An interview with Gary Dowling, a founding member of the Port Macquarie Philosophy Forum.
For those who don’t know, what is the Port Macquarie Philosophy Forum?
The Port Macquarie Philosophy Forum was started in 2018 by a small group of philosophy enthusiasts from the local community. Our intention is to provide a venue for those who are interested to hear lectures and hold discussions about philosophy. Last year we organised one lecture per month between February and November. We have ten speakers organised for this year too. It is a not-for-profit community venture run by a volunteer organising committee consisting of Carol Baker, Gary Dowling, Joan McKain and Dave Smith.
What sort of people are interested in philosophy?
Philosophy is for everyone who is curious about life. It is stimulating and fun! Just look at these questions: what is the meaning and purpose in life? How can I live a flourishing life? How can we have a flourishing society? What is the best political system? Is it OK just to be self-interested, or must we think about what is good for other people too? Do we have free will? Does God exist? What is truth? How do we know? What is knowledge? How do I know when I am being informed and when I am being manipulated? What is good and evil? What is beauty? What is consciousness? What is the ultimate nature of reality?
These are questions that anybody can find stimulating.
The wonderful thing about philosophy is that it is not dogmatic. There are so many different ways of thinking about these questions. We learn to think broadly, deeply and clearly, and to have good reasons for the conclusions that we come to.
We would like to get more young people and students to come along to see if philosophy might have value for them.
Who are the speakers at the forum?
We invite speakers from universities and other relevant institutions. We have been privileged to have professors and lecturers from the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, University of Newcastle, Monash University, and the New Democracy Foundation come to Port Macquarie to speak to us. We have local speakers as well – there is a great wealth of knowledge in the local community.
Has the forum generated much interest in the community?
The support of the local community has been excellent. Between 50 and 90 people have attended each event. Feedback from the attendees has been enthusiastic for most topics, especially when they relate to every-day problems and issues. Here is what one person emailed us, “Enjoying the stimulation of the discussion. So much to think about and to learn from others. LOVE IT!”
After each lecture there is an opportunity for discussion over a café meal, and we book a long table for forum attendees. People enjoy this social part of the evening too.
What topics have been spoken about at the forum so far?
We have had a great variety of topics presented so far. These include: The Wisdom of Crowds and Mindless Mobs, Distinguishing Islam from Jihadism, Personal Identity and Rationality, How to Strengthen our Weakened Democracies, Values and Ethics, A Parade of Philosophical Paradoxes, Rights, Human Rights and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, The Ambiguity of Freedom, The Historical Rise of Atheism, Ethics, Exports and Climate Change, Tolerance and its Relationship to Social Development and Truth, Post-Truth and Politics.
What topics are coming up soon?
On Thursday 23rd May the topic is Free Will, Moral Responsibility and Guilt. Our speaker is Dr Hannah Tierney, who is a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sydney.
On Sunday 9th June, the topic is Killer Robots, Collateral Damage and the Philosophy of War. Our speaker is Jessica Whyte, a Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages (Philosophy) and the School of Law, University of New South Wales.
When and where is the forum held?
Most events are held on Thursday or Sunday evenings, so that people who are working and students are able to attend. The forum is open to everyone. A small entry fee is charged to cover room-hire costs and to help with travel and accommodation costs for our speakers, when necessary.
These events are all at Port City Bowling Club, 4 Owen Street, Port Macquarie, usually from 6 – 7:30pm. The entry fee is $10 for general admission, and $5 for pensioners.
How can people get more information about the forum?
We send out monthly emails about each talk. To get on the email list, people can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about future events can also be found on our website: