Humanities / School Trips

Philosophy Taster Day at Girton College, Cambridge

Shekinah, one of our year 11 students, was given the excellent opportunity to spend a day at Girton College focused on Philosophy. Here she writes about her experience.

My trip to Girton College was an interesting experience, however initially I was unsure why I had been chosen to attend the trip. As the day progressed I realised that I knew a lot about the things they were talking about. Whether this was due to stuff I have studied at school or my personal research, it helped me develop a greater passion for philosophy and ethics. The day also made me consider studying the subject as an A-level; this was not something I had thought about prior to the trip. Throughout the day, we discussed questions such as “has science killed God?’ and “will robots take over the world?” but I am going to tell you about the talks I found most relevant.

The day started with a talk on theology. The Greek word ‘theology’ is the study of the nature of God and religious beliefs. After an introduction to the topic, we were told that there are more than 4000 religions in the world and were asked to answer the question: “ Are religions all the same?”

Initially I realised that a lot of religions have to do with ethics and morality. For example, in the New Testament, Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This promotes compassion, which is frequently preached throughout Christianity, but this saying did not originate from Christ. This shows that many religions have high amounts of overlap. Most religions also believe that there is life after death. They all strive to live a good life in order to achieve eternal existence with whatever god they worship. All religions practice dogmatism- the idea that their beliefs are undeniably true. However, some religions worship one god and some worship many more. This creates a massive conflict between religions. They all insist that they are right but simultaneously they say different things.

Next, we discussed if religion makes people happier. From my individual experience I was able to conclude that predominantly yes, religion does make people happier. Being part of a religion welcomes you into a supportive community, with those who hold the same beliefs as you. It also gives you the relief that you are not alone in life. The idea that there is an omnibenevolent God, coupled with the belief that life doesn’t end after death, is comforting. However, religion often causes societal divides and stereotypes. In addition to this, it has been the cause of wars in the past and even modern day. When living in an expanding secular world, it is clear that you do not need religion to be happy. I can only speak for myself, and being part of a religion has essentially brought me happiness.

For me, the more relevant talk was on friendship. Again, we began with a discussion. We were given the question: “What makes a good friend and what makes a bad friend?”.

We decided that a good friend had to be loyal, trustworthy and interesting and that a bad friend displayed selfishness, was annoying and was possessive of you.

We then compared our ideas with the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. He claimed that ‘perfect friendship is reciprocal and only possible between people with the same virtues’. In my opinion, Aristotle’s theory seems pretty old fashioned. It preserves class boundaries that the world has fought hard to break. Some of my closest friends are completely different to me, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t interact with each other. I think that it brings diversity into friendship groups and makes life more exciting. I mean every group has to have the wild one, and the responsible one right?

His statement also suggests that a parent and their child cannot be friends. A parent supplies a house and food for their child but the infant cannot reciprocate this. Aristotle’s idea is further flawed because it indicates that God and humans cannot be friends. Jesus, the incarnate of God, proves that God is immanent and we can have a relationship with Him. Perhaps Aristotle is suggesting that we are not worthy of having God as a friend because he is so Almighty. The Bible says that we should fear God, and I don’t think we should fear our friends. From Aristotle’s theory I infer that we cannot have a perfect friendship with anyone. This is because only God is perfect and God is too divine for us to label our relationship with him as just a friendship.

I found the day really educational and was privileged to attend the trip. I definitely recommend Girton College as a place to study. The staff and students were welcoming and the academic ability was extremely high. I thank my teachers for persuading me to go to the college.