University Philosophical Society
The crest of the University Philosophical Society
|Type||Student debating union|
|Headquarters||Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland|
The University Philosophical Society (UPS; Irish: Cumann Fealsúnachta Choláiste na Trionóide), commonly known as The Phil, is a student paper-reading and debating society in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Founded in 1683 it is often referred to as the oldest student, collegial and paper-reading society in the world.
The society is based within the Graduates Memorial Building of Trinity College. Throughout its long history it has welcomed many prominent guests and some of its most notable members include Ernest Walton, John Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde.
- 1 Society
- 2 History
- 3 Governance
- 4 The Bram Stoker Club
- 5 Competitive debating
- 6 Phil Speaks
- 7 Awards
- 8 Honorary patrons
- 9 Controversies
- 10 Notable members
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The Phil's members meet every Thursday during term to discuss a paper, debate a motion or hear an address. Traditionally a paper-reading society, meetings sometimes continue the format of responses to a paper rather than debate on a motion.
Its rooms are within the Graduates' Memorial Building (GMB) of Trinity College, which it has shared with the College Historical Society (the Hist) since the building's construction in 1902, where it provides facilities for its members such as a games and a conversation room. The Phil shares the use of its Bram Stoker Room with the College Theological Society (the Theo). It holds most of its meetings in the GMB's Debating Chamber with meetings having an expected audience of above two hundred being held in the larger lecture theatres of the college.
The society also hosts numerous social events, internal competitions, sporting events, blood drives and the occasional concert. It endeavours each year in providing debating workshops, developmental competitions for members and school children. Furthermore, it has a strong history in intervarsity debating competitions, at both an international and national level.
The society publishes The Philander as an annual Freshers' guide to the society.
Membership of the society is open to all Undergraduate and Postgraduate students, as well as all staff members of Trinity College. It offers four year membership to students of the university. This means that should a person join in their Junior Freshman year they would still be a member for their entire time of study at the college.
The history of the University Philosophical Society spans over three centuries, several guises, identifies and name changes.
Foundation in the 17th century
In 1683, natural philosopher and political writer William Molyneux (b. 1656) founded the Dublin Philosophical Society, with the assistance 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 mathematical endeavour of that era. The first meeting on 15 October 1683 was in the Provost's lodgings at Trinity College Dublin, a location where members continued to meet.
Sometime after December 1683, Provost Robert Huntington became the society's first Senior Patron, promising protection and assistance, a role the Provost of Trinity College still holds. While at the time no particular precedent existed for Trinity College to recognise it, it can be considered[by whom?] the college's first such society.
On 1 November 1684 William Petty was elected as the first President of the society, and William Molyneux elected as its first Secretary. The current numbering takes this as the first session of the University Philosophical Society.
Reformation in the 19th century
In November 1842, to mark the original session date the Dublin Philosophical Society was fully reformed under its original name, traditionally meeting on Mondays, to cater for those Trinity College students too young to join other societies in Dublin.
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, student, paper-reading, and collegial society in the world, as well as currently being the largest such society in Ireland.
The society suffered greatly, with the rest of Trinity College during the First World War. Ireland was still part of the British Empire during the outbreak of the war and so many Irish enlisted. However, there was a diverse mixture between members who predominantly described as being part of the Protestant Ascendancy and those who believed more in Irish republicanism.
The meetings and overall strength of the society was massively diminished during the period, with there being no Inaugural Meeting from 1913 until 1919 after the end of the war.
From 1913 (229th Session) to 1916 (231st Session) ten officers of the society resigned their positions to enlist. Minutes from the time mention that many more members of the society would go on to enlist, however their names went unrecorded.
In 1919 the names of eight past officers and members of council of the society who had been killed during the war was read aloud at the Opening Meeting.
- James Austin, President 1913-1914 (229th Session).
- AEL West, President 1915-1916 (231st Session).
- Reverend Everard Digges La Touche, Seceratary 1907-1908 (223rd Session).
- JHF Leland, Treasurer 1909-1910 (225th Session).
- Walter Osborne Varian, Treasurer 1915-1916 (231st Session).
