Unless stated otherwise, all listed events take
place in Rewley House
– click the link for a map.
Except for the Members'
Day event, which has its own booking form (available when
appropriate from the Members' Day page), all bookings
are done through OUDCE. For events which are still
pending, clicking on a course title will
take you to a page giving course details and offering a
link for electronic booking (and a link to a PDF form if
you prefer to apply by post).
Other OUDCE courses
Members may be also interested in Philosophy courses being run by the
Oxford University Department for Continuing Education:
This day school explores the many complicated and sometimes emotive
issues surrounding free speech. Almost everyone believes that there
should be some restrictions on free speech. But where exactly should
we draw the line?
There is increasing pressure across social media to silence certain
voices. Is this unjustified censorship, or reasonable restrictions to
protect vulnerable groups and individuals? Are universities and other
institutions justified in ‘no-platforming’ certain speakers, and if
so, when? Does causing deep offence to religious people justify
placing legal limits on what can be said about their beliefs? Are
accusations of, for example, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and
transphobia being weaponised in order to shut down important debates?
If someone feels that they are a victim of prejudice, does that
guarantee that they are? Under what circumstances is someone guilty of
‘hate speech’, and what legal or other restrictions should be placed
on such speech?
We will be unpacking and examining the philosophical and political
arguments on either side.
Suppose I invite you to enter a teletransporter for an exciting
adventure in space travel. In this teletransporter a copy will be made
of every cell in your body. Whilst your brain and body are destroyed on
Earth, a new being, a facsimile, will appear almost instantly on Planet
Zog. No need for a tedious journey in a space craft. The recreated
person on Planet Zog will look indistinguishable from you, it will have
all your memories?
But will it be you?
‘Personal Identity’ is one of the most puzzling areas in philosophy.
Many philosophers have grappled with it, from John Locke in the 17th
Century to Derek Parfit in the 20th.
To test our intuitions about personal identity, philosophers have come
up with weird and wonderful thought experiments. Locke asked us to
imagine that a prince and a cobbler swapped souls, so that the memories
of the prince were in the body of the cobbler and vice-versa. Parfit
asked us to imagine what would happen if a brain was split in two, with
the two hemispheres being implanted in two separate bodies.
There’s much at stake; the issue matters. Your position on Personal
Identity may affect how you regard the past – should a person be
punished for an act that was committed a decade earlier? It may affect
how you view the future – should you bother to put money into a pension
scheme or splurge everything so as to have fun today? How you view
Personal Identity might even affect your attitude to death.
Prof Chris French, Ms Deborah Hyde and Dr Stephen Law
An exploration of a range of ‘weird’ beliefs and experiences, from
alien abduction and angels to conspiracy theories and miraculous
What psychological mechanisms are involved in generating such beliefs?
Is the scientific community justifiably skeptical about such beliefs,
or are scientists for the most part just closed-minded naysayers?
Doesn’t the fact that so many people report such experiences give them
at least some credibility? How should we assess the evidence when it
comes to belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and so on?
What even counts as good evidence?
One session, led by Deborah Hyde, anthropologist and former editor of
The Skeptic magazine, will focus in particular on poltergeist activity
(perhaps listen to The Battersea Poltergeist on BBC Sounds for more
The other sessions approach weird beliefs from the perspective of
psychology (Prof. Chris French) and philosophy and critical thinking
(Dr Stephen Law), and provide both numerous illustrations and principles
for assessing them.
It seems we are physical organisms entirely in the grip of the laws of
nature, so that someone sufficiently knowledgeable of how things stand
before our birth could, in principle, predict with complete accuracy
everything we will ever say. But then, in what sense, if any, can we
still be ‘free’? Surely we are no more free than a falling rock, or a
planet circling the sun, for what we say and do is determined by the
very same laws. Those who argue that freewill is actually compatible
with the truth of determinism often argue that freewill sceptics have
misunderstood what ‘free action’ really means. But is that true?
After setting out the prominent versions of the main positions on
freewill – libertarianism, compatibilism and freewill scepticism – and
outlining the main arguments, we will then explore in more detail
issues in the metaphysics of freewill, focusing particularly on the
research of Prof. Helen Steward and her book A Metaphysics for
Freedom. The day also considers whether animals can be said to possess
Except where noted otherwise, audio recordings of past
events are available to Philsoc members via the
Events Archive page.
Contemporary Humanism: An Introduction
Dr Thiago Alves Pinto and Dr Stephen Law
Contemporary humanism is explained as a view that typically combines:
an emphasis on the role of science and reason
the acceptance of atheism
The view that this is very probably the only life we have. There is
no heaven or hell awaiting us
a commitment to the existence and importance of moral value
emphasis on our individual moral autonomy and responsibility
a commitment to political secularism
belief that we can enjoy significant, meaningful lives even if there
is no God, and whether or not we happen to be religious
All seven views will be unpacked and religious and other critiques of
them will be examined. In particular, we will explore the limits of
science and reason and whether science can threaten religious belief,
the possibility of leading meaningful lives in the absence of
religion, political secularism and the separation of Church and State,
how best to raise moral citizens (within a religious framework vs.
within a secular framework), and the work of campaigning humanist
groups such as Humanists UK and the American Humanist Association.
Human Nature: Does Evolutionary Explanation Have Limits?
Anthony O'Hear and Friedel Weinert
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection might reasonably be
considered one of the most successful theories of all times. But how should we
understand it? Are there in fact two theories rather than one (linear and
branching evolution)? Can the theory be used both to explain and to
What, furthermore, are the implications of Darwin’s theory for some of the
problems that we consider in philosophy? Can Darwin’s theory account for human
nature, for example, or is there something about human beings that requires
supplementary explanation? Can Darwin’s theory be appealed to in explanation
of the emergence, for example, of the human mind? Might Darwin’s theory be
applied to our political, social and economic behaviour? Or might it, in such
an application, be thought to defeat itself as Marxianism and Freudianism
During this weekend we will hear two philosophers discuss what the Theory
of Natural Selection can, and can’t explain.
February 12 (one day):
John Rawls at 100 (no recordings available)
Dr Doug Bamford and Dr Sabrina Martin (Chair Ms Audrey Borowski)
Rawls is widely considered the most important political philosopher of the
20th century, recipient of several prizes including the National Humanities
Medal. His works have been used in court rulings and invoked by politicians.
People who have not read his works may find themselves using his ideas.
Rawls is best known for his defence of liberal egalitarianism in his first
book, A Theory of Justice (1971). This book took elements of the social
contract tradition to argue for principles of justice with a liberal and
egalitarian slant over the Utilitarian approach which prevailed at the time.
In the first half of the day we will look at Rawls’ way of approaching moral
and political philosophy, considering whether this is still relevant. We then
look at how he applied his approach to the basic institutions of society, his
theory of justice. The most discussed of his principles of justice is his
famous ‘difference principle.’ This holds that inequalities should be allowed
to the extent that they benefit the worst off. How does Rawls argue for this
and does this influence economists and politicians today?
In the second half of the day we will consider Rawls’ later work, Political
Liberalism and its ongoing influence on politics and the law. Rawls argues
that political life should be conducted according to a secular ‘public reason’
which shows respect to those who disagree. Questions of tolerating the
intolerant are a perpetual theme in liberalism. Those who are unable to sign
up to the requirements of political liberalism are labelled unreasonable. Is
Rawls’ book A Theory of Justice is one of the most cited works in the
humanities and social sciences of the 20th century. It has influenced not only
moral and political philosophy but also economics and law.
