April 16, 2014

Ridge on Expressivism and Disagreement

It is often thought that one central advantage of expressivism over subjectivism is that expressivism can make sense of moral disagreements. Whereas according to subjectivism, people end up talking past one another, expressivism enables speakers to express disagreements in attitude as Stevenson famously put it. This orthodoxy has been recently challenged in two ways. Subjectivists have tried to create new ways of making sense of disagreements, and it has turned out that the traditional expressivist accounts of disagreement are more problematic than previously thought. The latter issue has become even more pressing because of the negation problem. The questions of when two people disagree and when one person holds inconsistent attitudes seem to be very much the same question, and so many expressivists have thought that by giving an account of disagreement they can also give an account of inconsistency. In a recent paper entitled “Disagreement” (PPR) and in a corresponding chapter on disagreement in his new Impassionate Belief book, Mike Ridge has tried to develop a new account of disagreement (which he calls "disagreement in prescription") to solve these worries. I want to argue below that this account fails because it commits the conditional fallacy.

Here’s Ridge’s approximate version of the view (the later complications will not affect what I’ll say below):

Two people, A and B disagree in prescription about D’s phying in C just in case in circumstances of honesty, full candor and non-hypocricy, A would advise phying in C and B would advise psying in X, where phying and psying are incompatible.

Intuitively, this is a pretty attractive view. Think of a case in which Jane thinks that Mary ought to tell a lie in the circumstances she is in, whereas Jill thinks that Mary ought not to lie in her situation. Presumably, Jane would advise Mary to lie whereas Jill would advise her not to do so. This suggests that we could use these dispositions to give incompatible advice to make sense of what the disagreement between Jane and Jill consists of. For what it’s worth, I’d want to run the order of explanation the other way. I would want to say that Jill and Jane would give different advice just because they disagree about what Mary ought to do.

In any case, the reason I am sceptical about Ridge’s view is that it is formulated in terms of a counterfactual conditional and philosophical theories that are formulated in this way usually fail because they commit my favourite objection – the conditional fallacy. The right hand side of Ridge’s account first places A and B into idealised hypothetical conditions. The theory then says that A and B disagree if they do certain things in those new circumstances. The problem is that placing A and B in the idealised circumstances changes them and so what A and B do in the new circumstances will no longer be relevant for whether they disagree in the actual circumstances.

To see the problem consider the following two debates:

Ann: Harry ought to be honest to Larry.
Ben: That’s not true. He ought not to be honest to Larry.

Mark: Kerry should to give advice to Pam.
Val: that’s not true. Kerry shouldn’t advice anyone.

Intuitively, Ann and Ben disagree and so do Mark and Val. The problem is that Ridge’s account can’t make sense of their disagreements. Ann would advise Harry to be honest to Larry. In the real world Ben is against honesty. However, when we place Ben in the idealised world we have to change him so that he too is an honest person. Presumably honest people are for honesty. So in the idealised circumstances Ben too would advise Harry to be honest to Larry. This means that the right hand side of Ridge’s view is not satisfied and so Ann and Ben don’t disagree on his view in the actual world.

The same goes for Mark and Val. Mark would advise Kerry to give advice to Pam. In the real world, Val is against giving advice but in the hypothetical idealised circumstances we have to make her willing to give advice so we have to make her to be for advising others. This means that in the idealised circumstances Val too advices Kerry to give advice. So, against the disagreement between Mark and Val disappears on Ridge’s account.

Here’s what Ridge says about worries of this sort:

“These definitions are couched in terms of conditionals. One might worry that these should be read as counterfactual conditionals, and then object that in the nearest world in which a given person would offer advice of any kind, his state of mind would be quite different. This, though, is not the intended reading. The idea is rather that we keep the states of mind of A and B fixed and ask, given those states of mind, what each of them would advise D to do, if they had to advice one way or another, and moreover had to do so honestly, candidly, and without hypocrisy of any kind (Ridge 2014, 187).”

I don’t think this response works. Firstly, I am little worried about being told that I should not read a counterfactual conditional as a counterfactual conditional. If the theory is not based on a counterfactual conditional, then why formulate it in terms of one? The second thing to note is that the fix in the end of passage just replaces one counterfactual conditional with another. It says that when we place the agents in the idealised conditions, we make no psychological changes (we keep attitudes fixed) but rather we change the external circumstances so that they have to give advice honestly. (By the way, the only way I can make sense of this requirement to give advice is that now in the idealised circumstances there is a threat: think of a demon insisting that you give honest advice or they shoot you.)

The problem is that the conditional fallacy still doesn’t go away. Consider the following case:

Imagine that Freda’s states of mind is such that she is disposed to advice people not to tell lies except in situations in which she has to give advice one way or another and she has to do so honestly, candidly and without hypocrisy of any kind. In these situations, she gets so nervous that she advises people to tell lies. Erin in contrast is always disposed to advise people to tell lies. Then, assume that we are in an ordinary situation in which Freda doesn’t have to advise anyone even if she has an opportunity to do so. In this situation, Freda and Erin have the following discussion:

Freda: Olly should not tell a lie to Polly.
Erin: You’re mistaken. Olly should tell a lie to Polly.

Intuitively, Freda and Erin can sincerely say these things given their attitudes towards lying (Freda is against Olly lying to Polly whereas Erin is for this). And, intuitively they disagree. However, the revised version of Ridge’s view doesn’t support this intuition. If Freda had to give advice honestly, she would advise everyone to lie because of her nerves (note that Ridge explicitly says that we keep their states of minds fixed - I assume this includes the disposition to get nervous when under pressure and to advice people to lie in that case). And so, on Ridge’s view, there’s again no disagreement. So the conditional fallacy is still a problem. This makes me doubt that there’s a way to makes sense of disagreements in terms of dispositions to advise in idealised circumstances – the conditional fallacy is too much of a problem.

On solitary confinement

Philosopher Lisa Guenther (Vanderbilt) comments. (Thanks to Daniel Fogal for the pointer.)

April 15, 2014

Dr Roy Jackson interviews Professor Aaqil Ahmed.

Over  on our video-blogDr Roy Jackson interviews Professor Aaqil Ahmed, Head of BBC Religion and Ethics. Click the image below to go to the entry in the video-blog:

April 11, 2014

Call for Registration: "Good Done Right"

GOOD DONE RIGHT: a conference on effective altruism
7-9 July 2014, All Souls College, Oxford

Speakers include: Derek Parfit (Oxford), Thomas Pogge (Yale), Rachel Glennerster (MIT Poverty Action Lab), Nick Bostrom (Oxford), Norman Daniels (Harvard),  Jeremy Lauer (WHO-CHOICE), Toby Ord (Oxford), William MacAskill (Cambridge), Larissa MacFarquhar (the New Yorker), Nick Beckstead (Oxford), Owen Cotton-Barratt (Oxford).

For further information and registration, please visit here.

Effective altruism is a growing intellectual movement at the intersection of academia and the public world. It seeks to use insights from ethical theory, economics, and related disciplines to identify the best means to secure and promote the most important values, and to advocate for their adoption. To this end, philosophers at Oxford have established the Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity with close ties to the University, comprising two organizations, Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours, the first of which focuses on effective giving, the second on ethical careers.

The aim of this conference is to bring together leading thinkers to address issues related to effective altruism in a shared setting. Topics include: our obligations as individuals and citizens in a highly unequal world; the moral importance of cost-effectiveness considerations in aid and health-care allocation; the measurement, aggregation, and comparison of benefits; the ethics of career choice; population ethics, and other issues that matter for how to do the most good.There will also be a conference dinner on the 8th in the Hall of All Souls.

April 10, 2014

April 09, 2014

How The Light Gets In Philosophy Festival

The annual How The Lights Gets In philosophy festival will soon be coming around again. Here are some highlights:

24th May - The Limits of Logic
Logicians don’t rule the world or get the most done. Could it be that a logically-consistent world view is neither desirable nor achievable? Would abandoning the straightjacket of rationality lead to a more exciting future, or simply to madness? With Simon Blackburn, Iain McGilchrist, Beatrix Campbell.

27th May - New Gods
Evidence and reason are supposedly the basis of our beliefs. Yet religion continues to flourish, and new gods conquer even the most rational minds. Is unjustified, groundless belief an essential part of human nature? Or can we banish faith forever? American anthropologist Scott Atran, Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn and human rights advocate Peter Tatchell examine the foundations of thought.

31st May - The Ultimate Proof
We think evidence decides the matter. Yet even suicide bombers think they have evidence to support their cause. Should we see independent evidence as an illusion? Would this lead to a chaotic world without foundations or constraint? Or open us to the richness of reality? Laurie Taylor asks philosopher Nancy Cartwright, Templeton Prize-winning cosmologist George Ellis and American anthropologist Daniel Everett to consider the evidence.