- JS West, Registrar 1914-1915 (230th Session).
- Francis George McGibney, Member of Council 1912-1913 (228th Session).
- William Kee, Member of Council 1914-1915 (230th Session).
Of them and those other members who gave up their lives, we can only say that while the University Philosophical Society stands they shall not be forgotten, since such men, by their deaths, have conferred on their Society, and on all connected with them, an honour that does not fade.— Society Records, extract from the first Opening meeting of the Society in 1919.
The Irish War of Independence began shortly after the beginning of 1919, public and political will to remember those lost during the war was weak. This meant that the names of many more members of the society who were also killed during the First World War went unrecorded by the society.
Dublin University Elizabethan Society ("The Eliz")
The first female students were admitted to the college in 1904, however they were unable to join any of the student societies that existed at the time. In response to this the Dublin University Elizabethan Society (more commonly known as The Eliz) was founded in 1905 by the first woman student of the university Isabel Marion Weir Johnston. The society was a female-only debating society, having sent teams to the Irish Times National Debating Championship from relatively early in the competitions history. It also hosted many debates, paper discussions, group discussions and the Eliz Garden Party (within Fellow's Square) which was considered one of the social highlights of Trinity term in the college. Each year the society welcomed esteemed guests to speak on topics regarding the history, the societal limitations of women and feminism. These included such guests as Ninette de Valois, dancer and founder of The Royal Ballet, who visited in late 1964 to celebrate the society's 60th year.
As mentioned in the following section, over the years there had been great debate within both the University Philosophical Society and the Dublin University Elizabethan Society regarding a merger of both societies into one. There was strong individual opposition within both societies however, with a vote in 1968 by the Eliz rejecting a merger. However, in 1981 the Dublin University Elizabethan Society merged with the University Philosophical Society, which vastly increased female membership and increased debating within the society.
Today as a symbolic gesture, the highest ranking female officer of the Phil is accorded the honorary title of President of the Elizabethan Society.
Current President of the Elizabethan Society
|Hon. Secretary||Amelia Melanson|
Inclusion of Women
It was the 1953/54 session of the Phil that first welcomed in long overdue gender equality advances: Women were at last allowed to attend public business meetings and then also to speak at them (provided though Standing Orders were suspended!). What is more, at the end of that session, membership was actually even opened up to them. Sadly though, this final breakthrough proved short-lived as the College Board after a gap of only one term – and although it had no direct constitutional jurisdiction here – in early 1955 voted down female membership for that year pending possible reorganisation of the Major Societies. It was an understandable decision perhaps from the Board's point of view except that even more sadly such restructuring was never led by them as announced or indeed subsequently. While reorganisations and possible mergers between the Phil and the Hist and the Phil and the Eliz and the Phil and the SRC (Student Representative Council) + the Eliz surfaced variously at periodic intervals actual plans ‘with legs’ never seemed to result. Divisions and maybe feelings of self-interest within and between the different factions, the continuing unwillingness/inability of the College for some reason to meaningfully grapple with this process and, what is more, effectively address the issue of student union type facilities that were commonplace in other institutions of higher education all seemingly presented insurmountable hurdles.
Indeed, it wasn't until session 1963/64 that a further vote taken by the Phil on the admission of women, although it was lost by only 3 votes. Some advances were though made: From that session onwards, it was agreed that women could at last reply to papers read to the Society and, in 1965, Joanna Walmsley became the first woman to read her paper to the society. (It wasentitled "Tolstoy - Realist or Moralist?"). One of concerns held over the years had been that the Society's facilities were generally inadequate for a larger mixed membership. In session 1967/1968. opposition even led then President of the Phil (Gordon Ledbetter) to resign in exasperation. It was a matter though that wasn't going to go away. At the first Council meeting and a subsequent private business in the following session (1967–68), this aspect again prominently featured as a concern. There were also many in the Phil who felt the way forward would be achieved through revisiting the idea of a merger with the Eliz to form a super sized Major Society. However, even setting to one side the thorny issue of finding satisfactory accommodation for such a body, it also turned out to be the case this time - as it had previously that the Eliz just weren't sufficiently interested such a proposal. (That was of course to change some years later).
