Edition 131 - Friday 22nd May 2020

Ethics Symposium

On 6 September all of Year 8 spent the day engaging in topics relating to animal ethics at the third annual NSGHS Ethics Symposium. We began with a thought-provoking, metaphysical exploration of the problem of consciousness. Year 8 students thought deeply about the issues presented and engaged in small groups with Year 10 philosophy students and teachers around their questions. Many thanks to Mr Henshaw for organising and leading this morning session.

We then welcomed a panel of experts composed of lecturers and professors of ethics and philosophy at local universities and one of Sydney’s most experienced teachers of philosophy. Guests included Professor Sandra Lynch (UND), Assistant Professor Matthew del Nevo (Catholic Institute of Sydney), Dr Michaelis Michael (UNSW), Dr Jane Johnson (Macquarie & USyd), and Mr Dan Smith (Leichhardt Public School). Together, we transformed the hall into an academic poster session in which groups of Year 8 students showcased their research on ethical topics in relation to human / animals. Representative topics included:

  • Is xenotransplantation ethical?
  • Should we use integrity as a basis for determining how to treat animals?
  • Is it ethical to use animals for entertainment of humans?
  • Should some animals have the same moral status as humans?
  • Is it right to experiment on animals for the sake of cosmetic beauty?
  • Should vegans be allowed to make their pets vegan?
  • Why are puppy mills and animal shelters unethical?

Students took turns to “host” visitors to their posters and “visit” the other poster stands where the posters served as invitations to engage in ethical dialogue. Thereafter students engaged in small group inquiry around the prompt, “animal suffering is the biggest social justice issue since the abolition of slavery.” Our guests were thoroughly impressed with the calibre of discussion about ethical issues and the creativity and thought exhibited by the posters.

Among the many ways in our school distinguishes itself is the provision for North Sydney Girls to study ethics and philosophy. According to Dr R. Grant,

Teaching philosophy in schools may not necessarily increase our GDP next year. It may not immediately respond to the crisis that we face in homelessness and poverty. It may not create many new jobs. And to some that can make it appear as if it’s a kind of luxurious and self-indulgent suggestion. But it’s actually not; it’s quite the opposite. It’s just as necessary and just as important as responding to the very pressing crises that we face.

…if you create a space for people to explore the fundamental question of what it is to be a human being, and the tools to listen to each other and engage in a dialogue, then good things will come of that (Robert Grant, Speaking on World Philosophy Day 2017).

Like the Year 8 ethics program, the Ethics Symposium was set up to promote and engage in philosophical and ethical dialogue. Good things have definitely come of it.

Ethics teachers were very impressed with the diligence Year 8 showed in participating in this event. We also wish to recognise the time and care the Year 10 Philosophy students put in to helping make this event a success.

-    Dr Jensen, Year 8 Ethics co-ordinator