Revision resources on video?

As A-level (and other) exam season approaches - you may be interested to note that we have a range of videos on topics that may be of use. Our video blog is at http://philosvids.wordpress.com/  - and down the right hand side you'll find a range of topics - or just browse through the (approx. 100) videos there.

We are always happy to record more if there are topics that people really want to focus on - use twitter to tell us what topics you'd like to see covered - we are at https://twitter.com/RPEatGlos.


See more about the RPE team at : http://r-p-e.blogspot.co.uk/p/rpe-staff-who-are-we.html 

April 08, 2014

Political Utopia: Promise or Peril? Ideal Theory Conference, April 25th-26th, 2014

For those of you interested in nonideal/ideal theory debates in political philosophy, I thought I’d let you know that Bowling Green State University is hosting a conference on the subject in three weeks. Registration is still open if you’re able to attend. We’re hoping to collect the papers in a volume following the conference. The line-up is great, and I expect the papers to advance the discussion.

Conference website here.

Conference flier here.

April 07, 2014

A Correction

In a previous post I said that the study of Shakespeare was well outside the bounds of philosophy as it is practiced, though it easily have been inside. This was a mistake. Klaas Kraay pointed out to me that there is even an upcoming conference on Shakespeare: The Philosopher.

I’m very happy to have been proven wrong about this. Shakespeare’s connection to philosophy seems like a rich and interesting field of study, and I’m thrilled to see people working on it.

It is a little interesting that the conference doesn’t look like it is growing out of work in history of modern philosophy, or even history of Renaissance philosophy, but out of aesthetics. That wasn’t what I expected either, though perhaps I should have. I suspect in general there are interesting connections to be drawn between the work of the leading poets, playwrights and, eventually, novelists. I wonder if we’ll think of work looking at those connections as being part of aesthetics, or part of history of philosophy? Either way, it’s wonderful to see this kind of work being done.

April 06, 2014

Featured Philosopher: Cheshire Calhoun

Hi all,

It brings me great pleasure to introduce Cheshire Calhoun.  Cheshire is Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University, and Research Professor at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom.  Her work is extremely original, as I'm sure many Soupers will attest, covering a very wide range of areas including normative ethics, the emotions, feminist ethics, and gay and lesbian philosophy.  Let's welcome Cheshire!


 I have been thinking for some time about what philosophical conception of ‘meaningful living’ has most to recommend it. The diversity of ordinary language uses of “meaningful” and of intuitions about what count as meaningful lives suggest, to me at least, that there will be something to say for a plurality of quite different accounts of meaningful living and that in adjudicating between them it will be help to ask what conceptual purposes we want an analysis of ‘meaningful living’ to serve.


I have been trying to work out what I call a normative outlook conception of meaningful living. In brief: Spending your life’s time on an activity contributes meaning to your life when it is an end of yours that you take yourself, in your own best judgment, to have reasons to value and thus reason to use yourself up on. The distinctive features of this normative outlook conception are, first, that it takes meaningful living to involve the expenditure of one’s life’s time on one’s ends rather than, as on some other views, straightforwardly on what actually has “objective” (impersonal, agent-independent) value or on what one cares about or feels fulfilled by. Meaningful living is thus intimately tied to an important capacity of persons, namely the capacity to set ends and organize practical activity in light of those ends. Second, the emphasis is on the reasons that persons take themselves to have, in their own best judgment, to adopt the ends they do. This makes this account a variant of subjectivist conceptions of meaningful living.  Like any subjectivist account of meaningful living, there will be a certain amount of permissiveness about the kind of lives that count as meaningfully lived ones. The permissiveness results from the fact that persons, even when exercising their best judgments about what reasons there are, can go significantly wrong because the reasons that there (really) are are not within their reach. That permissiveness extends, in theory, to lives devoted to trivial pursuits and immoral lives—although these are the kinds of cases where we may suspect the person has really just failed to set ends in light of her own best judgment about what reasons there are and how they are to be weighed (in which case, she is not in fact living meaningfully).  Third, this is a conception of meaningful living on which ‘P is living meaningfully’ is only contingently connected with our thinking that P’s life is to be commended and recommended. That connection is contingent on our agreeing with P’s best judgment.


Since there are other candidate conceptions of meaningful living that might seem attractive, let me briefly indicate some of my reservations about them.


First, there certainly is a use of ‘meaningful’ to designate lives that are “objectively” good (or if you like, impersonally good, or good from an agent-independent perspective). Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein are sometimes proffered as examples of such meaningful lives. A central difficulty I see with “objectivist” accounts is that they end up equating ‘meaningful’ with some other evaluative notion such as humanly excellent, flourishing, significant, or (simply) good. No doubt in ordinary language ‘meaningful’ is used interchangeably with some other evaluative notion. But this makes ‘meaningful living’ a philosophically uninteresting notion and one that does no distinctive conceptual work. There is no special project that calls for an account of meaningful living that couldn’t instead be completed be a project about, say, humanly excellent, good, or significant lives. One could, of course, attempt to avoid this by equating ‘meaningful living’ with some subset of humanly excellent, good, or significant lives. But since it is the very fact that the lives appear humanly excellent, good, or significant that favors our counting the smaller subset as  ‘meaningful,’ the singling out of a smaller subset is likely to appear wrongly exclusionary.


Alternatively, one might think the most attractive conception of meaningful living is a hybrid one of the sort Susan Wolf has developed. Not only must one’s life’s time be expended on what is good (or humanly excellent, etc.), but one must have attitudes toward those activities that fall in the range of caring about, loving, being engaged with, and the like.  This hybridization of objective goodness and caring attitude might work in one of two ways. On the one hand, it might mean simply that one must care about an activity and that activity must be “objectively” valuable. On this simple interpretation, there is only one sort of reason that the person must have access to—her reasons for caring; she need not also have access to the reasons why the activity is objectively good. Consider for example a fictionalized Einstein who simply loves fiddling about with physics. We may suppose that he’s given no serious thought to any reasons for doing physics, either to what makes this objectively good or even to his own reasons for loving physics. He manages, however, to make exactly the same discoveries that the real Einstein did. His life, on this simple reading of the hybrid view, is as meaningful as the real Einstein whom we imagine having reasons for thinking that what he was doing was worthwhile as well as reasons for loving it. Let me just bluntly say, this doesn’t seem right.


A different version of the hybrid view might seem more appealing. On that view, we are to think about ‘meaningful’ on analogy with ‘knowing.’ Just as it isn’t sufficient, in order to know, that one accidentally latch onto true beliefs (one must also have access to justifying reasons), so it isn’t sufficient, in order to live meaningful, that one accidentally latch onto objectively good activities (as our fiddling Einstein did). One must also have access to the reasons why the activity is good. So we might say a meaningful life is one in which the agent expends her life’s times on activities for which she has both reasons of love and the correct evaluative reasons. This would bring us to something like a non-doxastic version of my own view (as Michael Smith has recently pointed out to me). I could have suggested: Spending your life’s time on an activity contributes meaning to your life when it is an end of yours that you have the right reasons (of both a personal and impersonal nature) to value and thus reason to use yourself up on. Why not say such a reasonable thing?


Here’s my concern. Let’s return to the case of Mother Teresa who is so often cited as an example of meaningful living. The reasons that she had access to for doing her good work in India included her hearing the voice of Jesus telling her “Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, p. 44) and her “longing to give all to Our Lord and make many souls do the same” (p. 57). Let us suppose, hypothetically, that her own reasons did not include respect for the poor and enabling them to lead dignified lives. If you are not inclined to think that hearing voices and evangelical aims are what make her work objectively valuable, then she has latched onto the wrong reasons. Her life on this second variant of the hybrid account wasn’t meaningful. And again, speaking bluntly, that doesn’t seem right either.


Now one might think this isn’t the right conclusion about Mother Teresa for one of two reasons. One could be persuaded that meaningful lives are ones devoted to objectively good things regardless of the agent’s access to those reasons. (This would take us back to my worries about collapsing ‘meaningful’ into some other evaluative notion, and/or my worries about counting the unreflective, fiddling Einstein as living meaningfully.) Or you might think it’s the wrong conclusion because the agent’s own meaning-making activities aren’t allowed to count. To my mind, Mother Teresa is a compelling example of meaningful living precisely because she had to think so carefully about what, in her best judgment, gave her a reason to adopt the work in India as an end. She was compelled to think carefully by her need to secure permission to conduct the work in the first place, by the work’s difficulty, and by her own despair at having been abandoned by God not long into her work. It is simply irrelevant to the meaningfulness of her life whether her best judgment tracks the reasons that there (really) are.


