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Think wombat

The 300 senior school pupils who attended the recent national philosophy conference learnt about more than the differences between Plato and Aristotle and the primacy of Kant's categorical imperative.

Peter Vardy from London University told his intrigued audience that, just as human beings have their nature, so too do other animals including wombats.

Among the endearing natural traits of the burrowing, herbivorous antipodean mammal is its pre-mating ritual of chasing the female of the species round in a figure of eight until she tires out and is forced to succumb. The young students of philosophy also learnt that wombat excrement is harder than that of any other animal. That should earn a few more marks in this year's Higher philosophy paper.

The good doctor also told how, when the embalmed body of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham is wheeled out at meetings of the university's governors, he is marked "present but not voting" - a predicament familiar to many at school staff meetings.

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