Bedales Philosophy Society whets the appetite

Dead dogma, happy pigs vs depressed Socrates, cynics sniffing each other privately and publicly, freedom for the pike is death for the minnows, the tyranny of the majority, higher and lower pleasures, not to mention the fecundity of pleasure: no danger of philosophy being dull, especially when you have a thinker and communicator of Nigel Warburton’s ilk leading the talk and subsequent discussion in 2012’s first Philosophy Society meeting, attended last night by 70 plus students. Nigel’s talk was on J.S. Mill who himself was subject to a pretty intriguing education, but whose On Liberty has many seeing him as the father of liberalism and even (and this is an even bigger responsiblity for some) the father of the 60s. As the big questions unroll, the students’ questions keep coming – and we are carving our way through the leylandi of current ethical dilemmas – Nick Griffin and the limits of freedom of speech, the harm principle, suffering animals (good game casserole at supper before, by the way), the use of utilitarianism in calculating the cost/benefit of an operation on the NHS – it’s urgent stuff, bowled to Nigel and expertly he is giving all the fielders energetic work with his returns. It’s only the boarders’ curfew at 9 that signals the end of what has been an intriguing session; a reminder too for me of how spectacular the rise of philosophy has been here. With its curricular presence now strong through PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics) –  both as a Block 3 course and as a BAC –  and through RS at A Level, a high proportion of our students tussle with these big questions, learn something of the history of thought  – and often absolutely love it. In the 2010 UCAS cycle 10% of the year group applied either for courses in Philosophy or Theology. Last year, as with this year, these subjects, along with Maths and English are major contributors to our Oxbridge success (10 offers overall this year, 9 last). More broadly, whether you pursue the subject in the classroom or not, Philosophy seems to whet the appetite for inquisitiveness and independent thought superbly, providing as it does both a framework and, most importantly, the ability to argue in a cogent, disciplined way.


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.