Philosophy in the City: Inspiring the next generation
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Unit of AssessmentPhilosophy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Philosophy
Summary of the impact
Through our very successful schools outreach programme, Philosophy in the
City, several members of staff have brought their research ideas to school
students and teachers, with considerable influence both on the students
themselves and on the way in which philosophy is taught and thought of
within those schools. This activity has formed an important part of our
civic engagement with Sheffield and its region, in enabling our research
work to be understood beyond the academy, while drawing school pupils into
the subject and influencing their attitude both to the issues we deal with
and to higher education more generally.
Philosophy in the City has been informed by a body of research undertaken
by a number of staff within the Department of Philosophy at the University
of Sheffield, all of whom are highly respected as experts in their field.
While the nature of the research presented must be gauged to the level of
the audience concerned, this nonetheless represents a form of
`research-led teaching', going beyond what is offered to the school
students by their teachers in class. Moreover, as a result of this
expertise, our staff are in a position to offer guidance to the teachers
concerning how best to relate to the content of the curriculum, and how
best to present it to their pupils. The research expertise of staff is
therefore what has enabled them to have the influence documented within
this case study, where the relevant research is as follows:
Chris Bennett's book The Apology Ritual sets out a theory of how
punishment might be justified, which builds on the justification of
reactions such as blame and demand for apology [R1]. In chapter three, he
deals with the criticism that punishment cannot be 'deserved' because our
actions, and the mental states that lead to action, are not ultimately
under our control. In response, he argues that, if we look more closely at
what is going on when we hold someone morally responsible (for instance,
in expecting an apology), we see that blame is a response to the violation
of standards that a person can reasonably be expected to meet as a
self-governing member of a normatively demanding relationship. We thus
understand that the conditions for moral responsibility lie more in the
capacity to uphold a certain role within a set of relationships than in
the ability to exercise absolute control over one's actions and character.
The lecture looked at the way our aptness for certain sorts of moral
assessment is a kind of social status, and hence underpinned by conditions
that do not require ultimate control.
Chris Hookway's research examines a pragmatist approach to the nature of
science and knowledge. In chapter two of his recent book [R2], he
discusses tensions that arise when we take seriously two important ideas.
The first is that science provides us with knowledge and is aimed at
obtaining truth. And the second is `fallibilism', the idea that
that any of our beliefs might be mistaken, or that none of our
methods of inquiry are guaranteed to provide us with the truth. His
lecture raised a number of questions about what the aims of scientific
inquiry: and about just what it means to say that theories are true.
Robert Hopkins has published on the way we experience cinema and the
nature of cinematic representation [R3], and how these explain the
emotional power of film [R4]. His work explores how far our experience of
film involves illusion, tailoring the precise form such illusion takes
both to what is independently plausible and to the task of explaining
film's influence over emotion. He lectured on these issues.
Eric Olson, lectured on personal identity. This drew on three aspects of
his research [R5]: how to characterize the problem of personal identity
over time (which is frequently misunderstood), his criticisms of answers
to this question based on psychological continuity (which have dominated
the discussion since Locke), and his inquiries into the metaphysical
possibility of life after death.
Jenny Saul's work on sex and gender argues that our ordinary notions of
these concepts are deeply confused, and that these confusions have
worrying ethical and political consequences. In her [R7], she explored a
novel contextualist theory of terms like 'woman' and man', according to
which these terms sometimes refer to biological concepts based on, for
example, chromosomes' and sometimes to social concepts based on e.g. roles
in the family. The presentation she gave to The Examined Life centred
around the puzzles and confusions found in our ordinary concepts, and the
ethical and political significance of these puzzles.
Robert Stern based his talk around his current work on divine command
theories of moral obligation, which are discussed in his recent book on
this topic [R8]. In this work, he relates these theories to the problem of
autonomy, and also considers how far it is possible form them to offer
`intermediate' accounts, which explain obligation but not goodness by an
appeal to a divine command. He used these ideas in his lecture to offer a
defence of such theories against the standard objections based on the
Euthyphro dilemma, and suggested that alternatives to the divine command
account are themselves problematic.
Yonatan Shemmer spoke about the value of philosophy, and the notion of
`value' itself, where this relates to his recent work concerning
constructivism vs. realism about value. In his paper [R9], Shemmer
explores the foundations of the norms of coherence and consistency. He
argues that these norms ground all other norms and value judgments and
explores possible ways of justifying these norms. In particular he
assesses the idea that all justification has an instrumental form whereby
a norm or value is justified by showing that being guided by it helps to
promote a more fundamental norm.
References to the research
R1. Christopher Bennett, The Apology Ritual, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2008
R2. Christopher Hookway, The Pragmatic Maxim, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2012
R3. Robert Hopkins, 'What Do We See in Film?', Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism, 66 (2008), pp. 149-59
R4. 'Moving Because Pictures?', Midwest Studies in Philosophy,
34 (2010), pp. 200-18
R5. Eric Olson, What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007
R6. Jennifer Saul, `Philosophical Analysis and Social Kinds: Gender and
Race', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume,
80 (2006), pp. 119-44
R7. `Politically Significant Terms and Philosophy of Language:
Methodological Issues', in Anita Superson and Sharon Crasnow, Out of
the Shadows: Analytic Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy,
Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012, 195-216.
R8. Robert Stern, Understanding Moral Obligation, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2012
R9. Yonatan Shemmer, `Constructing Coherence', in James Lenman and
Yonatan Shemmer (eds), Constructivism in Practical Philosophy,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 159-79
Evidence for Research Quality:
Research published in international quality journals ([R3], [R4], [R6])
or with leading book publishers ([R1], [R2], [R5], [R7], [R8], [R9]), and
in some cases funded by research grants ([R1]: written during AHRC funded
research leave scheme; [R6] and [R7]: presented at workshop funded by
Spanish government; [R8]: Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (£95k);
[R9] AHRC network grant (£26K) — so all outputs were put through a
rigorous peer-review process.