This day school will summarise Rawls’ contribution and consider its ongoing
influence in both academic discourse and in the wider world.
February 26 (one day):
A Day with the Stoics (no recordings available)
Stoicism is an ancient school of philosophy that is gaining prominence
again. One reason for this revival is the Stoics’ concern with making
philosophy relevant as something that ought to be lived, or somehow be
connected to our life. Doing philosophy is taking care of oneself, and
considering how best to live a life that is also worth living.
In four thematic and interactive sessions we discuss a range of exemplary
passages from the works of Seneca (e.g., from On the Happy Life) and
Epictetus (e.g., from the Discourses). We focus on the period of the
early Roman Empire (roughly 30–180 AC), but occasionally glance at the
original Athenian Stoics (roughly 300–50 BC). We explore a variety of central
ethical themes, and examine to what extent, and in what ways, Stoic ideas
matter for our own lives now. Stoic teaching was public and open to anyone in
antiquity: and so beginners in philosophy are most welcome today too.
A course pack with the relevant passages and sources will be available in
March 05 (one day):
Meaning and Use: Philosophy of Language (no recordings available)
Dr Hossein Dabbagh (Chair Dr Doug Bamford)
What kind of actions can we perform with our words? What is the relationship
between the meaning of an utterance and the context in which the utterance is
This day school attempts to introduce you to one of the dominant contemporary
traditions in the Anglo-American analytic philosophy of language. Philosophy
of language is mostly concerned with the role that language plays in our
thinking. We will explore how language works, to determine when (and how) we
speak meaningfully in different contexts. How do we understand each other’s
intentions in our communications? How language users interpret words and
We will also examine how people use their cultural background and assumption,
even unconsciously, in their interpretation and conversation. To get a grasp
on this, we will particularly study the Speech Act theory, Implicatures and
the Cooperative Principle, Embodied Cognition, and Conceptual Metaphors. These
theories and principles give us different tools to analyse natural language in
a consistent way.
April 16 (one day):
Games, Pictures, Rules and Therapies (no recordings available)
Dr Roxana Baiasu (Chair Ms Audrey Borowski)
Wittgenstein is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, both in
Europe and in the Anglo-American tradition. In the 1930’s he announced his
break with the tradition of philosophy. His work revolutionised the evolution
of Analytic philosophy and shaped a significant part of its future
This day school focuses on a few central themes of his major later work, the
Philosophical Investigations, themes which include: the Augustinian picture of
language, language-games, general concepts and family resemblances, rules and
rule-following, and philosophical methodology. The day aims to develop an
understanding of these themes, an awareness of Wittgenstein’s particular style
and method of philosophising and a grasp of the distinctive role of his
thought in the history of philosophy.
Might Ignorance Be Bliss? (no recordings available)
Rachel Fraser and Bernhard Salow
Might our judgements or what we take to be evidencebe systematically biased
or irrational? To what extent are we able to transcend our current
perspectives? How do we handle the potential conflict between past and future
versions of ourselves? And how do we resolve the conflicts between the demands
of the evidence, the search for truth, and the moral and practical constraints
we are subject to?
This weekend will introduce you to philosophical tools for thinking about how
to manage and respond to evidence. On the one hand, evidence is usually
valuable: the more we know, the better our decisions tend to be. On the other
hand, sometimes knowing more makes us worse off---for example, when the
evidence we gather is misleading, or we interpret it in a biased way. We will
explore how to reason about these trade-offs in a precise way, to determine
when (and why) it does (and doesnt) make sense to continue gathering evidence
before making a decision.
September 30 - December 02:
Introducing Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy
Dr Stephen Law
What gives these squiggles meaning? What is meaning exactly? And what is
the mind? These questions can quickly generate puzzlement and confusion,
leading to all sorts of philosophical theories. In particular, we may be
quickly drawn to the view that the mind is an inner realm necessarily
inaccessible to others, and that meaning is a private process that takes
place in that inner realm. These pictures then generate classic
philosophical problems, such as: How can I know whether there Is a world
outside my mind? and: How can I know that anyone else has a mind?
According to Wittgenstein, once we start to think philosophically, we
can quickly become enthralled by 'pictures' of meaning and mind that
then hold us captive. Wittgenstein's aim is to break the spell these
pictures cast over us. What we require are not solutions to these
classic philosophical problems, but a kind of therapy so that we come to
recognise that they are actually pseudo-problems. We look at many
concrete illustrations of how Wittgenstein's approach can be applied.
We will also look at Wittgenstein's work on religious language, and his
suggestion that our failure to recognise how religious language is used
generates deep philosophical puzzlement about God and faith.
The Limits of Philosophy, Science and Religion
Dr Stephen Law and Chris Oldfield
This course explores the respective limits of science, religion and
To what extent can and does science threaten religious belief? Is the
supernatural off-limits to science? Are those, like Richard Dawkins, who
think science can potentially show that there is no God guilty of
scientism – of supposing that science can answer every legitimate
question? Are science and religion ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, as
Stephen J. Gould claimed, with science focussed on the age of rocks and
religion on the rock of ages? Can religious claims be laboratory tested,
or empirically falsified? Or is this to misunderstand the nature of
We also consider: if science and observation provide our only window on
to reality, what room is left for philosophy, exactly? Can philosophical
reflection reveal fundamental truths about the universe? If so, how? And
if not, then what do philosophers do, exactly? Is philosophy ultimately
a huge waste of time, as several prominent scientists suggested?
Identifying Future-Proof Science
Philip Goff and Peter Vickers
Is science getting at the truth? Sceptics claim that, given all the
‘scientific revolutions’ in the history of science, we should expect further
major changes in scientific thinking in the future. They ask: given the
history of science, wouldn’t it be naïve to think that many/most current
scientific theories reveal ‘the truth’, and will never be discarded in favour
of other theories? After all, previous scientists thought so, and they were
Philosophers of science have resisted this line of thought by identifying
important differences between past science and current science, including
differences in the size of the scientific community, and the quantity and
quality of the evidence involved. However, very big U-turns in science have
been quite recent, including attitudes towards continental drift in the 1960s,
and the dramatic revelation, in 1998, that the universe’s expansion is
accelerating. It seems reasonable to suppose that very big U-turns will
continue, especially when we dare to look 500 years ahead. It is even possible
that a revolution going right to the core of the scientific method is required
in order to tackle consciousness.
Thus we must ask the question: Is it possible to identify any future-proof
19 September (Day School):
Amna Whiston (Ewert House, Lecture Room 9)
January 11-12: Existentialism
Jonathan Webber and Kate KirkPatrick (Lecture Theatre)
According to Sartre that ‘existence precedes essence’ is the first
principle’ of Existentialism. There is no ‘human nature’ determined by
God or nature, there is no objective set of rules that we must follow to
decide what to do. Instead we become what we are by our own choices. In
his new book Rethinking Existentialism, Jonathan Webber offers an
interpretation of existentialism as the ethical theory that human
freedom is the foundation of all other values.
The Golden Age of Buddhism
Jan Westerhoff and Nilanjan Das (Tawney Room)
During this weekend we will be dealing with two central topics in the
development of Buddhist thought. These correspond to two sections of Jan
Westerhoff’s "The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy" (OUP 2018).
