Student speaking during class discussion

‘Is a hotdog a sandwich?’ (and 6 other reasons why PSU Philosophy Camp was awesome)

By Tanisha Chetty, Yixian Angel Liu, Maansi Singh, Benjamin Who

Editor’s Note: This has been edited for length.

On our first day of Portland State University’s two-week Philosophy Summer Camp, we confronted a classic philosophical conundrum: “What is a sandwich?” Although the answer seems laughably obvious, coming to a consensus was surprisingly difficult. Say you define a sandwich as “an edible filling between two pieces of bread.” Under this definition, are two slices of pizza that are stuck together a sandwich? What about a quesadilla? Is a hotdog a sandwich? Surely not. But why not? This – as we discovered – is a philosophical question.

This camp for rising high school juniors and seniors provided an intensive but fun introduction to philosophy for college credit. It not only challenged our idea of a sandwich, but also covered topics such as the good life, the absurd, the ethics of autonomous weapons, and the contributions of Indigenous thought to philosophy. We learned how to read dense philosophical texts, studied Zen Buddhism in Washington Park and had the chance to explore personal interests through our final projects.

Here are six reasons why you should join the Philosophy Summer Camp next year:

Reason #1: Interrogate aspects of life that often get taken for granted

Philosophy is all about questioning norms around us and the way we live. If we can’t nail down a definition for concepts like justice, freedom, and consciousness, perhaps we should be less confident in our political beliefs and moral judgments.

Reason #2: Learn how to build an argument and poke holes in other people’s arguments

Philosophers love arguments, but when they’re arguing, they’re not necessarily fighting. In philosophy, an argument is a set of statements (the premises) that, when taken together, support a conclusion. In this camp, we learned how to evaluate arguments by deconstructing a paragraph into premises and either attacking the truth of the premises or the logic of the argument structure. In doing so, we refined our critical thinking and analytic skills.

Reason #3: Experience a college-level class

As high school students with plans of going to college, this summer camp was a good preview of a college class. The experience helped humanize college professors and made us realize that college classes aren’t as scary as we might have thought — though one of the TAs told us that he used to drink a gallon of milk a day, which is pretty scary!

Reason #4: Engage in discussion by learning and listening with each other

One of the best parts of the camp was hearing from peers. You never knew when a discussion would break out.  

Reason #5: Present about philosophical quandaries in 5 minutes

On the last day of camp, we presented our final projects in five minutes. Topics included  modern art and how its condemnation is used to uphold totalitarian regimes, retributive justice theory, and anti-natalism. 

Reason #6: Meet wonderful friends!

We got to hang out with some amazing people.

If you’ll still be in high school next year, make plans to attend Philosophy Summer Camp. If you’re already enrolled at PSU, consider taking a philosophy course. Courses for Fall 2022 include:

  • PHL 201: Intro to Philosophy
  • PHL 306U: Science & Pseudoscience
  • PHL 307U: Science & Society
  • PHL 310U: Environmental Ethics
  • PHL 311U: Morality of Punishment
  • PHL 313U: Life & Death Issues
  • PHL 314U: Computer Ethics
  • PHL 317U: Philosophy of Art
  • PHL 318U: Philosophy of Medicine
  • PHL 367U: Philosophy of Sports
  • PHL 369U: Philosophy of Sex & Love

About the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: We’re Portland State’s largest and most diverse college, with 24 departments spanning the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.

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