Monday, 10 November 2014

Influence of Plato and Aristotle

Hi, I'm Sophie. I'm the second blogger after Shane who has already posted an extremely useful and interesting piece. Anyway, in Neil's lectures we seem to moving on from Ancient Greek philosophy and I thought it might be helpful to consider both Aristotle and Plato's influence on later philosophy. I know we have discussed many philosophers so far but for practicality I have narrowed in down to these two (I have left out Socrates on purpose because he really does my nut in).

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aristotle's influence on later philosophy is 'difficult to overestimate'. His legacy is clearly apparent in the works of many philosophers, including Thomas Aquinas who later revives many Aristotelian themes and cements Aristotle's philosophy into the principles of Christianity. His publications cover many topics including physics, metaphysics, politics and aesthetics to name a few and he has also had an effect on the field of ethics where the ethical theory of Virtue Ethics was developed using his ideas on morality.

Plato on the other hand, has also contributed a considerable amount to later ideas. A.N Whitehead described Western Philosophy as 'a series of footnotes to Plato'. Plato's Theory of the Forms and his distinction between entities and abstract concepts has appeared in many of his works and he purposefully leaves questions unanswered in texts such as Euthyphro, which have created many interesting debates for later philosophers. Plato's dialogues have portrayed Socrates and his ideas including the 'Socratic Method' and have opened an otherwise impossible understanding of Socrates who did not write many of his own ideas down.

So, who do you think has been more influential to later thought? It would be nice to get a discussion going..

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Brief introductions and a look at analytic philosophy

Hello fellow philosophy students. My name is Shane Hutchinson and I'll be making contributions to our blog every weekend, or at least as often as I can manage.
I thought I'd start with an area I know is not everybody's favorite, analytic philosophy. On Friday this week with Ben Curtis, we looked at propositional logic, it's language and uses. Though some parts may been hard to follow, it seemed to me to be a very useful tool in the analysis of arguments. This is for a few reasons.
For one, by deconstructing an argument into its propositional form we are able to eliminate a lot of the ambiguities that are often a bane to productive philosophy. Once any argument is clearly set out into premises and conclusions, there can be no mistaking what it is a philosopher is arguing for. For example, in the case of the argument:

'If ghosts exist then there is something physics cannot explain. If ghosts do not exist then psychics are liars. But psychics are not liars, so there is something that physics cannot explain.'

as presented in the seminar as the object of a task in which we were to put the argument in propositional form, the language caused some students to believe the conclusion was in fact that psychics are not liars. This would have meant they would have misunderstood the intentions of someone presenting this argument. However, with the argument presented as follows:

    '1. If ghosts exist then there is something physics cannot explain.
    2. If ghosts do not exist then psychics are liars
    3. Psychics are not liars
    C1. There is something physics cannot explain
    C2. Ghosts exist'

it is impossible to misrepresent either the intentions of a philosopher or the implications of any argument they present. 
I think that the main confusion has been over the fact that you do not have to accept a valid argument as fact or even as a good argument in virtue of it's structure. Rather, the assessment of validity can be viewed as a kind of quality control on arguments, which prevents illogical arguments from being taken too seriously. Rather, it is the assessment of soundness which occupies much of the inter-disciplinary areas of philosophy and a sound argument is much more likely to convince than one which is only valid. 
What do you think about analytic philosophy? Is it just an abstract form of logical analysis reserved for those in ivory towers or does it have a place in debates?  Either way, can you see yourself using it? And if not, why? Would the invalidity of an argument convince you to oppose it?


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Wisdom and Redemption

In class we explored some of the similarities and differences between Socrates and Jesus. In much Christian theology, Socrates is seen as an early proto-type of the Christ figure, as he in some sense embodies the good in the way that he lives his life and because is prepared to die for a higher human ideal. However, Socrates does not present himself as a redeemer. He does not claim to be the 'highest good incarnate; (this is not possible for Socrates, as the good can only be grasped partially and 'for the most part' in his view). This raises an important question - what is the relationship between wisdom and redemption? Can knowledge alone transform human life for the better, or is something else required? More specifically, is a spiritual or supernatural supplement required in addition to knowledge in order to put individual and collective lives on the right track or is rational knowledge alone sufficient? Neil Turnbull

