Welcome to My New Philosophy Blog

  • 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

  • What would you do if a violinist was plugged into your body?

    October 14, 2019 by

    AT a recent meeting Salisbury Democracy Café a thought experiment was proposed in order to discuss the question of transhumanism. So it might be fruitful and, perhaps, amusing to explore this philosophical device and some of the occasionally exotic examples. So what, exactly, is a thought experiment? Basically it is an imaginary scenario designed to… Read more

  • What’s it like to be a vampire?

    October 1, 2019 by

    “One of the most important games of life, then, is the game of Revelation, a game played for the sake of the play itself.” L. A. Paul What is it like to be a vampire? Nobody knows – unless you happen to be one of course! And that’s the whole point according to L. A… Read more

  • What’s the point of ignorance?

    September 25, 2019 by

    “The philosopher is the shepherd who tends the mixed flock of the possible on the highlands…” Michael Serres. What’s the point of ignorance? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. We know that ignorance is everywhere. If we have a problem defining or describing English identity, then some might argue that a good place… Read more

  • What’s the point of boredom?

    September 16, 2019 by

    Well, not much really – but it turns out that it’s quite interesting to find out how and when it arises. According to Iain McGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary boredom is a result of ‘unnatural detachment’ characteristic of the left hemisphere of the brain. Indeed, the whole book is an epic exploration of… Read more

  • Is Liberalism dead? Was it ever alive?

    August 19, 2019 by

    “Taxation of earnings is on a par with forced labour.” Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia. During a recent Salisbury Democracy Café the interesting question ‘Is Liberalism dead?’ was posed. Much depends on the definition of Liberalism. Some people seem to mean a rather wishy-washy tolerance epitomised by the pejorative term ‘bleeding heart liberal’.… Read more

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