The Philosothon: Philosophy as performance

Journal of Philosophy in Schools 9 (2):41-77 (2022)
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This paper addresses the question of the place for competition in philosophy by considering the example of the Philosothon, a popular school-based philosophy competition originating in Western Australia. Criticisms of this competition typically focus either on specific procedural problems, or else on the claim that the competitive spirit is inimical to collaborative philosophical inquiry. The former type of criticism is extrinsic to competitive philosophy per se, while the latter is intrinsic to it. Defenders of the Philosothon dismiss both types of criticism by pointing to an allegedly ancient precedent, Socratic dialogue, as evidence that competition is not inimical to philosophy. If true, then procedural problems, where they can’t be eliminated or mitigated, can be accepted, on the basis that the Philosothon serves the greater good of promoting the practice of philosophy. My purpose in this paper is twofold. First, to explain both types of criticism based on a detailed description of the Philosothon’s rationale and procedures. Second, to challenge the promotional assertion used to dismiss the criticisms. Drawing on Plato scholarship, as well as research from social science, I suggest an alternative interpretation of the Philosothon, contrasting it with ancient philosophy and describing it instead in terms of ‘signalling’.

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Simon Kidd
University of Western Australia

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