Jan 2020Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil – 25/01/2020 (Saturday):
A Saturday School presented by Hannah Marije Altorf, Reader in Philosophy at St. Mary’s University
The Eichmann-trial (1961) was one of the most significant trials of the twentieth century. It attracted journalists, writers and thinkers from around the world. One of them was Hannah Arendt and it is her ‘report’, Eichmann in Jerusalem, that in the end overshadowed the trial. Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963/65) was controversial when it was published and it is controversial still, though not necessarily for the exact same reasons. It has been considered one of the most important books of moral philosophy of the twentieth century, but it has also been criticised for being sloppy history.
This Saturday afternoon offers the opportunity to reconsider the book. Participants are encouraged to read the work in advance, but this is not necessary as excerpts will be provided. We will consider the historical background, its place in Arendt’s oeuvre and some of the controversies. First and foremost we will ask whether the book is a work of moral philosophy. Important concepts to be discussed are the notion of evil, the relevance of duty, imagination and judgment, the significance of facts and of storytelling, of thinking and of consciousness.
Dec 2019Pascal - His Wager not his Theorem! – 10/12/2019 (Tuesday):
Speaker: Gareth Harper
Anthony Kenny commented that Pascal’s wager resembles Anselm’s ontological argument in that most people who learn of it, whether theist or atheist, smell something wrong with it, without being able to agree exactly what. We shall consider the wager in its original context; and ask whether thereby it smells any better!
Nov 2019Mental Health and Illness: a Science of Mind – 30/11/2019 (Saturday):
A Saturday School presented by Yasemin J Erden.
Have you ever wondered what the connection is between your mind and your brain? And whether your mind is a physical part of you? Say, as a manifestation of brain behaviour, or something else entirely. In this session we will explore some of these questions, and some central problems in philosophy of mind, as well as some contemporary responses to to those problems.
Philosophy of mind is increasingly interdisciplinary. Research from fields like psychology and neuroscience both challenge and support well established philosophical theories. We’ll start our session by exploring some of those theories, including dualism and materialism, and then we’ll use these as a springboard to consider topics of mental health and illness. In this way we will examine philosophical methods on the one hand, and ask whether a science of mind is possible on the other, as well as asking how the two relate.
And if you think you already know your own mind, you might be surprised by what you learn in this session. For example, did you spot the double ‘to’ somewhere in the opening paragraph of this abstract? If not, do you know why not? And if you did spot it, do you know why? I can offer some answers to these questions when we meet. So come with an open mind, and consider in the meantime what it would mean to ‘open’ a mind anyway.
Oct 2019The Problem of Consciousness and the Value of the Humanities – 24/10/2019 (Thursday):
Presented by Jim Grant
Attempts to justify study in the Humanities – in, say, History, or Philosophy, or Literature – face the question: – What use does such inquiry serve? How does it benefit us? The natural sciences enable us to understand things by coming to know the laws which govern them, and this enables us to predict and control the behaviour of those things for our own benefit. What comparable benefit flows from the kinds of understanding sought in the humanities? What does such inquiry enable us to do, which we could not do otherwise?
However, it’s interesting to note that similar kinds of question are now asked about consciousness itself. The traditional problem of consciousness is: how can blooming, buzzing conscious experience arise from electro-chemical processes in the porridge-like grey matter of the brain? But, in view of our increasing success in simulating the cognitive achievements of the human mind in artificial systems which no-one supposes possess subjective consciousness, another question is coming to prominence: what essential role does consciousness play in our intelligent activity? What does it achieve, which can’t be achieved just as well without it?
The aim of my talk will be to relate questions about the ‘use’ or ‘function’ of the kinds of understanding pursued within the humanities, to this general question of the function of consciousness.
