Wednesday, 14 December 2011


I thought that it might be a good idea to get a debate going about the overall philosophical/intellectual significance of the ideas of the media-savvy Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek.

I have been spurred on to do this because some academics whose opinion I respect have told me in conversation that they think Zizek is essentially an opportunist and a charlatan who when you examine his texts in a serious and sober way has very little to say.

I wonder what people's opinion might be regarding this claim? I am minded to disagree, but I am not sure why exactly. On relfection, although I really enjoy reading Zizek I am not sure that I have grasped anything that can be termed a coherent intellectual position. There is clearly an anti-postmodern commitment to universalism in his work - but this is pretty thin beer and nothing that we could term 'distinctive'. There is of course also the Lacanian stuff about enjoyment and the contemporary super-egoic compulsion to enjoy - but again this doesn't really provide the basis for a substantial philosophical position. Perhaps this isn't the point. Perhaps Zizek is really like a modernist artwork, designed to shock (and in this way he is perhaps close to Nietzsche).

Maybe someone could enlighten me and spell out exactly, in nuce, what Zizek's intellectual position might be?

Neil T

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Philosophy Town

Here is an interesting documentary on the work that is being done in Malmesubry which has fashioned itself as Britain's Philosophy Town.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Philosophy – Red Week I Events Programme
Monday November 14th, 1-4pm, room 215 – Screening: The Examined Life – Introduced by Patrick O’Connor

The Examined Life presents some of the world's most well known philosophers back on the streets where philosophy began. See Slavoj Zizek, Peter Singer, Judith Butler and Avita Ronnell in Astra Taylor's documentary. Here they debate and reflect on the key philosophical conundrums of our age in places and spaces which represent their ideas. This documentary offers some great moments with some of the most prominent of contemporary philosophers, and their urgent responses to contemporary problems.

Tuesday– 1-5pm: HEA Symposium on Philosophy Teaching – Room 219
This symposium will present a number of papers on best practice in philosophies of teaching. The aim of the Symposium will be to conceptualize different practical approaches to the teaching of Philosophy in an effort to create flourishing learning environments. The symposium will engage the concept of teaching in philosophies in practice, examining the relationship between the formation of thinking and critical learning environments. Lecturers and students are invited to contribute on what are the best forms of philosophical teaching, the wider significance of philosophy, the relationship between the teaching of philosophy and technology, and generally what makes a good philosophy teacher a good philosophy teacher.
Prof. Tony Burns, University of Nottingham. ‘Introducing Philosophy through Works of Literature and Film: The Example of The Matrix’.
Dr Neal Curtis, University of Nottingham. 'Teaching Philosophy to Counter Dogma.'
Dr Keith Crome, Manchester Metropolitan University, “Transgression and Thought: The Role of Habit in Learning Techniques.”
Dr Sara Motta, ‘Teaching Philosophy as Transgressive Spaces of Possibility.

Weds 1.30-3 pm, room 215 – Level 2 Drop in Session: With Ruth Griffin
Come along to this informal student led drop-in session where we can discuss anything relating to Philosophy at NTU. This is your chance to debate topics of Philosophical interest, revise for Class Tests, seek guidance, or simply revisit areas which you are unsure of - or would like to pursue further - within a friendly and informal environment.

Thurs 11-2pm, room 215 – Screening – Paris Texas: Introduced by Neil Turnbull

Paris, Texas is probably Wim Wenders' most well known, critically acclaimed, and successful movie, winning a number of international prizes including the Cannes Palme D'Or for Best Film in 1984.

This unusual road movie, with screenplay by acclaimed playwright Sam Shepard, tells the tale of Travis, a man lost in his own private hell. Presumed dead for four years, he reappears from the desert on the Mexico border, world-weary and an amnesiac.
He traces his brother Walt who is bringing up Hunter, his seven-year-old son, his ex-wife Jane having abandoned him at Walt's door several years before.

As virtual strangers, Hunter and Travis begin to build a wary friendship and conspire to find Jane and bring her back to be a real family.

