University Philosophical Society
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (April 2008)|
|Senior Patron||Provost Patrick Prendergast|
Officers of the University Philosophical Society, 329th Session
|Hon. President||Rosalind Ní Shúilleabháin|
|Hon. Secretary||Sarah Mortell|
|Hon. Treasurer||Paul Behan|
|Hon. Registrar||Cormac Shine|
|Hon. Debate Convener||Sarah Deegan|
|Hon. Librarian||Aifric Ni Chriodain|
|Hon. Steward||Lily McKillop|
|Hon. School Convenor||Ludivine Rebet|
The University Philosophical Society, commonly known as The Phil, is a student paper-reading and debating society in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Founded in 1683, it is the world's oldest collegial and paper-reading society. It's member meet every Thursday during term in the Graduates Memorial Building to discuss a paper, debate a motion or hear an address. The society also hosts numerous social events, weekly paper readings, the occasional concert, internal competitions as well as providing debating workshops, developmental competitions for members and school children. It also competes in intervarsity debates at both an international and national level.
The Phil's rooms are in the Graduates' Memorial Building (commonly known as the GMB) in Trinity College, which it has shared with the College Historical Society (the Hist) and the College Theological Society (the Theo) since the building's construction in 1904. It holds most of its meetings in the GMB's Debating Chamber; meetings with an expected audience above two hundred are held in larger college lecture theatres.
The Phil is traditionally a paper-reading society, and many meetings continue the format of responses to a paper rather than debate on a motion. Each year the writer of the best paper and the best chamber speaker are awarded with medals from the society. In addition to debate, the Phil provides facilities for its members such as games and a conversation room, organises club nights, sporting events, blood drives, and other social events.
It publishes The Philander as an annual Freshers' guide to the society.
The history of the University Philosophical Society spans over three centuries, several guises, identifies and name changes. However since it's inception the ethos of the society has remained steadfast. Many of Trinity College, Dublin's traditions can trace their lineage to the society.
Foundation, 17th Century
In 1683, natural philosopher and political writer William Molyneux founded the the Dublin Philosophical Society in Dublin, with the assitance of his brother Sir Thomas Molyneux and future Provost St George Ashe. They intended it to be the equivalent of the Royal Society in London (with which it maintained cultural ties) as well as the Philosophical Society at the University of Oxford. The society was traditionally a paper reading society, however it also included many demonstrations of the latest science and mathamatical endeavour of that era. The first meeting on 15th October 1683 was within the Provost's lodgings at Trinity College, Dublin, a location were members continuned to meet.
Sometime after December 1683, then Provost Robert Huntington became the society's first Senior Patron, promising protection and assitance, a role the position of Provost still holds. Whilst at the time no particular precedent existed for Trinity College to recognise it, it can be considered the college's first such society.
It was 1st November 1684, when the first council election took place, with William Petty elected the first President of the society, and William Molyneux elected as it's first Secertary. Dating of all future sessions would thereafter be counted from this date.
Reformation 19th Century
In November 1842, to mark the orginal session date the Dublin Philosophical Society was fully reformed under it's orginal name to cater for those Trinity College students too young to join other societies in Dublin, traditionally meeting on Mondays. At the time, undergraduates were not allowed to join most College societies, such as the College Historical Society. It then became the Dublin University Philosophical Society in February 1843 when it was recognized by the college, with then Provost Franc Sadleir reassuming the traditional role of Senior Patron.
In 1860, the Dublin University Philosophical Society changed its name to the University Philosophical Society. This makes the Phil the oldest paper-reading society, and collegial in the world, aswell currently being the largest such society in Ireland.
20th and 21st Centuries
The Phil suffered with the rest of Trinity College during the First and Second World Wars, though one notable President of the early 1940s was lawyer, Nigerian and Ugandan independence activist and Supreme Court Chief Justice Udo Udoma.
