Vladan Klement, one of ours authors, is originally from Czech Republic and writes here his dissertation of Urbanism, but recently he spent some time in Lyon, at Philosophical faculty of Jean Moulin University Lyon III. He told us some interesting things about philosophy in France.
What is the main topic of your research? Why did you choose that area?
It’s better to speak more about the core of my research than about the main topic. The main core of my research is Jesse Prinz’s moral theory containing moral relativism.
It doesn’t matter if I’m at some point focused on theory of law, theory of politics or as recently on the philosophy of Urbanism — all of those topics I’m investigating through the perspective of the main core.
I do believe philosophers have their own motivation on why they have chosen their topics- it’s never a neutral interest, a philosopher is deeply concerned about his topic of philosophy.
In my early years of university, I was deeply concerned about the topic of evil (morally wrong acts) in my personal and academic life. When I discovered Prinz’s theory, things started to make sense to me. Discovering the moral mechanisms made me being more able to understand to different people.
Later, I moved from ethics into political philosophy, because I felt the need to step from the theoretical into practical zone and spread the tolerant idea of moral relativism.
In my recent research concerning philosophy of Urbanism I moved to the smallest (in the social way) unit – to the city. From the abstract clouds of ethics, through investigating the huge moral debates, my interest started to be focused on this small unit, in which are the political philosophy and moral relativism meeting.
Where did you study before? Where are you studying now?
All of my degrees I did in Brno, Czech Republic. It’s the whole time the home university for me. But meanwhile studying in Brno, I spent 6 months in Lyon, France during my bachelor diploma, another 6 months in Wroclaw, Poland during my master diploma, and recently I came back again from Lyon, France, where I spent a doctoral internship.
What was your main aim when you chose the University for study? What criteria were deciding for you?
I’ve chosen the university in Lyon, because as I mentioned before, I spent there six months four years ago, and my stay there opened my philosophical eyes for new approaches and mostly, it showed me the thinking about the city as a philosophical problem.
In my PhD studies I have chosen the philosophy of Urbanism as my main topic, so my choice was quite simple, because there are not so many departments of philosophy, handling with this topic, I’m almost sure, there can be at most three of them.
From my previous stay there I knew an awesome teacher, who showed me the political part of planning a city. I contacted her and she sent me contacts for the ideal professors I can deal with.
The main reason why I have chosen this university was Jean-Philippe Pierron, who agreed to be my supervisor and was very excited about my work.
What was the process of application? Did you use programs as Erasmus?
I used the Erasmus programme, because it was the easiest way how to apply. The process was quite easy, because it wasn’t my first stay abroad, so I was experiencing. And the biggest advantage was that I wasn’t coming as a regular student who has to attend classes and has to get marks, I just came there to do my research and work on my thesis.
What about the language?
Officially you are not able to study in English, the official language is French. My level of French is not the best one, but I can actively solve the main problems and the most important thing is that I can read texts in French. With my supervisor I speak French in the written form and English with a few French words.
What is the specificity of that university? Is it different from your home university?
The biggest difference is the social status of philosophy. In France, it is one of the most respected fields of study, so you can see it even at the university. That’s why the whole ambiance is very different.
This goes along with the difficulty level. For example, at university in Lyon you have for every course lecture and a “workshop”. It means, that if you have a course of Plato, you have to attend lectures and at the same time workshop, where you are reading the books and doing interpretations and argumentation analysis.
The department of philosophy is quite friendly and familiar, so you know everyone and it’s not that uncommon to call professors by their first name.
What surprised me, there weren’t so many oral exams — most of the exams are so-called “dossier” - essays on any topic. This tradition is the same from the high school, where they have a course of philosophy in their last year.
At the end of the last year of high school they have to write quite a long essay about some abstract topic like “freedom” or “free will” while using source literature and proposing their opinion backed with arguments. That’s why the philosophy is so respected among the people, because who studied high school, had to go through this hard challenge. Many people told me, that philosophy was the most difficult subject in their high school.
For example, at the first year of philosophy studies, there is a course about Plato and at its end you have to write an essay about some specific problem for at least 15 pages. Of course, the quality matters.
The grading system is from 0 up to 20, while 20 is the maximum. For passing the exam, you have to score 10 or more. It seems quite easy to score 50% of all score, but from what I’ve experienced, people are feeling like gods if they receive 15.
Another difference is that philosophy in Lyon is trying to be more practical. It is not a rule, but the professors are glad, if you are working on something which is connected with practical world — the most used connection is environmental philosophy. You can see this link even when it comes to PhD studies. The applicants with some commercial deal are preferred. In the philosophy of Urbanism, for example, one student was working for an architectural studio. Because she had this private enterprise as a guarantee, it was easier to apply for the studies and for the scholarship, which is (since I understood) paid by both — university and the enterprise.
The link to practical world can be seen on the topics of PhD thesis. For example, I have to still think about one thesis, which was called something like “The political implications of joint-gardening at urban courtyards”.
Did you have a tutor? Tell us about him or her, please.
I’ve got a supervisor, I’ve mentioned him before — Jean-Philippe Pierron.
Despite the fact he was the main head of the doctoral programme, he was very humble and friendly. He was all the time trying to be sure, that I’m doing well when it comes to the studies and my personal life as well.
At the first meeting he assured me that my topic is deeply philosophical and I don’t have to be worried about the academic acknowledgment. He presented me another approaches to the city, I’ve never thought about the phenomenological approach when it comes to the city.
He was almost 24/7 on the email and helped me with everything I needed. To sum it up, I wait for him to have more time to come to Lyon again under his supervision.
Which philosophical areas and topics are popular among students and teachers?
I think that the coverage of philosophical areas is quite standard. The biggest difference is a higher popularity of political issues and involvement of the students in actual practical debates, for example in the ecological debate.
How long was your study there? Are you going to come back in Lyon in the future?
For the first time it was six months, the latter one was for three months.
I definitely want to go back for another internship and these days I’m thinking about Cotutelle programme, which means PhD studies in two universities at the same time for two degrees.
How did the stay help you in your dissertation project?
It really helped me, mostly psychically, because I saw on my own eyes, that my kind of a controversial topic is a standard philosophical one.
My supervisor and another authors gave me a nice tips for the literature, which was unknown for me, and thanks to this I wrote 50 pages of my thesis during those three months.
Jean Moulin University Lyon III (Université Jean Moulin Lyon III) is a French public university, based in Lyon. It is under the supervision of the Academy of Lyon. A total of 22,500 students study there for a two-to-eight-year degree. The Faculty of Philosophy of Lyon-III offers a specialization in aesthetics (DEA study system - reference architecture and urban), a postgraduate museology and new media and in ethics (philosophy of life).*
*information from Wikipedia