St Andrews hosts pioneering ethics debating tournament

Monday 28 May 2018

john-stuart-mill-mainbody-3Students from across the country will take part in the inaugural John Stuart
Mill Cup, a unique debating tournament in which school teams discuss ethical issues of public concern, at the University of St Andrews this summer (6 June).

Hosted by the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs (CEPPA) at the University, the John Stuart Mill Cup is the first event of its kind in Britain where students will demonstrate their abilities to discuss issues in a thoughtful and constructive way, counter-acting current trends around toxic public discourse.

Unlike traditional student debates, the John Stuart Mill Cup isn’t won by proving the opposing side wrong, rather, it is a collaborative discussion. The team that best displays the virtues of insightfulness, thoughtfulness and civility takes home the ultimate prize, the Cup itself.

The debates will focus on a range of cases from fake news, charitable giving and the sugar tax to the #MeToo campaign.

Open to high school students across the country, S4-6 (Scotland) or years 10-13 (England and Wales), the Cup promotes interest in philosophy among secondary school students and civil discourse on issues of public concern. The inaugural Cup will see 60 students compete from as far as the West Midlands.

The Cup is named after former Rector of the University of St Andrews, John Stuart Mill, in recognition of his role in promoting this vision of open and vibrant public discourse. Mill was a 19th-century British philosopher, economist, public intellectual and parliamentarian. He was anti-slavery and a radical, for his time, on issues of women’s rights and democracy. His 1859 work, On Liberty, has stood the test of time as one of the most stirring calls for robust protection of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, ever produced.

Dr Ben Sachs, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University and founder of the John Stuart Mill Cup, said: “The John Stuart Mill Cup is a unique opportunity for students and rewards not the ability to win an argument but rather the ability to thoughtfully advance debates on ethical issues of public concern.

“The Cup is founded on three fundamental tenets – in a multicultural democracy disagreement about important moral issues is inevitable; members of the public should not shy away from expressing, in the public forum, their convictions on these issues; as a society we could make quicker progress toward reaching mutually acceptable resolutions of these disagreements, without creating resentment and hostility as a side effect, if more entrants in the public debate made use of the philosophers’ toolkit and the attention to logic and fallacy avoidance, the back-and-forth cycle of argument-counter argument-revision, the principle of interpreting one’s speaker’s position as charitably as possible.”

Stewart Clelland, RPMS teacher from Braeview Academy, one of the many schools competing, said: “In our ever increasingly globalised and multicultural world, it is imperative that young people today acquire a fluency in the modern dialogue of identity in order to succeed as responsible citizens.

“Simply bringing young people from different backgrounds together is not sufficient to reduce prejudice or develop positive relations; teachers need to create the conditions whereby all children are able to develop what has been termed ‘intercultural competence’. Such conditions are found when philosophical debate is an integral part of the classroom; the John Stuart Mill Cup is an excellent opportunity to help engage young people in this process of understanding the various dialectics surrounding identity.

john-stuart-mill-mainbody-2“The John Stuart Mill Cup helps young people develop their critical thinking skills in order to come to terms with the fact that their ideas have value and that the ideas of others too have value.

“Where philosophical enquiry is valued, young people are far better equipped to understand how others think and accept that opinions other than their own are valid.”

‌The Cup is modelled after the National High School Ethics Bowl in the USA.

The Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs (CEPPA) is a leading research centre of academic expertise in ethics, social and political philosophy and the philosophical dimensions of public affairs.

The John Stuart Mill Cup takes place in the United College, St Salvator’s Quad on Wednesday 6 June from noon and is open to members of the public to attend.


Top: John Stuart Mill Cup logo
Middle: Braeview Academy team
Bottom: The JS Mill Cup trophy

Notes to news editors/interview requests

Dr Ben Sachs is available for interview via the Communications Office. Media wishing to attend on the day can make arrangements with the Communications Office. Contact Steve Bargeton on 01334 467 310, 07802 376 860 or [email protected].

St Andrews has an in-house ISDN line for radio and a Globelynx camera for TV interviews. To arrange an interview please contact the Communications Office in the first instance.

For more information about the John Stuart Mill Cup and the cases for debate visit the website.

The debate is open to members of the public; there is no need to register to attend.

To find out more about the research themes and other events at the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs visit CEPPA’s website.

Photographs are available via Dropbox.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Category Public interest stories

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