With extraordinary performances from Harry Dean Stanton as Travis and Natassja Kinski as Jane, the film also boasts a soundtrack by Ry Cooder, ideally suited to the film's sun-bleached landscapes and melancholy undertones.
See -

Friday 11-1pm, room 219 - Level 1 Drop in Session – Neil Turnbull
This session will provide an overview of the level 1 course so far with opportunities for discussion and debate regarding the key issues raised. Come along to these sessions if you wish to clarify any issue that you have found obscure or opaque or if you would like to engage in friendly philosophical debate with your tutor and fellow first year philosophers

Monday, 31 October 2011

Philosophy and Employability

Here is a link to a good Times Higher Education article on the relationship between Philosophy and Employability. The author makes a number of interesting points about the relationship between Philosophy and getting a job. While all the usual suspects are touched upon- analytical skills, autonomous learning, thinking outside the box etc. - the article makes two interesting points. Firstly, the rate of students taking Philosophy was on a gradual increase from 2001 onwards (How the change in the fee structure will affect this for better or worse remains to be seen). Secondly, Philosophy with its focus on coming to terms with dense and abstract material, as well familiarizing oneself with the 'argumentative structure' of texts and debates is valuable for a range of employers who appreciate the transferable skills that Philosophy offers. The basic point I supposeis, that Philosophy offers you the ability to position yourself in a number of employment contexts. This would seem to my mind very attractive for students, since it offers you many different paths of career development. As the article shows, Philosophy is valuable in the existing economic order. The reason it is valuable, is because there has been a move from an industrial society to one based on what is known as the 'knowledge economy'. This means that jobs which are devoted to the creation and management of knowledge are widely available. While certainly discourse surrounding the 'knowledge economy is abstract there is an underlying logic to it. More and more jobs are based around the management of information. Philosophy on its own or in conjunction with postgraduate study can get you into a number of careers such as finance, modern technology industries, internet companies and the civil services amongst others.

Friday, 14 October 2011


Hello everyone

I would like to get a discussion going about the costs and benefits of multiculturalism. I think that this is gouing to be a very important political issue in the next few years - and as philosophers we need to get a handle on this issue and an overview of where the debate might be heading.

For some liberal philosophers the choice today is between multiculturalism and some kind of fundamentalism. Multi-culturalism is about peaceful cultural co-existence. Here, if you are not a multi-culturalist then you are some kind of antagonistic proto-fascist.

However, critics of multiculturalism argue that core cultures are in essence incommensurable and so any attempt to impose a multicultural society will only succed by means of a 'repressive tolerance' (political correctness and the like) that silences cultural dialogue and exchange.

It would be interesting to see what people think about this issue and get a - polite - debate going about whether it is possible to live in a complex liberal socety without a good deal of antagonism.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Philosophy and the Riots

I have just been reading some remarks on the work of German philosopher Ernst Junger (by Mounier).

Junger, it seems, was a philosopher who adhered to the view that in the nihilistic contexts of modernity, action becomes freed from all restraint and individuals become fired with a passion and intensity for ecstasy and/or power.

This is obviously one explanation for events such as the recent riots. However, does it really explain such events? Surely we need to factor in the very brutal reality of the current recessionary environment into this?

It is no suprise that the last serious riots in the UK were during the last serious recession (early 1980s). What, then, is the relationship between cultures of nihilism and economic forces?

Neil Turnbull

Monday, 20 June 2011

Homage to Catalonia

Hello everyone

Maurice Glasman (the labour peer Lord Glasman) - see previous posting - has just sent me a short piece that uses the recent Champions League cup final in order to bring out the philosophical and political dimensions of his position.

This is an unpublished piece and so this is more than a bit of a scoop! Many thanks to him for allowing us to post it here.

As a life-long Man U fan, I do find some of the analysis difficult to swallow - although I think we will all have to concede that he has a point. More significantly, there is a clear political vision here and I think that it is a very interesting one that should generate quite a bit of debate.

Neil T

Barcelona V Man United was Blue Labour V New Labour

The European Cup Final was more than just a game.

On Saturday night a community owned club with local players, all of whom upheld an ethos and vision of how beautiful, brave and brilliant football could be were victorious over a foreign-owned debt-ridden corporate juggernaut who had run out of energy and ideas.

