Miller School of Albemarle

Miller School’s Award-Winning Philospopher

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Why do the right thing?  This is one of the “Big Questions,” one of the perennial concerns of philosophy.  It requires careful thought and a sensitive conscience.  Eleventh grader Yiwen Wang displayed both in her essay “Morality Beyond Consequences,” which was a runner-up in a statewide contest sponsored by the University of Virginia’s philosophy department.

In her award-winning essay, Yiwen tackles a very tricky scenario:  Imagine that your friend found an invisibility ring that allows her to do whatever she wants without getting caught.  Now that she can literally get away with murder, she no longer has the desire to do the right thing.  What reasons would you give her to be good?

Yiwen draws on the difficult thought of philosopher Immanuel Kant to help answer this question.  One of the great strengths of her essay is that she makes Kant’s complex thought crystal clear.  She writes:

Kant argues that we should “act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” In other words, people should treat others sincerely and respect others’ dignity rather than using others as a means for their own benefit. People who use invisibility rings to do evil things treat other people as means to their own wealth and happiness, instead of as ends who deserve respect. Reaching one’s own goals at the expense of others’ pain totally violates Kant’s belief in humanity as an end.

This is not Yiwen’s first academic achievement.  She has earned highest honors every quarter this year.

The essay contest was part of the “High-phi” initiative spearheaded by UVa philosophy professor Mitchell Green.  The goal is to introduce high school students to philosophy and philosophical thinking.

The Miller School is taking an active part in the “High-Phi” initiative.  Steve Knepper’s AP English class participated in the essay contest, while twelfth grade English teacher Chris Ross has collaborated with a UVa philosophy student to develop a philosophical approach to Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights.

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Written by Miller School of Albemarle

April 6, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Posted in Posts

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