Sep 2019Religion Through the Looking Glass of Ethics – 28/09/2019 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with John Holroyd who will speak about his newly published book ‘Judging Religion: A Dialogue for Our Time’:
There is good reason why some people don’t want to talk about religion in polite company. Like conversations about politics, discussions about religion all too often set people at odds with each other in ways that are hard to predict and difficult to control. For all the controversy involved with such debate this book invites the reader to engage with an ethical appraisal of religion(s) as they are practised today. It is written in the belief that this is an important dialogue for our time. It claims, despite the emotive character of the subject, that the free exchange of ideas and experience between people of differing views and commitments can with practice generate more light than heat. Particular effort is made to answer the question; how can we fairly evaluate the ethical character of religion(s)? It focuses especially but not at all exclusively on the religions of Christianity and Islam, being critical of them in many respects; but it also offers sharp rebuke to some of the perspectives of Richard Dawkins and others among the new atheists.
Jun 2019Friedrich Nietzsche: the uses and abuses of philosophy – 15/06/2019 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with John Clarke
Friedrich Nietzsche: the uses and abuses of philosophy.
An investigation into the serial exploitation of his ideas.
I will be talking about his influence (deserved or otherwise) on the Nazis and more recently on the Alt-right in the US, as well as briefly about his influence on existentialism and postmodern thinking. I will be also be talking about Nietzsche’s own misuse of philosophy.
May 2019Chinese Philosophy - CANCELLED – 28/05/2019 (Tuesday):
Unfortunately the presentation on Chinese Philosophy by Iain Orr has had to be cancelled due to illness.
The meeting at the Adelaide will go ahead with a discussion on philosophical matters instead.
Apr 2019Causality and physical history – 16/04/2019 (Tuesday):
Björn Patricks will present the book Ubiquity.
Narratives of history are always problematic, as they are made after the event, and can offer a very limited number of causal chains. But focusing on the underlying structures and forces at work can help to make sense of historical developments. Mark Buchanan’s book Ubiquity use examples from the physical world to compare with social events to maybe shine some light on their nature.
Mar 2019Has The Enlightenment been a ‘Good Thing'? – 23/03/2019 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with Jane O’Grady
Once so loved by the liberal left, and abhorred by the right, now those positions on the Enlightenment are reversed. In any case, ‘liberal’ is a dirty word. I want to look at some of the Enlightenment thinkers in the light of current Identity Politics and cultural relativism.
Feb 2019Adorno and Negative Dialectics – 28/02/2019 (Thursday):
A talk by Monica Booth.
Adorno argues that philosophically academia breaks everything down into parts, thus doing violence to the whole. Adorno is concerned with how philosophy can recover the whole. Critical Theory / Negative Dialectics is his approach.
Jan 2019‘No one is the author of his life’: Philosophy, Biography and Autobiography – 19/01/2019 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with Chris Hamilton
How are we to understand the kind of truth telling that is peculiar to autobiographical and biographical writing? We shall explore a number of philosophical reflections on this issue that suggest that there is no such thing as the telling of the truth of one’s own life or that of the other – though there can be, perhaps, truthful tellings. We shall develop this further by exploring Hannah Arendt’s claim that ‘no one is the author of his life’. We shall end by suggesting that the real interest of (auto)biographical writing lies in revealing what Montaigne called a person’s ‘master form’ – something like the quality of spirit revealed by the writing.
Dec 2018Free Speech in a Democracy - too much or too little? – 15/12/2018 (Saturday):
A series of mini-presentations from WLP regulars, interspersed with discussion.
Nov 2018Ethics and Emotions in Artificial Intelligence – 22/11/2018 (Thursday):
A Talk by Peter Bulmer
The future of Artificial Intelligence seems to be the hot topic of 2018. Whether we like it or not, AI is set to penetrate every area of our lives. But whilst it has clear benefits for mankind, it also presents us with a set of knotty ethical problems in fields such as medicine, state surveillance, policing and sex. Do we perhaps need a Philosopher in every boardroom?
Oct 2018Justice: a Compassion-Based Theory – 27/10/2018 (Saturday):
A Saturday School presented by Fauzia Rahman-Greasley
Justice is a central concept in ethics, law, and politics. We generally think of justice as good and desirable; whereas injustice is considered bad and undesirable: no one would choose to be treated unjustly. Yet defining justice is notoriously difficult and the subject of on-going philosophical debate.