One is the question whether there is a soul or substantial self. The
other is the question whether there are any external objects. The
schools of Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā defended the existence of both a
substantial self and of an external world, whereas the former was
denied by the Abhidharma Buddhists, and both were denied by Yogācāra,
a later school of Buddhism. Philosophers from the non-Buddhist classical
Indian tradition unsurprisingly did not agree with the Buddhist
An Introduction to Philosophy of Mathematics
Alex Paseau and Florian Steinberger (Tawney Room)
The philosophy of mathematics asks how mathematics fits in to our overall
picture of the world. Mathematics is a big part of that picture,
especially since it is applied so fruitfully in the sciences – not just
the physical sciences but the social and cognitive sciences as well. But
it’s also puzzling in a way that these sciences are not. Unlike them, it
doesn’t seem to be about the physical world, at least not directly; we
don’t perform experiments in mathematics in the way we do in physics or
chemistry. But yet – unlike fiction say – it doesn’t seem to be made up
either. We are constrained in mathematics. So what is mathematics about?
And how do we know it? What is the special role of proof in mathematics,
and why do mathematicians insist on it? What is nature of the logical
constraints on mathematical reasoning? Is there but one correct logic?
Or might there be several?
All subsequent 2020 events were cancelled because of
Wittgenstein: Religion and Nonsense
Stephen Mulhall, OU and Mikel Burley, Leeds (Lecture Theatre)
Wittgenstein's ideas about religion have been much more influential
than is sometimes thought. The first two lectures will consider this
influence, concentrating on Wittgenstein's remarks on James Frazer's
The Golden Bough and Wittgenstein's proposal that we overcome the
temptation to view certain religious practices as simply confused or
nonsensical. We shall look at this through the lens of D.Z.Phillips'
'contemplative conception of philosophy', the purpose of which is to
disclose 'possibilities of sense' within religious forms of life. In
lectures three and four we shall consider the connections between
Wittgenstein's views on ethics and his treatment of value in the
Tractatus, and so to his early conception of sense and nonsense in
language. It will be suggested that Wittgenstein's treatment of
absolute value in his 'Lecture on Ethics', taken together with his
comparison of mathematical conjectures with riddles, provides a
fruitful way of understanding a range of religious uses of language.
It will be claimed that Wittgensteinian sense can be made of the
thought that religious language is necessarily nonsensical, but none
the worse for that; indeed, if it were not nonsensical, it could not
have the significance that religious believers attribute to it, and to
the faith it expresses.
The philosophy of colour
Derek Brown, University of Glasgow and Will Davies Univ. of
B'ham (Tawney Room)
What is redness? Is redness the quality of an experience, the
property of an object or a property that emerges from the interaction
of visual systems like ours with objects that reflect light at a certain
wavelength? Could a blind person form the same concept 'red' as a sighted
person? Does the answer to the second question tell us anything about
the answer to the first? During this weekend we shall be discussing
colours, our perception of them, our concepts of them, and the
philosophy of colour more generally.
Christopher Gill, Exeterand John Sellars, Royal Holloway
There has been a resurgence of interest in Stoicism in recent years,
with people as varied as cognitive psychotherapists, Silicon Valley
entrepreneurs, resilience trainers, practitioners of Buddhism, deep
ecologists, and even the US military extolling its benefits. Each year
thousands of people follow Stoic Week, an experiment aimed at testing
its usefulness. But what is Stoicism? What are its central ethical
claims? How did the Stoics conceive a good human life? During this
weekend we shall examine both the philosophical foundations of Stoic
ethics and techniques by which they might be put into practice.
April 06, 13:30: Philsoc AGM
The Annual General Meeting of the Society, preceeding the weekend's
course on the mind-body problem. All members welcome!
The Status of the Mind-Body problem in 2019
Marianne Talbot (Tawney Room)
The Mind-Body problem is the problem of how our minds are related to our
bodies (and in particular our brains). There was a time when it seemed
obvious that our minds could exist without our brains (surely after the
death of the body the mind lives on?). Then there was a time when it
seemed obvious that mental states are states of the brain. It is
today often assumed by the person in the street and indeed the
neurologist in the university that the mind is the brain. But
philosophers are not so sure. Indeed most philosophers these days would
deny that the mind is the brain. But who are philosophers to
pronounce on this? Come and find out.
Continental and Analytic Philosophy
Yvonne Sherratt, Bristol University and Mike Beaney Kings
College (Sadler Room)
In the western world philosophy tends to divide into two 'schools'
– the analytic school and the continental school. Although some
people successfully straddle the two schools, most philosophers tend to
work in either one or the other. During this weekend we will compare and
contrast these two schools. We will look at the history and development
of each school, and problems that each of them face.
October 07 - November 11, 14:00 - 15:30:
Reason and Emotion (unaccredited lecture series)
Julia Weckend (Lecture Theatre)
Emotions bear complex relationships to rationality. On one hand they are
seen as arational or irrational, on the other they make our actions
intelligible and arguably lift us above the purely mechanistic
behaviours of machines. Much like human sensory perception, emotions
perform an essential function: they inform us about the world. That
said, Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma can be applied to emotions: we can pose
the question why is something feared or loved? Is it because it is fear-
or love-inspiring in itself? This is the objectivist’s outlook on
emotion. In contrast, a subjectivist stance would be that something is
fear- or love-inspiring because we fear or love it. In this case, the
objects and qualities we find in the world are mere projections of our
own attitudes. This course is an exploration into the possibility,
extent and nature of the objectivity of emotions, and their contribution
to rationality. We shall cast a light on historical perspectives on
reason and emotion and compare these with more recent philosophical
findings in this vibrant area of contemporary research.
God, Meaning and Objectivity
John Cottingham and Lloyd Strickland (Lecture Theatre)
In the early modern period it was widely assumed that a God-centred
worldview was indispensable for making sense of the notions of
objective truth and goodness, and that such objectivity provided a
framework within which human beings could make sense of their lives.
In today’s increasingly secular, atheistic and naturalistic outlook,
do the notions of objective truth and value have to be given up?
A Romp through Philosophy for the Complete Beginner
Marianne Talbot (Lecture Theatre)
The first philosophers, working before the 5th century BC, looked for
natural rather than supernatural explanations. Eschewing appeal to God
they asked questions such as ‘what is existence?’, ‘what is truth?’,
‘what is justice?, ‘how should we live our lives’? Modern day
philosophers still ask such questions, although the modern debate would
seem very strange to one of the ancient philosophers. Philosophers
conduct experiments, but these are thought experiments, constrained not
by the laws of nature but the laws of logic. During these lectures we
shall be looking at the history of philosophy, at the methodology used
by modern day philosophers and at why philosophy is still needed in the
context of the success of science. No prior experience of philosophy
will be assumed.
Equality, Opportunity and Difference
Jo Wollf and Emily McTernan (Lecture Theatre)
If we were asked which principles we’d like to see govern our society,
many if not most people in the West would refer to equality. Yet our
society is currently more unequal that ever (on one measurement of
equality). Few would advocate strict equality, according to which
resources would be divided equally amongst everyone. Such a distribution
seems guaranteed to ensure inequality. But if this is not what we mean,
what do we mean? And what resources do we want to distribute equally –
material goods, or goods such as well-being or happiness? Or is it that
we want to ensure equality of opportunity, so that equality of outcome is
not something that we aim for? During this weekend we will look at these
difficult questions, and others.
