Amateur philosophers find community

Electrical engineering senior Micah Brouwer (far right) and arts and humanities sophomore Elisabeth Sloan (second from right) are the president and vice president of The Philosopher’s Society. The club was restarted last fall and now meets every Friday in the Jonsson Academic Center. Photo by Noah Whitehead | Mercury Staff.

On any given Friday afternoon, several students gather in a classroom in the Erik Jonsson Academic Center to discuss the unexpected: epistemology, ethics, logic, metaphysics, morality and justice.

After spending some time trying to find an identity, The Philosopher’s Society is gaining stability as a student organization and working to establish itself as a unique outfit of curious and contemplative students.

“The vision for the club is to provide a place for people who like philosophy to come be together so we can talk about these things,” said Micah Brouwer, an electrical engineering senior and president of The Philosopher’s Society. “You don’t really have discussions about the meaning of life, how do we know what we know or do we have free will. These aren’t really things that come up in your everyday conversations.”

Brouwer said he and some friends developed an interest in philosophy while taking an introductory philosophy course at UTD.

“I was with a couple of buddies and we had a group project in an intro to philosophy class and we worked together and thought we really like talking about this stuff, so let’s keeping meeting up after class just to talk about philosophy. Then we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we make a club for it,’” he said.

The club was formed two years ago, but dissolved shortly afterward and experienced a revival last fall. Brouwer acknowledged that it took some time to figure out exactly what the club’s identity would be.

“We weren’t really sure what we were or what to do, so it started as a book club where we chose a philosophy book to go through,” he said. “It went well for a little while, but then people stopped doing the reading because it felt like homework.”

That’s when he said the club took a more discussion-based turn in which a single theme drives the conversations. Rather than focusing on reactive conversations, the club examines the reasons why events take place.

Elisabeth Sloan, an art and performance sophomore and vice president of The Philosopher’s Society, said her experiences in meetings flow into her daily life.

“The discussions at our meetings have influenced my conversations outside of the club immensely,” she said. “There isn’t a day that I don’t resurge ideas over a concept that someone had brought up to another.”

Sloan said she believes introspectively exploring philosophy is crucial in developing a better sense of self.

“It’s important to philosophically explore because understanding an objective view of the many ways of life and the concepts we mindlessly live by not only gives us a better awareness of the world we live in, (but) also aids our grasp towards questions that lead to understanding what it means to be alive … which I think every person, known and unknowingly, strives for,” she said.

Benjamin Hogan, a computer science sophomore and treasurer of the group, said he believes the structure of the meetings helps the group share and collaborate more effectively.

Usually 20 to 25 students attend meetings and are then divided into smaller groups. Near the end of the meeting, the groups reassemble to share the direction of their conversation with the rest of the group.

Hogan said it’s not necessary for members to be familiar with or well versed in philosophical history and texts, but the club does add specific optional readings that are meant to drive the discussion forward.

“It helps to have a background but you can learn from the ground up,” he said. “If you are interested, odds are you will pick up a book at some point.”

Hogan said he believes the increased exposure to philosophical discussions has had a positive impact on his life.

“It has helped me ask a lot of questions and understand myself and the world a lot better and it gives me more peace of mind,” he said.

Brouwer said he believes the club can be a real inspiration to people of all types.

“Aristotle said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ so we’re just trying to get people to examine their lives,” he said. “We really try to get as many different perspectives as we can to hear what people have to say.”

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