This day school starts by exploring some of the ways in which justice has been understood by philosophers, past and present. It will be shown that theories of justice based on utilitarianism, contractarianism and egalitarianism fail to explain widely-held beliefs about what justice requires us to do in a wide and varied range of circumstances. Recent findings from developmental psychology and psychotherapy will be drawn upon in order to support a compassion-based theory of justice. The theory will be defended against a series of objections. Finally, some practical implications of the theory will be discussed, especially regarding education, medical ethics, and criminal law.
Sep 2018The Core Imagination – 27/09/2018 (Thursday):
Imagination Part 1 – A Talk by Bob Clarke
An examination of the proposition, formulated by Enlightenment Empiricist philosophers and by Immanuel Kant, that our Imagination is central to our very way of being in the world. How does this proposition fare when seen from the perspectives of contemporary neurological and cognitive sciences? It may be that the ‘Creative Imagination’, which is so important for the Arts and Sciences, arises from an ‘overflowing’ of our Core Imagination, which is essential for us to be able to make any sense of the world at all! The talk will fall into three sections: (1) The Productive Imagination, (2) “If”, (3) Causality.
Jun 2018The Simple-Minded Metaphor – 16/06/2018 (Saturday):
A Saturday School led by Yasemin Erden
In this talk I’ll argue that the brain is not a digital computer. I’ll suggest that claims to the contrary misunderstand the power of this kind of metaphor. Likewise for models that present the brain in purely mechanistic terms. To defend this position, I’ll present Searle’s argument that computation is observer relative. I’ll also bring in Kant on the necessary unity of consciousness in relation to objects and concepts. Finally we will also consider Wittgenstein’s ideas on metaphor (simile) and how language can seduce us.
May 2018The Irrestisible Rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – 29/05/2018 (Tuesday):
The Irresistible Rise of Artificial Intelligence: “Utopia or Dystopia”?
A number of short presentations, proceeding from a summary of what artificial inteligence is and how it is developing, to a consideration of the implications of AI for human beings.
Apr 2018Karl Marx, Alive or Dead? A Philosophical Investigation – 14/04/2018 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with John Clarke
This talk will focus, not on the later Marx of Das Kapital, but on his early philosophical writings, influenced by Kant, Hegelian Idealism, and Romanticism. These writings, many of which were only rediscovered long after his death, were a powerful protest against humanity’s sense of alienation and the loss of inner as well as external freedom, and against the systemic dehumanisation of the working conditions of his time. The talk will also speculate about the relevance of these writings to our own time where the question of our humanity and its future is once again a spectre haunting us.
Mar 2018Deepak Chopra and What Happens After We Die – 15/03/2018 (Thursday):
Presented by Jim McCluskey
Further details will be posted here
Feb 2018Hegel and Progress – 24/02/2018 (Saturday):
A Saturday School presented by Phil Walden
What does Hegel mean by the increasing instantiation of rational principles as history unfolds? Surely, history is characterised by good and bad in equal measure (or good and evil if you prefer)? Not according to Hegel. The Swabian philosopher has been subject to various charges of arrogance or the like by such illustrious figures as Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper (and many more). Whilst acknowledging that Hegel made mistakes, the speaker will try to show that his philosophical system and philosophical method represented a high point in philosophy which we have yet to recover, let alone surpass. This is not a hagiography, but I hope to show how Hegel might help us with the problems of today such as entrenched neoliberalism and postmodernism.
Jan 2018Nuances of Language – 18/01/2018 (Thursday):
Presenter: Monica Booth
Taken as a system of communication between members of multifarious social groups for cooperating, whether spoken, written, or in sign, language between human beings differentiates itself from language between non-human beings by its nature of having infinite productivity and creativity. Yet, at the same time it depends on the unequivocal acceptance of certain notions, standardized in convention by cooperative individuals and members of social groups, especially if progress is to occur.
If progress is taken to mean either positivism or intuitionism, then the nature of relationship between “language” and “thinking” becomes important. “Thinking” itself has a number of linguistic and philosophical presuppositions.
This talk will give examples beginning with an overview of the general functions of language in Western traditions and finishing with the work of J L Austin, a philosopher of language and mind, who pioneered linguistic phenomenology.