With such topics under the spotlight, a feeling though also started to emerge from the active membership that discussion was going around in circles once again. The halfway house with regards to female participation was just unsatisfactory. For quite sincerely held reasons of equal rights and inclusivity and indeed on a practical level to revitalise our business and expand membership the Society had to try and go it alone regardless. So a motion calling for women to quite simply be admitted as full members was proposed, debated at Private Business on 30th. November 1967...and was elatedly passed!  The then President of the Phil (Geoff Goolnik) pointed out to those gathered that restrictions on female membership had in fact been a matter of convention as gender was never once mentioned in the then current Laws – unlike with those of the two other Major Societies, viz.the Eliz and the Hist (College Historical Society).
At the following private business meeting held on 5th. December three women were proposed and voted in as members – including the then President of the Eliz (Elizabeth Hall) who was appropriately nominated by Goolnik and seconded by ‘Gully’ Stanford, the then Auditor of the Hist, in his capacity as an ordinary member of the Phil! Finally, the first female member to address the Society after it had become gender free, Gráinne Monks, was also elected on 1st. February 1968 as the first female member of Council.
In Trinity News’ edition of 25th. November 1953, an anonymous female contributor had declared that "The bar to the admission of women to [the other] major societies ...is a real deprivation to everyone – to College women, to the members of the societies, themselves and, most important, to the University". Fifteen years and five days later the Phil at least eventually, permanently and proudly righted that wrong.
Today the University Philosophical Society is the largest student society within the college and Ireland. Its meetings include weekly paper readings and debates. Additionally it invites many internationally esteemed guests each year, regularly interviews with public figures, which have included Al Pacino, Desmond Tutu, Angela Merkel and Stephen Fry.
Among the notable events held was the demonstration of an early telephone by Stephen Yeates in 1865.
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 fourteen Members of Council. 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. Six are directly elected each year. One of these six is then selected by the Council to serve as Vice President of the society. The Senior Member of Council is also elected in the same manner as the officers of the society and is delegated 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.
Officers, 335th Session
|Debates Convenor||Lucie McKnight|
|Schools Convenor||Kate Maher|
|Vice President||Oz Russell|
Members of Council, 334th Session
|Senior Member of Council||James Spillane|
|Pro-Secretary||Ellen Higgins, Kevin Loftus|
|Pro-Debates Convenor||Aislinn Carty, Liam Brady, Matthew Morgan|
|Pro Librarian||Frank Witte, Katherine Potter|
|Pro-Steward||Eoghan Quinn, Jules O'Toole|
|Pro-Schools Convenor||Hope Halpin, Supyae Yadanar|
The Bram Stoker Club
In addition to its usual events, the society added a sub-group, the Bram Stoker Club (more commonly known as Bram), to its organization in 2011. Named after one of the Phil's most illustrious presidents (Bram Stoker), the club holds weekly afternoon paper-readings on a range of topics. These paper-readings have served to carry on the long tradition of the society, which had fallen slightly out of fashion in recent years.
In January 2013, the Club was incorporated into the official laws of the University Philosophical Society by majority vote. This was then officially recognised by the Dublin University Central Societies Committee in March of the same year.
During the 4th Session, the club welcomed three living descendants of its namesake Bram Stoker. Noel Dobbs, Robin MacCaw and Dacre Stoker met with members of the club and society at large. Each presented papers on the history of Bram Stoker and legacy of Dracula within their family. Also in attendance was distant relative and Senator David Norris. Finally the Stoker family presented the club with portrait of Bram Stoker by Dublin artist Damian Byrne, and a plaque specifying the connection between the society and their ancestor.
The society endeavors each year to enable its membership to engage in competitive debating both externally and internally to the college. This includes holding workshops, regular weekly competitive debates, as well as traveling to other colleges throughout Ireland and abroad to compete in similar competitions.