It was a clash between two different philosophies of football, two different ways of organising a club, two different ways of responding to globalisation and market forces, two different ways of playing the game.

Whether you like it or not, the good guys won.

I remember a very different feeling. I was seven in 1968 and it felt like a collective rapture. Balletic and brutal, noble and nasty; George Best and Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton and Pat Crerand. Manchester United embodied all that was best about English football and made friends all over the country and the world. Friends for life. There was something heroic about Manchester United in 1968 but all the magic was on the other side on Saturday night.

The story of Manchester United is everything that was right and wrong about New Labour, and the story of Barcelona indicates where Labour have to go if they are to combine victory with glory; so that winning gives hope to people that global competitive success is about more than money. It’s about something more than the contractual minimum, it concentrates on a skilled and excellent workforce, it requires a clearly defined ethical brand. Winning requires sacrifice, a much more broadly defined conception of self-interest. This is the point that Blue Labour is trying to make in thinking about how to generate real and substantial private sector growth. This requires institutions that uphold excellence and virtue, a concern for regional diversity and a renewed sense of energy and pride.

Under Sir Alex Ferguson’s leadership Manchester United have surged into a dominant position in English football. Dominant; but not hegemonic. They did not develop a distinctive and original style of play that required others to change in order to beat it. Like Tony Blair, Alex Ferguson has enjoyed unprecedented success surpassing Liverpool in terms of Championships won and FA Cups. He has established the club as one of the great European powers. Tony Blair won three successive elections with ease. Something unheard of in British political history. He turned a political party from one that couldn’t win, even against John Major, to one that couldn’t lose. Alex Ferguson and Tony Blair, New Labour and Manchester United, 4-4-2 and swing voters. Attlee and Thatcher led hegemonic government that set the parameters of common sense for those that followed. Hungary in the 50s, Spurs in the 60’s, Ajax in the 70’s and Milan in the 80’s. Like Barcelona today they changed the way the game is played.

In contrast, under New Labour, we were told that success and globalisation required us to change, that sacrifices were necessary for the sake of modernisation and progress. We were told that transferrable skills would replace vocational skills, we were told that the City of London knew best and we lost our regional banks and industries. We were told that management knew best and the workforce lost its status at work. We were told that careers were more important than family. We were told that anywhere was just as good as here. And we were told that football clubs were a commodity, just like any other. That meaning was less important than price. That is was in our best interests to put the stewardship of our clubs in the hands of venture capitalists who were solely interested in maximising their returns on investment.

Commodity football has no feeling for the faithfulness fans feel and what that means. The pride in place and the site of the ground. The way it links us to our grandmas and our sons, the pain we share with other supporters. The pride we take when our team plays with adventure, bravery and guile. The lightning rods of glory that punctuate the gloom. But Barcelona understand all that.

Barcelona is owned by its supporters. There is no difference between meaning and price. It is their club. They elect the president and the board. It is their ethos that the club upholds. The club is not answerable to its shareholders but to its fans. They give money, they give time, they own it. Many play an active role in the governance of the club. They expand its role into their communities so that Barcelona is woven into the fabric of Catalonian society. A football pitch here, a disabled charity there. It is the civic pride of Barcelona and a source of glory and renown. Barcelona are good, in all meanings of the word.

And this is the message of Blue Labour. Ownership matters. Democracy matters. Leadership matters. Responsibility, initiative and innovation can only be exercised if people have power. Real democratic power to protect the people and the things that they love. Compare Barcelona to Manchester United who did not turn to their supporters to epand, but to the financial markets. Manchester United fans have no power, no citizenship in the club, they are only consumers. Commodity football turns love into money and leaves people feeling used. The green and yellow scarves are a permanent rebuke to their relentless domestic success.

This is linked to vocation.

