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story | Dion Ho, Staff Writer
photo | Reyes Theodore-Craig, Official Photographer from Nanyang Philosophy
Ed: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that “Ngaserin presented an analysis of the historic debates between Socrates, Protagoras and Thrasymachus.” Instead, her paper was on Plato’s ethical epistemology. We have updated it with this correction. We have also updated the description of Kamarudin’s paper for clarity.
On March 3, the second Singapore Undergraduate Philosophy Conference (SUPC) was held in Yale-NUS’ Tan Chin Tuan Lecture Theatre. SUPC was jointly organized by the Yale-NUS Philosophy Society, Nanyang Philosophy, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Philosophy Interest Group. This annual philosophy conference was initiated by Nanyang Philosophy in 2017. Among the seven speakers from the three universities who presented their papers, four were from Yale-NUS: Sherice Ngaserin ’18, Capucine Barcellona ’20, Larissa Joy Lee ’21 and Diyanah Kamarudin ’18. Each presentation was followed by a moderated Question and Answer session.
The half-day conference revolved around the theme “Mind”. It started with a keynote speech by Yale-NUS Associate Professor of Humanities (Philosophy), Neil Mehta. The seven student presentations which followed covered a vast array of topics. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sophomore, Marcus Teo, presented on the possibility of entrusting artificial intelligences with moral decisions. Ngaserin presented her paper on Plato’s ethical epistemology titled: “Protagoras as a Second Thrasymachus: Moral Conventionalism in the ‘Theaetetus'”. Kamarudin presented on the philosophy of religion with her paper, “Can God the Dreamer be Divine?”.
Unique to this year’s SUPC were two presentations based on papers written for Yale-NUS’ Common Curriculum modules, Philosophy and Political Thought 1 (PPT 1) and Modern Social Thought (MST). Lee presented her paper from PPT 1 on Zhuangzi, titled “What does it mean to have an Empty Mind?”. Barcellona’s paper from MST, titled “Self-Image, Self-Policing, and Psychotherapy”, extended beyond philosophy, linking Foucauldian concepts of power to feminist psychotherapy. Together, these presentations gave others a glimpse into Yale-NUS’ Common Curriculum: “a distinguishing feature of academics at Yale-NUS”, according to conference emcee, Joseph Han ’21.
In an interview with Barcellona, she expressed her joy at being able to present at the conference. As Co-President of The G Spot (the Yale-NUS gender and sexuality alliance), she was enthusiastic to link philosophy to feminism, although she was initially nervous about her paper’s relevance to SUPC. Nonetheless, she was grateful that her MST professor, Rohan Mukherjee (Assistant Professor for the Social Sciences) had nominated her paper, and said that she is “willing to present at another philosophy conference if the opportunity arises”.
Apart from the student presentations, SUPC also included a talk by a senior strategist at the Singapore Centre for Strategic Futures, Dr. Jared Poon. Dr. Poon has a Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of California, Davis. His talk on the career prospects of philosophy majors was satirically titled “Fries with That? A Career Outside Academia for Philosophers”, with a McDonald’s logo on the introduction slide. Through his talk, Dr. Poon sought to dispel the stereotype of the unemployable philosophy major. He argued that philosophy was versatile and that philosophy majors enjoyed the greatest mid-career leaps, although he conceded that philosophy majors have a slower start to their non-academic careers.
The conference was concluded by a speech from Yang Xuerui ’20, President of the Yale-NUS Philosophy Society. She thanked professors and students from the three universities for supporting SUPC 2018, and her list of acknowledgements included Yale-NUS professors Bryan Van Norden, Simon Duffy, Robin Zheng and Neil Mehta.
In an interview after the conference, Melissa Chang, President of Nanyang Philosophy, expressed her pleasure at the high turnout and significantly greater Yale-NUS participation as compared to the first iteration of SUPC, where only one Yale-NUS student presented. Chang said that one of the main goals of the conference is to have more collaborations between the Philosophy clubs in the three universities. Next year’s SUPC will most likely be hosted by NUS.
More details of the event will be posted on the respective Facebook pages of Yale-NUS Philosophy Society, NUS Philosophy Interest Group, and NTU/Nanyang Philosophy. The full papers of all seven presenters can be found on the Nanyang Philosophy Review online publication.