Past Events

May 2017

Decisions, decisions – 02/05/2017 (Tuesday):

Following a couple of significant recent political decisions I wonder how public decisions should be made, democracy still seems to be the least bad answer, but are we really not able to do better?
If voters were only eligible to vote on matters in which they had been educated, say past compulsory education, then there would be even more complaints about bias in education. Alternatively we could continue by the choice of the most readily persuadable.Following a couple of significant recent political decisions I wonder how public decisions should be made, democracy still seems to be the least bad answer, but are we really not able to do better?
If voters were only eligible to vote on matters in which they had been educated, say past compulsory education, then there would be even more complaints about bias in education. Alternatively we could continue by the choice of the most readily persuadable.

Since I drafted this note we have been told of a General Election, how will you vote?  ‘Marking the paper with a cross’ is the accurate but silly answer, party X, Y or Z is not so silly, but it is only the conclusion of a process of decision, based upon more or less firmly held beliefs, in turn based upon more or less true information provided by people sharing your hopes and objectives… or at least claiming they do.  How do you summarise all this habit, experience and calculation in a single cross?

Feb 2017

Preconceptions of Philosophers – 21/02/2017 (Tuesday):

Preconceptions of Philosophers- (not preconceptions of philosophers’)

There is a huge number of philosophy books on the shelves in your local bookshop or library, and given you are reading this there are a probably a good few on your bookshelf at home.  How did you choose them?  Maybe you have done some formal study when a tutor told you what to read, but that is not choosing.

I am aware that I will judge a book by its cover, so I consciously avoid the rather appealing Oxford paperbacks of Nietzsche with a good, recent commentary … at least until I’ve read the ones I have got.

I have an idea that there is something to do with the image of a philosopher that attracts or repels potential readers, so I shall bring some of these images and see how much agreement there is.

Dec 2016

What is Post Truth – 13/12/2016 (Tuesday):

I’ve heard the term ‘Post Truth’ a few times recently but this is a genuine question, not a rhetorical title for a discussion.  I hope to read and otherwise encounter ideas, then other people label me and I can adjust or accept the name accordingly.

I have an understanding of what Modernism was, and a firm belief that it is over (this comes from my using painting as a prime example).  As I have argued before, this makes me post (two words) modernist even if I can’t accept the classification Postmodernist.

If Modernism was a series of ‘isms’ and Postmodernism abandons the idea of a Grand Narrative, then how can postmodernISM be the cure for a series of isms.  Is Post Truth and answer?  It sounds like a euphemism for hypocrisy!

If I (and you) are lucky at least part of this meeting will be under someone else’s control.


At the official end of the meeting (21:00) or by email if you prefer, we will briefly discuss whether the format, content or any other aspect of meetings will change in 2017

Aug 2016

PSE 'Does God' – 23/08/2016 (Tuesday):

We have not ‘done God’ for some time.  There seems to be a popular assumption that philosophy offers an alternative to God, I have often pointed out to friends wondering what philosophy is all about that Augustine and Aquinas, whilst both philosophers were also both saints, mostly because of their philosophical endeavours.  I often equate Jesus with Socrates on the grounds that they each had sound ideas, but failed to write them down.  Last time I asked I think a small majority of the group declared themselves believers in some way. My escape from the question is to point out that the word ‘god’ has been used to mean so many things, most of them not fully defined, that I could define myself a god I would believe in or a god I wouldn’t – you tell me what you think God is and I’ll tell you whether I believe in Him

I do not call myself an atheist, because to me it is absurd to define my most basic beliefs I terms of someone else’s definition of something I consider does not exist.  On 23 August we can compare and combine definitions to try to define a God we can believe in, who is also something like that proposed by the major religions, not like praying to the Law of Gravity.

Jul 2016

Epistemology and Rorty – 12/07/2016 (Tuesday):

It has been a long time since our last meeting, but I’m afraid I have not been germinating any wonderful pub friendly philosophy.  I have had a bit of a go at Pragmatism though, specifically Richard Rorty, who seems to be suggesting that the essence of eighteenth century philosophy is epistemology- how we get knowledge about the real world.  The Pragmatic answer is that we do know about things, so let’s just acknowledge that we do and get on with life.

From my own point of view this prompts the unnerving intuition that:

1)      The world exists (more or less as I take it to be)

2)      I know about quite a lot of ‘real things’

3)      I detect these things with my senses

I suspect there might be at least one person in the pub who might question the order of numbers 2) and 3).  If there isn’t I shall sit on my own reading Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature!

May 2016

Other minds, why do they matter? – 28/05/2016 (Saturday):

Philosophical Society of England
  • Other minds why do they matter?
    Jane Heal Cambridge University
    Are psychological concepts – like belief, guess, memory, desire, intention – a sort of scientific concept? Are they useful to us mainly because we can use them to predict and control what other people will do? Or do they have some other role in our lives?
    This talk will suggest that thinking of them as like scientific concepts is a mistake. We will understand them better when we see their connection with the fact that we are social animals and, sometimes, we work out what to think and do together.
    Saturday 28th May 2016  2.00 pm – 4 pm
    Conway Hall
    25 Red Lion Square, London WC1
    (nearest tube: Holborn)
    This talk is open to all, we hope that you will be able to join us

Psychoanalysis: Valuable Scientific Method or Fetid Dingo's Kidneys – 17/05/2016 (Tuesday):

… or maybe something in between, I am not well informed about psychoanalysis and hope to pick up some ideas and opinions at this gathering.  There seems to be clear benefit in acknowledging that sometimes I have motives for doing something, even when I might be confused myself as to what my motives are.  Sex is the obvious example, I doubt many of us spend our time consciously concerned about the extinction of the species yet often people seem motivated by irrelevant sexual implications in advertising.