Details of the impact
The outreach programme run by the Philosophy Department and its students
has played a crucial role as a medium for communicating our research.
`Philosophy in the City' (PinC), which was founded in 2006 as a schools
outreach programme, now has links with eight local schools and other
institutions involving young people, such as afterschool clubs and the
Roundabout homeless shelter. A significant part of this activity is
student-led, where seminars and discussion groups are run by our
undergraduate and graduate students, based on the sort of research-led
teaching they have received themselves within the Department. PinC has
been very successful, serving as a model for programmes developed by other
departments at Sheffield (such as `History in the City'), while also
receiving external recognition (for example, in 2007 it came runner up in
the THES award for Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community).
From early June 2008, academics in the Department gave lectures at the
annual PinC conference called `Philosophize!' in which the schools came
into the University for a day of activities. More recently, teachers
involved in the programme suggested greater staff involvement and asked us
to provide lectures in schools, in addition to the seminars run by our
students. This process began in 2011, with individual staff visiting
particular schools. We have now intensified this activity with a series of
school visit days, an educational programme which we have called `The
Examined Life'. For these events, a variety of schools bring pupils into
the University for the day. The series has involved over 320 local Y10
students, from six schools. The main focus of the day is the staff
lecture, which is then backed up by seminars led by our students. Hopkins
and Bennett both gave lectures at Silverdale school and Stern and Saul
spoke at Outwood academy, while Olson, Stern, Hookway, Saul and Shemmer
have each given lectures to audiences from a variety of local schools in
the `Examined Life' series.
There is clear evidence that both forms of activity have been successful.
Reports from both teachers and students regarding the individual staff
visits were extremely positive. Commenting on the lectures by Hopkins and
Bennett at Silverdale, the teacher concerned remarked `Both of the
lectures were brilliant. Chris Bennett's lecture, and the preliminary
and follow-up sessions had a profound impact on the way that my students
thought about punishment. The idea that punishment was something that
someone might have a right to had never occurred to them previously. Rob
Hopkins' insights into the emotive aspects of the paradox of fiction
were equally novel and thought-provoking' [S1].
The `Examined Life' days have also been highly successful. The Head of
Philosophy/RE at Meadowhead School commented on `A fantastic day that
delved deeper into the issues raised as it evolved through the seminars.
Students were able to develop their beliefs and challenge others to do
the same. A thoroughly enjoyable introduction to higher education'
[S2]. Feedback from the whole body of pupils also showed positive
engagement with the events, with enjoyment rated at 6/10 overall, 23% of
the respondents rating the experience as 8/10 or above and 28% expressing
an interest in studying Philosophy at degree level [S3]. Figures from
Silverdale school alone were even more impressive: 73% said they `thought
differently about the issues' after the Examined Life days, while 60% said
they were now more likely to go to university, with 80% saying they would
now choose Sheffield as the place to study for their degree [S4]. Comments
include: `Re-evaluated my thoughts on society and morals...influenced
me to question the origins of my morality more than ever before'; `I now
understand my concept of morals better', `it makes me think about
impacts of actions more', `made you think deeper about the things you
wouldn't normally', `it made me look at other aspects of Philosophy',
`gave me a chance to voice and discuss my opinions' [S3].
The success of these activities has led to local schools changing their
curriculum provision in line with the research areas of the department.
For example Silverdale school's entire KS4 RE and SMSC provision for Y10
students is delivered through `The Examined Life' series. Work from
Silverdale school shows a profound engagement with the research topics.
For example, a number of student essays now offer animalism as a sensible
approach to take on questions of personal identity, through exposure to
Prof Olson's work [S1].
In addition to the direct impact of our teaching on the school pupils, we
have also used our research expertise to engage with the teachers
themselves. On 24th June 2013 we organized a conference for A-level school
teachers working in philosophy, which was attended by 29 teachers and
covered 22 schools from across the country. This event enabled us to
broaden the teachers' understanding of the curriculum, and ways in which
it might be made of more interest to their pupils, by offering `state of
the art' accounts of current research, based upon our expertise. The
conference was a great success, with 71% of attendees rating the subject
knowledge refreshment aspect as Excellent. 93% felt the conference would
have a lasting impact (41% at a significant level) upon their teaching.
Comments included: `interesting new areas I wouldn't have previously
covered or would have done differently'; `extra "string to bow"
as a CPD/INSET course'; `the content/presentation of lectures
gave me a lot of good ideas for teaching similar areas of the
curriculum'. All attendees expressed an interest in attending
similar events in the future and all are keen to work with us to develop
the format and other school and college events [S5].
therefore, this case study shows how we have delivered impact at the level
of civil society, cultural life, education, public discourse and public
service, in the following respects:
- informing the intellectual lives of school children, while leading
them to think about and question various aspects of their ethical and
social lives, and their heritage
- providing access to advanced philosophical ideas in an accessible way
- helping provide ideas and intellectual skills to enable school
children to participate in discussions on philosophical issues
- enabling schools to deliver education in these areas more effectively,
and assisting in the career development of teachers
Sources to corroborate the impact
S1. Head of Philosophy, Silverdale School, Sheffield
S2. Head of Philosophy/RE, Meadowhead School, Sheffield
S3. Information collated from questionnaire returns after Examined Life
days, from all attendees
S4. Information collated from questionnaire returns after Examined Life
days, from pupils at Silverdale School (sample from one form group, which
had 22 of the 128 Silverdale pupils in it who had taken part in the
Examined Life days)
S5. Information collated from questionnaire returns from teachers'