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  • The labyrinths of Ultimate Reality

    December 1, 2021 by

    THE first move here following on from the last blog is to is to give a brief definition of Ultimate Reality – and are there are two possibilities. The first is that it is whatever the universe is in itself regardless of our position within it. Secondly, it is what ever presents itself to our… Read more

  • What is ultimate reality?

    November 15, 2021 by

    IT’S a big question. Perhaps the biggest that humanity can ask itself. And it’s one that also feeds into our sense of meaning as we shall see. Whatever the answer is, indeed whether there is an answer at all, helps to explain and locate our place in the universe, or multi-verse. Even asking the question… Read more

  • From the marshmallow mind to Citizens’ Assemblies

    November 1, 2021 by

    MANY argue that short termism is the curse of representative government. The Taliban, for example, famously said when troops entered Afghanistan in 2001 that while the invaders had watches ‘we have time’. The Chinese have a similar long-term view. But in representative governments everything is geared to the short term – from our electoral cycles… Read more

  • In pursuit of beauty

    September 13, 2021 by

    BEAUTY, they say, is in the eye of the beholder – although it’s probably more accurate to say it’s in the visual cortex of the beholder, but that’s a subject for a future blog. However, beauty performs many other functions. An elegantly stroked cover drive for four in cricket is somehow valued more than the… Read more

  • The myth of the Social Contract

    September 1, 2021 by

    IT is a common observation, though no less powerful for being so, that we live in an atomized society where the individual rules supreme and the collective is dead. As Margaret Thatcher once said there is no such thing as society, or words to that effect. The key philosophical definition is provided by methodological individualism… Read more

  • Disobey – and take charge!

    August 15, 2021 by

    SOME argue that we are living in a spectator society – one in which, if people take any interest in society, politics and democracy, they do so from the side-lines. Reality TV sums all this up – and perhaps Gogglebox is its perfect manifestation with us, the viewer, watching other people watching TV. The argument… Read more

  • Land ownership and tax

    August 2, 2021 by

    DOES it make sense to say that anyone owns land? Ever since the times of the Roman Empire we have had a notion of ownership in terms of absolute dominion over property. But as the late David Graeber wrote in Debt: The First 5,000 Years this idea is ‘really derived from slavery’. “One can imagine… Read more

  • The myths that justify inequality

    July 12, 2021 by

    HOW did it come to this? “In 1971 Britain was among the most equal societies on earth in terms of both household income and wealth. Today we are one of the most unequal.” So writes Robert Verkaik in Why You Won’t Get Rich. For him it is largely the result of government decisions. For, as… Read more

  • When philosophers screw up!

    July 2, 2021 by

    IT’S almost a law of nature that great thinkers will be traduced by lesser thinkers. Think of Marx and Adam Smith and Schopenhauer and, well, almost every philosopher! But what happens when a great thinker is grossly misunderstood by other great thinkers? There was one extraordinary and original philosopher who’s thought was so thoroughly misunderstood… Read more

  • Out of sight out of (your) mind?

    June 14, 2021 by

    WHEN did mental illness become a stigma, something to hide away – even punish? There was a time when the intellectually challenged member of the village was tolerated. But that’s a far cry from the horror stories we read about in the 19th century and the condition that inmates had to endure in Bedlam. Even… Read more

  • The truth about truth!

    June 1, 2021 by

    IF, as we saw a couple of blogs ago, reason has taken something of a battering, then the same is true of the very notion of ‘truth’. Therein lies part of the problem, of course. For it is self-contradictory to proclaim that there is no such thing as ‘truth’ because, of course, the proposition ‘there… Read more

  • The logic of freedom

    May 10, 2021 by

    FOR some the Universe is simply absurd. This realisation happens when all our searches for meaning disappear into the silent Universe, which is indifferent to our petty struggles. It’s when we suddenly understand that we are not really attempting to save the planet against the ravages of climate change but just the flora and fauna… Read more

  • The return of the public

    May 1, 2021 by

    ONE of the most fascinating phenomena in modern life is the tension between the widespread apathy about what might be called traditional party politics on the one hand and an increasing engagement with community activity on the other. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that international crises do not necessarily lead to… Read more

  • Reason versus reason

    April 12, 2021 by

    IT is often thought that the main threat to the kind of rationality so admired by enthusiasts for the Enlightenment is, well, irrationality – faith, alternative medicines and the New Age movement. Indeed this view seems to be cemented by the wild irrationality of Trump and his followers – although one does wonder sometimes whether… Read more

  • What’s the point of privacy?

