When I first arrived in Oxford and headed to the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) Moral Philosophy seminar, I wondered what it would be like to meet so many new people from different backgrounds and to discuss crucial issues such as leadership and human rights. Over the course of five days, I was utterly amazed by the passion and sense of commitment to the world that each of them reflected in their arguments. My ultimate takeaway from the Seminar, was that it is possible to have intense discussions which encourage intellectual disagreement without losing respect for the person on the other end of the conversation. In fact, I left the Seminar extremely sad I would no longer spend uninterrupted hours discussing difficult problems with my favourite people in Oxford.
When the Moral Philosophy Seminar follow-up came around on 1st November, I was particularly excited. The polite handshakes from when the scholars first met had now turned into bear-hugs and enthusiastic high-fives. We assembled in a glorious room at Nuffield College, joined by our moderators for the day, Paul Sagar and Sarah von Billerbeck. The discussion was based on global justice, with articles by Onora O’Neill, Thomas Nagel, Rahul Rao, and Bernard Williams up for debate.
The moderators opened the floor by asking a compelling question; “what purpose do national boundaries serve, and if we could, should we erase them?”. The discussion immediately moved towards the human tendency to form groups, the inevitability of demarcated territories even within a world without national borders, the right of distinct populations to decide their own affairs instead of subscribing to universal norms, as well as the problems of trade due to borders. Kapil Yadav (2019, India, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) offered an interesting normative perspective that drew nods across the room, “perhaps nations should be seen as cells in a body, that do have boundaries, but those boundaries are fluid to the extent that they depend heavily on the flow of material through them, thus maintaining order within those walls, co-existing with other cells and driving the existence of the whole simultaneously”, he said.
As the debate became more complex, we turned to the perplexing realm of global justice i.e. ” is there a distinction between our moral responsibility towards persons from our own nation versus those beyond our borders?”. This question gave impetus to an impassioned response from many scholars who emphasised the responsibility of the Global North towards the Global South, especially in light of colonization. The floor soon became divided on whether erstwhile colonies should forget the wrongs of colonization and move forward, instead of attempting to hold the colonial powers responsible and demanding reparations. Francisco Obando (2019, Ecuador, MSc International Health and Tropical Medicine, Oxford-Hoffmann) stressed that any help has to be motivated by love rather than by guilt, which was appreciated by everyone, but also drew the criticism that such anthropomorphic sentiments cannot be attributed to States. Simonetta Spavieri (2019, Venezuela, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) drew attention to the critical flaw of viewing the world in terms of Global North v. Global South, as when it comes to responsibilities across borders, it is counter-productive in many instances where a member of the Global South has been in a position of aiding another member, and has failed to do so. She cited the example of her own country—Venezuela, and how refugees from there are being refused entry to many countries in Latin America.
At the end of the Seminar, we heard from WHT alumna – Quratulain Fatima (2016, Pakistan, Master of Public Policy) who shared her experiences as a WHT scholar, especially how her time at Oxford and participating in the Leadership Programme had been an indelible part of her professional life. Quratulain was part of the first female cohort of commissioned officers in the Pakistan Airforce, where she worked on active service for eight years in the terrorism-stricken Province of Khyberpukhtukhwah. She recounted her time bonding with fellow scholars, the pastoral care she received from WHT staff and her enthusiasm for how much diverse and ambitious talent the Programme has attracted over the years —something that made us all beam with pride.
At the end of Quratulain’s presentation, the floor was still fraught with many hands in the air, waiting to ask follow up questions or continue engaging on the moral questions of borders and global justice. In the interest of time and the delicious Indian food awaiting us, the discussion concluded and the rest of the night was spent in heartfelt discussion over food and wine – a picture-perfect example of the global community that WHT helps to create!
To learn more about the WHT Network or how you can apply for the Scholarship, visit our website at www.whtrust.org where staff, scholars and Alumni are waiting to share their stories. #WHTWishYouWereHere