My day begins in the typical Londoner fashion, making my way across the city via the tube. Fortunately, the Philosophy Department is situated on the Strand campus in the heart of London, meaning it is easily reached from multiple stations. Coming from West London via the District Line, I arrive at Temple Station and have to then only walk two minutes before I’m on campus.
My first lecture for the day is for my History of British Ethics module, being taught by Dr. Thomas Pink. I meet my friends outside the building, and we head into the lecture hall together. This module is structured around the early modern period and covers the British reaction to Hobbes’ “repulsive” moral theories, which culminates in Hume’s treatises on ethics.
Each week we cover a new philosopher and their response to what has come before them. This week we are taught about Mandeville and his rejection of the traditional conception of virtues and vices in response to the work of Shaftesbury. As the module unfolds, you really get a perspective on the development of ethics and all the complex influences that come together in the work of Hume, it is truly an enlightening way of engaging with the literature.
After the lecture, we move over to a different room for our seminar, one which is much more intimate with only ten to fifteen of us in the class. In the seminar, we are guided through the lecture content and engage in a series of discussions about the topic. As usual, the beginning is used as a chance to clarify any confusion we might’ve had with the reading, with Thomas expertly answering our questions. We then proceed to discuss whether or not Mandeville’s rejection has solid grounds, which turns out to be a divisive issue in our class, but one that leads to a fascinating exchange of ideas. This very discussion motivates me to write my essay for this module on this very topic.
With the seminar over, I now have a few hours to spare before my next lecture. Me and my friends, who’ve enrolled in the same modules this term, head over to the square outside Somerset House, which is just next door! It’s an incredibly beautiful spot, especially on sunny days and fortunately has a couple of cafes situated within it. We spend the next two hours enjoying tea, coffee, the fantastic view and having discussions about our current modules.
Heading back onto campus, with just a hop, skip and a jump, we’re ready for our lecture and seminar for Philosophy, Literature and Method – a very unique module taught by Dr. Sacha Golob. In another intimate classroom setting, we explore the historic and present relationship between philosophy and literature, asking questions such as whether fiction can be considered philosophy or if fiction serves any function for philosophical enquiry.
Sacha’s lecture this week is about Nietzsche’s conception of literature as a way of doing micro-ethics, or rather, how literature puts vague ethical principles into practice and provides us with examples to learn from. Sacha uniquely structures his seminars by asking the students to cast votes on whether we agree with the concepts or not, as a way to encourage us to reflect and voice our initial thoughts on the topic and develop them further. It always leads to the most interesting and
dynamic discussions, as people continually reevaluate and challenge their positions, often declaring that they’ve done a complete philosophical U-turn after hearing a fellow student’s convincing objection.
After the final seminar for the day, I and several other classmates head over to the Philosophy Bar within the department to share a few drinks and to continue discussions we’ve had earlier in the day before we all head home. Often the bar is filled with both students and lecturers from the department, so it ensures that the free flow of ideas doesn’t end after the teaching does!
Check out Aaron’s advice on what to do with a Philosophy degree.
You can also see Nina’s post to learn about the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate study from a Philosophy MA student.