From data privacy to artificial intelligence, to the ethics of experimentation–today’s scientific and technological advancement confronts core issues about our human identity and values. Against this background, philosophy promises to empower us with clear and critical thinking to make sense of our scientific present and future. That’s why “there’s no better way to spend a Saturday morning!” than to enable teenagers in philosophical discussion about science at the Inter-school Philosophy Dialogue (ISPD), said keynote speaker Assistant Professor Voo Teck Chuan of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics (CBmE), Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
This year’s ISPD was held at Raffles Girls School (RGS) on July 9. It saw the participation of some 147 students from fourteen secondary schools from across Singapore, joining with scores of facilitators to discuss various topics on philosophy and science. This is the 13th ISPD, and for the first time, the event was jointly organised by the Philosophy Departments of Raffles Girls School and Raffles Institution, with the sponsorship of the Department of Philosophy at NUS.
Dr. Voo opened the event by speaking on present-day ethical and legal dilemmas in bioethics industry, highlighting how he grapples with real problems using philosophical skills. These skills include: analysis of complex cases, careful consideration of different positions, and navigating reasonable solutions in light of conceptual and moral uncertainty. Dr. Voo’s active engagement with the legal, medical, and social sectors was illuminating for the audience and defied the common stereotype of the aloof armchair philosopher.
Following the thought-provoking speech, participants were organized into their breakout discussion groups. The discussion topics this year featured ethical conundrums related to scientific and technological advancements such as new-eugenics, warfare, memory manipulation, political issues like the right of states to use public funds for technological research, as well as conceptual questions like the possibility of machine consciousness and cyborg immortality.
As with the past, facilitation was provided for each group by members of the Singapore philosophical community, including scholars, teachers, graduate and undergraduate philosophy students–almost all of whom are alumni of the NUS philosophy department or otherwise associated with it. While some facilitators were new to the ISPD, most of them have lent their unfailing support to this annual event over the years and have continued to be impressed with the young participants’ imagination and articulation.
After the breakout discussion session, the participants were treated with a tasty lunch–and tastier philosophical questions that would linger on long after–followed by a prize ceremony to honor outstanding students with the Gadfly Awards (a tongue-in-cheek homage to Socrates who displayed such philosophical courage at the birthplace of the Western philosophical tradition in 400BC). Gadfly Awardees were chosen based on their maturity of thought, creativity, metacognitive awareness, and conversational virtues. Finally, the event was concluded with enthusiastic applause for the organizing team from RGS led by Ms Ong Shu Juin, student helpers, and all young and old participants alike.
(Prepared by Will Zhang with input from A/P Loy Hui Chieh)