Let me end by briefly saying something about the conceptual purposes for which we might want a philosophical conception of meaningful living.  It seems to me that we want a conception of meaningful living in order to specify why the human capacity to set ends matters and why beneficence should take the form of adopting others’ ends as our own.  Even if we fail to latch onto the right reasons, and even if as a result we set ends that aren’t particularly objectively worthwhile, guiding our lives by our own best judgment as to the reasons we have for expending our life’s time one way rather than another enables us to find (or better, make) meaning in what we are doing.

Conference Announcement: Maxims and MRIs

Maxims and MRIs:

Kantian Ethics and Empirical Psychology

A two-day workshop to be held at the University of Toronto, Centre for Ethics, Toronto, ON, Canada

May 9-10, 2014

In recent years, many moral philosophers have drawn inspiration from the exciting new empirical research that is being done in moral psychology. And yet not all philosophers have been as eager to embrace this trend. In particular, there has been significant over-representation of sentimentalists and non-cognitivists among theorists who have chosen to engage with contemporary psychological research. The aim of the conference is help correct this imbalance, by discussing the significance of empirical psychology for moral cognitivism, with particular emphasis on Kantian moral theory (understood broadly, to include Kant's ethics, current Kantian ethics, and related versions of moral rationalism).



Friday, May 9

Heidi Maibom (University of Cincinnati) "Practical Reason in the Age of Neuroscience"?

Pauline Kleingeld (University of Groningen) “Debunking Confabulation: Emotions and the Significance of Empirical Psychology for Kantian Ethics”

Susan Dwyer (University of Maryland) "Is there a Junction for Judgment?"

Marijana Vujosevic (University of Groningen) "Conscience as the Specific Rational Deficit of Psychopaths"

Barbara Herman (University of California Los Angeles) “Love and Attachment: Just What Kantian Theory Needs”


Saturday, May 10

Joseph Heath (University of Toronto) "Why do People Behave Immorally When Drunk?"

Tom Bates (University of Groningen) "Mixed vs. Moderate Traits: On the Evaluative Status of Empirically Sound Character"

Patrick Frierson (Whitman College) "Character in Kant's Moral Psychology: Responding to the Situationist Challenge"

Jeanette Kennett (Macquarie University), “Reactive Attitudes, Reason, and Responsibility”

Hanno Sauer (Tilburg University) "The Weakest Link. Realism, Debunking, and the Darwinian Dilemma"



Organizing committee:

Joseph Heath, Pauline Kleingeld, Arthur Ripstein, Sergio Tenenbaum, Louis-Philippe Hodgson


Pauline Kleingeld: pauline.kleingeld@rug.nl

Joseph Heath: joseph.heath@utoronto.ca

Higher-Order Evidence and Pascal’s Wager

I’ve been thinking a bit about the ways in which Higher-Order Evidence cases might be like Pascal’s Wager. In each case, an agent is presented with a reason for changing their doxastic state that isn’t in the form of evidence for or against the propositions in question.

Since most philosophers don’t think that highly of Pascal’s Wager, this isn’t the most flattering comparison. Indeed, some will think that if the cases are analogous, then the discussion of higher-order evidence isn’t really part of epistemology at all. Even if Pascal had given us a prudential reason to believe in God, he wouldn’t have given us an epistemic reason. I suspect, though, that this is a touch too quick. There are a variety of Pascal like cases where it isn’t so clear we have left epistemology behind.

Melati and Cinta are offered epistemic deals by demons. Here is the deal that Melati is offered.

There is this proposition p that you know to be true. I have a method M1 that will yield great knowledge about subjects of great interest. It is perfectly reliable. The only catch is that to use the method, you first have to firmly believe that p is false. If you do, you’ll get lots of knowledge about other things, indeed you’ll learn over 100 things that are of similar interest and importance to p.

And here is the deal that Cinta is offered.

Here are 100 propositions that you believe to be true. As you know, most people are not that reliable about the subject matters of those propositions. I can’t say whether you’re better or worse than average, though your accuracy rate is comfortably above 50%. Here’s what I can say. I have a method M2 that will yield very reliable beliefs about these subjects. People who have used it are 99% reliable when they use it. And given the subject matter, that’s a very high success rate. The only catch is that to use M2, you have to start by doubting every one of those propositions, and then only believe them if M2 says to do so.

There are two big parallels between Melati’s and Cinta’s deals. Both of them are asked to change their attitudes because that is necessary for commencing to use a method. At some level, they are asked to change their beliefs on prudential grounds. But note the payoff is not Pascalian salvation; it is knowledge. And the payoff is pretty similar in the two cases; probably around 100 pieces of new knowledge, and 1 false belief.

Yet despite those parallels, the cases feel very very different. Melati has no epistemic reason to believe that p is false. Indeed, it isn’t clear that she has all things considered reason to believe that p is false. And if she’s anything like me, she wouldn’t be capable of accepting the deal. (Carrie Jenkins, Selim Berker, Hillary Greaves and several others have discussed versions of what I’m calling Melati’s case, and the intuition that Melati has no epistemic reason to accept the deal seems incredibly widespread.)

Cinta’s situation is quite different. After all, the deal that the demon offers Cinta is very similar to the deal that Descartes offered his readers. Doubt a lot of things, including some things that you surely know, apply my method, and you’ll end up in a better position than where you started. In Descartes’s case, it wasn’t clear he was able to keep up his end of the bargain. That is, it wasn’t clear that he really had the magic method he claimed to have. But if he did have such a method, it wouldn’t be clear he was offering a bad deal. Moreover, we teach Descartes inside epistemology. If Cinta is being offered a version of Descartes’s deal, then it is arguable that she really has an epistemic reason to accept the deal.

What interests me about the cases of Melati and Cinta is that they suggest a way to capture the asymmetry in intuitions about higher-order evidence. Many people think that higher-order evidence can be good grounds to lose a belief. But I’ve never seen a case where the natural intuition is that higher-order evidence gives the agent grounds to adopt a belief where the first-order evidence is insufficient. Here’s a hypothesis that explains that. Higher-order evidence should be grouped in with things like Descartes’s motivation for doubting all one’s prior beliefs, if not with Pascal’s motivation for belief in God. And it is plausible that these kind of considerations in terms of epistemic consequences can provide reasons, perhaps even epistemic reasons, to lose a prior belief, without providing reasons to adopt a previously unheld belief.

April 04, 2014

Coming Attractions: Calhoun!

Hi all,

Just a quick note to remind you that Cheshire Calhoun will be joining us for a Featured Philosophers session on Sunday.  Be sure to join us!

Applicant Day!

Friday the 4th April sees us hosting another Applicant Day for RPE (and History/RPE) applicants, here at our Francis Close Hall Campus in Cheltenham.

All are very welcome - and we hope you find out everything you need to about the course.

Here are some pictures of the campus.. I'm hopeful it'll be dry tomorrow - but can't guarantee golden sunshine...

Another good way to get a sense of what we offer is to browse through our blog and other online resources - by using the tabs above..

Another way to get a good sense of what it's like to be a student here is to look at our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/RPEglos/ - and see students talking to each other and to us, or click the pic below for our photo gallery:

Click to see our Flickr gallery..

April 03, 2014

Meditation visit..

Many thanks to Justin Whitaker, who came to do a meditation practice with year 2 yesterday. The meditation was a metta-bhavana practice, and we had a discussion of the practice before and after.  Justin is also the author of the influential American Buddhist Perspective blog, and students can read more there...

I also interview Justin about meditation in Buddhism on our video-bloh here too: http://philosvids.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/meditation-in-buddhism/

The Prezi from last week's class on Meditation is also available.

April 01, 2014

RPE Staff Portrait...

Some of the RPE staff - as perceived by our third years..
I hope you can tell who is who...

Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy: Call for Papers

Due to a failure to send out a final reminder, we are extending the deadline for submissions for the Second Annual Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy from April 1 to April 15th.

The original call is repeated below.

We are pleased to announce that the Second Annual Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy will be held at the University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, Sept. 4-5, 2014. There will be nine speakers:

-        6 invited speakers:

•      Dave Estlund (keynote), Brown University,

•      Serena Olsaretti (keynote), ICREA-Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain,

•      Dick Arneson, UC San Diego,

•      Niko Kolodny, UC Berkeley,

•      Dani Attas, Hebrew University, Israel, and

•      Anna Stilz, Princeton University

-        1 graduate student, whose paper will be selected from invited submissions (based on nominations from our Board of Advisors and from the speakers at the previous workshop; there are no open submissions for this slot);

-        2 recent Ph.D.s, defined as scholars who, as of April 1, 2014, are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. Independent scholars may also be eligible and should direct inquiries to the Editors of the Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, care of Peter Vallentyne at vallentynep@missouri.edu.