Anil Gomes and Adrian Moore (Tawney Room)
Kant’s transcendental idealism consisted in his claim that both our
experience of the empirical world and the empirical world itself have a
structure that we ourselves impose (where this structure includes space,
time, and causation). But he also denied that this structure is a
feature of things as they are in themselves, quite independent of our
experience of them. By combining these two theses Kant rejected both the
‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) favoured by the empiricists, and the a
priori knowledge of the world favoured by the rationalists. Kant also
held that there are two aspects to reason, and this has important
consequences for freedom. Practical reason (particularly morality)
presupposes freewill, but theoretical reason cannot demonstrate that we
are free. During this weekend we will discuss the thought of this hugely
Realism and Emergence in the Philosophy of Science
James Ladyman and Naomi Thompson (Lecture Theatre)
During this weekend school we will consider metaphysics and its relation
to science. We will be considering whether we need metaphysics at all,
and if so why. One view is that the two types of enquiry are needed to
guide and constrain each other – the two are components of a complete
understanding of the world. We will also look at the notions of
‘dependence’ and ‘emergence’. One area of philosophy where such notions
might do important work is in accounting for the relationship between
the mental and the physical. We will consider different accounts of
metaphysical dependence and emergence, and how they might be used to
clarify the debate.
Where is the Mind?
Marianne Talbot (Tawney Room)
There are all sorts of reasons for thinking that the mind is in the
head. It is not, after all, events in the environment that make you do
what you do, it is your beliefs about such events. Beliefs, surely, are
in your head? If you think the mind is the brain, of course, you will
certainly think that the mind is in the head. But in recent years many
philosophers have turned their back on this obvious thought and embraced
externalism in the philosophy of mind. In doing this they claim that
mental states are not in the head. During this weekend we shall be
considering the arguments for (and against) this claim, and the
ramifications for its truth.
Beyond the Nature/Nurture Controversy: Moral Autonomy and Social
Ellen Fridland and Peter Railton (Sadler Room)
It is often asked of morality, "Is it nature or nurture?" Virtually
everyone today agrees that the correct answer is "Both". But that answer
opens new questions, not simply questions about the relative
contribution of "nature" or "nurture" (or whether these can even be
meaningfully separated), but also about whether there is something more
to moral development that this debate usually presupposes. 'Nature' and
'nurture' as these terms are traditionally used cast the individual in a
passive role in moral development – either by genetic inheritance
or by inculcation of the norms of his society by socialization. We'd
like to emphasize how that humans are equipped not just to receive such
shaping forces, but also for active, original moral learning that can
carry us beyond the moral world we inherit, and help explain how
morality can be a domain of independent thinking, and vibrant innovation
October 08 - November 12, 14:00 - 15:30:
Explanation (unaccredited lecture series)
Marianne Talbot (Lecture Theatre)
For human beings the intelligibility of our world is hugely important.
We want – perhaps need – explanations for phenomenon
that interests us. We want, that is, explanations to everything.
But what is an explanation? And what is the process of
explaining? Some people believe that all explanations are causal.
But if so are there different types of causal explanation?
Are reason explanations of our own behaviour, for example, a
particular type of causal explanation? Will science ever explain
everything? Or are there limits to scientific explanation? Recently it
has been suggested that it is not the case that all explanations are
causal. This is a live debate with some philosophers arguing that all
apparent non-causal explanations are in fact causal, and others
insisting that they are wrong.
October 20 - 21:
Philosophy of Art in the Classical World
Angie Hobbs, Sheffield University and Patrick Doorly, OUDCE
In ancient Greek one term, kalon, embraces both aesthetic beauty
and the morally fine. Another ancient Greek word aretê,
traditionally translated as 'virtue' or 'excellence', shares a common
Indo-European root with the Latin 'art' and English 'right'. But are the
concepts of beauty and morality really related? What about great, but
morally abhorrent, artists? Another conundrum is posed by the status of
a work as a work of art. There are many different ways to
characterise works of art. Different views may have a different impact
on our views on how art and morality are linked, and therefore on
censorship. And to what extent can we define the sublime? Perhaps any
attempt to define it, or indeed any of our values, will destroy them?
Did Socrates' insistence on definition marginalize the values he most
cherished in the Western intellectual tradition? During this weekend
school we shall address these questions and others.
Scientific Realism And The Challenge From The History Of
Peter Vickers, Durham University and Timothy Lyons Purdue
University Indianapolis (Lecture Theatre)
Scientific realists claim that science seeks the truth and that we have
good reason to believe that our best scientific theories achieve or at
least approximate it. Vickers defends epistemic scientific realism,
arguing that we can (at least sometimes) identify the parts of our
scientific theories which are (approximately) true. By contrast, Lyons
argues against epistemic scientific realism. Both Lyons and Vickers draw
on historical examples to support their claims, especially historical
episodes where scientists were confident they had hit upon 'the truth',
but it later turned out that they were radically mistaken. Such cases
have often been put forward to challenge the realist claim that the
success of science gives us good grounds for believing that science is
uncovering the fundamental truths of our universe. Whilst Vickers
believes the realist can answer such historical challenges, Lyons is not
so optimistic. Lyons does, however, support a realist attitude too when
it comes to the aim of science, and he proposes that a refined
understanding of the realist aim holds lessons for inquiry in general.
The Philosophy of Creativity
Matthew Kieran and Michael Beaney (Lecture Theatre)
What IS creativity? There are several different conceptions of it, and
we will consider some of these during these lectures. We will discuss
the role that personal character (motivation, emotion, and attitude)
plays in human creativity, and whether curiosity, driven-ness,
resilience and the ability to embrace risk are concomitant with
creativity, and if so why. We will also consider the supposed failings
of the creative character. Are creative people cocky, vain, dismissive
and stubborn? If so must they be? Creativity is often linked to the
arts. The role played by creativity in logic, mathematics and
philosophy has been especially poorly appreciated. We hope to correct
this and will reflect on the role played in these disciplines by
Introduction to Islamic Ethics
Tariq Ramadan (Tawney Room)
This weekend course will explore the traditional basis of Islamic ethics
and how we might apply some of the key elements of this understanding
when considering how to approach ethical issues relevant today. Lecture
content will cover the theoretical framework (basic terminology,
essential concepts and an introduction to theological philosophy and its
relationship with ethics from an Islamic perspective) and through case
studies will look at how this is applied in practice. Critical
discussion and engagement from course participants will be encouraged.
The course content does not assume any prior knowledge, although keen
students might be interested to read some of the publications of Tariq
Ramadan or browse http://www.cilecenter.org (Research Center for Islamic
Legislation and Ethics).
Are Economic Sanctions Morally Acceptable?
Cecile Fabre and Liz Ellis (Tawney Room)
Economic sanctions, such as the withdrawal of trade, are imposed when
the state (or organisation) imposing the sanction wants to change the
behaviour of the state on which the sanctions are imposed. For example
the EU and the US have had sanctions in place against Russia since it
annexed the Crimea in March 2014. Those sanctions have been
intensified on several occasions since. Their aim is to undermine the
Russian economy. But do such sanctions work? Do they hurt only those
they are supposed to hurt? It seems not: UNICEF estimated that the
economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 90s, for example, led to the
deaths of 500,000 children aged under five from malnutrition and disease.
Recently there have been attempts to 'target' sanctions, freezing
the assets, for example, of those believed to be responsible for the
behavior deemed unacceptable. Economic sanctions raise huge moral and
political problems – yet until recently philosophers have not
been discussing them.
