Philosophy Excursion to the National Gallery of Victoria

Ancient Philosophy still has a way of touching our 21st century lives. As McKinnon Philosophers from Years 8 – 11 found out at the Peter Singer and Leslie Cannold event at the National Gallery Victoria hosted by The School of Life, Melbourne. Ethical topics ranged from individual and collective responsibility towards humanity; freedom; as well as ‘what ought one do, to live a Good Life?’  As any McKinnon philosopher will tell you, philosophy is not a subject that should only be studied in the ivory towers of university, rather, doing philosophy is about connecting ancient tradition of thought to every day modern life. They will also tell you that taking philosophy to the streets encourages them to be global minded and citizens of the Universe. Doing Philosophy can be life changing-- if you let it! Thank you to the Principal Class and Mr. Jewell for supporting this educational extension evening excursion and to accompanying teachers Mrs. Fowler and Mr. Farthing for their time. Peruse the reflections of our burgeoning altruistic philosophers and continue to watch this space for updates on what McKinnon philosophers are up to throughout the year. From guest speakers visiting Philosophy Club to Philosothon competitions that will take our students to Sydney in Semester two to pit their wits against other creative minds across Australasia, our philosophers lead rigorous, thoughtful and reflective lives.

Last night 18 Philosophy students (including myself) attended a lecture at the NGV sponsored by the School of Life. Professor Peter Singer and Leslie Cannold exclusively discussing controversial topics from Singers new book The Most Good You Can Do to do with altruism.
Firstly, two ideas that were brought to my attention that I have not thought of in the past are: anyone can be an effective altruist no matter what abilities or financial status you have, and that giving is good but there are ways to make you giving great by knowing what charities are worth giving to, to successfully become an effective altruist.  Leslie Cannold challenged Peter Singer by asking the following scenario: “Ok, you've got me. I want to be an effective altruist. Should I now go to a developing country and help put up malaria nets?!” To which he responded with a mildly humorous tone, “No, you have none of the required abilities, Leslie,” Which of course made everyone laugh! Then he went on to explain that not everyone can do the same thing when it comes to effective altruism, the whole point of it being effective is the point that one needs to know how to utilise one’s abilities in the best possible, and find out how to get the most “bang for your buck”.  Singer pointed out all of Cannold’s strengths, for example: great public speaker, successful writer with published books, and is an influential woman. With those abilities she can then find a way to make your giving more effective.  So, his response made me wonder: what should someone who is not qualified in any fields do to help a charity? Singer explained that if you have enough money that you can still afford to give to charity, you should just donate the money away, obviously! But how?

Singer stressed that one must take time to investigate which charity will do the most donating with the same amount of money, that way donations really are effective. For example: it is more worth your while to donate to Oxfam rather than World’s Greatest Shave because of the higher percentage that will go to Oxfam. Another idea that came up that’s got me thinking is that if one were to donate blood, organs or time, 100% of those resources  will be used to the cause because there is no way that it could be used elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Singer that it is important to raise money for more awareness; however, as Singer explained in response to my question, as long as the income of a charity leader does not increase with the increased awareness for the charity, it is great to be able to raise as much money as possible. Hypothetically, let’s say John Smith creates a charity and pays himself $100,000 a year for his trouble and is doing fine, not lacking in anything, and making $500,000 for his charity is fantastic, but the second that he finds a way to make more money for his charity and consequently raises his own wage without increasing the revenue donations, this would be ineffective because he has found a way to become a more effective altruist but blew it away by taking more than he needs.  Finally, I would like to leave you with the following question that I walked away with, that I did not have the chance to ask Prof. Singer:  “What is the difference between prosocial behavior and altruism?” –Yishai Elaluf, Yr 10 Philosophy student

When I heard about Cannold’s thought experiment about going to your child’s play or staying at home and working for charities, it made me wonder about how far we are willing to go for effective altruism, and if true selflessness really exists. I found this example confronting, as the logic that one should spend their time saving others’ live is indeed more important than attending a child’s play. However, it raises the question: If we become true extreme effective altruists, then will we have a life of our own, interests of our own? Or will we be constantly trying so hard as to help and save other peoples’ lives that we forget to live our own? If we do not have a life of our own because we have dedicated our whole lives (even not being able to do small things like attend a school play) to helping others, is that a noble thing? Or is it completely ignoring the people surrounding us in our community? Helping people and putting others before oneself is indeed a noble thing to do, however some people become distant from their own families because of their charity work. For example, I have a relative who is very high up in the Catholic Church, who spends most of his life doing charity work, and working for the Pope. The thing is, he has moved to Italy and rarely ever sees or contacts his own children and other family members. I admire some of the work that he does for other people but I would also say that isolating oneself from their family is a pretty horrible thing to do. If we become so concerned about what is happening on the other side of the world that we can no longer attend a child play, then I think we might be missing out on what is happening right around us. This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye, we should have a balance in our lives. – Sarah Tritt, Yr 10 Philosophy student

Tuesday, April 29 my Philosophy classmates and I attended the discussion with philosopher and effective altruist, Peter Singer and Leslie Cannold. When I heard Singer talk about the suffering of animals it made me think of my own question: “if all animals and humans are equal, are all animals equal to each other?” I believe this question is important because I do not believe animals and humans are equal and I do not believe animals are equal to other animals. When you think about it, is a mouse really as equal as the eagle that hunts it? Are humans equal to the mosquitoes that bite them? These are questions I constantly ask myself and the Peter Singer discussion really inspired me to explore these questions more in my head. I came to the realization that I was thinking about the value of life from a purely survival perspective, taking influence from the food chain. This led me to think about whether it’s our responsibility as humans to only consume plants as we can do that happily and healthily.  – Anonymous, Yr 10 Philosophy student

Overall, I thought that the Peter Singer lecture was very interesting and he opened my mind up to a lot of new topics I never previously thought about, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about since the night. He proved some interesting points and gave everyone an insight into the mind of an effective altruist. – Andrew Furdetskyy, Yr 10 Philosophy student

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