Information on submitting papers, and other relevant information about the workshop, can be found at the workshop website:http://oxfordstudies.arizona.edu/. Submissions are now being accepted. Registration to attend the workshop is also now open.

We would greatly appreciate your forwarding this email to colleagues and/or graduate students in your department, and to any other philosophers you believe might be interested in participating in the workshop.

March 31, 2014

March 28, 2014

Cordoba 2014...

So - we set of at 3am on 11th March for Spain - and after some exciting coach, plane, coach and walking: we arrived at our Hotel in Cordoba by early afternoon. We went on our usual orientation tour, featuring supermarkets, chemists, museums, fast and slow food outlets and a general bit of wandering around - culminating in Plaza Corredera for an early evening drink..

Looking back from Calahorra Tower towards the Mezquita
That allowed for an early start on the Wednesday at the Torre de la Calahorra museum - this is a museum (with audio headphone guides!) that covers the 'Golden Age' and talks of Mulsim, Christian and Jewish life in the region - it culminates on the roof of the tower - where we have 5 years of pictures (only one in actual rain!) 
Also on the Wednesday - we went to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos to look at the site used for the Alcazar - and get a sense of its history. Then to the Archaeological Museum - for a glance at Cordoba's more ancient (mostly Roman) past.

Imma with students in the Mezquita / Cathedral of Cordoba
We met Imma – our expert tour guide – for the tour of the Mezquita / Cathedral – which is a highlight of the trip for many.

The tour took us from the Mezquita courtyard to the Jewish quarter, to see a ruined synagogue, as we hear about the history of the town and region: we then entered the Mezquita and had a wealth of detail from Imma about the amazing building.

Thursday afternoon saw us head to the Bath-house of the Caliphs, a small underground museum - with some bloody tales...

Then we walked to the Museum of Jewish life –  for our guided visit: The tour guide, Alex, not only gave us a lot of detail - but also finished the visit by singing to us!

We then - on Friday - had a day in Seville to see the Royal Alcazar there - and the huge, huge Seville Cathedral.. - most students even did the massive walk to the top of the tower for the views..  Everyone made the late train back - as we returned to Cordoba.

Saturday was the day of our trip to the ruined Islamic city of Medina Azahara - about 8km from the city - with a really detailled and informative museum at the site. After coaches, shuttle buses, gift shops and sunshine (with lots of learning thrown in) - we returned for an afternoon of gift shopping (Mosque snow-domes anyone?) - before walking back over the roman bridge at 6.30 am on Sunday to begin our journey home...

Cats on Campus?

The mysterious FCH cat..
I noticed yesterday that when I post important matters on the RPE Facebook group, I get a few likes - some intelligent comment - but when I post a picture of a cat on FCH campus: the likes go wild...

Now - everyone knows that I like cats, have cats, and have been known to include cat memes in presentations - but this fever for the campus cat seems beyond reason?

If you spot the cat on site - email me a picture and I'll pop it on our course Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/58244916@N00/

March 20, 2014

Consequentialism and voting

In a large election, an individual vote is almost certain to make no difference to the outcome. Given that voting is inconvenient and time-consuming, this raises the question whether rational citizens should bother to vote.

It obviously depends on the citizen's values. For a completely selfish person, the answer may well be 'no'. Different election outcomes typically don't matter too much for an ordinary citizen's selfish interests; and a miniscule chance of a medium-sized gain does not offset the cost in time and inconvenience.

But most people aren't completely selfish. (And if the few completely selfish voters stay at home, that's no reason for concern.)

What if a potential voter cares about the outcome for others? To simplify, what if she is a pure act-utilitarian who wants to maximize the total expected happiness (or whatever) in the electorate? It is often said that this would still not make voting rational, so that we need to postulate some intrinsic value to voting, or a non-consequentialist obligation to vote.

Along the same lines, in his 1980 paper "Rule utilitarianism, rights, obligations and the theory of rational behavior", John Harsanyi uses the voting case to argue that rule utilitarianism leads to better outcomes than act utilitarianism: rule utilitarians would vote, act utilitarians would abstain.

But let's think this through. Here is one of Harsanyi's examples.

EXAMPLE 1. 1000 voters have to decide the fate of a socially very desirable policy measure M. All of them favor the measure. Yet it will pass only if all 1000 voters actually come to the polls and vote for it. But voting entails some minor costs in terms of time and inconvenience. The voters cannot communicate and cannot find out how many other voters actually voted or will vote.

Under these assumptions, if the voters are act utilitarians then each voter will vote only if he is reasonably sure that all other 999 voters will vote. Therefore, if even one voter doubts that all other voters will vote then he will stay home and the measure will fail. Thus, defeat of the measure will be a fairly likely outcome.

Is this correct? Let's figure out the decision matrix for an arbitrary member of the group.

We'll assume that everyone loses 1 util by voting. If everyone votes, this means that the group has lost 1000 utils in total. To get an interesting social dilemma (or an argument for rule utilitarianism), we want the state in which everyone votes to be better than the state in which everyone stays at home. So the net utility of the "very desirable measure" M must exceed 1000 utils. Let's say it is 2000 utils. The decision matrix for an arbitrary act-utilitarian voter now looks like this.

... 998 others vote999 others vote
don't vote...-998-999

Here, voting has highest expected utility iff the probability of 999 others voting is at least 1/2000. Our voter does not have to be "reasonably sure", as Harsanyi claims, that all the others will vote. Only if she is very confident that some of the others will stay at home is it rational for her to abstain.

Admittedly, in real life it may be reasonable to assign a probability of less than 1/2000 to the assumption that everyone else in a large group will do their share. But in real life we also rarely need absolutely everyone to do their share in order to reach a desirable outcome. Moreover, if we may be confident that at least one person will not show up, this is typically because it is reasonable to expect that at least one person isn't motivated or has forgotten or is unable to come. But if the chance of such a disturbance is in fact greater than 1/2, then groups of (act-utilitarian) non-voters perform better, in the long run, than groups of (rule-utiliarian) voters who often waste almost everyone's efforts.

So Harsanyi's example doesn't work. Nor do his other examples.

I think this illustrates a general fact: people aren't very good at calculating expected utilities -- not even experts in decision theory. We often use heuristics, such as only looking at the most probable state. Of course the (by far) most probable state is that your vote will make no difference. Similarly: reducing your carbon-offprint won't affect global warming, donating to cancer research won't affect whether new cures will be found, going vegetarian will not prevent the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. But for rational decision-makers, this is irrelevant. What matters is the expectation of the difference. It's worth sitting down and doing the math.

March 17, 2014


Moved -> you should be redirected shortly !

March 10, 2014

RPE Cordoba Trip 2014..

We will be leaving for Spain shortly - meeting in just over ten hours, at 2.30am - to study the Islamic, Christian and Jewish history, philosophy and culture of Andalusia, via our base in Cordoba.

You can follow the trip via our photo gallery: HERE, and via Twitter HERE...

March 06, 2014

Subjunctive credence and statistical chance

In her 2012 paper "Subjunctive Credences and Semantic Humility" (2012), Sarah Moss presents an interesting case due to John Hawthorne.

Suppose that it is unlikely that you perform a certain physical movement M tomorrow, though in the unlikely event that you contract a rare disease D, the chance of your performing M is high. Suppose also that the combination of contracting D and performing M causes death. Then many judge that the objective chance of 'if you were to perform M tomorrow, you would die' is low, but the conditional objective chance of this subjunctive given that you perform M is high.

The intuitive judgments Moss reports are

(1) Ch(M => Die) 0.5
(2) Ch(M => Die/ M) > 0.5

where 'Ch' stands for objective chance and '=>' is the subjunctive conditional. Since the chances are known, it is also plausible that

(3) Cr(M => Die) 0.5

where 'Cr' denotes credence. After all, you're unlikely to have the disease, and you're not going to get it by performing M. So it's unlikely that you would die if you were to perform M.

Moreover, by the centring principle for conditionals, (2) simplifies to

(4) Ch(Die/M) > 0.5

This also looks plausible, and it can be justified by simple probabilistic reasoning. The crucial point is that M is much more likely given D than given ~D. For concreteness, let's say that

(5) Ch(M/D) = 0.99
(6) Ch(M/~D) = 0.01
(7) Ch(D) = 0.1

By Bayes's Theorem, it follows that Ch(D/M) = 0.917. And since D & M entails death, Ch(Die/M) is at least 0.917. So (4) is correct.