External Debating Competitions
The society has a strong presence and list of accomplishment on the competitive debating circuit. Having first won the Irish Times National Debating Championship in 1961 the society has gone on to win and place in several other well known debating competitions. These include the John Smith Memorial Mace, World Universities Debating Championship, Irish National Law Debates, Cork IV and the UCD Vice Presidents' Cup IV.
Internal Debating Competitions
The society runs several internal debating competitions each year. These consist of:
- The Eamon O'Coine Memorial Maiden Speaker's Competition (or "Maidens"); for first-time speakers in college.
- The Jeremy Clarkson Memorial Debating Competition (or "Clarkies"), consisting of a series of regular weekly debates.; satirically named after TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Formerly known as The Maggies, after former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher
- The Elizabethan Society Memorial Pro-Am Competition (or "Lizzies"); a competition whereby experienced debaters (Pros) are teamed with less experienced speakers (Ams).
- The Isabel Marion Weir Johnston Memorial (or "Izzy's"); is an internal competition for all members of the society. It is named in honour of the first woman to enter Trinity where she went on to found the Elizabethan Society which later merged with the Philosophical Society.
- The J.P Mahaffy Memorial (or "Mahaffy's"); named after former President of the society John Pentland Mahaffy internal debating competition for Junior Freshman ("fresher") teams of two.
Each year, normally in January, the society jointly with the Hist hosts the Claire Stewart Trinity IV. Before 2015 this consisted of the Trinity Invitational and the Dean Swift Intervarsity. In 2015, the Trinity Invitational was replaced with Trinity Women's Debating Competition.
The Phil Speaks Debating and Public Speaking Initiative, more commonly known as Phil Speaks is a campaign aimed at promoting, as well as developing skills in public speaking and oratory. Formed by the society in 2004 the initiative combines in-school oratory workshops, with Pro–Am (Professional-Amateur) learning competitions to encourage these skills in students of all secondary schools throughout Ireland.
At the end of the contest, the society hosts the Phil Speaks Competitive Weekend modelled on the format of a University Intervarsity Competition held within the Graduates Memorial Building, with the grand final taking place in the Debating Chamber.
The society also awards the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage and the Bram Stoker Medal to various esteemed guests each year.
Central Societies Committee of Trinity College Dublin
The society has a strong record of being the recipient of several awards by the internal Central Societies Committee of Trinity College.
In recent years these include:
|2019||Best Event, for 'This House Believes that Society is Failing People with Disabilities'.|
|2018||' 'Best Poster' ', 'Club Philth'|
|2015||Best Large Society.|
|2013||Individual of the Year, awarded to President Lorcan Clarke (328th Session).|
|2013||Best Online Web Presence.|
|2012||Best Large Society.|
|2011||Individual of the Year, awarded to President Declan Meehan (326th Session).|
|2010||Best Event, for the Oscar Wilde Festival (jointly awarded to DU Players).|
Board of Irish College Societies
The Board of Irish College Societies (BICS) is a national organisation, constituted in 1995, dedicated to providing a national forum for the societies in Ireland's Universities, Colleges and Institutes of Education. The Board is responsible for the promotion of interest in the activities of Irish college societies and of contact and co-operation between them.
The University Philosophical Society has formidable history of achievement:
|2013||Best individual (Large Society), awarded to 328th Session President Lorcan Clarke.|
|2009||Best Event (Large Society), awarded for The Trials of Oscar Wilde.|
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 W. B. 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.
- 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 Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University.
- Edmund Phelps, Economist, Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University, Nobel Laureate.
- Richard Dawkins, Ethologist, Evolutionary Biologist, Author. (Inaugural Meeting Speaker, 328th Session).
- Arthur T. Benjamin, American mathematician, Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College.
- Brian Greene, American theoretical physicist, Professor at Columbia University.
- Daniel Gilbert, social psychologist and Professor at Harvard University.
- Joseph Stiglitz, American economist and a professor at Columbia University.
- Jane Goodall, primatologist and environmental activist.
- Steven Pinker, psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and science author.
- Paul Krugman, American economist and Professor at Princeton University.
- Robert Engle, American economist and Winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 2003.
