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    Common Ground: Hot Topics

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    Event description

    Hot Topics: A Community of Inquiry into Values


    Cost: $40 for the set of 4 sessions (plus booking fee)
    Dates:
    6.30-8.30pm Mondays of 29 Apr, 6 May, 13 May, 20 May
    Venue: The Base Health, 3 Tudor Street Newcastle West NSW 2302
    Participants: Minimum 8, Maximum 12

    What is true gender equality? What recognition is owed to indigenous peoples? How free should discussion of such topics really be? And how can we even find out? If you want answers to difficult questions like these, then perhaps this group is for you.

    The Group

    The aim of the group is to build a conversational community to engage in productive and critical inquiry into contested and possibly controversial issues relating to fundamental ethical, social and political values. It has a number of distinctive features: 

    • It is about moral values : while the facts of disputed cases are important for any final judgment, our focus will be on the moral principles—relating to how it is best for us to live, how we should treat others, and how the state should rule—that we bring to bear on those facts. 

    So you will be asked to express your own views.

    • It is about contested values : while people who say different things sometimes do not really disagree, and it is important to recognize when this is so, sometimes they do disagree, and our focus will be on these more difficult differences. 

    So you will be asked to listen to others' views, some of which you will probably reject.

    • It is about moral inquiry : while it is important for people who disagree to understand each other's beliefs, and sometimes that is all we seek from a discussion, our focus will be on which beliefs are reasonable, and, ultimately, which are (if any) are true

    So you will be asked what justifies accepting your views and rejecting those of others.

    These things are not always easy, especially at the start, though they become easier with practice. And so that is why, in addition: 

    • It is about community inquiry : it is possible (within wide limits) for people who disagree to respect each other enough to think that they are worth listening to and reasoning with, and our focus will be to show how this difficult attitude is possible, and show how we might form a community of sorts—a community of inquiry—with those having values very different with our own.

    So the facilitator is there to help, to model and guide respectful argumentation among you all, and to help you each develop your own thoughts on the question at hand.

    The Schedule

    Week 1 (29 Apr) – Introductory session

    (i) Introduction to the program (its aims and details, other helpful resources); (ii) Introduction to basic techniques of moral inquiry, and group reflection on the proposed methodology; (iii) Selection of specific topics to be discussed in coming weeks.

    Weeks 2-4 (6, 13, 20 May) – Guided discussion of the selected topics

    (i) Initiating—problem motivation (case presented, brief reading from popular media, exploration of the question); (ii) Suggesting—claims, ideas, and conjectures (with explorations aimed at mutual understanding); (iii) Evaluating—arguments, testing claims (and reasoning aimed at truth); (iv) Concluding—if only tentatively.

    The Topics

    During the substantive sessions, the group will discuss the following topics:

    • Debating equality? (6 May) – In 2017 the Australian government held a plebiscite to determine whether to extend marriage to same-sex couples. Some objected at the time to the very idea that the recognition of full equality should even be up for debate. Were they right? How could it be acceptable, if at all, to debate whether some people are more equal than others?

    • Private censorship? (13 May) – In 2018, Rugby Australia terminated its contract with Israel Folau after the conservative Christian posted that hell awaits homosexuals (as well as drunks, fornicators, and others). This caused great division at the time, and prompts the question: Under what conditions, if any, may a private business sack an employee who publicly expresses opinions they disagree with?

    • Gender pay gap (20 May) – The gender pay gap in Australia in 2024 is at 21.7%. The government describes this as an "eye-watering" disparity, while its opponents dismiss the gap as simply the result of women's own choices. Who is right? To what extent, if any, is the gender pay gap morally justified or not?

    Dr Joe Mintoff
    Joe Mintoff, finding a good view atop a mountain, but not wisdom

    Dr Joe Mintoff

    Before leaving the University of Newcastle, Joe Mintoff was a senior lecturer in philosophy, with research and teaching interests in moral philosophy. His work focused on the philosophy of Socrates, ancient approaches to how we should live, modern rational-choice approaches to the same questions, and, more generally, how we could come to know the answers.

    His articles have appeared in American Journal of Philosophy, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Mind, Ratio, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, and Ethics.

    He was—and still is—primarily motivated by the Socratic slogan that the unexamined life is not worth living, and was concerned to examine the specific role (if any) philosophy and critical thinking have to play in living well. He has published articles on teaching philosophy, advocating a form of the so-called Community-of-Inquiry approach, and, in addition to teaching formal logic and critical thinking, has taught other courses which aimed to create Communities-of-Inquiry among diverse groups of students.


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