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Sunday School

Members of the public debate the big questions at "Philosophy Cafe"

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, believed that only by leading a truly reflective life could humans rise above their beastly urges. Professor Paul Gooch, a philosopher and the president of Victoria University, was explaining this one Sunday morning in March at the School of Continuing Studies’ “Philosophy Café” when a giant can of Guinness suddenly floated by the school’s two-storey glass front. The beer, a central prop in a festive St. Patrick’s Day parade, was followed by a rainbow and a pot of gold the size of a small car.

Anant Bhan, a 25-year-old master’s student in bioethics, has been attending Philosophy Café’s monthly sessions since October. Each lecture has addressed an aspect of the question, “What is a person?” and Bhan finds the presentation and Q & A as intellectually rigorous as it is engaging. When does personhood begin? Is our increasing dependence on technology making us more humanoid than human? “You pick up all these threads and you understand that personhood is a rapidly changing concept,” says Bhan. “What a person is, from a legal perspective, from a religious perspective, changes depending on where you are.”

Joanna Beyersbergen (BA 1987 TRIN, MA 1995), the organizer of Philosophy Café, says she wanted to create a public space where people could study and debate important contemporary issues. It was a challenge picking just one focus, she says. But the exploration of a single subject from a variety of angles is what makes the café so appealing; she’s had to turn people away every time.

Beginning next fall, Philosophy Café will be offered as an official course through the School of Continuing Studies. Three different streams will focus on the questions “Can science and religion agree?” “Whose body is it anyway?” and “What is intelligence?”

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