Do unconscious, sub conscious or semi conscious drives offer a useful explanation of human behaviour?  Can we recognise these drives and then use them more effectively or more morally?  Other questions will be welcome.

Apr 2016

Philosophy Without Words, Barnett Newman – 26/04/2016 (Tuesday):

I am interested in the idea of non-verbal philosophy, (In a pub!?).  There are ideas from the arts (say Bach’s working out fugues) that seem pointlessly literal if expressed in words.  Abstract painting is similar, so having been directed to a piece in Ethical Record recently I thought we could focus on an example, What Was Barnett Newman Doing?  Or maybe I mean trying to do.  There is a difference between depicting myself- as Rembrandt did and depicting my self, which might explain what Newman was doing.  What does a self look like, how does mine differ from yours … and what has paint got to do with it.  There might also be musical or even architectural analogies here- no harm in being ambitious!

I will not be bringing any reproductions of Newman paintings, but you could look at this if you remember that the pictures are generally very much bigger than your laptop screen!

Feb 2016

Something about Philosophy of Mind – 23/02/2016 (Tuesday):

I am trying to figure out my own view on whether humans are more like Cartesian selves or like ants (or lichens or something!).  When I know something my knowledge is often based upon, or even simply taken from someone else.  Worse, outside academic contexts I often can’t remember or never even knew who had the original intuition.  Relying on memory seems to work but is epistemologically dodgy if I am a Cartesian, and Hume warns us about assuming that the future is analogous to the past.  Maybe I would be less willing to make predictions based on the past if everyone else wasn’t doing so, and apparently getting away with it.

When I was at school we were taught how a blast furnace works, in those days (the 1970s) there was little chance that I would ever directly use this knowledge, but if civilisation collapsed, as the threat of nuclear war implied, at least we schoolboys (and girls I suppose, but this was the 70s) would have some kind of folk memory about how to reconstruct the iron age.  The concept of a radio valve is within the intellectual grasp of most people, the analogous transistor requires a knowledge of quantum mechanics possessed only by the few.  A century ago valves were state of the art technology, a twenty first century toddler will probably live her entire life unable to understand the technology she has been exposed to before her first birthday.

‘We’ know things that individuals don’t.  To what extent is humanity a single mental entity?



admin: Food for thought on the subject on BBC iPlayer until 22/2 2016:

The Brain with David Eagleman – What is Reality?

Jan 2016

Well, What do you know? – 26/01/2016 (Tuesday):

I am trying to work out some notes about epistemology, hoping to move on to new ground.  What is a fact, how can I gain access to facts and how can I be sure that I have done so…. that sort of thing.  There is potential for an interesting digression into whether you can have access to the same facts from a different body and a different set of experiences, and then whether a computer has access to facts without any experiences at all.  Wittgenstein and Heidegger might be relevant and I’m sure pragmatism (Dewey, James and Peirce) will be mentioned.  But mostly I’d like to hear from you, because my notes will not last two hours, and I already know what is in them!

As always I’ll aim to have finished eating a Thai Curry before seven, and ensure that those not determined to drink the night away get some kind of conclusion before nine.

Dec 2015

Was Jesus a Utilitarian? – 15/12/2015 (Tuesday):

What we are now recommended to call ‘Holiday’ used to be ‘Christmas’ because most of us Londoners were Christian. As an atheist I don’t feel entitled to call myself Christian, but as a philosopher I think Jesus is entitled to be considered as having valid ideas in moral philosophy.  He might not have written them down, but nor did Socrates!

If Jesus had been born 2000 years later would he have taken to Utilitarianism, Deontology, Virtue Ethics, or something else entirely?  Come to The Thornbury Castle on 15 December to see if we can decide.

The philosophy starts a little after seven o’clock, allowing the chance of a Thai meal before.  The meeting nominally ends at nine, but informal discussion often continues for a good while.

Expressing Oneself – 05/12/2015 (Saturday):

Guy Longworth (Warwick University)
Adult speech, and other expressive behaviour, is often under intentional control: we speak, smile, etc., in the ways that we do because we intend to. It has been suggested that this induces a worry about how we can exploit expressive behaviour in order to find out what others think or how they feel, because e.g. someone might intentionally smile whether or not they were happy. I’ll discuss the worry, and consider some ways in which it can be addressed.
(People might want to look at Paul Grice’s paper “Meaning Revisited” in his ‘Studies in the Way of Words’.)

Nov 2015

The Pointlessness of Human Life – 17/11/2015 (Tuesday):

Reasons are of two types, causes and purposes. The cause of human life is either evolution or some sort of god, the purpose is either given by this god or chosen by each of us… or maybe all of us collectively. The point of much of our activity is to enable us to continue to be active and choose how to act.
God could have a purpose for humanity, and there is no reason why He should tell us what it is. But maybe He hasn’t, and obviously if He doesn’t exist He can’t offer a purpose. So we need a purpose of our own if we are not to be pointless. We could align this with our best understanding of God’s purpose depending upon our beliefs.
The extinction of human life is often seen as a tragedy, but surely it only is so if we ourselves are the purpose, we might just be a step on the way. The way to where?