- Eric Maskin, American economist and Winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 2007.
- 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.
- Peggy Gou, DJ
- 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 songwriter 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, comedian, actress, singer-songwriter, political activist, Academy Award winner.
- Conan O'Brien, Television host, comedian, writer, producer and performer.
- Seann William Scott, American actor and comedian.
- Bobby McFerrin, American musician and vocalist.
- John Hurt, British actor.
- Dominic West, British actor.
- Jenna Marbles, American entertainer and YouTube personality.
- Nile Rodgers, American musician, producer, composer and guitarist.
- Mitsuko Uchida, classical pianist.
- Kele Okereke, musician and lead singer of Bloc Party.
- Julian Fellowes, actor, novelist, and screenwriter.
- Channing Tatum, American actor, film producer, dancer, and model.
- Jonah Hill, American actor, producer, writer, and comedian.
- Lenny Abrahamson, Irish film and television director.
- Amy Poehler, American actress, comedian, director, producer and writer.
- Kristin Chenoweth, American actress and singer
- Simon Amstell, English comedian, television presenter, and actor.
- Steve Coogan, English actor, stand-up comedian, writer, and producer.
- Evelyn Glennie, Scottish virtuoso percussionist.
- Baz Luhrmann, Australian film director, screenwriter and producer.
- Pete Wentz, American musician, primary lyricist for Fall Out Boy.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic, American singer, songwriter, parodist.
- Marjane Satrapi, Iranian-born French graphic novelist, cartoonist, illustrator, film director, and children's book author.
- Martin Scorsese, American director.
- Republic of Loose, Irish funk rock band.
Broadcasting 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.
- Ira Glass, American public radio personality.
- A. A. Gill, journalist and critic.
- Mona Eltahawy, freelance Egyptian-American journalist and commentator.
- Jon Snow, English journalist, longest-running presenter of Channel 4 News.
- Tommy Hilfiger, American fashion designer and businessman.
- Tim Draper, American venture capitalist.
- Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia.
- Sean Parker, founding President of Facebook.
- Matt Mullenweg, founder of Wordpress.
- Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.
- 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.
- Mark Shuttleworth, entrepreneur and space tourist.
- Michael Birch, computer programmer, entrepreneur and founder of social networking website Bebo.
- Justin Cooke, former CMO of Topshop and founder of innovate7.
- Harper Reed, computer programmer and CTO of Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
- W. B. Yeats, poet, Nobel Laureate.
- John Banville, author, Booker Prize Winner.
- John Boyne, Irish novelist.
- Bill Bryson, American author.
- Roddy Doyle, Irish novelist, dramatist and screenwriter.
- Daniel Handler, American children's author, better known as Lemony Snicket.
- Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and writer, Nobel Laureate.
- Paul Howard, author and journalist.
- Siobhán Parkinson, Irish writer, Laureate na nÓg (2010-2012).
- Salman Rushdie, novelist and essayist, Booker Prize Winner.
- John Ralston Saul, Canadian author and essayist.
- Neil Strauss, author and journalist.
- Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting
Politics and Government
- 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.
- Hilary Clinton, American Politician and former US Secretary of State
- Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States
- Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank
- Jane Harman, President of the Wilson Center
- 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.
- Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden.
- Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives and 60th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. (Inaugural Meeting speaker, 327th Session).
- Mary McAleese, eighth President of Ireland.
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. (Inaugural Meeting speaker, 329th Session).
- Neil Harbisson, artist and cyborg activist.
- Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
- Emily O'Reilly, former journalist and broadcaster, European Ombudsman of the European Parliament.
- David Petraeus, retired American military officer, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
- Chris Lubbe, inspirational speaker, former bodyguard to Nelson Mandela.
- Alex Ferguson, former 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.
- Pádraig Harrington, Irish professional golfer.
- Dana White, American businessman, entrepreneur, and President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
- Steve Redgrave, British rower and five time consecutive Olympic Games gold medal winner.
- Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space.
- Kathryn Bolkovac, former American police investigator, UN International Police Force monitor.