The society admitted women in 1968 (after the resignation of the conservative President and Secretary), a year before the Hist did the same. A merger with the female-only University Elizabethan Society soon followed; this was a spur towards both increased female membership and increased debating in the Phil. As a symbolic gesture, the highest ranking female officer of the Phil is accorded the honorary title of Auditrix of the Elizabethan Society.
Recently[when?], the Phil's meetings have been divided between policy-driven paper readings, showpiece debates and interviews with public figures including Al Pacino, Desmond Tutu, John McCain and Stephen Fry.
Notable Historical Events
Among the notable events held was the demonstration of an early telephone by Stephen Yeates in 1865. Notable Presidents included classicist and Provost of the College John Pentland Mahaffy, poet Edward Dowden and Dracula author Bram Stoker.
The Phil is governed by a Council elected by the members of the society each year. There are eight officers: President, Secretary, Treasurer, Registrar, Debates Convenor, Librarian, Steward, and Schools Convenor. All officers are directly elected. In addition to the officers are a number of Members of Council, seven of whom are elected each year. One of these seven is then selected by the Council to serve as Vice President of the society. The Senior Member of Council is also selected in the same manner as the Vice President and is deligated the responsibility of co-ordinating the other Members of Council. The newly elected Council may then add up to seven further Members of Council via co-option. The Members of Council serve as deputies to the officers, aid in the execution of their responsibilities and any other such work necessary for the efficient running of the society.
Members of Council, 329th Session
|Senior Member of Council||Sophie Madden|
|Pro-Secretary||Liam Hunt, Clare Ní Cheallaigh|
|Pro-Debates Convener||Rónán Ó'Connor, Hugh Guidera|
|Pro Librarian||James Wilson, Glen Byrne|
|Pro-Steward||Anna Sheehan, Deirdre McAteer|
|Pro-Schools Convener||Lucy Murray, Johnny Byrne, Keith Murphy|
The Bram Stoker Club
In addition to its usual events, the Phil added a sub-group, the Bram Stoker Club, to its organization in 2011. Named after one of the Phil's most illustrious presidents, the Club holds weekly afternoon paper-readings on a range of topics. These paper-readings have served to carry on a tradition that had fallen out of use in recent decades. In 2013, the Club was incorporated into the official Laws of the Phil making its existence official. The Council appoints the coordinators of the Club each year. The Club had its first foray outside of College in 2013, entering the winning team of John Engle and Liam Brophy in the 2013 Irish Times Debating Competition.
|2011||1st||Clíodhna Ní Ghuidhir and John Engle|
|2011-2012||2nd||Leah Morgan, Brian Higgins, Sch. and Jamie Donnelly|
|2012-2013||3rd||Sarah Grace, Gavin Tucker, Sch., Fionn McGorry and Keith Murphy|
The society first won the Mace (the premier British and Irish university debating competition) in 1997 when the all-Scottish team of Matthew Magee, Librarian, and Alex Massie, Steward, won the title. Three years later Fergal Davis and Robert Cuffe, President, also won the Mace. Registrar Kiera Healy and former President Ruth Faller reached the Quarter Finals of the World University Debating championships in UCC in 2009, breaking in 9th position. Since then, two teams from the Phil have reached the elimination rounds at the World Championships, David Byrne and Ricky McCormack in 2012, and John Engle and Adam Noonan in 2013.
The society runs internal debating competitions: the Eamon O'Coine Memorial Maiden Speaker's Competition, for first-time speakers in college; the satirically-titled Margaret Thatcher Memorial Debating Competition (or Maggies); a series of impromptu debates, the Elizabethan Society Memorial Pro-Am Competition (or "Lizzies"); and the John Pentland Mahaffy Memorial First-Year Mace. The Phil and the Hist jointly host the Claire Stewart Trinity IV each year in January, in association with the , comprising the Kingsmill-Moore Invitational and the Dean Swift Intervarsity. The society also hosts a secondary schools' public speaking competition, the AIB Phil Speaks.