Together, (3) and (4) provide a counterexample to Skyrms's Thesis, which says that one's credence in subjunctive conditionals should equal one's expectation of the corresponding conditional chance. Somewhat simplified:

(ST) Cr(A => C / Ch(C/A)=x) = x

There are well-known limitations to Skyrms's Thesis, but they typically involve agents with "inadmissible information". Nothing like this seems to be going on in Hawthorne's scenario.

I think what the scenario brings out is that Skyrms's Thesis relies on a special conception of chance on which (4) is actually false.

Here is the argument against (4). Suppose you do not have the disease D. In this case, what's the chance that you die if you perform M? Practically zero. M is evidence for D, but it doesn't cause you to have the disease if you don't already have it. So on the assumption that you don't have the disease, Ch(D/M)=0. Similarly, if you do have the disease, then M won't cure it: Ch(D/M)=1. Now we don't know whether you have D, and so we don't know whether the conditional chance is 1 or 0, but it's much more likely to be 0 than 1. The expectation of the chance is below 0.5, as predicted by (ST).

So what's wrong with the above derivation of (4)? The derivation relied on a statistical conception of chance. Statistically, there is a high probability of M given D, and a high inverse probability of D given M: most agents who perform M have D, and most patients with D perform M. But subjunctive conditionals and subjunctive credence does not track mere statistical correlation. So the chance Ch in Skyrms's Thesis shouldn't be interpreted in this statistical way.

Statistically, there's a high chance that you're a woman if you by a certain magazine. That doesn't mean that a given male shopper would be a woman if he were to buy the magazine.

But the case does raise a worry. Philosophers with sympathies for Skyrms's Thesis (including Skyrms himself) often don't want to restrict chance to fundamental micro-physical propensities. They want to extend the principle to the higher-level probabilities of statistical mechanics. But aren't these statistical chances?

According to statistical mechanics, there's a high chance that an ice cube will melt if it is dropped in hot coffee. The chance is not 1 because there are unusual configurations of ice and coffee that would prevent the melting. Now suppose I have some ice and coffee in this unusual configuartion, so that the ice wouldn't melt if I were to drop it in the coffee. In a sense, there is still a high chance that the ice would melt, but this seems to be a merely statistical sense. Why does Skyrms's Thesis apply here, but not in Hawthorne's case or in the case of the shopper?

March 04, 2014

Anger kills...?

Over at the Guardian's Comment is Free you can find me wondering about different types of anger..


Just some speculation, wondering about perhaps thinking more about different types of anger, but it seems to have generated plenty of comment (which was probably the point...)

February 23, 2014

February 21, 2014

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: Chapter Three and the Eternal Recurrence

Given that Nietzsche has a reputation for being an atheist, this chapter may come as something as a surprise to many, as it demonstrates Nietzsche’s own ‘religiosity’. In looking at religious belief, Nietzsche is more concerned with why people believe what they do, not what they believe. It is the psychology of religion that is his main concern.

Here I want to focus on the key Section 56, as this presents his notion of the ‘eternal recurrence’. Apart from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the doctrine of the eternal recurrence only gets a few mentions in his later works. However, the doctrine was first elaborated in The Gay Science (S341) where Nietzsche presents a ‘what  if’ image.  He asks what if a demon were to creep up to you one night when you are all alone and, feeling lonely, and were to say to you that the life you have lived and continue to live will be the same life you will live again and again for infinity. This life will be exactly the same; no additions, and no omissions, every pain, every joy, every small and great event.  If this were the case, would you cry out in despair over such a prospect, or would you think it to be the most wonderful outlook ever? Though not mentioned specifically, this ‘what if’ scenario sums up the eternal recurrence: whatever in fact happens has happened an infinite number of times in the exact same detail and will continue to do so for eternity. You have lived your life an infinite  number of times in the past and will do so an infinite number  of times in the future.

Importantly, like seemingly the doctrine of the will to power, Nietzsche presents the eternal recurrence as a thought experiment,  not a provable truth. In his unpublished notes of the time (which should always be treated with caution) he argues for it as a cosmological thesis. However, it is most appropriately (given what we know about Nietzsche’s epistemological views) seen as an existential challenge: given this burdensome thought how can we turn it into something joyful? It is essentially the same kind of question that has preoccupied a number of existential thinkers, most notably Camus. Nietzsche goes beyond Schopenhauer’s pessimism here in expressing the need for a human being to be world-affirming: you have to be well-disposed towards yourself, not full of world-weary pessimism or hoping for the next life. You have to look at your life and, like seeing a drama or hearing a musical, declare ‘de capo’ (‘from the beginning’): wanting it again and again. Saying ‘yes’. Nietzsche ends S56 with ‘a vicious circle made god?’, but this is the god Dionysus, not the Christian God.

The eternal recurrence is meant to have a transforming effect, which requires a revaluation of all values. It requires us to be proud of our achievements because they are our creation. Nonetheless, like religious belief, adopting the eternal recurrence is a matter of ‘faith’. Where it differs from religious belief is that it does not place that faith in something other-worldly, but in this life.

February 18, 2014

Every Blog Has Its Day

The FSPB has had a good run, but it’s been a while since it has been the active place for student discussions “of issues philosophical, religious, moral, political, and scientific” that it once was. So, it’s time for the blog to sign off. There will be no new posts, but all of the old material will […]

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: Chapter Two and the Will to Power

The ultimate concern of this chapter is the possibility of philosophy.  If we accept that our ‘truths’ are merely the prejudices of philosophers, then we are led to scepticism.  However, Nietzsche believes that there is a role for the genuine philosopher, and this involves a ‘free spirit’ (‘spirit’ [geist] also translated as ‘mind’) that goes beyond scepticism and involves a new insight into nature.  This leads to a new philosophy, a new ‘religion’ that also entails a new morality and politics.

The ‘free spirit’ is what anticipates the ‘philosopher of the future’. Here Nietzsche asks us to see the world differently – ultimately as expressions of the will to power. A key section of Chapter 2 on the topic of the will to power is Section 36. Note how Nietzsche uses terms such as ‘assuming this’ and ‘supposing that’, so this passage presumably cannot be seen as a straightforward statement of what the will to power is (keep in mind what Nietzsche has already said about the will to power in Sections 13 and 22, in particular that all is ‘interpretation’). To some extent then, what Nietzsche is presenting is a thought-experiment and is highly speculative. Having said that, Burnham points out that, given that truth equals representation for Nietzsche, then Section 36 – and all of Nietzsche’s views for that matter – are both statements of what is and are highly speculative.

Whereas scholars such as Arthur Danto argue that this is Nietzsche’s ontology, other scholars such as Maudemarie Clark, points out that this view would conflict with what Nietzsche says in Sections 13 and 22, which is why the passage is deliberately set out in hypothetical form. Having said that, as Janaway notes, Nietzsche is nonetheless presenting his view; not so much ‘ontological’ as ‘psychological’.

In Section 36, Nietzsche presents a series of hypothesis:

1.    Suppose that one ‘representation’ (i.e. what is ‘real’) of the world is that it consists of drives and passions and nothing else. Thinking (intellect) is only a relationship between these drives. Thinking is not a representation of these drives, but the drives themselves!
2.    Suppose also that the ‘material world’, the world of mechanistic cause and effect, is also part of this model and so is actually an organic unity. i.e. drives, the will, etc. are not something separate from the physical. So the physical world is not delusion, not ‘appearance’ but, rather, part of Nietzsche’s  model (which is itself an ‘appearance’)
3.    All organic functions can be ‘traced back’ to the will to power in the sense that all things are a power relationship, to achieve mastery and dominance (not something separate from the drives, but rather that which consolidates the drives). This includes thought itself (and philosophy): it is the will to power spiritualized! It is abstract ideas etc. that, ironically, often set out to disguise the will to power by giving other explanations for the world.

The key thing to note here is that the scientific view of the world sees everything in terms of physical cause and effect, whereas Nietzsche speculates that it is will; a kind of ‘instinctual life’ which includes emotions. Even physical process, such as animals or plants feeding on other animals or plants, involves the will to power, of matter acting on (and taking over or consuming) other matter. In an existential (phenomenological) sense, Nietzsche is saying that we experience the world this way, not that this is the way the world really is.

February 14, 2014

New book out by RPE tutor

Roy Jackson’s new book What is Islamic Philosophy? has just been published by Routledge. It offers a broad introduction to Islamic thought, from its origins to the many challenging issues facing Muslims in the contemporary world. The chapters explore early Islamic philosophy and trace its development through key themes and figures up to the twenty-first century.