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 later became 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 physical threats made to the 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 that "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". Despite these challenges the session would go on to be voted Best Society in Trinity College that year.
In 2015, members of the Phil were asked by the President to collect copies of The University Times after the newspaper printed details of confidential correspondence that had been supplied to the newspaper in the understanding that it would not be referred to in an article. While The University Times subsequently agreed to withdraw the edition of the paper in question from circulation, Trinity News reported that members of council had discussed calling a motion to impeach the president as a result of the society's actions in collecting the newspapers. A motion of confidence in the president was later passed at a general meeting of the society. The incident was cited as one of the factors leading to Samuel Riggs, then the editor of The University Times, agreeing to take a permanent leave of absence from his position.
- Robert Stawell Ball, ex-Sch., Royal Astronomer of Ireland and Lowndean Professor of Astronomy and Geometry at the University of Cambridge. President, 1860–61.
- Valentine Ball, geologist. Treasurer, 1863–64.
- J.B. Bury, ex-Sch., historian, classicist, Byzantinist and philologist.
- George Coffey, scholar of Irish history and cultural revivalist. President, 1880–81.
- William Macneile Dixon, British academic and author, Regius Professor of English Language and Literature, Glasgow. President, 1889–90, Librarian, 1888–89.
- Mervyn A. Ellison, ex-Sch., astronomer and authority on solar flares. President, 1931–32, Treasurer, 1930–31.
- William Hugh Ferrar, classical scholar. Treasurer, 1855–56.
- John Pentland Mahaffy, ex-Sch., classicist and polymath scholar. President, 1858–59.
- Vincent Arthur Smith, Indologist, historian and member of the Imperial Civil Service. President, 1868–69.
- W. J. M. Starkie, Greek scholar.
- William Stokes, doctor and professor of surgery.
- John Lighton Synge, mathematician and physicist. Treasurer, 1917–18.
- Ernest Walton, ex-Sch., physicist and Nobel Laureate. Member of Council, 1925-26.
- Trevor West, Sch., mathematician and Senator. Treasurer, 1959–60, Registrar, 1958–59.
- Bertram Windle, British anatomist, archaeologist, scientist and writer. Librarian, 1877–78.
Broadcasting and Journalism
- Daire Brehan, Irish broadcaster, barrister and actress. Secretary, 1976–77.
- Sarah Carey, columnist and broadcaster. Registrar, 1991–92.
- Marc Coleman, economics editor of Newstalk and columnist for the Sunday Independent. Secretary, 1992–93.
- Ken Early, journalist and sports broadcaster. Steward, 1998–99.
- Alex Massie, prominent Scottish journalist. Steward, 1996–97.
- James Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Attorney-General for Ireland, Solicitor-General for Ireland, Member of Parliament and later first Chairman of the Free State Senate.
- Richard Cherry, Attorney-General for Ireland and Liberal MP. Secretary, 1879–80.
- Gerald Fitzgibbon, ex-Sch., Solicitor-General for Ireland, 1877–78 and Lord Justice of Appeal. Secretary, 1857–58.
- Jonathan Pim (1858-1949), Solicitor-General for Ireland, Attorney-General for Ireland and Lord Justice of Ireland in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. President, 1883–84, Secretary, 1882–83, Librarian, 1881–82.
- Udo Udoma, former Justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court, former Chief Justice of Uganda. President, 1942–43, Secretary, 1941–42, Librarian, 1940–41.
- Edmund John Armstrong, poet. President, 1864–65.
- Samuel Beckett, ex-Sch., dramatist and poet, Nobel Laureate.
- Kate Cruise O'Brien, author.
- Edward Dowden, poet and critic. President, 1862–63, Secretary, 1861–62.
- Standish James O'Grady, author, journalist and historian. Secretary, 1866–67.
- Bram Stoker, novelist and short story writer. President, 1868–69, Secretary, 1867–68.
- Oscar Wilde, author, playwright and poet.
- Gabriel Fielding, author and poet. Nom de plume of Dr Alan Barnsley 1935-1939. Winner Silver Medal in Oratory 1939.