Thinking of the Impossible
Mark Jago and Ira Kiourti (Lecture Theatre)
Mathematicians tried to square the circle for centuries before realising
that it can't be done. Time travel stories abound, even though time
travel may well turn out to be impossible. In daily life we often think
about impossible things. If Jane makes an error in multiplication, for
example, and comes to believe 56 times 12 is 762 she is entertaining an
impossible thought. How can we understand the content of thoughts about
impossible things? Philosophers have suggested that thought content can
be captured in terms of possible worlds. But if a thought is impossible
it is not true in any possible world. Moreover, if we admit the
existence of possible worlds, we have to address the question of what a
possible world is, and what it is like. Come and help us tussle with
The Philosophy of Spinoza
Susan James and Beth Lord (Sadler Room)
Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677) is a major philosopher of the 17th
century. Following Descartes, Spinoza developed original views about
God, the universe, the human mind, and its relationship to the body and
the world. Following Hobbes, he developed important views about
political organization and the formation of democracy. Spinoza took
geometry as a model for philosophy, and contributed significantly to
almost every aspect of philosophy. The Ethics, Spinoza's best-known
book, identifies God with Nature. Nature constitutes an infinite,
necessary and fully determinist system of which humans are part. From
such ideas Spinoza developed an ethical system in which humans find
happiness through their rational understanding of the system of which
they are part, and of their place within it. Come and learn about this
important philosopher, in the company of others with similar interests.
Philsoc Away Day: Universals
Bob Stone, Neil Webb, Bob Clarke, Peter Gibson.
Members' Weekend: Health
Speakers Brendan Hurley, Judith Stares, Marianne Talbot, Alexander
Papadopoulos, David Burridge, Fauzia Rahman-Greasley.
September 16 (one day):
Richard Sorabji (Tawney Room)
In this day school we will be examining Free Speech. We shall
start by examining the development of the idea of Free Speech starting
in the fifth century BC and including ancient Greece, India, Persia,
medieval Arabic-speaking countries and medieval Christianity. We shall
then consider some of the difficulties inherent in Free Speech. We will
consider the USA’s legal requirement on Free Speech, which allows few
boundaries, and also John Stuart Mill’s emphasis on the benefits of Free
Speech, as opposed to our right to it. We’ll examine the question of
what happens when someone exercises their right when that frustrates the
benefits of Free Speech, by closing down discussion and understanding.
Should lovers of Free Speech voluntarily refrain from indulging their
right, or encouraging others to do so, in such cases? Finally we shall
look at the difficulties of framing legal boundaries to free speech.
Should abuse of religion, class, or race be legally outlawed, if
intended to cause offence, or if likely to do so? Did the Brexit
campaign uncover further legal difficulties? For example did the law
permit too much speech hostile to foreigners, or allow too much
mendacity? How should we deal with lies in the newspapers, or abuse on
the internet? There will be plenty of opportunity to socialise with
other participants and with the speaker.
October 9 - November 13, 14:00 - 15:30:
Knowledge (unaccredited lecture series)
Marianne Talbot (Lecture Theatre)
The claim that knowledge cannot be false always attracts objections.
“Surely people used to know that the Earth was flat?”, people will say
“But that was false”. But no, people once falsely believed they knew the
Earth was flat. They didn’t, and couldn’t, KNOW it – and that is because
if a belief counts as knowledge it must be true. This course will
introduce you to Epistemology – the Theory of Knowledge. What is
knowledge? Why is knowledge important? What different kinds of knowledge
are there? Can we achieve knowledge? If we can achieve knowledge how can
we achieve it? Knowledge is one of the most important goods that human
beings can achieve – come to these lectures and discover why this is the
Wagner and Philosophy
Meade McLoughan and John Deathridge (Lecture Theatre)
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) has long been considered one of the
most obviously philosophical of the great artists in the European
tradition. This is in recognition both of the way in which his work was
particularly open to philosophical influences and of the extent to which
it has in turn stimulated significant philosophical responses. We will
start by evaluating the importance of Schopenhauer’s philosophy for
Wagner, before considering the extent to which the music dramas can be
understood as presenting their own distinctive philosophical ideas.
There will be then be two different takes on philosophical approaches to
Wagner, focusing on the most important and sustained instance of this in
the work of Wagner’s one-time friend and colleague, Nietzsche, but also
taking in twentieth-century responses from Adorno and others.
The Rationality of Animals
Alex Kecelnic and Marianne Talbot (Lecture Theatre)
Aristotle called humans ‘the only rational animal’. But was he right?
What exactly is it to be rational? Are there really no animals (birds,
plants…) that are rational? Surely animals, birds and plants might be
rational in a different way from human beings? Maybe there are degrees
of rationality? We know for sure that different disciplines make use of
different accounts of rationality – perhaps the idea of what it is to be
rational must be relativized to different disciplines. Perhaps, even
within a discipline, it should be relativized to different species?
During this weekend a philosopher and a zoologist will be addressing
these questions and more.
The Inconsistency of Science
Peter Vickers, Dunja Šešelja and Christian Straßer (Lecture Theatre)
Various examples from the history of science show us that
successful, genuine science both can be inconsistent, and even
sometimes should be inconsistent. There are also clear examples
where an inconsistency means either (a) nothing can be trusted,
or (b) only some conclusions can be trusted. So when does an
inconsistency matter, and when doesn't it? The answer to this
question is best explored not in the abstract, but by looking in
detail at a number of concrete examples from the history of
science. The presence of inconsistency raises the issue of the
underlying nature of science. It is often assumed that the key
to science's success lies in its 'logical' approach to the
relationship between theory and evidence. But is this logic
standard 'classical' logic or a more exotic logic? This debate
is crucial, since one's take on it will affect how one
distinguishes 'good' and 'bad'reasoning in science, including
which inferences are 'sensible' or 'allowed', and thus what a
scientific theory does and doesn't tell us about the universe.
During this weekend we shall consider these questions and
Løgstrup (Danish Ethics)
Bob Stern, Glasgow and George Pattison, Glasgow (Tawney Room)
While comparatively little known in the English-speaking world,
Knud Ejler Løgstrup (1905-1981) is a major figure in his
native Denmark, and interest in his work is growing more widely.
His main philosophical work is The Ethical Demand (1956), which
offers a broadly phenomenological reflection on the centrality
of the ethical requirement to 'love thy neighbour as thyself',
what this requirement means, and what might justify it. This
leads Løgstrup to introduce themes relating to trust, our
radical interdependence, and the responsibility we have for the
care of others, all of which he thinks have been wrongly handled
by other ethicists. Kant is a major point of critical reference
for Løgstrup. But his approach to ethics is very
different. He believes that Kant places too much emphasis on
duty in ethics, and on general rules. Løgstrup is also
critical of Kierkegaard's approach for misunderstanding what is
involved in loving the neighbour. Another point of comparison
is Levinas, for while they did not know each other's work, both
emphasise the significance of the ethical encounter with the
other individual, and what this requires of us.
Induction and Science
Marianne Talbot, Martin Christlieb and David Miller (Tawney Room)
Inductive reasoning begins with the known and makes predictions
about the unknown. E.g. if I know my drug cured 75% of cancer
patients in my trial, then it's likely to cure 75% of the cancer
patients in the UK. Likely, but not certain. We shall be
considering the pros and cons of this type of reasoning, and
examining its role in human thinking. Marianne Talbot will
start by distinguishing induction from deduction. David Miller
will then suggest that many courses in reasoning fail to explain
why correct reasoning is important. He will argue that,
although reasoning is often thought to justify, to persuade, and
to advance knowledge, it actually does none of these things
well. Martin Christlieb will defend induction in the process of
testing new therapies. He will explain why clinical trials are
needed, the recipe for asking good questions, and how good
questions are turned into a testable null hypothesis. He will
argue that uncertain beginnings are always reflected in
uncertain predictions and that the inductive process of trial
design is unavoidable. Finally Miller will maintain that,
although the testing of hypotheses is an ineliminable part of
science, inductive reasoning is not, indeed, it is neither
useful nor beneficial.
