Students & Alumni. Philosophy.
Who are you and what do you do at ARU?
I’m Luke and I study philosophy. I’m currently in my second year, and I've taken every optional module available that isn't related to philosophy just because I like doing new things.
This trimester, for the Ruskin module, I'm doing “What if imagination could save the world?”, because I was really intrigued by the question when I first came across the module title. I saw it and thought “Well, I don't know how you’re going to assess that, but it's pretty fun.” We have to do reflective feedback, which everyone does on Ruskin modules, and for this one we have a 1250 word piece of speculative fiction, describing what the future is going to be like – but you can’t mention things that aren’t real. You don't have to write an essay, you can do an interpretive piece of fiction or a 10 minute podcast, but it has to be equivalent to 1500 words.
I'm also studying Japanese with the Anglia Language Programme module. I've studied a lot of languages briefly before – I did Korean in my spare time, and Mandarin in college, then figured I'd do Japanese here. I've never left the country so it doesn’t have much real-life application, but it’s also very course relevant. But I think if I was going to do something completely course relevant I should have gone for French!
Did you always know that you would go to university and, if not, what changed your mind?
Definitely yes. It was the only thing that I kind of knew I was going to do. When I was a kid, I'd see all these really cool stories about university, and when I got to actually applying, I realised I'd been so looking forward to going that I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got there! Even finding a university to go to was stressful enough, I didn’t expect so many options.
What inspired you to take an interest in philosophy?
You know that stereotype of the really annoying child who will always ask “why?” to everything you say until you just want to tell them to be quiet? So, that was me. Then, when I was a teenager, I started to have a lot of questions about the grand scheme of the universe. I just wanted to know more.
It also seemed really fun. I really liked the fact that, for example, with the theory of the atom - the first atomists were philosophers, not scientists, because essentially, once you can empirically prove something, it's not philosophy anymore. It just becomes science, and I think that whole idea is really interesting to me.
In terms of specific philosophers, I'm not sure. I want to go with the generic answer and say Socrates. Not because of his actual philosophy - although I do find his going up to people and asking them to prove concepts you can't really prove to be funny. I just like how much his story parallels with Jesus. I'm not religious, but it was something that really interested me because you have these two figures that are somehow entirely separate but the way that their stories unfold is kind of the same. They both wandered a bit, they didn’t really have much of a fixed address. Then you have the ways in which they died. Socrates was put on trial and and basically said “Everything I've said is fine and just and fair, but if you want to kill me, then go ahead. You’re just losing an amazing person.” And so they killed him. Jesus did the same thing, claiming he was the son of God, “But if you want to kill me anyway, go ahead. It’s your loss.’
Philosophy and religion intertwine a lot, I feel. It's very hard to get out of most debates without talking about religion at some point. Obviously, it mostly concerns ethical debates. We discussed abortion recently, and you can't talk about abortion without talking about the religious side of it. Or animal rights – in India cows are sacred, so that calls into question some meat-eating practices. In our class, we took a poll at the start of the year, and I think we were almost evenly split between atheists and people that were religious – predominantly Christians. But the people that are Christian, you don’t really hear them mention it much, which is something that surprised me. I assumed that when you believe in God, it would become a very key part of a lot of your debates, but I'm very happy with the way they find issues in the arguments themselves as opposed to just saying “Oh, but God.” I guess I’ve become a lot more open-minded after coming here and seeing such things for myself.
What's the most valuable thing you will take away from your course?
I was going to say critical thinking skills, but I feel I already had good critical thinking skills and the course is just making them better. I just lacked the knowledge and the terms to actually use them. So maybe a wider appreciation for the world. That sounds really cheesy, I know!
We did a lesson on time, and “is time really real?” Don’t get me wrong – it’s really depressing to be learning about stuff like that, but once you get over the whole “Oh my God, my life is a lie!” thing, you start to realise that, if nothing is fixed and nothing really matters, then everything I do in this one life is just that much more special, because it feels like I’m choosing to do it. Even though it's a whole other debate about whether or not I'm actually choosing to do it - but I'm refusing to engage with that one for now!
I want to do my dissertation on the philosophy of love, and I think I'll just end up really appreciating the world a lot more!
Which aspects of your course have most helped your career development, and why?