Dec 2017Narrative and Post-Truth Reality - Should we be worried about 'Alternative Facts'? – 02/12/2017 (Saturday):
Presented by Filiz Peach
The reason I chose this topic is due to the fact that ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth era’ seem to be all around us, particularly during the past couple of years. There is a noticeable decline of the principles regarding what is discussed and narrated in the Public Sphere. It seems that honesty and accuracy are no longer considered to be the highest priority. Does truth not matter to us any more? Can there be different versions of truth? At the moment, individual private views (political, social or cultural) are universally accessible to the whole world. How does this state of affairs affect public opinion? Does it have an effect on democracy? Is it a new phenomenon or have we always had it in different forms in the past? Some argue that the global network has become a dangerous structure. To what extent can it be true? In order to address all these questions we shall discuss some significant concepts, such as narrative, time and post-modernity which are closely connected with ‘post truth trend’.
Nov 2017German Idealism and English Poetry: Wordsworth and Schelling – 13/11/2017 (Monday):
A talk presented by Barrie Selwyn
This is the talk that was postponed from 7/11/17
Oct 2017Wittgenstein - Why is he so Important? – 07/10/2017 (Saturday):
Speaker: Jim Grant
Wittgenstein once said he felt he was writing ‘for people who would think in a different way, breathe a different air of life’ from that of his contemporaries. In the session we will examine the impact of Wittgenstein on modern philosophy, explore some of the main themes of his thought, and ask whether his very radical and distinctive conception of philosophy and philosophical method might point us towards new ways of thinking.
Sep 2017The Nature of Mind – 21/09/2017 (Thursday):
A talk presented by Michael Southgate
The nature of the mind has long eluded a philosophical or scientific definition. We shall discuss observable functions of ‘Mind’ and consider various ‘maps’ of the mind.
Jun 2017Has Science Stolen Philosophy's Script? – 03/06/2017 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with Professor John Clarke
A discussion of Stephen Hawking’s view that philosophy has been displaced by science in the investigation of the ultimate questions of life.
May 2017What is Aesthetic Pleasure? – 18/05/2017 (Thursday):
A general discussion with mini-presentations on different aspects of the question.
Apr 2017Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Poor Poet and Great Philosopher? – 11/04/2017 (Tuesday):
Peter Bulmer will be discussing Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he says:
If you thought my fact-packed session last year on the philosopher Boethius was an egregiously amusing way of passing a couple of hours, then come along to my latest extravaganza on the philosopher-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
“In England,” STC wrote, “I am a poor poet. But in America I am judged a great philosopher.”
But just how important was he? Why isn’t his philosophical writing more widely known? Is he due a revival? Come along to the Adelaide Pub in Teddington on 11th April and find out!
Mar 2017The Philosophy of William James – 25/03/2017 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with Jane O’Grady, London School of Philosophy
Any philosophy that leaves out subjectivity and our sense of the divine, said William James, is ‘ridiculous’. Pragmatist and psychologist, idealist and materialist, ‘systematically erratic’ – he is closer to the Continentals than to Anglo-American philosophers in tackling lived experience, both immediate and transcendent.
Feb 2017Recent Philosophy and the Meaning of Life. – 11/02/2017 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with Chris Hamilton, Kings College London
Many philosophers in the analytic tradition have recently sought to explore the question of the meaning of life. In this class we shall discuss one or two important approaches from this tradition and see how plausible they are. We shall then think about the general approach they adopt and seek to explore an alternative approach indebted to the writings of Hannah Arendt in particular.
Jan 2017Coining, Context, Contingency: Philosophy as History? – 19/01/2017 (Thursday):
An Exploration of the Perennial and the Historically Contingent in Philosophy.
What is the most fruitful way for philosophy and history to interact?
Dec 2016Philosophy and Romanticism – 03/12/2016 (Saturday):
A Saturday School with Barrie Selwyn.
In the so called Romantic era, 1800 – 1850, there was an unprecedented reciprocity between Poetry and Philosophy. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge had a well documented interest in Locke and Kant/Schelling and there were many philosophical themes running through their poems.
Key themes of talk will be:
- Post-Enlightment redefinition of reason – new emphasis on feeling and emotion
- New vocabularies for selfhood and interiority.