An Introduction to Metaphysics
Marianne Talbot (Lecture Theatre)
The word 'metaphysics'is derived from the title of a set of fourteen
books by Aristotle. Aristotle himself would not recognize the books
under that name. Metaphysics, though, is one of the key
sub-disciplines of philosophy, asking such fundamental questions as
'what is the universe made of?', 'what is the nature of a physical
object?', 'what are events?', 'what is time?', 'do universals exist?'
and 'what limits possibility?'.
Would the Disabled be Better Off Dead?
Benjamin Wood and Gary Keogh (Sadler Room)
Would the disabled be better off dead? Is it discriminations
against the people like Tony Nicklinson that we are not allowed to help
them to die? Should we use Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis to select
against disabled foetuses? What are the rights and wrongs in this
Ryan Meade, Janet Cox, Michael Donnan, Marianne Talbot,
Peggy Verall, Bob STone.
Has Science shown that Free Will is An Illusion?
Alfred Mele, Helen Beebee and Nura Sidarus (Lecture Theatre)
You might think you are free to choose whether to come to this weekend
school or not. But are you right? Not if 'Hard Determinism' is
true. According to Hard Determinism, our every action is determined by
the conditions obtaining long ago, together with the laws of nature.
Free will is an illusion. But then what of our morality and our legal
system, both of which seem to depend on the assumption of free will?
Compatibilists think determinism is consistent with free will, allowing
us to be 'scientifically respectable' and believe in free
will. But how can an action be both freely chosen and causally
determined? Surely Compatibilism is self-contradictory? And what of
science? Hasn't neuroscience shown that our brains have already
'decided' how we should act before we even become conscious of
making a choice? If so we must either reject free will or show
that Compatibilism is coherent. We will spend the weekend discussing
these difficult and important questions with two philosophers and a
Truth and Relativism
Timothy Williamson and Maria Baghramian (Lecture Theatre)
Relativism comes in many varieties, from some that sound like common
sense to others that sound wildly paradoxical. If you believe it is 4
pm, and your friend in France says it is 5 pm, you wouldn't take it
amiss – aren't truths about time always relative to time-zones?
Nor would you think it odd if your friend insists sardines are tasty,
though you loathe them: aren't truths about personal preferences always
relative to individuals? Some people even advocate global relativism,
according to which all truth – even in science – is relative
to a point of view. For most people, that is going too far. Moral
relativism insists that truth about what is right or wrong is relative
to a moral framework. Do we need such relativism to avoid dogmatism and
intolerance? But is relativism self-defeating? During this weekend we
shall be discussing these issues with two philosophers with a long-term
interest in them.
January 10-11: Philosophy of Music
Nick Zangwill, Hull and Joel Kruger, Warwick (Lecture Theatre)
The Philosophy of Music asks fundamental questions about the
nature of music and our experience of it. Why, for example, do we find
music so valuable? What is a musical work of art (a performance? the
score?)? How do our sensorimotor capacities process the perceptual
character and content of musical experience? Can we speak of a musically
extended mind? The CEO of the London Philharmonic recently declared
'music and politics don't mix'. Was he right? How can music
express emotion? Does it express emotion? Must music be beautiful to be
good? What is it for music to be beautiful? Come along and help us think
about these questions and others.
Philosophy and Political Action
Mark Reiff, Manchester and Andrew Williams, Warwick (Tawney Room)
What is the relationship between politics and philosophy? In
particular what is the relationship between political action and
philosophy? Can political leaders, for example, violate moral
constraints for a great good, or to avoid great catastrophe? How should
a just state distribute its goods? How much economic inequality is
morally acceptable? How should we manage our obligations to the
different generations? Is it fair to benefit older generations at the
expense of the young (or vice versa)? What does justice require of a
liberal state? Do come along to this weekend school, listen to what our
speakers have to say, and contribute to the debate.
The Philosophy of Necessity and Possibility
Bob Hale, Sheffield and Jessica Leech, Sheffield (Sadler Room)
Most philosophers agree that there is an important distinction to be
made between propositions which necessarily true and those which, though
true, might have been false. The proposition that Paris is the capital
of France and the proposition that there is a prime between every number
greater than 1 and its double are both true. But whereas the former
could have been false and the latter could not. How is this difference
to be understood? How do we know, if we do, about what's necessary and
what's possible? When something is necessary, or possible, what makes it
so? Might you have been a hippopotamus? Might you have been a different
sex? What limits the possibilities? Drawing on contemporary and some
past philosophical work, including their own, our speakers will discuss
some answers to these and related questions. They will not be assuming
you already know about this subject, so if it interests you don't
Ted Honderich, UCL and Ian Philips, Oxford (Lecture Theatre)
The problem of consciousness has been called the 'hard problem'. How is
it possible for a lump of grey matter inside our skulls to be conscious?
How can it have a perspective, be distraught or cheerful, how can it
experience red and so on? If Mary, a scientist who has lived her whole
life in a monochrome environment but who knows everything there is to
know about the physical universe, goes outside and sees a red rose, has
she learned something she didn't know? If so then how can we say that
our world is entirely material? During this weekend we shall be
considering this problem and its ramifications for science.
Fauzia Rahman-Greasley, Simon Borrington, Peter Gibson,
Eileen Walker, Peter Townsend, Jonathan Harlow.
October 21 - December 2:
The Nature of Causation
Marianne Talbot (Unaccredited lecture series,
Lecture Theatre, Wednesdays 14:00 - 15:30)
The causal relation is probably one of the most important
relations in the world. Without the relation of cause to effect we
wouldn't be able to predict or explain anything. But what is this
relation? How, for example, is causation related to explanations?
Are all explanations causal explanations? And what are the relata of
the causal relation? Are they events, states of affairs, facts,
properties, tropes or one of the other myriad candidates for this
relation? And are there two relata, the cause and the effect? Some
philosophers have suggested that there are three or even four. Can
causation go backwards? How, anyway, is the causal relation related
to time? Is there anything special about mental causation? If so
what is it? During these lectures we will examine the causal
relation, all the questions above and others. There will be
plenty of opportunity to ask questions.
Drones, Robots and the Ethics of Armed Conflict in the 21st Century
Paul Gittings and Alex Leveringhaus (Lecture Theatre)
Unmanned weapons are not new. In the 1800s bomb-filled balloons
were deployed in an attack on Venice. But technology has since enabled
us to put even more distance between the combatants in war. It is clear
that fully automated robotic weapons are not far away. Such weapons
would disable, destroy and kill in a completely automated process.
Humans would, of course, programme them. But no human would feature in
the 'kill chain'. But will AI ever enable a robot to distinguish between
a wounded combatant and a prone sniper or a child with a toy gun and a
soldier with a rifle? Will it ever enable a robot to decide whether
destroying a bridge will cause unacceptable casualties in a nearby
school? Surely killing should be a choice? Robots don't make choices: if
they are programmed to kill they will kill. Should such weapons be
banned? If not how should we regulate them? During this weekend these
questions and others will be discussed by a serving military officer
with responsibility for automated weapons, and a philosopher, who
specialises in thinking about them.
The Critical Imagination
James Grant and Peter Lamarque (Lecture Theatre) The Critical Imagination is a study of metaphor,
imaginativeness, and criticism. Literary works can be
interpreted differently; architecture can be seen as stately or
forbidding; music can 'shimmer', prose can be 'perfumed', and a
painter's colouring 'effervescent'. During this weekend we shall
be examining how we experience and appreciate art.