I feel the module we're doing now for ethics and theory in practice does a very good job at opening people's minds up to just how differently they can not only think about debate, but also respond to a debate. When it comes to an ethical concern, people can have the same opinions but for entirely different reasons. For the essay on abortion I mentioned, I looked at people that were against abortion, and one said “Oh, you can’t abort a foetus because a foetuses are genetically similar to living small humans, and you wouldn’t kill a small child.” And someone else would say that, no, you can’t kill foetuses, but not for that reason, for a different one entirely, such as how every life has the capacity for a future of value, and it would be immoral to deprive a foetus of such a future.
It's good to have discussions like that in a philosophy degree. Not just because it's obviously philosophical, but because it allows you to build skills when it comes to things like conflict resolution. Obviously, because I want to go into HR hopefully, it will be something I’ll have to get good at.
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Just that life's going to have ups and downs, but will generally turn out fine. I was a really happy child, then went through a very stressful time in my life during high school and college, and now at university I’m back to being happy but not really a child anymore.
You don’t need to spend all your time worrying about what you’re going to do with your future, because whether you like it or not, your future will come anyway, and you’ll find out what you're doing with it as it comes along. I've discovered I'm very much the kind of guy that will find out what's happening as it happens and that, even if you don't feel like your life is going anywhere, it's probably just about to take a massive turn.
Looking back on it, it's nice to know that whenever I would worry about “What am I going to do with my future? Is it going to be great? Is it going to be fun? Will I be doing something I love?”, I did end up doing that at least, so I have more confidence now to give to my future self.
What is your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what have you learned about the city that you didn't know before?
I thought it would just be full of pretentious old people. Just massive old buildings, massive old libraries and a lot of old people. I did a lot of Summer Schools and one in Surrey, for example, was very green. I loved the environment there. There were so many trees, it was beautiful. I didn’t think I would get that in Cambridge, and then obviously I did. Cambridge has a massive Botanical Garden too, so if I was missing it that much, I could just pay the entry fee and go there.
There's also a lot of museums that are free, which I’ve really enjoyed. I've been to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences about twelve times. And then I only realised a few months ago that literally around the corner there’s a really cool astronomy museum.
I guess, beyond having my preconceived notions smashed to the ground, maybe the best thing about being here is all the small things you discover. Because even though I feel like I've fully discovered Cambridge at this point, and there's going to be nothing new, I know that in about a month or so I'll probably just turn a corner and think “Oh my God, where am I?”. Just yesterday, I went to a noodle bar with my friends and when I got there, I realised I’ve never seen this entire street before. It’s been a while since I felt so lost. I’m finding new things to do, new places to go, and that’s probably my favourite thing about Cambridge, as well as the greenery.
What projects are you currently working on, both on and off the course?
The current essay I'm looking to do is “Can we be friends with non-human animals?” I told a couple of my friends about it, and it was really funny because they said “What do you mean, non-human animals?”, and I had to explain that humans are animals too. I feel that one of the biggest debates around this, in terms of animals in general, is insects. It's really interesting to see all the people who will happily defend dogs, cats, pigs – it’s very culturally specific – but the second you get to insects, animal rights will be put in a bag and thrown out of the window. But at the same time, I can't really say they're being immoral, because I’ve killed every spider I've seen in my bedroom in case it might touch me!
We haven’t got to the stage where we’re discussing dissertations yet, but I’m really interested by the fact that, way back when, there would be so many different ways to say “I love you,” and so many different meanings for it. All these different words for all these different meanings. But now, if you just say “I love you”, then a) the meaning is contextual anyway, but b) there’s not as many words for it. Somehow it’s all just been condensed into one. But then I realised that this is actually a language thing. So what I really want to look at is the philosophy of emotion, and whether love is something that physically exists, because obviously there’s a massive debate about whether it’s chemical, whether it’s innate within us, whether it’s something spiritual. I watched a video a while ago that was talking about whether love is passive or active, whether you can fall into love – our media portrays love as being very passive, it happens to you, it’s not something that you can control – or whether you have to chase after it, you have to make it work. This is very important when it comes to something like relationship counselling, because if you’re not doing things to keep the fire of love alive, it will just burn out. It’s something that interests me, but I haven’t given it too much thought yet. I’ve just taken books out from the library and have yet to read them.
I'm also treasurer of the ARU K-Pop Society. K-POP is one of my biggest interests and makes my bank account cry the most. We’re trying to organise a few events – I can’t name most of them right now because I will get killed – but this week we’re doing a movie night to help raise money for young carers, which is something I’m very proud of, and then we have our weekly sessions too. I love it to bits. Last year I was just a regular member, and then first year representative for the last two weeks. This year I decided to run for committee, because it made me really happy to be in that society and I wanted to just give back and help people feel the same way I did.