    April 2, 2021 by

    MUCH has been written – not least on this blog – about the perilous state of our privacy. The problem is that over the past 30 years or so humanity has been slowly infantilized as advertisers, powerful lobbyists, think tanks, the state and social media have infiltrated our brains. According to Shoshana Zuboff in The… Read more

  • Many lives make hard work!

    March 15, 2021 by

    WHO hasn’t wondered how our lives would have gone if THAT hadn’t happened or, perhaps, something else HAD? Throughout our lives we make decisions, or decisions are made for us, and our narrative unfolds. But in the arts and in science the idea that there could have been other lives lived has gained traction. As… Read more

  • Can there be meaning in a silent universe?

    March 1, 2021 by

    LIVING in a silent universe (or universes) can be dispiriting. A previous article on this blog claimed that it was the reduction in a sense of a higher authority that had led to an existential crisis. If there is no God what meaning is there? In that article Frank Martela in his book A Wonderful… Read more

  • Life in the void!

    February 15, 2021 by

    WE may often find ourselves in a sort of other world: that moment when we awake and momentarily are not sure where we are, or even who we are. Or perhaps one’s memory of a place does not match reality on a return visit. This may be, of course, that things have actually changed. But… Read more

  • Back to Eternity!

    February 2, 2021 by

    CULTURE wars and alternative facts have become the battleground of modern politics – or at least they have for some on the right of the political spectrum. It is often said that the problem with the Left is that it still thinks that political thinking is still about, well, politics, while the Right has shifted… Read more

  • Climb every mountain!

    January 11, 2021 by

    IN this world of alternative facts and relativism it’s comforting to know that there is a hilltop far away where the light of truth still flickers – if somewhat dimly. Indeed, towards the end of the 16th century the metaphor of the hilltop of truth was used by Francis Bacon – who was to become… Read more

  • How to escape the caged Self

    January 2, 2021 by

    “To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.” So wrote Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy in 1946. For Russell philosophy itself dwelt in the uncertain, uncomfortable position between… Read more

  • From the collective to the individual

    December 14, 2020 by

    IN some parts of Western society individualism rules supreme and reaches its apogee in neoliberalism in which the only relation that exists between individuals is transactional. This relationship is encapsulated within the mythical figure of Homo Economicus who is supposedly driven solely by rational self-interest and becomes a consumer and spectator in society rather than… Read more

  • To ambiguity and beyond!

    December 1, 2020 by

    HOW the collective emerges out of the individual or how the individual emerges out of the community are questions that go to the heart of modern society. Of course, two possible solutions are either that there is no such thing as community or that there is no such thing as the individual. But for the… Read more

  • Long live the Idiot!

    November 16, 2020 by

    OVER the past 30 years or so humanity has been stealthily infantilized as advertisers, powerful lobby groups, thinktanks, governments and social media giants have infiltrated our brains. Whether it’s the relentless pursuit of instant gratification or the echo chambers of Facebook our willingness to surrender our privacy and even the direction of our lives has… Read more

  • The ragged trousered Classicists

    November 2, 2020 by

    Whenever Boris Johnson makes a reference to the Classics he hopes to demonstrate his membership of the intellectual elite. At the same time, however, he also provides evidence of the way that the Classics have been appropriated by the ruling clique. Indeed, it seems as though the Classics are largely confined to expensive private schools… Read more

  • The meaning of life is not 42!