John Skorupski, St Andrews and Hallvard Lillehammer, Cambridge. (Lecture Theatre)
In his latest book, justly called his magnum opus The Domain
of Reasons, John Skorupski offers a comprehensive account of the
relation between self, thought and world. It has been described
(by our other speaker) as having explanatory ambitions comparable to
(at least) the first two of Kant's Critiques. Skorupski argues
for two main theses: (i) The building blocks of moral standards are
relations of reason, (ii) claims about reason relations, though
true and false, are not claims about matters of fact. During this
weekend John will introduce us to the two main theses of his book,
with comments and questions adduced by Hallvard Lillehammer, from
Cambridge, who reviewed the book for the Notre Dame Philosophical
Philosophy of Art
Derek Matraver, Open University and Louise Hanson, Oxford. (Tawney Room)
Philosophy of art involves applying the philosophical method to art.
It considers such questions as 'What is art?', 'Can something immoral
nevertheless be a work of art?', 'If a fake is identical to a work of
art why is it not worth as much?', 'What, if anything, does the notion
of 'beauty' have to do with art?'. How do philosophers go about
answering these questions? Do these question have answers? How
do we know the answers when we get to them? During this weekend school
we will address questions such as these, and many that you, as the
audience, will bring with you.
March 15-16: Is Philosophy Dead?
Professor John Lennox, Oxford and Professor Steve Fuller, Warwick. (Tawney Room)
In 2011 Professor Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist, told
the Google Zeitgeist Conference that philosophy is dead because
philosophers have not kept up with science. Hawking is not the only
scientist who is pessimistic about the future of philosophy. Indeed he
takes his place amongst many scientific worthies who have written off
philosophy as 'science-lite'. But should we agree that philosophy is
dead? Do these scientists really know what it is they are writing off?
During this weekend we will discuss the fascinating questions involved
in this issue.
Professor Raymond Tallis and Iain McGilchrist. (Lecture Theatre)
It has become fashionable in recent years to appeal to the brain as
the locus, and explanation, of everything to do with the human mind.
Neuroscientists confidently point to fMRI scans to claim that they
have discovered love, wisdom or whatever, or to support their claim to
be able to show that free will is an illusion. But Professor Raymond
Tallis, well-used to fMRI scans in his work, has coined the word
'neuromania' to express his rejection of this popular view. Dr Iain
McGilchrist, whose research and clinical practice has been informed by
scanning the brain, entirely agrees with this view. Crass, however, as
the sort of claims which Professor Tallis refers to might be, he
believes that it would be a mistake to deduce that we can learn
nothing valuable about ourselves by a better understanding of the
brain: the quality of the answers we get from looking at the brain
depends crucially on the sort of questions we ask. By properly
understanding the functions of the two hemispheres of the brain, we
can illuminate some aspects of the human mind and of human experience.
During this weekend we will have the opportunity to listen to both
views, be introduced to the disagreement between Tallis and
McGilchrist, and come to our own decision as to who is – or
whether both might be – right.
Philosophy of Cosmology
Simon Saunders, Oxford and Martin Sahlen, Oxford. (Sadler Room)
Observational cosmology is in a golden age of discovery, but a deeper
understanding of what is meant by a science of cosmology is in its
infancy. It must involve physics, philosophy, and cosmogony –
a philosophy of cosmology. Funded by the Templeton Foundation the
Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are collaborating to start a new
field in philosophy of physics devoted to this new subject. The sort
of questions that will be addressed by this new area include: What is
time? Is the universe infinite, and if so, what difference does this
make to our methods of understanding it? What is the meaning and
metaphysics of probability in the context of fundamental physical and
cosmological theories? Is our universe one among many? What reasons
are there for 'many-universe' and 'bubble-universe' hypotheses? Are
these hypotheses testable? What can be known and tested about
hypotheses concerning the whole universe? During this weekend we will
start thinking about some of these questions.
Mike Arnautov, James Innes, Christian Michel, Eileen Walker,
Bob Stone and Ann Long (Sadler Room/Lecture Theatre)
Philosophy in a Weekend
Marianne Talbot, Oxford (Lecture Theatre)
Philosophy is the oldest discipline in the world (except perhaps,
for theology). It was the precursor to all the sciences. The word
'philosophy' comes from the Greek philosophia or love
of wisdom. Philosophers show their love of wisdom by being
interested in every other field of endeavour. If it is studied by human
beings there is a 'philosophy' of it, from Philosophy of Physics
to Philosophy of Film. During this weekend, which is aimed at complete
beginners to philosophy, Marianne Talbot will be introducing you to
thinking philosophically through four highly interactive lectures. Do
not come if you are not prepared to think!
The Emergent Multiverse
David Wallace, Oxford and Harvey Brown, Oxford. (Lecture Theatre)
The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics holds that
quantum theory – our best current theory of physics – is
correctly understood as claiming that there are many worlds that exist
in parallel to our own and which branch constantly off our own. The
existence of the other worlds makes it possible to make sense of
physics without action-at-a-distance, objective randomness, or any
strange role for "observer" or "consciousness".
During this weekend school we shall be discussing this interpretation
of QM and asking what would follow from its being the correct one.
Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence
Luciano Floridi, Oxford. (Lecture Theatre)
A new philosophy of information has been derived from three
philosophical lessons suggested by Turing's work. The first
tells us how important it is, when asking questions, to
specify the correct level of abstraction. The second
discusses the philosophical questions that are the most
pressing, and the third a new philosophical anthropology.
This last topic will be taken up in a discussion of the fact
that recent technological transformations in the life-cycle
of information have brought about a humbling, but exciting,
fourth revolution, in the process of reassessing humanitybs
fundamental nature and role in the universe. This will
enable us to develop a new ecological approach to reality.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have
become environmental forces, creating and shaping our
reality, more and more pervasively, by 'enveloping' the
world. The technical concept of 'enveloping' will be
explained, along with the promise it holds out for our
futures. But we will not ignore the risks implicit in
transforming the world into a progressively ICT-friendly
environment, asking whether our technologies are going to
enable and empower us, or constrain our physical and
conceptual spaces so we are forced to adjust to them?
Philosophy in a Weekend
Nigel Warburton, Open University and Marianne
Talbot, Oxford. (Lecture Theatre)
Philosophy is for people who are intrigued by questions like
'what is truth?', 'do we have free will?', 'what is
justice?' and 'does space come to an end?'. It is one thing
to be intrigued by such questions, another to be equipped
with the skills to answer them. These skills are the skills
of philosophy. This weekend is an introduction to those
skills. Both speakers are very experienced in speaking to
complete beginners in philosophy.
March 09-10: Philosophy of the Family
Adam Swift, Balliol and Matthew Clayton, Warwick.
The family has been thought of as the cornerstone of
society. But what exactly is a family? Why are families
considered so important? Is it always best for children to
be raised by their parents in a family? What are parents
obliged to provide for their children? Is 'a life worth
living' too little? If so is 'the best upbringing they can
provide' too demanding? Are parents morally justified in
bringing up children with religious affiliations? Is this
only so long as the children are not prevented from
reflecting on alternatives? Do parents have the right to
confer advantages on their own children? Any advantage?
What if such advantages come at the expense of creating
social inequality? During this weekend we shall be
addressing all these questions.