The Barcelona players did not play like professional footballers but vocational footballers. They played with an excellence of technique and control combined with an empathetic understanding of each others positions so that they improvised mesmeric patterns that exhausted their opponents. When Manchester United equalised Barcelona just continued to experiment, to show audacity and verve. Compare the way that Messi, Xavi and Iniesta combined to the lonely rage of Wayne Rooney. They were master craftsmen and they made Manchester United look like journeymen. Barcelona played that way because they were nurtured within an institutional culture that gave incentives to virtue. It’s a different moral economy, a virtue economy, and it is the basis of competitive global success. For two centuries economic theory has been based on the idea that being bad leads to good results. The Barcelona lesson is that pursuing the good directly may not be such a bad idea after all.

The Barcelona academy teaches a style of play that is true to their traditions. There is an ethos and practice that define excellence. Like being a good plumber, dental technician, doctor, carpenter, computer programmer, nurse, electrician. The vocational economy is not a luxury. The German economy is built on vocational training and so was the Barcelona victory. That is also the Blue Labour way. With regional banks so that local people can have access to capital to start businesses or learn a vocation. Decentralised democratic institutions that constrain the domination of finance capital is a good definition of civilisation and Barcelona embodied it.

The story of our football clubs is the story of our economy as great English firms like Cadbury’s were brought up by foreign corporations with no understanding of its meaning and tradition, no understanding of anything but its price. It is the same understanding of the world that cannot comprehend the objection to Dover Port being sold to the French. Barcelona sustain and invest in a football academy that instils virtue. Such a word sounds alien to us but it is linked directly to the idea of a vocation and in that ideal lies the key to competitive global success in the new economy. A virtue rather than a virtual economy should guide statecraft.

Our critics say that we are nostalgic. They say that Blue Labour puts too much emphasis on friendship, family, solidarity, place, work, vocation and patriotism and that these are not the values we need to succeed in the modern globalised world.

We have an answer to that – stick it up your Barcelona.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Blue Labour

I would like to draw your attention to a new intellectual movement on the (British) left that often goes under the heading of 'Blue Labour'.

The leading figure here is a London-based political philosopher - Maurice (now Lord) Glasman. Glasman's philosophical position his interesting because he is an Aristotelian - and he develops of critique of capitalism based around Arisotelian conceptions of virtue.

His views represent a critque of 'Fabian socialism', that understands socialism as techocratic state-centric transformation of society (New Labour was a Fabian project, in a small way). Fabianism is in a good deal of intellectual trouble now, but it won't go without a fight (that looks like it is just about to begin).

Blue Labour is closer to what is sometimes misleadingly referred to as 'the social entrepeneurship model' of socialism, that sees communities and mutual associations - such as the Co-op movement - as the real agents of social change.

I think that this idea is going to be important - so it is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Neil Turnbull

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Conference at NTU

There will be what looks like a very interesting multi-disciplinary conference at NTU this coming June 27-28, entitled "Eco-tone 1- Object, Space, Entanglement". It will be run by David Reid from the School of Art and Design. It looks like it will have strong applied philosophical component, so it looks like it will be worth attending. I will try and get there myself if possible. Details can be found below.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Visiting Speaker

Dear All,

The Philosophy section has a visiting speaker tomorrow at 1pm in room 215 of the ICAN.

Mental Health: Extreme Sport for Thinkers. Mr Jim Bunker, NHS Healthcare Trust.

This will be of interest to anyone interested in the Philosophy of Mind, Issues surrounding mental health, and practical ethics, and place philosophy has in mental healthcare.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Philosophy Reading Group - Hegel, History and Politics

Hi Everyone

Next term we will commence a new staff-student reading group focussing upon the ideas of the highly influential Franco-Russian philosopher Alexander Kojeve. There will be three sessions in all.

Session 1: Weds April 27th - Kojeve and the End of History Debate
Session 2: Weds May 11th - Kojeve and the Nature of Philosophy
Session 3: Weds May 18th - Kojeve and the Master-Slave Dialectic

Kojeve was a very significant but often silent influence on the development of 20th century western philosophy. Much contemporary French philosophy owes a huge debt to his interesting and innovative reading of Hegel.

In the first session, Neil and Patrick will discuss Kojeve's influence on contemporary political philosophy.

Readings for the first sesssion can be obtained from the box outside my office, rm 213, on the second floor of the George Eliot building.

These sessions should be of interest to all those taking Phil 205, Social and Political Philosophy, as well as those wnating to continue with Philosophy at post-graduate level.