Through its years in college, the Society has recorded the presence of many notable guests, the most distinguished of whom are named honorary patrons of the society. Included amongst these are multiple Nobel Prize laureates, both before and after their receipt of the Prize, such as William Butler Yeats, Heads of State and of Government, notable actors and musicians, as well as well-known intellectuals. Guests have also included all Taoisigh since Charles Haughey.
- John Kenneth Galbraith, economist, former US Ambassador to India
- John Hume, former leader of the SDLP in Northern Ireland, Nobel Laureate
- Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former President of France
- David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Nobel Laureate
- Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives
- Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan
- FW De Klerk, former President of South Africa, Nobel Laureate
- Charles Haughey, former Taoiseach of Ireland
- Desmond Tutu, Archbishop, Nobel Laureate
- John McCain, US Senator, 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate
- Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director-General, Nobel Laureate
- Lindsey Graham, US Senator
- Mark Malloch Brown, former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General
- Bob Geldof, organizer of Live Aid and Live 8
- John Bruton, former Taoiseach of Ireland, former EU Ambassador to the United States
- James Zogby, political organizer, member of the DNC
- Albert Reynolds, former Taoiseach of Ireland
- Garret FitzGerald, former Taoiseach of Ireland
- John Ritch, World Nuclear Association Director-General
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, US Supreme Court Justice
- Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach of Ireland
- Christopher Dodd, US Senator
- Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi, former RNC Chairman
- John Podesta, Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration
- John Negroponte, former US Deputy Secretary of State
- Peter Sutherland, former Attorney General of Ireland
- George Galloway, British politician, author and broadcaster
- Trent Lott, former US Senator
- François Bourguignon, former Chief Economist of the World Bank
- Tim Collins OBE, former Colonel 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment
- Niall Ferguson, British Historian, Harvard professor
- Joseph Nye, international relations theorist, former Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government
- George Ritzer, sociologist, Professor at the University of Maryland
- Edward Saïd, Palestinian-American literary theorist, former University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University
- A.C. Grayling, British philosopher. founder and first Master of New College of the Humanities, London.
- John Mearsheimer, international relations theorist, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.
- Dan Ariely, Professor of Pyschology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University.
- Edmund Phelps, Economist, Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University, Nobel Laureate.
- Richard Dawkins, Ethologist, Evolutionary Biologist, Author.
Figures from News Media and Journalism
- Germaine Greer, feminist journalist.
- Bill O'Reilly, Fox News presenter.
- Claudia Rosett, investigative journalist.
- Greg Palast, British journalist and author.
- John Simpson, BBC News correspondent.
- Rush Limbaugh, American conservative news pundit.
- Martin Wolf, Economics journalist, Associate Editor and Chief economics commentator at the Financial Times.
- William Butler Yeats, poet, Nobel Laureate
- Salman Rushdie, novelist and essayist, Booker Prize Winner
- Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and writer, Nobel Laureate
- John Banville, author, Booker Prize Winner
- John Boyne, Irish novelist
- John Ralston Saul, Canadian author and essayist
- Neil Strauss, author and journalist
Figures from the Performing Arts
- Helen Mirren, actress, Academy Award Winner.
- The Edge, guitarist, keyboardist, and main backing vocalist of rock band U2.
- Johnny Marr, guitarist of the bands The Smiths and Modest Mouse.
- Tom Stoppard, playwright and writer, Academy Award Winner.
- Gabriel Byrne, Irish actor, director and producer.
- Al Pacino, American actor and director, Academy Award Winner.
- Joanna Lumley, British actress and political activist.
- Oliver Stone, film director, Academy Award Winner.
- Tommy Tiernan, Irish comedian.
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Irish actor and model.
- David Cronenburg, Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter.
- Jeffrey Archer, actor, playwright and former politician.
- Jon Voight, American actor and political commentator, Academy Award Winner.
- Spike Milligan, Irish comedian, writer, poet and playwright.
