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  • Kate Halliwell

Philofest: Celebrating a year of philosophy in Sheffield

Think Together Sheffield’s first year has been one of exploration and adventure. We’ve seen our members engage in interesting individual endeavours and join together for exciting collaborative events. In May we explored the ethics of violence and non-violence as part of The Festival of Debate and in November we produced #PhiloFest, our very own Festival of Philosophy and a celebration of World Philosophy Day on 18th November. The festival's aim was to demystify philosophy, showcase the variety of what our group can offer and make more connections with people in the city by opening up conversations.

Throughout the week, events were held online, in pubs, at the Graves Gallery, DECSY and The National Circus and Fairground Archive at University of Sheffield. It was testament to the degree of interest in a festival of this sort that so many people attended both virtually and in-person, even during a pandemic.

To kick it all off, Rosie Carnall hosted a Sharing the View session in the Graves Gallery, where Sheffield Museums display the city’s art collection. This was a brand new offer for Sheffield, providing an open access session for people to share thoughts and ideas arising from a shared view of one of the artworks. This pilot session was part of a micro-commission from the Age-Friendly Sheffield programme, which aims to reduce social isolation for those aged over 50 by providing interest sessions for people of all ages. Community philosophy works so well for purposeful social contact.

Sheffield has a regular Philosophy in Pubs group (first Tuesday of every month) so we were delighted that the Age-Friendly funding provided the means for extra pubs sessions during the #Philofest week; on Monday, in the Bay Horse Inn, Pitsmoor and on Tuesday in the Castle Inn, Bradway. Different sides of the city, very different meet ups but the same stimulus: The Seven Wonders of the World.

On the Tuesday, DECSY’s Young Philosophers for 10-14 year-olds welcomed people from Sheffield and further afield to join a hybrid P4C enquiry where the stimulus was our brains! First, we tickled them by arguing whether robot teachers were a good or a bad thing, before pondering, if we could swap our brains with anyone, would we want to? Initial reactions were mixed; some wanted a different brain, some a different body. We explored whether we would still be us if we had someone else’s hands, legs, body or brain. How much of us needed to be swapped before we stopped being ourselves? If we were just a brain, was that enough? Concepts raised included: control; choice; permanent/temporary; identity; personality; the mind; appearance; emotions; physicality; difference and memories. All-in-all, it was a thoroughly stimulating event and one we hope to repeat in 2022.

On Saturday Think Together Sheffield hosted An Afternoon at the Circus – a community philosophical event for Sheffielders of all ages, inspired by the incredible National Circus and Fairground Archive at University of Sheffield. Our members, Rosie, Kate, Helen and Fufy were delighted to partner with the archive to host this event in the University library foyer.

As well as the public display material, the NCFA’s manager, Arantza Barrutia, provided us with a series of photographs as stimulus. From these images of audiences enjoying circus experiences we formed our own philosophical questions. It was great to bring people together from around the city to meet, discuss and question in this way.

#Philofest came just after the conclusion of COP26 in Glasgow. In light of the significance of this event to the people of Sheffield and around the world, Grace hosted ‘Too Small to Make a Difference’ an online workshop for local young people and their peers throughout the UK and Europe. The participants asked what, if anything, young people should do to address the climate and ecological crisis and considered whether the youth strikes – such as those that have been so well attended in our city – have achieved anything at all. With the permission of the young people and their parents, you can watch edited highlights of some of our young philosophers on Youtube.

These sessions are a moving example of the capacity of young people to engage in intelligent and respectful conversation about the most pressing ethical and political questions. They also reveal the reach of these kinds of conversations. After Philofest, the same workshop was facilitated by Grace’s collaborator Michelle Sowey in Australia, for a group of young people dealing with the same questions on the other side of the world.

PhiloFest was a philosophical whirlwind of people coming together to share their opinions, beliefs, experiences, knowledge and ideas — with the common aim of exploring their own thinking more thoughtfully, reasonably, considerately and reflectively. The feedback we received was positive, suggesting Sheffield has an appetite for the kind of philosophical dialogue that we offer.

Philofest will return in November 2022 for another celebration of philosophical conversation. We hope you’ll get involved too.

And finally, a big welcome to our latest members, Carey O’Donoghue, the P4C Lead Teacher at Emmaus Catholic and CoE Primary School, and Philosophy in the City (PinC), an award-winning outreach project, run entirely by student volunteers from the University of Sheffield’s Philosophy department. We are so pleased that you’ve joined us in our journey to Think Together in Sheffield.

This blog was written by Kate Halliwell, Rosie Carnall and Grace Lockrobin

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