- February 05-06:
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.
- 12 Feb (one day):
John Rawls at 100
- 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:
A Day with the Stoics
- Peter Wyss
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
- 05 March (one day):
Meaning and Use: Philosophy of Language
- 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.
- 16 April (one day):
Games, Pictures, Rules and Therapies
- 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.
- May 07-08:
Might Ignorance Be Bliss?
- 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.