Topics covered include:
  • ethical issues such as just war, abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality and cloning
  • questions in political philosophy regarding what kind of Islamic state could exist and how democratic can (or should) Islam really be
  • the contribution of Islam to ‘big questions’ such as the existence of God, the concept of the soul, and what constitutes truth
    "This excellent book provides a user-friendly introduction to the emergence and subsequent developments of Islamic philosophy. Jackson’s problem-oriented approach also shows, in a skilful manner, the relevance of this philosophy to some of the most pressing issues of our time in important fields such as politics, ethics and religion." - Ali Paya, University of Westminster (UK), Islamic College (UK), and National Research Institute for Science Policy (Iran)

Applicant Day..

There will be an Applicant Day for people who've applied for the RPE (Religion, Philosophy & Ethics) course on Wednesday 19 February.
It’s a chance to get a feel for the University of Gloucestershire, for what it would be like to study here, and to ask any nagging questions about the course (if you have them). One of the sessions will offer a taste of what RPE students experience in lectures, and the subjects they explore:

Religion, Philosophy and Ethics: The Examined LifePlato famously said that an unexamined life was not worth living. But what is an unexamined life? How would you live a life that had no religion, philosophy and ethics in it, and if you did, would that really be a problem? 

Don’t worry if you can’t make 19 February, there will be another Applicant Day on 04 April.

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: Chapter One

Chapter 1, The Prejudice of Philosophers, is concerned with considering the history of philosophy and declaring that traditional philosophy now lies in ruins. Before moving on to consider key themes presented in Chapter 1, be aware that BGE (Beyond Good and Evil) has a clear structure to it.  It is in nine parts: beginning with a Preface and ending with a ‘Concluding Ode’, it is broken up with the first three parts dealing with philosophy and religion, Chapter 4 as an ‘Interlude’ of very short aphorisms, and Chapters 5-9 are concerned with politics and morality. The importance of Chapter 1 rests in Nietzsche’s belief that his works can only be appreciated and understood by the few: if you can get through Chapter 1 and have survived then you can be initiated into the next stage.

Section 1 of Chapter 1 is one of the most famous in the book.  It begins with something of a bombshell, “Given that we want truth: why not prefer untruth?”  Nietzsche here is bringing into question what is regarded as the fundamental drive of philosophy: the will to truth.  To assume the value of truth for human beings is to assume that there is a concord between truth and our nature; that truth is integral to our nature.  However, for Nietzsche, truth is deadly. The philosophical quest for ‘truth’ is nothing but a myth, a lie that has become indispensable for our survival.  Nietzsche, early on, is laying out the task before him:  if mankind has lived on the ‘lie’ that we must look for ‘truth’ then how are we to break away from that belief? 

Nietzsche, like all of us, is trapped by the limitations of language. As a philologist, Nietzsche recognised the power of language and is an early precursor of Wittgenstein in his views of language as imposing a ‘reality’ upon the world. Much of our language, containing such concepts as ‘God’, ‘truth’, ‘soul’ and so on are a product of primitive psychology and we are yet to accept that these terms are redundant.  As Nietzsche points out:

“Language, at its origin, belongs to an age of the most rudimentary form of psychology.  We enter a realm of gross fetishism when we become conscious of the fundamental presuppositions of the metaphysics of language or, in plain words, of ‘reason’…I am afraid we shall not get rid of God until we get rid of grammar”
(Twilight of the Idols, III)

Readers often find Nietzsche confusing when he criticises the quest for truth or, as in Section 12, talks of the need to get rid of the concept of the soul, yet also calls for “new and refined versions” of the concept of the soul.  When Nietzsche talks of “untruth” he is not suggesting that we all should live a life of falsehoods, rather that what is regarded as ‘truth’ is a falsehood. The trick, when reading Nietzsche, is to know when he is talking about his view on truth and when he is using the word in reference to the quest of past philosophers such as Plato and Kant.  Ideally, Nietzsche would like to be rid of such terms as ‘truth’ and ‘falsity’ altogether for, as he says in Section 4, “We do not object to a judgement just because it is false; this is probably what is strangest about our new language.  The question is rather to what extent the judgement furthers life, preserves life, preserves the species, perhaps even cultivates the species…” 

Nietzsche attacks Plato and Kant because of their methods of questing for truth, yet, because Nietzsche believes that philosophy has a future, that it can act as a guide for mankind, he does have views on what is truth.  These views are tied in to the Will to Power, the basic drive of mankind.  The Will to Power is mentioned four times in  Chapter 1, with reference to philosophy itself, then in respect of biology (the ‘science of life’), to physics (the ‘science of nature’) and to psychology (the ‘science of the human soul’).  It is the latter, the human ‘soul’ - bearing in mind what Nietzsche understands by the term ‘soul’…back to the problem of language again – that Nietzsche believes gives us privileged access to a ‘reality’, to a ‘truth’ shared by all beings.  It is curious that, whereas Nietzsche is often critical of Plato, he also shares many of the same aims and methods, both in terms of the rehabilitation of the philosopher and his importance, and, for those of you who are familiar with Plato’s famous cave allegory, the Socratic ‘turning’ towards the truth.

This ‘turning’ however, is not seemingly a metaphysical one, not pointing towards the stars for answers.  For Nietzsche, psychology is the “queen of the sciences” and, indeed, Nietzsche was as much a psychologist as a philosopher.  Nietzsche took it upon himself to discover what it meant to be truly human.  His criticism of such one-time friends as Wagner is that they ceased to be disgusted by the falsehoods and, instead, indulged in them.  Again, not unlike the prisoners in Plato’s cave, it is far more comfortable to live in the world of shadows than to be dragged up towards the real world.  For Nietzsche, this meant an existence that was jobless, wifeless, childless, homeless and stateless.  Ultimately, it may have cost him his sanity, although, prosaically, this may well have been an unavoidable medical condition.

In Section 6, Nietzsche claims that the “instinct for knowledge” that is, the will to truth, is not the “father of philosophy”, but that there is a more basic instinct.  “Every instinct is tyrannical; and as such seeks to philosophise.”  Philosophies (and philosophers) are seeking one thing: mastery, to be the ultimate purpose for all existence.  This mastery is what Nietzsche means by the Will to Power, although he reserves using the term itself until Section 9.  Philosophy is driven by the lust to rule, a lust that can be utilised for good as well as bad.  This is why Nietzsche gives philosophy such importance for, unlike other “scholars” (that is, the scientists), philosophers have the added bonus of being spiritual and intellectual.  For Nietzsche, the best philosophy is ‘science with a soul’. 

Nietzsche’s understanding of the Will to Power is best understood with reference to his own background.  Nietzsche studied and taught philology, which is the study of language and literature.  In particular, Nietzsche was concerned with classical philology.  It is said that when he gave lectures at Basel University his students felt that this man had literally been transported through time from ancient Greece; such was his knowledge and explication of the subject.  A key endeavour of BGE is to recover a Greek wisdom prior to Socrates and Plato; a ‘Homeric vision’ celebrated in its tragedies.  Nietzsche believed that the Platonic distinction between the real and apparent worlds, for a metaphysical truth, replaced this pre-Socratic wisdom not because it is true, but because it is safe.  Nietzsche believes his philosophy is a risk-taking adventure, a series of “dangerous maybes”.  The science of the psyche, especially, he believed could make actual discoveries that are both dangerous and promising.  It is the voyage of a new Odysseus who risks the danger of shipwreck for the hope of a whole new continent of discoveries. The theme of a ‘new voyage’ was a recurrent one with Nietzsche, as can be seen from this quote in The Gay Science:

“We philosophers and free spirits in fact feel at the news that the ‘old God is dead’ as if illumined by a new dawn; our heart overflows with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment, expectation – at last the horizon seems to us again free, even if it is not bright, at last our ships can put out again, no matter the danger, every daring venture of knowledge is again permitted, the sea, our sea again lies there open before us, perhaps there has never yet been such an ‘open sea’”
(The Gay Science, 343)

Nietzsche is not a nihilist in the sense that he does not conclude that, as there is no God, then ‘nothing matters’.  He does not talk of the end of all values, but the transvaluation of all values. In Section 13, Nietzsche asserts, “life itself is the will to power”.  Biology is wrong in believing that self-preservation is the primary instinct.  Rather than preserve life, “A living being wants above all else to release its strength.” 

Nietzsche was interested in Darwinian theory, and also had an attraction towards scientific knowledge, hence his tribute to Copernicus and Boscovich. Nietzsche is neither an idealist nor a materialist, but a philosopher who aims to provide an explanation of the world grounded in the interpretations of physics and biology. Buried as he was in ancient Greek wisdom, Nietzsche interprets physics as a rational inquiry into the way of human beings, as ‘physis’: he is not a proponent of modern physics, on the reliance upon materialism, but on the ‘psyche’ and human nature, on what it means to be a human being. 

