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Away Day 2015 at Pigotts, Sunday 26th July - on Reality
Philosophical questions of all time

This year: What is the world 'really' like, and how can we know?

Philsoc's fourth annual 'AwayDay' took place at Pigotts Farm on Sunday 26th July. It was a day of uninhibited discussion. Pigotts is a historic and wonderfully rural location in the Bucks countryside near High Wycombe, a place to escape all urban distractions and enjoy philosophy.

Please see below for directions and a fully interactive map showing the location of Pigotts Farm. For information on previous AwayDays please see the AwayDay Archive.

The format was not unlike Members' Days held in Rewley House, but cosier – and more bucolic! Members presented five papers over the course of the day within the chosen theme, with plenty of time for questions and discussion. The proceedings are summarised in a very informative review by Bob Stone – one of the patricipants. Following AwayDay, a vigorous correspondence took place between some of the participants, copied to all.

The subject was one of perennial philosophical interest to which the greatest philosophers have contributed: Plato, Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel and many more up to the present day, when Einstein and a host of quantum physicists had given us a completely different conception of how we might view the world. But which is the real world, theirs, Kant's, Leibniz' or the one you see around you? Or if these are all the same world, how can they seem so different? We shall look to our speakers to suggest some answers to these questions and stimulate discussion to help us elucidate these conundrums. John Galsworthy wrote, 'The conundrum of existence remained unsolved'. Or is that a different question?

The event was introduced and chaired by Fauzia Rahman-Greasley, the Philsoc Chairman.

Jonathan Harlow is a retired secondary school and university teacher (History and Economics), now mainly engaged in local history, but very interested in the philosophy of mind and in ethics. In his talk Scepticism in the British Enlightenmen. Jonatan looked at Locke, Berkeley and Hume and how they dealt with Religion, Reason and Experience as our means of knowing about the world. Locke reasoned that we could only learn from Experience; but Berkeley reasoned that we could not logically derive anything from Experience, and must depend on Religion. Hume agreed that we could not logically know anything by Experience, but, since we must rely on Experience however illogically, so much the worse for Reason. And for Religion, which neither Reason nor Experience could justify.

Frank Brierley worked for BP for ages, then ran his own company before re-engaging with the philosophy that formed part of his first degree. This re-engagement involved attending lots of OUDCE classes and joining Philsoc in the early 2000s, winning a couple of Chadwick Prizes and chairing the Society for a two-year term. His involvement with Philsoc continues as a committee member, helping to mark and run the Student Essay Prize and again this year co-organise AwayDay. Under the heading The view from nowhere Frank examined some of the ideas presented in Thomas Nagel'scelebrated book of that title. Nagel struggles to distinguish an 'objective self', which can partially achieve a view of the world that is not only 'centreless', but can incorporate within its total view of reality the reality of subjective experience that the objective sciences seem to omit altogether from their world picture. Frank has 'Kantian' doubts about how far such an enterprise can succeed, but hopes for a further illumination of its potential for failure or success.

Peter Gibson has been a member of the Philosophical Society since 1975 (when Gilbert Ryle was a guest speaker), and has progressed slowly through philosophy largely by attending a vast number of Rewley House weekends. He taught philosophy to sixth formers for many years, and is currently trying to write a wildly ambitious survey of the whole of analytic philosophy. He collects ideas the way others collect stamps, and they are on display at philosophyideas.com. He is now the Secretary of the Society, and lives in the Chilterns. Peter's topic was Why we ought to be realists. Most people are unquestioning realists about the external world. Only philosophers and mystics ever take global anti-realism seriously. Realism, however, may be impossible to prove, if life may be just a dream. Realists must criticise anti-realist arguments, and reinforce the coherence of the realist view. Anti-realist views arising from epistemology, language, logic and physics were sketched, and a contrasting coherent realism presented. Peter distinguished 'strong' from 'weak' anti-realism, offering some sympathy to the latter, but claiming that the onus of proof will always fall on the anti-realist, while realists get on with serious enquiry.

Bob Clarkestudied Physics at Bristol University in the late 1960s and since then he has pursued a career in science and engineering. He co-ordinated Workers Educational Association (WEA) philosophy courses in south-west London for over thirty years, which led himB toB take degrees in the History of Ideas, at Kingston University in the 1990s and at Birkbeck College, 2008 - 2010. Bob's takl was on (Neo-)Kantian Limits to Scientific Knowledge. Cogent Realist philosophical arguments demonstrate that science continues to make progress in giving us knowledge of the world. But taking a Kantian 'Empirical Realist'stance, this presentation will seek to argue that, even on the basis of the most optimistic projections for continued progress, there is much that 'we' cannot know. Bob drew on insights from Kant and his followers to understand why this is so, one reason being that we will only ever know the appearances, the 'Phenomena', and not the 'Things-in-Themselves': the ontology that lies behind them.

Mike Arnautov comes from Prague where he studied mathematics and physics, followed by MSc in statistics. He came to England in 1970 to work on artificial intelligence, gaining his PhD in 1974. Until his retirement in 2007 he worked as a systems programmer/architect. Mike blames his long-standing interest in philosophy on reading too much science-fiction. Mike's talk was Quantum reality: what's the fuss all about?. Quantum Mechanics has a uniquely nasty reputation among past and present theories of physics. It is not even a single theory but a plethora of incompatible ones, it posits irreducible randomness at the heart of reality, it makes preposterous claims of superposition and complementarity of physical properties, and it sanctions non-locality only avoiding a clash with Relativity via a sneaky loophole. The resulting picture of quantum reality is so odd as to make many thinkers hope the theory is wrong. Mike aim was to put the case for the defence, arguing that charges against QM are at best exaggerated and at worst simply misguided.

Pigotts location

Piggot's Hill is a single-track uphill road with passing places. Pigotts (North Dean, Bucks HP14 4NF) is the first lot of buildings on the right. Please follow the signs for where to park.

Here is a live map, so you can zoom in and out and switch between map, satellite and street views.