It’s official, the Trinity Philosophical Society, or the Phil as everyone likes to call it, has finally lost what little was left of its spine. Its record has been questionable in terms of supporting free debate on the campus of Trinity College Dublin. It bowed to public pressure in the past when one of their debates was going to involve controversial British politician Nick Griffin.
However, with this recent cancellation of the debate ‘This House Believes That Middle Eastern Women Need Western Feminism,’ finally the Phil seems to have breathed its dying breath, bowing to the complaints of a few pearl-clutchers.
As of now it appears to be a dead society, at least philosophically speaking. There is no reason for a debating society to exist if it will not allow debate, just as there is no reason for the Phil to exist if it does not have faith in itself and its own motions.
However, the amount of vitriol spat towards the Phil from the left is surprising. I’ve heard some saying things like “debate can only happen when both sides are equal,” and “the motion itself is harmful.” What this sounds like to me is: ‘our view might be shot down by people we don’t like!’
Why? Firstly, debate only makes sense because two opinions, and by extension, two sides, are not equal. Debate is an attempt to figure out which side is the strongest through the philosophical inquiry into each side’s arguments.
If debate only happened when two sides were on equal footing, then the only result we would ever see from these debates would be draws. Secondly, the only reason why someone would consider a debate harmful is when they themselves do not have full confidence in their ideas.
This could be because they have not fully thought out their own philosophy, they do not feel like they are sufficiently skilled enough to defend their argument, or perhaps because they feel subconsciously like they are simply lying to themselves, and so are unwilling to have their lies exposed in a fair debate. It is their responsibility to get better at presenting their view instead of trying to stop a debate about the subject.
Imagine if two football teams were going to play a final, and because one team realized they were unable to play as well as their would-be opponents, they simply had the game cancelled and claimed that they would have won if the game was played. There would be outrage, and rightly so.
Which simply leads us back to the question of why the Phil cancelled the debate. Many will say it was because they did not want to offend anyone, but that theory quickly falls apart once you realize their replacement motion is ‘This House Regrets the Fall of Communism.’
The reason why the Phil cancelled the debate is because they were afraid of upsetting their leftist peers. They want to be seen as virtuous, and are willing to sell their very souls in maintaining that image.
Which brings us back to where we started: The Phil needs to man up. They need to remember that they are not a leftist back-slapping society, but a debating society. This means they’re going to have to pose hard questions to their members, and challenge them to come up with satisfying conclusions.
This also means that, once they have decided on a motion and those who will debate it, they should never back down from that decision due to public pressure of any kind. A debating society, especially one as old as the Phil, should never allow itself to be humbled by petty complaints. It should be proud of its heritage and strive to become more respected and prestigious in the future.
For people to have faith in the Trinity Philosophical Society, it needs to first regain faith in itself. It can only do this by stepping up to the plate. If it wants to continue to exist, it needs to host more controversial debates, bring in more controversial speakers, and most importantly – never back down.
If they do not do this, then someone else will be forced to do so. I can assure you; if the Phil does not man up, then we at The Burkean, and our colleagues, are simply going to have to do their job for them.