All sessions take place 1-2.45 in room 219.

Hopefully we will see quite a few of your there!



Sunday, 13 February 2011

Philosophy: Events Week Screening

Der Ister (The Danube) - Barrison and Ross, 2004.

Tuesday Feb 15th, 11am-2.30pm, rm. 219.

'The Ister is a 3000km journey to the heart of Europe, from the mouth of the Danube river on the Black Sea, to its source in the German Black Forest. Hailed by Scott Foundas of Variety as "a philosophical feast—at which it is possible to gorge oneself yet leave feeling elated,” the film is based on the work of one of the most influential and controversial philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, who in 1933 swore allegiance to the National Socialists. By joining a vast philosophical narrative with an epic voyage along Europe’s greatest waterway, The Ister invites you to unravel the extraordinary past and future of ‘the West.’
Awarded the National Research Cinemas Association (GNCR) Prize at the Marseille International Documentary Festival in 2004, and the Quebec Film Critic’s Association Documentary Prize at the Festival du Nouveau CinĂ©ma MontrĂ©al, 2004' (from the film's website at

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Paul Virilio on philosophy and literature...

In a tv interview,

Cyberwar, God And Television:

Paul Virilio asserts:
I always write with images. I cannot write a book if I don't have images.

I believe that philosophy is part of literature, and not the reverse. Writing is not possible without images. Yet, images don't have to be descriptive; they can be concepts, and Deleuze and I often discuss this point. Concepts are mental images.<<

Two interesting points for consideration here:

1]Writing isn't possible without images (and the concomitant remark about philosophy as part of literature!)

2]Images can be concepts--and concepts are mental images.

The notion that concepts are mental images seems at least open to debate to me, since concepts are usually seen as separate from images, based on cognition rather than pictorially imbued (?) One has a mental image of a cat, does this predate the concept of the cat, or is the mental image of the cat identical to the concept of it?? Or, can one grasp the concept of a cat without a corresponding mental image?



Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Human Brain Analogy

The trend, in relatively recent years has been to think of ourselves and perhaps more specifically our brains as very sophisticated computers. Prior to this, top scientific minds understood the brain as though it were some sort of very complicated clockwork mechanism. In this short article I would like to make an effort to counter this trend of anthropomorphic infatuation with our ‘highest’ technology and so posit the notion that the human brain is like a very sophisticated potato.
If you look at the facts I think you’ll agree. In terms of shape, size (admittedly that would be a large potato) and chemical composition a human brain is much more like a potato than the tiny silicon chip that can be found in any number of computational devices. I’ve had a look about online and most accounts seem to suggest that a human brain is approximately 75-80% water depending on personal circadian rhythms and that potatoes are pretty uniformly around 78%, which for me is almost close enough to cause concern. Have we all gone totally mad and fixated on this benign head tuber when it simply has nothing to do with what makes us human?
I’m bound to say it’s possible. From here it looks as though the inevitable connection between medical science and medical technology has created an overly organised view of the human body. It is quite understandable as the technology, the tools of the trade if you will, is only capable of solving a technological problem. It isn’t that they don’t work, it’s just that the problem is partly made by the solution, when the solution is to make a diagnosis in analogy.
“Yes Mr Smith, you’re a mechanic you’ll understand. You see the body’s vital organs are like a car’s engine. If they do not receive enough oxygen then the spark plugs will be unable to burn the fuel in the chamber and the engine will not run. In short Mr Smith, smoking has blocked your intake valve.”
As horribly mixed a metaphor as it is, the analogy here serves a purpose but it is technological at it’s core. Mr Smith understands the mechanical results of smoking but that is all the analogy is capable of. And the same holds true for the analogous brain-computer. There are respects when medically, the analysis of the brain as though it were a computer will be useful, however in the case of trying to comprehend human conciseness the medical analogy is simply inadequate. As is any I suppose, so I’ll have to retract my earlier statement about potatoes.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Staff Student Seminar - Revised Programme

Philosophy – Staff Student Seminar Series 2011

Revised Programme

Weds Jan 12th 2011, room 215, Ugur Parlar - Foundations of Contemporary Environmental Ethics in 19th and 20th Century Western Thought: From Emerson’s and Thoreau’s Transcendentalism to Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