What is Islamic Philosophy?

One of the greatest philosophers is the German Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant is, of course, a ‘Western’ philosopher and not an Islamic philosopher, although I might add that it is quite possible to be ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ at the same time, but it is a curious fact that there exists a copy of Kant’s doctoral thesis certificate (see picture), dated 1755, which has inscribed at the top of the title page the Arabic words bismillah al-rahman al-rahim (most common translation: ‘in the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate’). This short and poetic phrase is regarded as containing the true essence of the Quran (the Islamic holy scripture) and, it is frequently cited at daily prayers and other contexts by Muslims. Why this Arabic phrase should appear at the top of Kant’s doctoral thesis is a puzzling one, and we will likely never know the answer. It is unlikely Kant placed it there himself, for he makes little mention of Islam in his writings, but I remark upon the existence of this thesis here because, in many ways, it raises the question of the relationship between the firmly-established Western philosophical tradition - with such giants as Kant - and the perhaps more fragile existence of Islamic philosophy. Is it really possible to propose that there is congruence between such philosophical system-builders as Kant and what Islamic philosophers have to say in their great volumes or, for that matter, what can be found in the Quran? Or does this bismillah merely poke fun at the very idea that Islam could offer anything of value to philosophical discourse when compared to such earth-shattering contributors to modern thought that Kant, amongst others, represents? This is why I say that Islamic philosophy seems more ‘fragile’ in this respect, for the ground upon which it rests seems more slippery. But why is this the case, and does it really make any sense at all to even speak of an ‘Islamic philosophy’?

February 12, 2014

Crossing Boundaries in Religious Studies: take for instance that detestable 'Malleus Maleficarum'...

Despite the ‘methodological agnosticism’ our discipline has been… constructively criticised for and despite the phenomenological egg-shells some of us still tread on with care, the exciting thing about being a religious studies scholar today is that one has the freedom to cross the boundaries between more established disciplines, such as theology, philosophy, history or psychology. Most of my students do this without even thinking, although with premeditated intent!  They are stimulated by being able to ask the sort of questions that may not be interesting (nor possible) in other fields of study.

For example I have recently been talking about witches with some of my students – witches of the very fictional and medieval sort – and I found myself reading to them from none other than the infamous MalleusMaleficarum, the textbook of the Inquisition. Better known in its English translation as The Hammer of Witches, this book aimed to justify the persecution of hundreds of thousands of women – the use of the feminine gender for the adjective maleficus (feminine malefica/ maleficarum), Latin for wicked or criminal, being a clue for which of the two sexes might have been considered more susceptible to demonic influences.

Authored by two German clergymen in 1487 Malleus does not match what literary critics call ‘the horizons of expectation’ of its age – the historical, scientific or cultural context towards which a literary text naturally aspires and is in turn received and decoded by its readers. Dogmatic and brutal, this is perhaps not the sort of popular text one would expect to find in Germany, or Europe more widely, during the Renaissance. In fact it may have just providentially ended up quarantined on some dusty old shelf, had it not been concomitant with the development of the printing press.  As it turns out over the next two centuries it was going to be reprinted almost thirty times. Alas, the printing press was the Internet of its day: used for both good and evil.

The Hammer of Witches is shocking in many ways, but perhaps what is deeply unsettling about it is the extent of its heretical beliefs about the human body. Although the authors pretend not to be fooled by such ‘devil work and illusion’, we may still enquire into what sort of processes may have allowed many educated clergymen and laymen alike to entertain these sort of wild ideas? What might be the reason or reasons for such an irrational fear as having one’s sexual organs secretly stolen? What may be the emotional or social link (not intended to mean a sequential link) between monasticism and the inquisition? Religious traditions abound in norms, customs and symbolism about human sexuality and it seems that the accompanying emotions have often been sublimated in ways intended to leave no trace of their existence. Luckily students always ask about what is missing or hidden from view.

And so for those students out there who want to ask the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions of social sciences as well as the ‘yes but, what do they really believe?’ and the ‘what do they do?’ or ‘what does it mean?’, I would say: come cross some boundaries in religious studies!

Craig Tuffin + wet plate photography

There is an upcoming Wet Plate Collodion Gathering in Australia, which is designed for both novices and those more practiced at using this antiquarian technique at Gold Street Studios, Trentham, Victoria. It is run by Craig Tuffin. Craig Tuffin, The Separation of Eve', 2012, 11"x14" Clear Glass Ambrotype Tuffin's image...

February 11, 2014

2nd CFP: Second Annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference

Note: new deadline! (March 15th)

I am pleased to announce this call-for-papers for the Second Annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference (PCPC), which I have tentatively scheduled to occur at the University of Tampa on Saturday July 19 through Sunday July 20th, 2014. As was the case at this year's conference, the Second Annual PCPC will be unique in several respects:

  • Although attendance at the conference and participating as session chairs or commentators will be open to all members of the profession, paper presenters must be early-career philosophers -- basically, anyone who doesn't have tenure (e.g. graduate students, post-docs, VAP, TT Assistant Profs, independent scholars, etc.)
  • Due to the kinds of travel-funding issues that early-career philosophers often face, several paper sessions (the exact number of which will be determined later) will be reserved for Skype presentations in which the author will be projected, and field audience questions, in real time over the internet (these went very well this year!).
  • Although commentators and audience members are encouraged to present objections to papers, a guiding aim of the conference will beconstructive criticism, i.e. helping authors to improve problems (e.g. by not only raising objections, but offering and discussing possible solutions).
  • Because successfully navigating the publishing world is one of the most difficult capacities for early-career philosophers to develop, and typical conference-length papers are too short (3,000 words) to publish, we will welcome submissions the length of any typical journal article (20-30 pages double-spaced) -- the aim being to help early-career philosophers develop full-length papers into publishable quality. As a rule of thumb, the longer the paper, the higher the standards for acceptance to the conference. Extremely long papers are discouraged.
  • In order to defray costs of attendance (once again out of concern for the needs of early-career scholars), there will be no registration fee, and consequently no official banquet, snacks, etc. Tampa is awesome, and there are many affordable places to meet, eat, and congregate around the university.

It would be great to have some experimental philosophy talks. I hope to stream all talks live via the internet and, if time permits, take some audience questions from internet viewers by email. 

To submit a paper to present at the PCPC, please email the following to marvan@ut.edu by MARCH 15th, 2014: (1) a blinded (i.e. anonymized) paper, (2) a separate title page with the author's name, contract information, and brief paper abstract, and (3) a statement concerning whether you intend to attend the conference in person or only via Skype.

Decision emails indicating whether your paper has been accepted should be sent out around May, 2014. Finally, please bear the following in mind: In order to ensure that the conference is well-attended, there will be relatively few Skype sessions -- so the probability that your paper will be accepted is higher should you state in your submission email that you can attend in person.  Submission of a paper comprises a tacit agreement to serve as a commentator or session chair should your paper be accepted and you accept the invitation to present.

February 10, 2014


So - we now have an official twitter account for the course at @RPEatGlos  - we will no doubt tweet endlessly, it'll be a constant stream of wisdom..

Forgive me Ofqual I am about to Sin…

A Opinion Piece by Frances O'Hagan - an RPE Graduate who now teaches

“Life in education is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”[1]. If recent statistics are anything to go by, I can’t think of a more apt thing to start with.[2]This blog post is first and foremost about the changes that are happening to the AQA Philosophy syllabus; however I can’t help but start by putting things into some context. Firstly, this will not be an academic piece. As much as I love statistics, I realise that I am in the minority and therefore I will use them sparingly. This will be a post by me as a teacher of A Level Philosophy and the experiences I have had with it. However, I want to start with exams.

Exams. The educational assessment tool that love or loath is a fact of life. As a teacher you are judged by your exam results and because of this, I still fear results day. The knot of dread in my stomach that maybe I’ve messed up somehow or that the questions on the paper are not going to be like the practice ones that we do in class at all. I know it’s an irrational fear, but no amount of logic can be applied to the situation. However, I do know one thing. Exams (namely GCSEs) are getting easier. I know this because I work for an exam board writing GCSE papers. I also mark for an exam board and every year I am astonished at what passes for an answer. Every year I struggle with the ethics of what I’m doing and vow never to mark papers again[3]. Having said this, not marking papers would be stupid. It gives my students an advantage. A huge one. I know exactly how to answer the questions, what examiners look for and whilst I may not say it aloud to them, the techniques I learn year on year, feed into my teaching. There are bound to be some of you who are sat reading this outraged; “that’s not fair! Your students have a massive advantage!” Quite frankly, I don’t care if you think that; any teacher can become an examiner and do exactly what I’m doing. I am not, nor have I ever been an idealist. My love of Continental Philosophy put paid to that years ago.