April 27-28: Pragmatics of Language
Emma Borg, Reading University and Robyn Carston,
UCL. (Lecture Theatre)
What is the relationship between the meaning of a sentence
and the meaning of an utterance of that sentence?
Intuitively they seem intimately related, yet we know they
can't be identical (one can
utter 'It is a lovely day' and thereby mean that it is a
horrible day, if one is being ironic, but that's not what
the sentence 'It is a lovely day' means). So how should we
think about the relationship between sentences and the
contexts in which they are spoken? During this weekend we
shall be considering the nature of context-sensitvity in
natural languages and asking what kind of theory of meaning
can best handle the relationship between linguistic meaning
Philosophy of Literature
Prof Peter Lamarque, York and Dr Eileen John,
Warwick. (Sadler Room)
During this weekend we shall be considering some enduring
questions in the philosophy of literature. We shall
consider, for example, the peculiar alchemy that gives a
poem its special value, the question of whether great
literary works – tragedies, novels, epic poems, etc
– are valuable in part because of the truths they
reveal about human nature, and why we worry about the
choices made by fictional characters, experiencing them as
living, striving and suffering individuals, in whose
triumphs we rejoice, and whose downfalls we savour. We
shall also consider whether we want to be morally improved
by literature, and indeed whether we are morally improved by
it. Can we understand the emotional, cognitive, and
interpretive demands of literary works as morally
significant and valuable, even if we are typically not
absorbing moral truths from the works we read?
Peter Townsend, Simon Borrington, Barbara Wainwright,
Jonathan Harlow, Terry Duchow and Peter Gibson (Lecture Theatre)
A Romp Through the Foothills of Formal Logic
Marianne Talbot, Oxford. (Sadler Room)
Marianne's lectures in Critical Reasoning have been hugely popular. So
much so that people have asked her if she would take them just a bit
further and introduce them to formal logic. This is precisely what
Marianne intends to do over this weekend. We shall be considering why
logicians formalise arguments, and how they do so. We shall look at the
traps that can befall anyone who tries to formalise English arguments,
and we shall consider the limitations of this activity. By the end of
the weekend you should be able to take simple English arguments,
formalise them in the language of the propositional calculus and test
them by means of truth tables and semantic tableaux.
The Philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz
Julia Wecken, Reading and Lloyd Strickland, Manchester.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 &ndash 1716) was one of the greatest
thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries. He was, indeed, compared to
Plato by his contemporary Diderot, who claimed that "Perhaps never
has a man read as much, studied as much, meditated more, and written
more than Leibnizb& What he has composed on the world, God, nature, and
the soul is of the most sublime eloquence. If his ideas had been
expressed with the flair of Plato, the philosopher of Leipzig would
cede nothing to the philosopher of Athens.". Leibniz was a
polymath, making contributions to fields as diverse as metaphysics,
epistemology and logic, philosophy of religion, mathematics, physics,
geology, jurisprudence, and history. During this weekend we will learn
something about his work, in particular his views on metaphysics and
Utilitarianism, Prohibitions, and Prerogatives
Brad Hooker, Reading Univ. (Lecture Theatre)
Utilitarians believe the right action is that which
(tends to) produce the greatest happiness of the
greatest number. Utilitarianism might reasonably be
called the ethics of modernity. These lectures
introduce utilitarianism, distinguish different versions,
discuss objections and outline what might be salvaged to
form a plausible moral theory.
Wittgenstein's Influence on Science
John Preston, Reading University and
Chon Tejedor, Oxfrod University (Lecture Theatre)
We'll be looking at how Wittgenstein distinguished
philosophy and science, his beliefs about how they were
related, the 'net' metaphor of the Tractatus
Logico Philosophicus,and the kind of approach to
science that would result from taking it seriously.
Was Wittgenstein really hostile to science as many
What Is Mathematics About?
Dan Isaacson, Oxford and Richard Pettigrew, Bristol
What (if anything) is mathematics about? How is it
possible to know any mathematics? The attempt to give
an account of mathematics that can answer both questions
has been a major catalyst to development in the
philosophy of mathematics over the past fifty years.
We'll be looking at both questions.
April 21-22: Hegel
Robert Stern, Sheffield and Stephen Houlgate, Warwick
Our aim is to shed light on Hegel's idealism,
attitude to scepticism, his views on history, on ethics,
freedom, art and religion. We'll consider Hegel's most
difficult text, the Science of Logic, to explain
how and why it transforms our understanding of basic
categories, such as "being" and
The Origins of Metaphysics in Presocratic Philosophy
Catherine Osborne, UEA (Sadler Room)
Thales suggested that the earth floats on water.
Parmenides proposed that nothing changes and there is
only one thing. Primitive? No, the Presocratics were
already considering deep issues such as what there is,
why and how can we know about it? A lively exploration
of the beginnings of philosophy.
Eileen Walker, Mike Arnautov, Jeanne Warren and
David Kemp (Sadler Room)
October 15 to November 19:
Critical Reasoning for Beginners
Marianne Talbot, Oxford University. (Lecture Theatre)
A series of six Monday lectures, all 14:00 - 15:30.
(no recordings available).
Reason is central to our lives as human beings. Without
reason we would never be able to know anything except
through our senses. But to be able to reason is to be
able to reason either well or badly. If we reason badly
we may form all sorts of false beliefs. If we reason well
our beliefs are far more likely to be true. During this
6 week course we will look at what it is to reason
critically, and at how we might enhance our ability to
reason well. The course is aimed at complete beginners.
Paradoxes in the Philosophy of Religion
Michael Scott, Manchester University and Dr Pamela
Anderson, Oxford. (Sadler Room)
If God is all powerful then can he create a stone too
heavy for him to lift? If he can't there is something
he cannot do, ie. create such a stone; if he can there
is something he cannot do, ie. lift the stone that he
has created. There are many other paradoxes generated
by the concept of God, and by religion in gerenal.
During this weekend we will look at some of them and ask
whether they can be solved.
November 24-25: Anti-Realism.
Jan Westerhoff, Cambridge University and Brian
King, Oxford. (Tawney Room)
Many of us may have entertained the possibility that
moral values, or numbers, are not real. We might
even have considered the possibility that minds,
especially the minds of others, are not real. But
have you ever wondered whether the physical objects
we see around us are real or not? Or whether we are
ourselves real? Anti-Realism is a metaphysical
stance that can be taken with respect to categories
of the things we usually think of in our daily lives
as being real. During this weekend we will consider
the nature of Anti-Realism, and why someone might be
an Anti-Realist with respect to some category or
Robert Stone, Ann Long, Peter Gibson and
Peter Ells (Lecture Theatre)
The Aesthetics and Criticism of Music
Roger Allen, Oxford and Paul Harper-Scott,
Royal Holloway (Sadler Room)
This course considered issues in the Aesthetics of
Music from both historical and contemporary philosophical
perspectives. Roger Allen examined the
nineteenth-century debate between music as autonomous
object and expressive force as epxressed in the writings of,
inter alia, Wagner, Hanslick, Schopenhauer and Nietszche.
He aslo considered how ideas of the Sublime might impact
on issues of music analysis, with specific reference to
Bruckner. Paul Harper Scott continued the Wagnerian
theme in a contemporary context through engagement with
radical philosophical persepectives of sex and capitalism.
A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind
Marianne Talbot (Tawney Room)
Where would we be without the mind? But what is the
mind? Is it the brain? Descartes thought definitely
not. But don't we know better in our scientific
times? So why is dualism again attracting philosophers,
and what is it that science will never tell us
about the mind?