Philosophy Visiting Speaker Series - 2014-15

Time Wednesdays 3-5 19th of November – Dr Will Large, University of Gloucestershire Title: “The Impossible Possibility of Human Capital: Kierkegaard, Foucault and Biopolitics” 3rd of December – Dr Kathleen Stock, University of Sussex. Title TBA: ‘Imagination and Fiction’ January 7th – Matt Barnard, Manchester Metropolitan University Title: Freedom Beyond the Will: Heidegger on Finite Liberty January 14th – Dr Adam Kelly – University of York Title: In Quest of American Sincerity: Stanley Cavell and David Foster Wallace This talk will examine how Wallace's widely noted obsession with questions around sincerity - an obsession shared by many American writers of his generation - led him to a deep engagement with the work of Cavell. After an introduction to the general issues involved, the main part of the talk will be taken up with exploring Wallace's annotations to books by Cavell in his personal library, held at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. I'll end by reading a chapter of Wallace's final unfinished novel The Pale King (2011) through the notion of "good posture," an idea Wallace gets from Cavell who in turn takes it from Emerson. It is this idea, I'll argue, that offers the key to understanding the particular brand of American sincerity that Emerson, Cavell and Wallace were all in quest of. January 21st – Prof Stephen Mumford –University of Nottingham Title: New Meditions on First Philosophy We can doubt the existence of many things. They might be a social or linguistic construction. But nothing is socially constructed unless causation is real for society is said to construct something. And a society is not a mere plurality but one that must involve causally interacting parts. Societas ergo causalitas. Once established, causation can be understood as that which makes the world regular and comprehendible. Without it there is no life. It provides for us. What thing better deserves the name God? For note that God could not have created anything unless causation was already real; and this includes causation itself. He could not have created it unless it already was. But what is causation? Hume thought of it in terms of constant conjunctions and counterfactuals. But just as neither society nor God can have made causation, the individual alone cannot either, as the private language argument shows. Causation is then to be taken as the criterion of existence and is the thing from which everything else is constructed. Matter is power, as are properties, and all events and processes are manifestations of that causal power. January 28th – Dr Garry Young – Nottingham Trent University Title: Should there be virtually no limit to the things we are permitted to do in video games? A moral examination of symbolic taboo activity within single-player gamespace.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Heidegger and Authenticity

Last week Craig Clancy from the Open University delivered a nice introductory session of Heidegger's idea of the call of conscience and how it relates to the idea of authenticity - especially in the second part of Heidegger's magnum opus Being and Time. He trotted through most of the concepts that Heidegger deploys to powerful existential effect in that book, especially authenticity's relation to Dasein, the real, the 'fallen' state of everyday life, freedom, death, demise, mood and guilt. Craig correctly pointed out that Heidegger gives all of these terms an important ontological inflection in understanding them from the point of view of time. The key question to emerge from the discussion is the extent to which the early Heidegger can be viewed as a moral philosopher and whether his ethics emerges from an essentially theological context (or not). Thanks to all of you who attended this - we hope to see a few more of you at these events next year Neil T

Monday, 2 December 2013

Philosophy and Religion

Kicking off the first blog post of the academic year with such a controversial topic – religion. Not long ago we had a seminar on Christianity and Philosophy, and the question ‘Is religion and philosophy the same thing? If not, then what are the basic differences?’ was asked and it came up with a very interesting debate.

The first idea we came up with was that yes, they were the same – they are both a set of ideals or beliefs that one attempts to base a life around. However, this seemed to be a too general description. If this was true, then it would also have to include the political system as a philosophy (and while some political ideas are philosophical in nature, most are not) and it would also have to include the many other ‘groups’ that follow rules, or suggestions as the case may be, and we would have no need for names for all of them, if they all just came under ‘Philosophy’.

Our next idea was that they are similar, but not the same. Philosophy is the study of life, origins, happiness and the afterlife using reality and the experiences and experiments of everyday life, whereas religion was the explanation of life, origins, happiness and the afterlife using the teachings of a God, or at least his messengers, without exploring further. 

However, this explanation led to the very finite decision that religion is, was and always will be unable to evolve. In certain cases this would certainly seem true (for example, it remains against homosexuality, for certain aspects of the patriarchy and the ideas of heaven and hell) but as we have seen throughout history this is not always the case (for example, the bible condones slavery, child marriages and the stoning of none-virgin brides-to-be, all of which have since been cast aside)
This discussion then led to a definition of ‘Philosophy is questions that may never be answered, where religion is answers that may never be questioned.’

Of course this debate didn’t take into the account other religions, such as but not limited to Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. Some are vastly similar to Christianity, with the worship of a deity that gives them answers to life’s mysteries, whereas, for example, Buddhism, does not follow a deity, but a set of teachings that instead of explaining life teach how best to navigate it and limit ones suffering, which would lend itself more toward Philosophy than it does religion.

So then a definition of ‘Religion is the following of an all-powerful deity, whereas Philosophy is the following and expansion of the pre-existing teachings of men’ and this was the closest we could get to an answer that we all agreed upon (which, coincidently, filed Buddhism under Philosophy as opposed to religion)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Civility and Toleration

I would like to report on one of our more interesting visiting speaker presentations - by Medhat Khattar, a biologist here at NTU. Medhat introduced the some of key ideas of the political philosophy of R.G. Collingwood, especially the concept of toleration and how it articulates itself into wider notions of civility. Collingwood's political philosophy explores the 'paradox of toleration' - why tolerate something that you actually disapprove of? According to Collingwood, we must disapprove of things we find intolerable but yet still tolerate. To tolerate without disapproval is to render ourselves merely 'indifferent' and thus in a sense radically unjust. Thus for Collingwood, the opposite of toleration is not intolerance but indifference. Tolerance is active, whereas indifference is merely passive. Tolerance is related to atonement, love, hope and especially to forgiveness. It thus has its roots in Christian theology and Collingwood's political philosophy is an attempt to articulate in secular terms something that is fundamentally religious in nature. This for Collingwood, modern liberalism, the political philosophy that extols toleration above all others, is grounded in Christian theology. The true ground of liberalism is the Christian God of equality that values the worth of every human being. This is the absolute presupposition of liberal political philosophy, the assumption that all forms of liberal argument presuppose and depend upon (even though most liberals are scarcely aware of them). The absolute presupposition of toleration in liberalism is itself a theological presupposition in another guise. Neil Turnbull