- A secular conception of spirituality outside the confines of organized religion
- The redefinition of Nature
- Celebration of excess – anti-puritanism
- Celebration of artistic creativity
Nov 2016The Philosopher as Gadfly – 05/11/2016 (Saturday):
Sep 2016Celebrating Utopia – 22/09/2016 (Thursday):
Gareth Harper will present:
Celebrating Utopia: Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ was first published in December 1516. The talk will consider how far the book was a typical product of Renaissance humanism; and whether Utopian communism was just a rhetorical device, or was intended as a blueprint for the radical re-organization of society.
Jun 2016Karl Popper – 11/06/2016 (Saturday):
Professor John Clarke will present a Saturday School:
Karl Popper on Science, the Open Society and the Open Universe
Popper is best known for his influential ideas on the philosophy of science, but his importance extends much more widely. His concept of the ‘open society’, written in the dark days of fascist tyranny, helped to re-define the ideals of democracy and freedom in the post-war period, and his views on science led to controversial speculations about consciousness and its evolution, about free will and determinism, and to the view that the universe as a whole is in some sense creative.
May 2016Extra-Terrestrial Life – 31/05/2016 (Tuesday):
How Astronomers Search for Planets and Life in the Universe
David Williams will describe the processes astronomers use to search the universe for planets. We will discuss the various ways that humans perceive life on the Earth and the assumptions that are used in planetary searches in space.
The Philosophy of Economics – 10/05/2016 (Tuesday):
Peter Bowman on The Philosophy of Economics
This perhaps not so well known and undervalued discipline relates to economics as the philosophy of science relates to the physical science and jurisprudence to law. It provides the intellectual space in which to examine the underlying assumptions and methodology of economics. This talk will give a brief introduction to the discipline and reveal some of its unexpected findings.
Apr 2016Being, Doing, Willing – 30/04/2016 (Saturday):
Jane O’Grady, London School of Philosophy will speak on:
- Being, Doing, Willing
The ancient Greeks and Romans are often said to have lacked a concept of ‘will’ in their picture of human nature. Yet for Augustine in the fourth century, throughout medieval philosophy, in Descartes and Kant, the will was the essential human faculty – ideally good and strong, and in any case free. What was, and is, the significance of ‘the will’?
Mar 2016The Philosophy of Iris Murdoch – 19/03/2016 (Saturday):
Fauzia Rahman will present the Philosophy of Iris Murdoch (1919-1999).
Iris Murdoch’s philosophy was generally overlooked by her fellow academics during her lifetime. However, her moral philosophy and correlative metaphysics is inspiring a new generation.
Murdoch’s methodology is strikingly innovative, driven by her objections to moral theories which neglect the ﬁrst-person perspective of ‘what it is like’ to engage with ethical dilemmas. According to Murdoch, moral judgement cannot be learned from a set of rules. Rather it requires careful attention to other persons in order to see and respond to them as they really are. For Murdoch, the moral task is to defeat ‘the fat relentless ego’.
Murdoch challenges the scientiﬁc conception of reality, claiming that the idea of objective reality undergoes important modiﬁcations when it is understood in relation to the progressing life of a person.
During this session we shall learn about Murdoch and the importance of her approach to both ethics and psychology.
Dec 2015Is Morality Universal? – 08/12/2015 (Tuesday):
Nov 2015Nuclear Power – 10/11/2015 (Tuesday):
Jim McCluskey will talk on Nuclear Power:
Nuclear power stations are the most dangerous artifacts that man has ever constructed. The Fukushima disaster is still raging out of control nearly five years after it started. The talk will describe the dangers from nuclear power and outline the benign alternatives.
Jun 2011The Pilot of Life - Prof. Ray Billington – 04/06/2011 (Saturday):
‘Pilot of Life’ is a bold claim. In the UK, philosophy has often been assigned a back seat in people’s thinking. In fact many still consider it to be the reserve of only a (somewhat odd) few. Yet, from the time of the Greek philosopher Thales, 2.5 millennia ago, through to such recent philosophers as Russell, Sartre and Chomsky, philosophical perceptions have challenged people’s assumptions about, for instance, the meaning of morality because they compel us to think carefully about any theme under consideration. Philosophy means the love of wisdom, and a life without philosophy is surely a life without a pilot.