The fall and rise of philosophy

IN the middle of the 20th century philosophy was on its knees. A group of intellectuals in Vienna – known as the Vienna Circle – led by Moritz Schlick and brought to the UK by the brash young philosopher A J Ayer – declared war, not on a field of philosophy but philosophy itself. At …

The evolution of altruism

THE idea of altruism is attractive. The very possibility that at least some of the time humans are able to act with the intention of benefiting others either at some cost to oneself or at least without expectation of a reward is important to secular ethics. For religions it is problematical because every act is …

Why the poor get the blame

ONE of the features of modern society in the UK is the belief that that there are deserving and undeserving poor. In fact, it’s not just a feature of the modern world – it has been a common refrain for centuries as ruling cliques attempt to justify their position by claiming what they believe to …

The infantilization of humanity

WHAT a spectacle! During the Queen’s funeral hundreds of thousands of devoted subjects queued for hour after hour to see the catafalque for several days. Broadcasters cleared the decks, with the BBC showing a 24/7 feed of deferential subjects paying their respects, often bowing or curtseying. The Establishment closed ranks and claimed that this was …

Why are we stuck in a rut?

ARE human beings – and human life itself – fundamentally good or bad? It is a question that has taxed philosophers for millennia. In one of its most recent manifestations it is represented on the one hand by Thomas Hobbes who regarded life before civilisation as being ‘nasty, brutish and short’, which we could only …

Do trees have brains?

“THUS, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” So wrote Charles Darwin in the last paragraph of On the Origin of Species. The sense one gets is that all species below the ‘higher animals’ …

Covid v Neoliberalism

IT has become increasingly obvious that when Covid hit in early 2020 the UK was disastrously unprepared. It was the most pervasive pandemic since the Spanish Flu after the World War I. But it was the political decisions over the last 30 years, which, ironically, were hell bent on eliminating political decision-making, that exacerbated the …

The dark theatre of the mind

WE intuitively believe that what we see is what there is. Despite philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer telling us that it is actually the brain that determines how we experience the phenomenal world, it has never felt right; it still doesn’t. But how does the brain find out about the world, trapped as it is …

False consciousness – or just plain contented?

ONE of the abiding rifts in left/right political philosophy is the approach towards the poorest members of society. The failure of socialism to overthrow capitalism perplexes those on the left of the political spectrum. For those on the right it’s simple: capitalism works, it delivers well-being for most people, so there is no reason to …

Russia after the revolution

“THE prohibition of oppositional parties brought after it the prohibition of factions. The prohibition of factions ended in a prohibition to think otherwise than the infallible leader. The police-manufactured monolithism of the party resulted in a bureaucratic impunity which has become the source of all kinds of wantonness and corruption.” You might forgiven for thinking …