    October 12, 2020 by

    IMAGINE you are on your smart ‘phone (assuming you have one) and someone comes up to you and asks whether you believe in electricity. You might be forgiven for looking askance at this person and assuming that they were mad. But think about this for a moment – 500 years ago Europeans would have been… Read more

  • What is the Self?

    October 1, 2020 by

    IT’S one of those questions that has intrigued philosophers for centuries. Once you have stripped away things like your name, address and occupation etc what is left? Is there a core essence that is unmistakably the Self? Or, as some Buddhists say, is the Self an illusion we have to cure ourselves of? As Stephen… Read more

  • The dark night of Buddhism

    September 14, 2020 by

    IT’S rare for anyone to look at the dark side of Buddhism. We all know about the violence that can be engendered by various religions but people disillusioned by the great monotheistic religions often turn to what they perceive to be the the gentler vision of Buddhism. Indeed, there are some people, including Stephen Batchelor… Read more

  • The knight of faith

    September 1, 2020 by

    “Do the gods love holiness because it is holy, or is it holy because they love it?” So asked Socrates as reported by Plato in the Euthyphron. It’s a deceptively simple question but one that has had wide-ranging ramifications down the millennia and remains one of the most important ever asked. For if the answer… Read more

  • Back to the commons!

    August 15, 2020 by

    FOR more than 50 years the idea of commonly owned land has been blighted by Garret Hardin in his hugely influential article The Tragedy of the Commons. Hardin claimed that environmental disaster would ensue if land was in common ownership as the the population grew because he assumed that individuals would only think of their… Read more

  • Is this the end for Original Sin?

    August 2, 2020 by

    ARE humans fundamentally good or bad? It’s a question that runs through the history of human thought. According to Immanuel Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” The two philosophers who perhaps best represent the pessimistic view and the optimistic are, respectively, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacque Rousseau. According… Read more

  • Communities of resistance!

    July 13, 2020 by

    LOCALISM was a buzzword not so long ago but then it ran into the sand – along with the Big Society – as the Coalition hollowed out the very local services and political institutions that might have made it work. Ironically, the extreme localism of the individual led to the atomization of local society and… Read more

  • Don’t just stand there, sit down! – 2

    July 1, 2020 by

    Mindfulness has been largely appropriated by the Western cult of the individual and science-led therapeutic interventions. The concern is that mindfulness acts as a kind of opiate of the people that helps you cope with the stresses of modern life, while leaving the causes – extreme individualism – untouched. However, the question asked in the… Read more

  • Don’t just stand there, sit down! – 1

    June 14, 2020 by

    MINDFULNESS is everywhere. There are online courses, meditation classes, it’s been co-opted by the NHS, it’s in schools, the military and corporations. Mindfulness artifacts from meditation mats to amulets that are supposed to aid the mindful experience are hugely popular – and the mindfulness industry is worth billions of pounds a year. There is an… Read more

  • What is the point of work?

    June 1, 2020 by

    NO, seriously, what is the point of work? It may sound like a frivolous question but the answer has serious consequences. Is work inherently valuable or is it valuable only for what it provides? What would life be like without certain jobs? Consider our current situation. It’s almost unimaginable what life would be like without… Read more

  • The magical mathematician -2

    May 12, 2020 by

    You may recall from the last blog that we were left wondering why the Bishop of Salisbury in the late 17th century, Seth Ward, would be interested in a Kabbalistic work like Dr John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica which appears to support a geocentric view of the solar system rather than the Copernican heliocentric view. Seth… Read more

  • The magical mathematician – 1

    May 2, 2020 by

    TUCKED away in a corner among the 10,000 books at Salisbury Cathedral’s library is an unprepossessing little book. It’s rather drably covered in vellum and is easily overlooked among the library’s more luxuriously bound volumes (the library isn’t open to the public but visits can be booked on the Cathedral’s website once the lockdown is… Read more

  • The ‘ghost in the machine’

    April 13, 2020 by

    EVER since the great French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes divided the world into the material brain and immaterial mind philosophers have grappled with the so-called mind/body problem. As Gilbert Ryle put it in his ground-breaking book The Concept of Mind: “As a man of scientific genius he (Descartes) could not but endorse the claims… Read more

