The 2024 Conference for

Pre-College Philosophical Engagement

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Pre-Register Now!

Breakout Sessions

  1. Breakout Session 1

    10:00 am

  2. Breakout Session 2

    11:00 am

  3. Breakout Session 3

    1:00 pm

  • Ancient Political Philosophy: Wisdom for the Ages?

    with Gabriel Baker and Camille Bontempo

    Ancient philosophers had some interesting views about politics. Plato criticized democratic rule and advocated for the installation of a “philosopher king.” Aristotle believed politics was about developing the virtues of citizens. Diogenes, who made his home for some time in a bathtub, told Alexander the Great to “stand out of my light.” 

    In this session, we will discuss the political views of some ancient philosophers and consider how they might help us think about politics today.

    Gabriel Baker and Camille Bontempo

  • The State of Nature: Modern Political Philosophy

    with Dr. Sarah Vitale

    “Life is nasty, brutish, and short.” At least that’s what Hobbes thought about life in the “State of Nature.” Modern philosophers Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau justified political systems by imagining what people were like or would be like outside of society. In this session, we will look at how their various theories of the State of Nature led them to promote different types of government. We will also consider in particular Locke’s views, as they impacted the US Declaration of Independence.

    Dr. Sarah Vitale

  • “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”: The American Experiment

    with Liz Carnahan and Cam Isler

    Upon what philosophical foundations is the US built? In this session, we will dive into the influences that shaped the creation of the US government. We will explore ideas like natural rights, republicanism, and social contract theory. We will identify these ideas and more by analyzing important founding documents like the Declaration of Independence.

    Liz Carnahan and Cam Isler

  • Critiques of the State

    with Hayden Fletcher and Ethan Fuller

    What is the role of the State? In this session we will explore two different criticisms of the state: Marxism and anarchism. Both theories argue that the role of the state is unnecessary. According to Marx, the role of the State is to serve the interests of the upper class. Along similar lines, anarchists view the State as an implement of control over people’s lives. We will also consider what a stateless society might look like.

    Hayden Fletcher and Ethan Fuller

  • Star Wars Civics: Jedi Oligarchy and Empire Dictatorships

    with Gabriel Baker and Gabriel Weber

    We’re going to take a deep dive into the connections between Star Wars and modern society. In both, great wealth is generated; people are exploited through a military-industrial complex; corporations have rights; and villains are characterized by greed. Additionally, in the Star Wars galaxy, we see oligarchies, authoritarianism, and democracy. government structures exist in this galaxy that resemble government structures like oligarchies, authoritarian leadership, and other forms of democracy. We will consider what lessons we might take from the film franchise, as well as how popular media may function as a form of social critique.

    Gabriel Baker and Gabriel Weber

  • Deep-Fakes and Intelligent Bots: AI and our Democracy

    with Logan Gard and Cam Isler

    Like the internet in the early 90s, AI is a new frontier. In this session, we will discuss the political implications of artificial intelligence. What impact might AI have on our elections? Could deepfakes and intelligent chatbots pose a threat to the integrity of our democracy? How might we harness the potential of artificial intelligence and safeguard against its dangers?

    Logan Gard and Cam Isler

  • Defining and Protecting Human Rights

    with Sydni Amick and Lauren Kallenback

    What is a right? Do some rights belong to us by virtue of our humanity? What are they? Who is responsible for ensuring their protection? In this session, we will explore these and many other questions, as we consider the history of the concept as well as current debates on the topic.

    Sydni Amick and Lauren Kallenback

  • “Wait, I didn’t vote for that”: An exploration of democracy and representation

    with Liz Carnahan and Devin Holmes

    The word for democracy comes from the Greek words “demos,” which means people, and “kratia,” meaning power or rule. But what does it mean for the people to rule? Who, for instance, constitutes the people? How are the interests of minorities protected in democracies? In this session, we will explore these questions as well as various forms of democracy, including direct and representative democracies.

    Liz Carnahan and Devin Holmes

  • Communicating Across Difference

    with Prindle Institute for Ethics Interns

    When students disagree with each other about a sensitive topic, they often shut down and stop engaging with each other. But there are substantial costs to this kind of disengagement, and substantial benefits to learning to communicate across different perspectives. In this workshop, we present some research from psychology and philosophy about the benefits of such dialogue, and give your students the chance to practice such productive dialogue.

    Prindle Institute for Ethics Interns

  • Behind Rawls’ “Veil of Ignorance”

    with Dr. David Concepción

    John Rawls famously argues that a just society is one that is constructed on principles that were chosen by people who don’t know anything about their own particular talents, preferences, or social position. Is he right? Attendees in this session will play a game to explore the role self-knowledge and moral desert should play in constitutional politics.

    Dr. David Concepción

  • How to be a Good Citizen

    with Hayden Fletcher and Devin Holmes

    Citizenship in a nation obligates one to follow certain laws or face the consequences of not doing so. Many consider citizenship also to bring with it various responsibilities, but what these responsibilities are is often contested. How, for example, might one be a good citizen of a society that permits things they find ethically unacceptable?  In this session, we will consider this and many other questions, as well as the views of various philosophers on the topic of good citizenship.

    Hayden Fletcher and Devin Holmes

  • Beyond the Civil Rights Act: Race and Politics in the U.S.

    with Ethan Fuller and Lauren Kallenback

    Following centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow, in 1964, Congress passed what is known as the Civil Rights Act, making illegal discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, race continues to impact democracy and politics in the United States. In this session, we will look at issues such as mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, and CRT legislation.

    Ethan Fuller and Lauren Kallenback

  • Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Mean it's Right

    with Logan Gard and Gabriel Weber

    Is something wrong because it’s illegal? Is something illegal because it’s wrong? In this session, we’re going to consider the relationship between laws and morality. We will look in particular at situations when the two may be in tension, including cases when the values of justice and mercy conflict as well as cases of apparently unethical laws. 

    Logan Gard and Gabriel Weber

  • Life at the Border

    with Sydni Amick and Camille Bontempo

    In this session, we will consider how borders function in US politics. Who determines borders? What are they intended to keep out? What are they intended to keep in? Do all borders need to be physical? What are examples of nonphysical borders? We will consider the border between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as other borderlands in our civic lives.

    Sydni Amick and Camille Bontempo

  • Transforming Civic Engagement: Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication

    with Dr. Elizabeth Agnew

    This presentation offers a fresh way of thinking about civics, through the transformative process of Nonviolent Communication (NVC).  What possibilities arise if citizen responsibility incorporates a mode of communication focused on shared human needs, and on restorative rather than retributive justice? This engaged session draws on the globally influential work of psychologist Marshall Rosenberg.


    Dr. Elizabeth Agnew

  • Values in Conflict

    with Prindle Institute for Ethics Interns

    Some of the most difficult ethical situations occur when our values are in conflict. For instance, we value honesty and care, but in a particular case telling the truth will cause harm. In this workshop we work with students to identify important moral values. We then discuss situations where these values are in conflict and practice how to resolve this conflict. At the end of the workshop, students will better appreciate that many moral disagreements stem not from having different values but from weighing those same values differently.

    Prindle Institute for Ethics Interns