Weds 19th January 2011, room 215: Neil Turnbull - Philosophers and Players: Narcissism as a Theme in Western Philosophy

Weds Feb 9th 2011, room 219, Ulrich Hass, Manchester Metropolitan University - Nietzsche and the Future of our Educational Institutions

Weds Feb 23rd 2011 Frederick Aspbury, room 219 - Hegel meets Freud: The Dialectic of the Subconscious

Weds March 2nd 2011 Ruth Griffin, room 215 - Through the Zizekian Lens Darkly: Lacanian Psycho-analysis and the Philosophy of Film

Weds April 13 2011, room 215 Jim Bunker – Working with Mental Health is an Extreme Philosophy

Weds April 20th, room 215 Patrick O’Connor - Desire and Pleasure: The Death of Life in Recent French Thought.

All seminars start at 1pm and finish @2.45pm.

All welcome.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

My Top 10 Greatest Short Philosophical Works

There has a lot been said, and many charts have been compiled about the top 10 and top 20 greatest philosophical works. But I thought it would be interesting to collate a top ten of short philosophical works. Graham Harman (see his blog on the side links 'object-oriented philosophy') has recently spoken extensively on the idea of the TOP 20 books, so I thought it would be interesting to give a brief justification of what makes a short work great and include my top ten. I think this would be good for you students as well since it offers you a great entry into philosophy, in a concise but by no means uncomplicated introduction to philosophy. I know that 'long' and 'short' can be fairly subjective, but we can think of a short work as in some way self-contained, for example, one of Montaigne’s essays, which could easily be placed in a larger collection. Also as a rule of thumb, we can say a short work, at the top end, could take you a day to read if you put your mind to it. But what makes a short work interesting? The first thing that springs to mind is precision, and I don’t necessarily mean in the analytical sense. These texts are precise in the sense that there is a lot going on in them which is expressed in the minimal amount of prose, dialogue or even poetry. These texts stylistically embody the universal in the particular. To my mind Plato''s Symposium despite its length is exceptionally rich, having infinitly more depth, truth and rigour than AJ Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. Secondly, I think that short philosophical works can provide us with an interesting historical insight. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto (around 10000 words which is less than a level three dissertation!) has a unique ability to make present its time, namely the urgencies, political malaise and anxieties of industrial Europe, much more I think say than ploughing through Das Kapital. Thirdly, I think that we do not have to think of a short work as necessarily a book. We could easily think of some of Leibniz’s letters to Arnauld has having a huge philosophical impact, or a collection of Marcus Aurelius' maxims. if we look at the letters, this is interesting because it gives an insight into the biography of the philosopher. If we think of philosophy in letters we can see the human behind the interlocutor, and can gain a sense of their lived debate. Fourthly, for philosophical reasons, short works are great because we can get a sense of what the philosopher thinks is most essential rather than just engaging in the finesse of arguments. This brings a dynamism to philosophy, which might be lost where one has the luxury of working out ones arguments over 800 pages!

All of these choices are of course arbitrary, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this, or a reminder of any omissions

So off the top of my head, and in no particular order:

Aristotle-De Anima
Plato – Phaedo (All of his short dialogues could be here but these are my favourites)
Plato – Symposium
Leibniz – Monadology
Hume – Autobiography
Kant – The Metaphysics of Morals
Nietzsche – On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life
Marx – The Communist Manifesto
Bergson – An Introduction to Metaphysics
Wittgenstein – Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

BBC4; Justice - A Citizen's Guide season

BBC4 is currently airing a number of programmes as part of its 'Justice: A Citizen's Guide' season, which should be of interest to anyone interested in ethics and/or political philosophy in particular.

As a taster, in the first link, below, Mark Vernon explores the ways whereby Aristotle, Kant and Bentham might have approached the topical issue of bankers' bonuses in a piece for BBC Online.

The second link, meanwhile, enables you to view Harvard Professor Michael Sandel's lively and thought provoking programme, 'Justice: A Citizen's Guide to the 21st Century' via BBC Iplayer for the next seven days (first screened Monday 24th on BBC4).

