure for the author’s programme is clearly laid out, in line with the intention to enable other educators to use the ideas, with gentle encouragement towards engagement with philosophy as collaborative inquiry and dialogic argument rather than as being understood as part of a historical corpus. As a teacher and teacher-educator, I am inspired to get started with the ideas, which are laid out in sufficient clarity and detail in the three examples to be put into practice with relative ease."

Glimmerings 12: a new episode in our series of very short films

I'm pleased to present Glimmerings 12, which is all about humour and philosophy! It's a new episode in Glimmerings, a series of very short films dedicated to all my friends and colleagues who have inspired me and clarified my thinking.

The films encapsulate some of the big themes that have guided The Philosophy Club’s work over the past decade: the joy of philosophy, the search for meaning, the nature of inquiry, the value of reasoning, the discipline of thinking, the necessity of self-correction, and the power of thoughtful dialogue in the face of institutional power. You can watch them all in a ten minute coffee break!

Two wishes for 2022

Our two wishes, as 2021 draws to a close:

Firstly, we wish all our students, parents, teachers, and friends a most refreshing holiday and an invigorating fresh start to the new year.

Secondly, we wish for an uninterrupted year of doing what we love: sharing learning with the students and teachers of Eltham College (VIC), Hillbrook (QLD), and hopefully many other schools and communities! If you know a school that may be interested in hosting The Philosophy Club for a series of student workshops, a gifted & talented/select entry enrichment program, a staff development visit or a philosopher-in-residence program, please reach out to us and let us know!

Donate $5 to The Philosophy Club

Please also consider making a $5 donation to support The Philosophy Club's ongoing unfunded work during the COVID recovery period.

Sign up to our facebook page and blog for further updates, and please get in touch if you'd like to propose a project.
Yours philosophically,

The Philosophy Club respectfully acknowledges the traditional owners of the Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we are located. The Philosophy Club is a carbon neutral business. In the interests of sustainability, equity and global justice, we have offset twice our carbon footprint for the years since we began trading.


Michelle Sowey
The Philosophy Club
Mobile: + 61 425 221 604
Address:   9 Henderson St, Northcote VIC 3070 Australia
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