- Naomi Campbell, supermodel.
- Jack White, musician, lead vocalist of the White Stripes.
- Pete Doherty, singer and songwriter, lead singer of the band The Libertines.
- Dolores O'Riordan, lead singer of the band The Cranberries.
- John C. McGinley, American actor and author.
- Chris Blackwell, music producer.
- John C. Reilly, American actor and comedian.
- Courtney Love, American singer song writer and actress.
- Sir Christopher Lee, renowned and prolific British actor.
- Stephen Fry, British actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director.
- Michael Gambon, Irish film and theatre actor.
- Eric Whitacre, Grammy-winning composer and conductor.
- Hugh Laurie, Golden Globe-winning actor, musician, comedian and author.
- Whoopi Goldberg, Comedienne, Actress, singer-songwriter, political activist, Academy Award Winner.
- Conan O'Brien, Television host, Comedian, Writer, Producer and Performer.
Business and Technology Leaders
- Tommy Hilfiger, American fashion designer and businessman
- Tim Draper, American venture capitalist
- Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia
- Matt Mullenweg, founder of Wordpress
- Craig Newmark, founder of Craig's List
- Christopher Bailey, chief creative director of Burberry
- Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter
- JP McManus, entrepreneur
- Niklas Zennstrom, founder of Skype
- Chad Hurley, founder of YouTube
- Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the IMF
- Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United football club
- Eddie Jordan, founder and owner of Jordan Grand Prix
- Rafael Benítez, manager of Liverpool football club for their Champions League win in 2005
Many guests which the Phil has invited over the years have courted controversy. Contributors to its debates included Oswald Mosley during his residence in Ireland. In 1988, the Society invited then–Holocaust denier David Irving to speak. A large protest by students, staff, Jewish groups, socialists, and anti-Nazi activists resulted in the meeting being relocated to a hotel conference room and held in the small hours of the morning. The traditional vote of thanks to Mr Irving for his paper was defeated, which is rare in the society's history.
The address of Austrian politician Jörg Haider to the society in late 2002 led to a protest by self-described anti-fascist activists, which continued through the debate, with noise being made outside the chamber and interjections in the society's proceedings within. An invitation to British National Party (BNP) official Tony Wentworth was revoked after threats of physical action by leftist groups.
Another guest to generate controversy was Islamist Anjem Choudary, who hailed the 9/11 terrorists as martyrs. Former Taoiseach John Bruton threatened to withdraw from a Phil debate later that year over this invitation, which was not withdrawn. Mr Bruton is now an Honorary Patron of the Society, and Anjem Choudary has been invited to speak at the Phil's lectern several times.
In 2011, the Phil encountered controversy when it invited BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak at a Thursday night debate on immigration. After raging protests, talks with college officials and issues regarding the safety of members and council the invitation was reluctantly withdrawn by the President of the 327th session, Eoin O'Liathain. In a press statement the Phil said this “The Phil feels it is unfortunate that circumstances have arisen under which the planned debate can no longer go ahead without compromising the safety of staff and students … We deeply regret the society’s incapacity to act as an open forum for discourse in this matter.”
Notable former presidents and members
- John Pentland Mahaffy, classicist and polymath scholar
- John Butler Yeats, artist and father of William Butler Yeats
- Oscar Wilde, author, playwright and poet
- Bram Stoker, novelist and short story writer
- Samuel Beckett, dramatist and poet, Nobel Laureate
- Ernest Walton, physicist, Nobel Laureate
- Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland
- David Norris, Irish Senator
- Udo Udoma, former Justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court, former Chief Justice of Uganda
- Alex Massie, prominent Scottish journalist
- Ken Early, journalist and broadcaster
- Sarah Carey, journalist and broadcaster
- Marc Coleman, journalist and broadcaster
- Trinity Debating Intervarsity
- US Amb Bill Harropp on his visit to the Phil
- Clifford May's syndicated article on his appearance at the Phil