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Yesterday's Staff-Student Seminar

Hello Everyone

I have just received an e-mail from Dom that raises a few questions about yesterday's staff student seminar. This is what it says:

'I've been thinking about the discussion earlier in your seminar, specifically about the references to viewing a philosopher's life alongside their philosophy and the discussion about Neitzsche and Heidegger.

What I seemed to get from the discussion was that it was stated that we have to view Heidegger's philosophy as fascist and that as proof of this we should consider his life. I'm not sure if I agree with this idea of considering a philosopher alongside their philosophy which seemed to me to be a kind of quick and easy way of evaluating their philosophy. Shouldn't we really just deal with the philosophy itself and, if people believe it is fascist or leads to madness, bring it down on its own weaknesses, not by ad hominem?

Also as far as Neitszche is concerned can't he be viewed as the epitome of non-nihilism? What I get with Neitszche is that he is stating that it is the truth-proofs that societies need that actually brings them into nihilism, whereas his eternal return and affirmation acted as a positive denial of nihilism, such as Deleuze used them. This article I thought was both timely and necessary to defend Nietszche as a positive force from people like Jared Loughner and others who use Neitszche to belittle this type of philosophy, such as Bertrand Russell?

This article ( sums it up here when it says that 'Neitszche saw himself as the scourge of European nihilism, and possibly also its remedy. Nietzsche saw nihilism as a disease, which grows from, in Alexander Nehamas' words, "the assumption that if some single standard is not good for everyone and all time, then no standard is good for anyone at any time."'

So what I'm asking you is do you really think that philosophy has to be considered alongside the philosopher's life? I remember someone in the lecture saying that they won't read Heidegger because he's 'evil' and I've been thinking about this and maybe there's a phil blog discussion to be had? Maybe the question 'Is it right to not read things because they don't adhere to our ideological commitments?' could have some going power?'

To answer Dom's question:

The point being made by Dom here is that in making the link between philosophy and biography we are committing the fallacy of 'argumentum ad hominem'.

However, I am not sure that this fallacy applies in all cases. It might not apply to philosophers and it certainly doenot apply to politicians. For example can we really view Thactherism as somehow divorced from Thatcher's own lower-middle class bellicose personality. Isn't Hitler, in some sense, essential the very meaning of Nazi ideology?

Let's take a less well known case - Richard Nixon. Nixon, we know we a paranoid delusionist, who saw enemies everywhere. He was a compulsive seeker of fame and power’, but like many narcissists waqs much ‘more fragile’ than would initially appear.

Psychanalytic theorists have suggested not only that Nixon’s desire to be a leader figure act was a mask for feelings of dependency, rage and envy, but that many of his policy decisions - such as his tragic decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, stemmed from his ‘projecting’ the ‘unacceptable’ aspects of his character onto the world in a ‘paranoid’ manner.

Is this ad hominem? If so, psychoanalysis itself is clearly ad hominem; because it examines the roots of human thought in the unconscious minds of specific individuals (take a look at Freud's study Leonardo da Vinci - a study, incidentally, where 'narcissism' is first deployed as a critical concept).


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Postponed guest speaker: Wednsday 26th January; 2-4pm in GE089

Hello All

Please see below for details of the postponed guest speaker session, now taking place on the coming Wednesday. I hope to see some of you there!



You are warmly invited to our Philosophy and Everyday Life visiting speaker session under the auspices of the BA Philosophy joint honours programme in the School of Arts and Humanities:

Is there anything that could not count as a moral issue?

NOW ON: Wednesday 26th January from 2-4pm

George Eliot GEE089 (LT3 Clifton Campus)

Trevor Curnow, University of Cumbria

In this lecture, Trevor will consider why he became interested in ancient philosophy, his experiences of moral philosophy before he did, and why he thinks ancient philosophy is in many ways superior to modern philosophy in its approach to life.

Enquiries may be directed to: Dr Ruth Griffin

All welcome.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Agon and Antagonism

I have been thinking today about a distinction made by Chantal Mouffe, the distinction between 'an enemy' and 'an adversary', between agonism and antagonism. How, exactly, are we to make this distinction? Is it the result of a differing attitudes on the part of the people involved, or simply the context in which a relationship takes place?

