Xixi Li - BA (Hons) Philosophy and Media, Communications and Culture (2014)

When I was first asked to write about my time studying philosophy at Keele it had appeared a very easy matter to write about, but sitting down now and reminiscing about the past three years of my life there ( the first of which has instigated an addiction to Keele and its “Bubble” from which I am still recovering) I’ve since been forced to conclude otherwise.

This letter is meant to demonstrate to the prospective Keele philosophiser, through my own personal experience, an instance of what studying philosophy at Keele is like, and I hope I would be able to communicate not only the basic matter of those experiences but the feelings of deep connections made with the academic staff (all of whom are extremely approachable and can be reached in a wide variety of ways, which they make quite sure you are very aware of from day one, to answer all your philosophical questions from life and the universe to what time it is) and the friends with whom you would have heated discussions on such topics as life and the universe, and of course the time.

My very first class had been a seminar for the module “10 Problems of Philosophy” on the topic of time. As James (yes we are on first name basis with the faculty. An exhilarating experience for people, like yours truly, who are only used to dealing with the strict and pedantic pedagogues of past) explained the nature of time, of past, of present and of future and all one hundred and eight ways in which he could explain it to us- had there been the time, I realised that I had made the right choice to switch from Psychology to Philosophy as one half of a dual honours degree with Media, Communications and Culture. The idea that it didn’t matter, from that point on, to adhere strictly to the any one way of understanding a philosophical concept but rather to critical engage with the texts provided had been planted, and from that sprang the intellectual freedom that has been previously suffocated by schooling which would rather promote the mere regurgitation of textbook facts than encourage a development of personal views and critical thinking.

At the mention of critical thinking I am reminded of my second most memorable experience of philosophy at Keele and perhaps my all time favourite module “How to Think”. I was absolutely delighted by the way that arguments and propositions (which in philosophy could mean anything from “All men are mortal” to something extremely long and taxing) could be simplified into letters and symbols from which the truth, soundness, and the validity or otherwise could be determine methodically. It was like being given the key to the translation of the Rosetta Stone where previously all you had at your disposal was a library of Chinese texts and a Rubik’s Cube. Having been bitten by the logical bug, I then set forth to calculate every proposition of interest which really mainly consisted of working out which pokemon would yield the most experience points when pitted against a legendary, such as Xerneas. Geekiness aside, the study of formal logic has led to my being able to spot the fallacy in not only philosophical arguments but also those found in everyday conversation.

In between these wonderfully enlightening discoveries of theories and methods and of the self, held every fortnight would be a discussion on a previously decided topic by the Keele Philosophy Society-affectionally known as PhilSoc. I distinctly remember being very nervous as I walked down the corridors of chancellor’s at the prospect of engaging in a philosophical discussion with a group of people surely more learned on the topic than I, who had only briefly skimped through it on Wikipedia just moments before, had. Where I was expecting intimidation, however, I found only crisps, wine and friendly debate. I think the set topic of that day was 'whether abortions were ethical’, a discussion which when prompted by a room filled with ever inquisitive minds somehow led to the topic of whether the sport of underwater hockey (seriously not making it up, google it) should ethically exist-and if so for what reason.

Along with these sometimes novel yet always intellectually stimulating debates to be had at PhilSoc, were the Royal Institute of Philosophy lectures. These were taught by lecturers from other universities who had come to our kingdom on top of the hill (I’ve been told that Keele is one of the highest points in England) to talk of their research. These were always interesting to go to, although I have to admit that it’s rather in aid of a more in-depth understanding of a particular topic you already have a rudimentary understanding of. But it was mostly the casual dinner and philosophising at the Sneyd Arms (one of our many pubs) afterwards that I looked forward to the most.

It was as such that my time at Keele flew by and in a wink I had found myself in my last and final year, the year of the dreaded dissertation. As those of us who chose to do the daunting 30 credit module sat huddled in our groups of friends in anxious anticipation of the massive amount of work we were about to be given, Josie (module convenor, imparter of wisdom, and bright beam of light in the dark and uncertain road of finding a topic on which to have eight thousand words to talk about) walked in and showed us the way. We were taught everything we wanted to know on where to look for the information we needed, how to go about it once we’ve found it and the structure and best possible route to take when trying to narrow down what usually proved to be a very broad topic when researched. Aside from being matched to others in the course who had similar topics and the individually assigned dissertation supervisor, the other academic staff were more than happy and willing to help when the topic at hand ventured even in the slightest into their field of expertise. It was with all this and the tireless guidance and dedicated attention of my supervisor, Dr Paula Satne, that I managed to compile what started as a mess of hastily scribbled post-its into something which when finally bound and covered became the pride that was my dissertation.

These are but droplets in the vast ocean of experiences I’ve had the opportunity to collect since studying philosophy at Keele. I don’t think I would be able to fit every single one of those memorable days in even if I tried. I sincerely hope that it has been an illuminating read (or at the very least entertaining) and that it would incite you in one way or another to come read philosophy at Keele.