- Charles Austin Thomas Robert John Joseph ffrench, 6th Baron ffrench, 1868–1955. Deputy Lieutenant of County Galway.
- Charles Edward MacDermot, The Mac Dermot, Prince of Coolavin, 1904–47. Registrar, 1883–84. His son and successor, Charles John MacDermot (Prince of Coolavin, 1947–79), was also a member.
- Martin Morris, 2nd Baron Killanin, Conservative peer. Secretary, 1888–89.
Politics and Government
- Gerald Brunskill, Unionist MP. Treasurer, 1887–88, Registrar, 1886–87.
- Nessa Childers MEP, Member of European Parliament. Registrar, 1977–78, SMC 1976–77.
- Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Secretary, 1993–94.
- Cecil Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth, Liberal MP, businessman and brother of press barons Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere. Registrar, 1889–90.
- Caesar Litton Falkiner, Unionist MP. President, 1885–86, Treasurer, 1884–85, Librarian, 1883–84.
- David Norris, ex-Sch., Senator and gay rights campaigner.
- George Noble Plunkett, anti-treaty republican, member of the First Dáil and Ireland's first Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1919–21.
- James Wallace Quinton, chief commissioner of Assam from 1889 until his murder by rebels in Manipur in 1891. President, 1855–56, Secretary, 1854–55.
- Mary Robinson, ex-Sch., former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights Commissioner.
- Robert Rowlette, TD, Senator and doctor. Secretary, 1895–96.
- Hugh Dunlop Brown, President of the Irish Baptist Association, theologian and prominent unionist.
- John Baptist Crozier, Anglican bishop. President, 1874–75, Secretary, 1873–4, Treasurer, 1872–73.
- Ralph Creed Meredith, chaplain to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. President, 1910–11, Secretary, 1909–10.
- Charles D'Arcy, ex-Sch., Anglican bishop. Treasurer, 1883–84.
- James Walsh, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, 1908–18.
- W.R.Wilde (1844), "Memoir of the Dublin Philosophical Society of 1683", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 3: 160–176, JSTOR 20489545
- W.R.Wilde (1844), "Memoir of the Dublin Philosophical Society of 1683", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 3: 160–176, JSTOR 20489545
- Keenan & O’Hare (2010). Universities, Societies & Clubs. Culture, Extracurricular Activities & Career Progression: Trinity College Dublin, Four Case Studies. Dublin: Trinity Long Room Hub. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9780956551610.
- W.R.Wilde (1844), "Memoir of the Dublin Philosophical Society of 1683", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 3: 160–176, JSTOR 20489545
- Thom's Directory of Ireland. Dublin: Alexander Thom. 1850. p. 281.
- Bailey, Kenneth Claude (May 1948). "A History of Trinity College, Dublin, 1892-1945". Hermathena. 71: 155.
- "Eliz. Jubilee". Trinity News. 26 November 1964.
- "Men - no instinctive profession- de Valois". Trinity News. 20 February 1964.
- Trinity News. 1 February 1968. Missing or empty
- Trinity News. 3 February 1955. Missing or empty
- "Jo Walmsley at the Phil". Trinity News. 18 February 1965.
- "Phiz Explodes in Bitterness". Trinity News. 13 April 1967.
- Trinity News. 18 January 1968. Missing or empty
- "*A Woman's Point of View". Trinity News. 25 November 1953. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
- Moriarty, Gerry (23 February 2013). "TCD Bram Stoker Club wins 'Irish Times' Debate in Queen's". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "On the Challenges Facing an Iranian Graphic Novelist, Marjane Satrapi Addresses the Phil". www.universitytimes.ie.
- "Republic of Loose reunites at Phil – Trinity News". 18 September 2018.
- University Philosophical Society. "Phil website". Archived from the original on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
- "Phil statement on the withdrawal of the invitation to BNP leader Nick Griffin". www.universitytimes.ie.
- "Samuel Riggs to Take Leave of Absence from Position as Editor". www.universitytimes.ie.
- Borello, Alfred. Gabriel Fielding. Twayne Publishers. p. 92. ISBN 9780805711943.