What ethical and political consequences follow from this distinction? Can we have a society without 'adversaries'?



Staff-Student Seminar: Mad Philosophers?

This Weds Jan 19th Neil Turnbull will present a paper as part of this year's staff-student seminar series. The title of the paper is:

Philosophers and Players: Narcissism and the Philosophical Life

This paper will discuss the role of 'madness' in western philosophy and whether 'the madness of philosophers' poses critical questions for the development of western philosophy as a whole.

The seminar will take place in room 215, 1-3pm (as last time).

Hopefully there will be quite a few undergraduate students attending this one.


Sunday, 16 January 2011

What is Life?

Radical Orthodoxy: A Journal of Theology, Philosophy and Politics is an internationally peer reviewed journal dedicated to the exploration of academic and policy debates that interface between theology, philosophy and the social sciences. The editorial policy of the journal is radically non-partisan and the journal welcomes submissions from scholars and intellectuals with interesting and relevant things to say about the nature and trajectory of the times in which we live. The journal intends to publish papers on all branches of philosophy, aesthetics - including literary, art and music criticism - as well as pieces on ethical, political, social, economic and cultural theory.
The journal will be published four times a year; each volume comprising of standard, special, review and current affairs issues. The journal will also attempt to pursue an innovative editorial policy by publishing pieces both longer and shorter than those typically published in mainstream academic journals (along with those of standard length).
The first issue of the journal will appear on-line in autumn 2011: a double special issue on the theology, philosophy and politics of ‘life’. In recent years, a new vitalist metaphysical discourse has attempted to rearticulate classical philosophical and theological problems in terms of a metaphysical language of process. However, some important questions need to be asked of new vitalist philosophies. For example, what is the relationship between new vitalism and orthodox naturalism and biologism? What, exactly, is the precise nature of the relationship between ‘new’ and ‘old’ vitalisms? Is new vitalism simply a reworking of the positivist dream of ‘a unified science’, or does it represent something of break with scientific metaphysics? What other vitalisms, either social or theological, can contest the wider intellectual legitimacy of new vitalist discourses? This inaugural issue will explore such questions through an assessment of the nature and significance of ‘life’ for contemporary philosophical, theological and social scientific debates. In particular, the journal will welcome submissions on the following subjects:

Life and creativity
Everyday life
Life and the gift
Grace and nature
Thomism and vitalism
Life and phenomenology
Michel Henry
The historical significance of ‘Deleuzianism’
Nihilism and eliminative materialism
The philosophy of biology
The theology, philosophy, politics of the neurosciences
Life and cybernetics

Deadline for submissions is Aug 31st 2011. Please send all submissions to the either the editor, Neil Turnbull, or the managing editor, Eric Lee at

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Kojeve Reading Group

This term Fred Aspbury will be leading a staff-student reading group.

We will be reading Alexandre Kojeve's seminal text 'An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel'.

This is a very important text in the history of 20th century western philosophy - Satre, Merleua-Ponty and Lacan - amongst others - all being significantly influenced by it. It was also used in the latter part of the last century to justify the western triumphalism the followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

These sesssions should appeal to all those who are thinking of continuing with philosophy in some form after graduation.

The first session will take place on Weds Feb 16th, 1-2.30 pm, in 215.

Hopefully we will see quite a few of your there.


Monday, 10 January 2011

Hair Today?

I have been thinking about the political significance of the rise of image culture and its effects on politics.

And it struck me, is a politician disadvantaged for being 'bald'? There is a famous anecdote about the British politican Micheal Heseltine that claims that a 'signifcant percentage' of his constituents voted for him because he had 'a great head of hair'!!

Add this to the fact that Blair, with a full head of hair, beat three bald Tory leaders and you can see that Cameron might be in trouble. At the moment Cameron is as visually strong as Miliband (and sounds much better, as he is intonationally and rhetorically superior to Miliband). But he may be in trouble on the hair front - and here Miliband clearly has the advantage.

Might baldness decide the next election?