I would like to take this opportunity to express my opinion on a vital topic: the importance of making academic reflection a part of the collegiate extracurricular world. This sounds paradoxical perhaps, since the point of extracurricular activities is usually to allow students to engage with the community in a way that differs from academia. Often, the extracurricular part of college is a break from thinking and a chance at doing. Yet, I would like to insist that extracurricular activities have little value to students or their community if they are not an extension of the intellectual climate fostered by the academics of a university.
Many important movements started at universities and indeed would not have succeeded without them. What would May ’68 in France have been without the University of Paris at Nanterre or the Tiananmen Square protests without Peking University? Universities are places that exist for the creation and development of new thoughts. Action can be co-opted or inspired through effective communication, but thoughts cannot be born solely of action. Reformers and revolutionaries have always relied on a theoretical scaffolding to bolster their actions. There is no French Revolution without the Enlightenment and no women’s suffrage movement without feminism.
The Undergraduate Philosophy Council represents a vital collegiate tradition: the regular gathering of people from all academic backgrounds to discuss ideas and to develop critical thinking capacities. Currently there are philosophy, religion, anthropology, biology, political science, history and engineering students among us. Often, our talks go beyond the esoteric realm of metaphysics or phenomenology and we hold philosophically informed discussions about current events such as collateral damage in Iraq or issues surrounding SOPA. As one example of the initiatives we are taking, next week we will have the exciting and exclusive opportunity to meet and talk with Kwame Anthony Appiah, a distinguished visiting scholar in the humanities.
While we do not engage in traditional community service tasks such as teaching refugees or raising funds to feed hungry children, we believe that feeding heads is as important as feeding bodies. We have tried to provide our community with the kind of food for thought that usually does not make it to the dining halls. Fueled by the desire to understand the world in all of its complexities and to communicate those complexities to others, we provide students with the opportunity to organize their thinking about issues of pressing social and political importance. We’re in the business of thought experiments that can help lead us to enlightened action and a better understanding of fellow human beings.
As Plato describes in the famed allegory of the cavern, the first step to enlightenment is the rejection of the chains of ignorance followed by the arduous climb to the truth. It is the enlightened person’s duty to help others escape the bonds of deception by the path of education. For members of any community to lead more just and harmonious lives they must make critical thinking and informed discussion an educational priority.
Whether you’re interested in social justice, formal logic or simply want to learn to think about your reality in philosophical terms, we invite you to join us and join the movement.
Dukmasova is a member of
the class of 2012.