  • Liberalism and the Philosophy of Right

    April 1, 2020 by

    ARGUABLY there are two distinct problems with liberalism – the first is to do with sloppy definition, the second is to do with its actual definition. In the first instance, there is a tendency to take a rather fuzzy view of liberalism – that it is something to do with tolerance and freedom of the… Read more

  • The spectre of nihilism – 2

    March 15, 2020 by

    WE left the last blog stuck in the pathological stage of nihilism. The problem remains the question of ‘truth’ and its vulnerability to attack. Baker’s solution is that the heart of philosophy is not to ‘have’ the truth but to stand in a constant relation to truth – it is truth-telling as ontology, as a… Read more

  • The spectre of nihilism – 1

    March 1, 2020 by

    IT can be frightening sometimes to realise how fragile our value systems can be – how easily they can be swept away by events. It can be hard to remain afloat, for example, when faced with a tidal wave of assault on the very notion of truth. From post-modernism to post-truth politics; from conspiracy theorists… Read more

  • Our divided brain

    February 20, 2020 by

    WHY is it that so much of our thinking is driven by dualisms? We have, for example, the division between mind and body; spiritualism and materialism; absolutism and relativism; rationalism and sensationalism; idealism and realism; subjectivism and objectivism. In some cases we can lay the reason at the door of a particular philosopher. Rene Descartes,… Read more

  • Necessity, freedom and anxiety

    January 28, 2020 by

    MANY critics of today’s society concentrate on neoliberalism, taking it to be a kind of Capitalism on steroids. If only it could be overcome, then Capitalism itself can be tamed and shown to have a human face as wealth is redistributed and the Welfare State rebuilt. A previous blog – Death of a superhero –… Read more

  • The death of a Superhero – Homo Economicus?

    January 12, 2020 by

    “‘Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. WHAT is economic value and how is it created? This a key question and one that hasn’t seriously been addressed for a long time. For some it underpins all the critiques of modern capitalism including… Read more

  • Hail to the City of Being

    January 1, 2020 by

    As we enter a new decade (unless you think it doesn’t actually start until 2021 of course) it might be useful to ask ourselves what sort of society we want. Party politics can be a messy affair, so sometimes it’s good to stand back and ponder. But to know what sort of society we want… Read more

  • Hail to the Idiot!

    December 16, 2019 by

    THE question ‘what is philosophy? is one that is often neglected by philosophers. After all, while there may be a philosophy of science or of art and other disciplines, there cannot be a philosophy of philosophy without vicious circularity in the same way that empirical methods cannot be used to prove empiricism as the Scottish… Read more

  • The precarious soul!

    December 1, 2019 by

    “The awful shadow of some unseen Power/Floats though unseen amongst us. – visiting/This various world with as inconstant wing/As summer winds that creep from flower to flower. -/Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,/It visits with inconstant glance” From Hymn to Intellectual Beauty by Percy Bysshe Shelley Let’s be clear, we are not talking… Read more

  • From stiff upper lip to Stoicism

    November 15, 2019 by

    IF there is a single distinction to be made between modern ethics and ancient Greek ethics, it could be argued that while the former attempts to establish what is right independently of character, the latter tries to establish what kind of character is needed to lead the right sort of life. Of course, this is… Read more

  • From chaos to anarchy!

    November 4, 2019 by

    What is anarchy? We all know that the word anarchy is interchangeable with words like chaos or violence and bombs. But is this a fair interpretation of political anarchism? Obviously no. Sure, anarchists have often been associated with violence but equally anarchism itself has a long history of philosophy that acts as a powerful critique… Read more

  • When did they become so cruel?

    October 21, 2019 by

    “Then you too can dance the dance of insanity, that halfway house between catatonia and drooping, a dance that is devoid of spirit but wears a fixed grin, a hollow mask that was one used in a carnival.” Ece Temelkuran. At the heart of Ece Temelkuran’s book How To Lose a Country is the claim… Read more

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