Students from 50 Countries Participate in Philosophy Olympiad


The International Philosophy Olympiad took place last month, with 108 high school students from 50 different countries taking part.

Owing to the pandemic, the event was held online, hosted by the Slovenian team. The Olympiad involves a writing competition, several keynote lectures, philosophy cafes, and student workshops organized around the theme of “Utopia and Utopian Thinking.” Keynote speakers included David Estlund (Brown University), David Heyd (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Ruth Hagengruber (Paderborn), Philip Kitcher (Columbia), Peter Singer (Princeton), and others. You can check out the program here, and view videos of several of the lectures here, including an address by the President of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, welcoming the participants and expressing his support for the importance of philosophical thinking.

Visit the International Philosophy Olympiad site to learn more about the topics the students engaged with and to see the list of award winners.

(via Matthew Hammerton)

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Ásta
3 months ago

Interestingly, the essay must be written in a language that is not an official language of the state the student belongs to and one of the following: English, German, French, Spanish.Report

Tony
Tony
Reply to  Ásta
3 months ago

“The international philosophy Olympiad for students who are fluent in an unusual second language” is a quite specific field to play in… I’m not sure what’s supposed to be measured once this rule is applied.Report

Matthew Hammerton
Reply to  Tony
3 months ago

It would be impossible to get enough competent, unbiased, volunteer judges who could assess essays written in each student’s native/preferred language (e.g., you would need judges for essays written in English, Japanese, Hindi, Spanish, Bulgarian, Mandarin, Arabic etc.). So the only viable options are (1) the current rule, (2) require everyone to write in English. The problem with (2) is that it would strongly advantage students from the Anglosphere and they would potentially then dominate the competition. So the Olympiad organizers have settled on (1) as the best of several unideal options. Nonetheless, the current rule is controversial and there is often debate at the meeting of the International Jury (i.e., delegation leaders from all IPO countries) about whether the rule should be changed.Report

Ásta
Reply to  Matthew Hammerton
3 months ago

One could imagine a rule that allowed students to write the essay in their native tongue and there would be translators that translated it into one of the official languages. I believe that is the system with many of the science olympiads, although translation of such material is certainly much easier than of a philosophy essay.Report

Matthew Hammerton
Reply to  Ásta
3 months ago

That’s an interesting suggestion! I expect that some students would feel that a translation of their essay does not do it justice, particularly if they are employing a style of philosophy that relies on subtle differences in meanings or uses aphorism and wordplay. Furthermore, if non-English essays are translated into English and English essays are read untranslated, then Anglosphere students may again get an advantage, although probably much less than if everyone had to write in English. Anyway, I think that the IPO should consider your proposal.Report

Ásta
Reply to  Matthew Hammerton
3 months ago

Yes, that is an issue. But that is an issue for any philosopher writing in a non-dominant tongue: is there a translator available? And does the subject matter, the concerns, even the concepts used, resonate with people in other circumstances, with a different way of life, a different language?
Right now the competition is really about dexterity in a foreign dominant language (dominance is Eurocentrically defined in this case). Elites the world over do well there, as do people who live in the proximity of many language communities where at least one of the language is a (Eurocentrically) dominant one (or by necessity need to study those languages).Report

Matthew Hammerton
Reply to  Ásta
3 months ago

Yes, this is mostly right. Just to clarify, almost all the students write their essays in English because in countries where English is not the official language a significant number of high school students will learn it to a decent level as that’s the way to get ahead in our world. So, the effect of the rule is to basically make it an English language competition for almost all the competitors except that for those from the Anglosphere who have to write in one of the three other languages. This probably benefits non-Anglosphere Western European countries as they have high levels of English proficiency. But countries like India and Singapore where English is the primary language used in the education system also get an advantage. On the other hand, countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America with low English proficiency have a disadvantage. In some of these countries, it is typical for the students they select for the IPO to come from international schools that use English instruction, so this ties in with your point about elites. However, overall, the biggest losers of the language rule are the monolingual Anglosphere countries who often don’t even participate in the IPO because they struggle to find students who can write in French, German or Spanish.Report