Sourcing Knowledge from Experience: The Dead Philosophers’ Society

By Sohane Mousseid Yahya, BA Politics and World Philosophies 

Philosophy is dying. This is the conclusion that any philosophy student at SOAS would give, backed up by the fact that the philosophy department has continuously rebuilt the curriculum in an attempt to salvage Philosophy at SOAS for as long as those 2021 final year students have been here.

Unfortunately, we are plagued by a program that doesn’t deal with many cult classics. Logic – reduced to a 15 credit module – is one of many subjects that feels uncompetitive when compared to the sea of London philosophy scholars. Philosophy at SOAS seems to be reduced to religion. The pandemic should have been the final nail in the coffin, confirming that the attempt to look at philosophy from a ‘World Philosophies’ perspective was frugal, wasteful and quite simply irrelevant. However, it seems that Philosophy at SOAS is redressing itself. This is seen through the multiple guest lectures organised by the department, regular virtual socials amongst all degree stages, but also the weekly sessions and social media campaigns of the rebirthed Dead Philosophers’ Society (DPS). 

From 13 September onwards, DPS began reinventing what Philosophy at SOAS would look like with the creation of #DeadPhilSundays. These short videos – lasting between four to eight minutes –  explored philosophical themes in the context of weekly news. The videos are simple, effective and interesting. They ask what we can do with this particular concept of philosophy, combining practicality with information. Our society’s constant push on social media has translated positively to the weekly session attendance. With students joining from different disciplines and year groups, the society has managed to create a tight knit atmosphere of solidarity and intellectually stimulating conversations centered around the pursuit of justice and equality. Moreover, DPS does not hesitate to invite non-SOASians into their spaces, opening the sessions up to University of London students.  We have joined the Philosopher of London In Solidarity group, furthering our attempt to ensure that Philosophy at SOAS remains visible and collaborative. 

When asked why he thinks the society has become so tenacious during the pandemic, vice-president Michael Meakin responded ‘We knew we needed to adapt but we also knew philosophy could help with the pandemic’s isolation, so we created a virtual social environment for academic chatter.’ DPS has helped students interested in philosophy fight the loneliness of the pandemic. DPS member Lucy expresses that ‘the social component of having a little community tied by our mutual interest in philosophy has been absolutely wonderful.’

The society also hopes to help counter the isolation that the field experiences as a whole due to all the red tape, gatekeeping and lack of collaboration. Our society attempts to rekindle literature and philosophy, touching on anthropology and linguistics and engaging in a variety of cultures and ways of producing knowledge. Much like an archaic language, when philosophy stops evolving and changing it will join other disciplines as a field that could not adapt to modern times. DPS’ move to embrace the online world, social media and accessible engagement is a remedy to this death and a sign of hope for philosophy. 

If Philosophy at SOAS continues to work alongside DPS, the field might not just avoid a predictable death, but SOAS may become home to a renewed Philosophy – one with a long, prosperous life ahead. 

Photo caption: A DPS session on Wednesday 24 February. (Credit: Dead Philosophers’ Society)

Post Author: The SOAS Spirit

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