Time for some table-slapping to rally my courage for upcoming exams. In particular, the two I care about the most, the two I studied for last term, when I actually worked hard. These two are FHS Ethics and FHS Plato’s Republic (in translation).

I like these papers a lot. Ethics finals at Oxford represents the culmination/state-of-play of the Western World’s attempt to figure out how to live, as started by Socrates rather a long time ago—or rather, the most highly regarded branch of this attempt. This is the best university for the undergraduate humanities studies in the world, there is no question about that. Dressing in outdated outfits we’re joining the many, many generations who have sat ethics finals here, heading off into political life and philosophical life and all sorts of other things.

And happily I have a typical Balliol-style sophisticated point of view to write about. Philosophers who call themselves ethicists spend their time worrying about, apparently, things like what one should do if one is 60% a Kantian yet 40% a utilitarian, even here in Oxford. These people are really clever, they’re really good at maths and logic and stuff, no doubt. But here we like to think we’ve transcended all that. We each have a take on meta-ethics, and we write about stuff with rigour, and technical argumentation at points, but while still managing sweeping appeals to concepts like perception and merit without sounding too stupid. Of course most of my stuff wouldn’t convince my non-philosophy friends (nor many of the philosophers).

There have probably been exams in Plato in Oxford for even longer than ethics. I have a lot to say about Plato but I’m rather less good at answering questions in it, but there are some fun questions. Massive amounts of Western thought is based on Plato. He is both deeply optimistic and throughly pessimistic about our prospects as you can be: we can know reality rather fully, yet, stuck in this sensory world, very few of us can get there and most, without reason ruling in their own souls, require the reason of others to be in command.

I try not to believe most of this most of the time. It is very easy to get carried away, and most of the time I go too far. But when you’re about to head into exams you have to think highly of yourself and the slightly petty questions you are going to be asked in order to succeed.