All this being said, I do have one massive advantage. I work in the Independent Sector. Unlike my colleagues in the State Sector, whom I have a huge amount of respect for[4] I have more time. I have time to look at more interesting Philosophical arguments. For example, I have just spent 6 weeks looking at fallacies and propositional logic. No real use to my GCSE cohort but I know that I will get the syllabus finished. In fact, I could spend 1 year on content and a year just teaching the skills of the exam. That is however another argument and blog post. Back to AQA…

AQA[5]have decided in their wisdom that the A Level Philosophy needs to be changed.[6]Their argument for this is that the exam needs to be streamlined and that assessment needs to be improved. I will go from being able to choose from 7 topics at AS level (Reason and Experience is currently compulsory, and rightly so) to 2 compulsory topics. AQA are right to question the quality of assessment at A Level. In my own experiences, marking is patchy at best and grades vary massively. I had one student 2 years ago go from a D to a B after a remark! This is outrageous, especially as university places rely on these grades. This says something about the training (or lack of) that AQA give their examiners and the amount that you are paid to mark papers. A day is not long enough when marking A Levels. This does not mean however, that the need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

There are some excellent topics to choose from in the A Level. I get to teach wonderful topics such as Philosophy of Mind, Knowledge of the External World and Political Philosophy.  Not only that, a text! A real life book written by an ACTUAL philosopher! By the time my students get to university they have actually looked at some philosophy and to quote a recent email from an ex-student “I feel better equipped to deal with the course that I’m studying.” This is not to say that this A Level is easy, far from it. The Philosophy A Level is difficult and rightly so. It teaches you the necessary skills that you need and gives you an ability to discuss difficult concepts. This alone is hugely rewarding. A Levels, in my humble opinion are the hardest thing you ever have to do. My A Levels I found knackering (I did 5 of them). I don’t ever remember being told my Head of Sixth Form that they were easy.

So we have reached an impasse. AQA have acknowledged (finally) complaints from people like me about the consistency of marking and the need for something to be done about it. I applaud them. What they have done however is get rid of the choice of topics. I am able to teach things that interest not only me but also my students. AQA have now decided to give us no choice and we have to teach the Concept of God at AS. The God of Religion is not the same as the God of Philosophy. Religious God has a place. Just not at the detriment of a rigorous and challenging A Level and topics that are hugely important to look at.

AQA have consulted with the British Philosophical Association about the new A Level. The BPA have said that the new course is in line with undergraduate courses and topics that are already popular within schools. I am yet to receive a reply from the BPA about where they get their popularity figures from but I don’t think I would be too far off if I guessed that they looked at schools who teach the various Religious Studies A Levels that are on offer. Also, Philosophy requires a level of knowledge that an RE teacher may not have. I don’t wish this to sound condescending.
They are good A Level courses and I’m sure that most of you now doing your degree did that A Level but the point of the Philosophy A Level was that it is meant to be different. It’s difficult to teach in places because AQA are hopeless when it comes to supporting teachers, but with a little bit of reading between the lines, and countless emails to the head of examinations for Philosophy, it can be taught and taught well[7]. The new specification muddles the discipline of philosophy. It is not religion and I did a philosophy degree not a theology degree. The two cannot be mixed up and neither should they be. Secular Philosophy is important and worth studying.

The other issue with the AQA specification also reduces the marks that are given for a students’ ability to critique and construct arguments and more will be given for pure factual recall. An idiot can remember something and regurgitate it; what they can’t do is analyse and evaluate it. Undergraduate analysis will now be even more of a shock. The current A Level gives students the foundation that undergraduate study builds on; particularly when looking at Secular Philosophy and questioning assumptions that people make in life and about governments. It is essential that these skills are not lost.

So, what am I going to conclude? I am going to conclude that the demise of Philosophy A Level is devastating and the consequences will be far reaching. A levels as a whole will be poorer with the loss of the topics that are being sidelined and the pupils will be given even less choice. In an era of  unprecedented change in education and the pressure on teachers greater than it ever has been, perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of having an Education Secretary that is intent on making learning about factual recourse and less about skills. As a nation we are 26th on the PISA Education Rankings[8], Asian countries are on top. Their attitude to learning is more like a factory farm rather than learning for the love of it. If this is the way that education is going. I don’t want to be a part of it.

[1] Please forgive the bastardisation on Hobbes. He is an excellent philosopher, his quote however serves a purpose
[2] A recent study by Ofsted showed that 40% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years. I am on my 5th year…
[3] I mark 600 a year at £2.90 per script. Not a lot of money (tax, national insurance and pension has to come out of the total) but this will become important later on in this post.
[4] I couldn’t do their job. The pressure is huge and the paperwork is monstrous.
[5] Assessment and Qualifications Alliance for the uninitiated. If Gove gets his way, it will also be the only exam board that exists after 2015.
[7] Every one of my cohort last year when on to read philosophy as a single or joint honors at university. 3 of those students got As at A Level. 1 of them got 100% at A2. They were exceptionally bright.
[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25187997

The Trade Secret: Robert Newman on Fiction, Politics, and the Past

7.30pm, FCTC001, March 26th 2014 - Book a place HERE

Robert Newman is an author, broadcaster, comedian, and political activist, who will be making a rare public speaking appearance at The University of Gloucestershire on March 26th 2014. 

He read English at Selwyn College, Cambridge, before finding fame as a comedian on the BBC’s The Mary Whitehouse Experience. He was then half of Newman and Baddiel, described by The Guardian as ‘the most successful comedy duo of all time.’ But after a pioneering, record-breaking tour that famously sold out Wembley Arena, Newman turned his back on main-stream stadium comedy, pursuing a solo career as a novelist and political comedian. His first novel, Dependence Day, won the £10,000 Betty Trask Award, though he now claims ‘it wasn’t very good.’ In 1999, after his second novel, Manners, was published by Penguin, Newman briefly returned to television, reporting on the anti-WTO protests in Seattle for Channel 4. 

His return to comedy saw him produce a series of erudite politicised solo shows that have toured in Britain and America, and have seen him compared to Lenny Bruce and described as ‘the funniest comedian I’ve ever seen’ in The Sunday Times, and ‘breathtakingly, heartbreakingly, goosepimplingly brilliant’ in The Scotsman. In 2005, he finally returned to television comedy when his show A History of Oil screened on More4, and in 2006 the BBC commissioned a six-part series, A History of the World Backwards. However, Newman continues to make his name as one of the most exciting and unusual of contemporary British novelists. His third novel, A Fountain at the Centre of the World, was chosen as a book of the year by Dave Eggers and described in The New York Times as ‘the talismanic Catch-22 of the antiglobalization protest movement.’ The Guardian argued it was a ‘wonderful, big-hearted, textured, funny, moral and deeply unfashionable book’, while The Independent asked if it could ‘herald a resuscitation of the English "literary political novel", almost dead in the water since the best work of Malcolm Lowry and Graham Greene’. 

Newman will join us to discuss politics, fiction, history, and his new novel, The Trade Secret – an outrageous, continent-crossing epic that subtly blends fact and fiction, and is described by The Guardian as ‘a rollicking Elizabethan yarn that has much to say about the origins and nature of modern capitalism.’

February 07, 2014

Friday frivolity..

As it's nearly the weekend - I thought I'd post something less serious.

I've been having some text chats (using ifaketext.com in case you're interested) with dead philosophers...

You can see these entirely fictional exchanges at: my tumblr : http://dispirited-dave.tumblr.com/ 

February 01, 2014

Richard Stringer: Queensland architecture

Richard Stringer has spent a lifetime photographing Queensland’s built environment, both modern and historic, in Brisbane and throughout the state. He is the author of Vanishing Queensland, a body of monochromatic photographs of the old buildings in Queensland. Richard Stringer, Andrew Petrie stonemasons, 1980, printed 1987, Gelatin silver photograph He...

January 29, 2014

Spirit, Soul, Body, Mind: A Day Conference on Biblical Spirituality

Saturday 1 March 2014, 10.00am-4.00pm in Room TC103, The Park Campus, Cheltenham.

Humanities Public Lecture - Tim Ingold

The next speaker in our series of Humanities Public Lecture is Tim Ingold, who will be speaking on 'Lines and Weather' on 31 January, Francis Close Hall TC001 (Main lecture theatre) at 7:30pm.

Professor Ingold is Chair in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. His work combines
anthropology, ecology, writing, space, art, human movement, and philosophy. He is the author of many books, includingMaking: Anthropology, Archaelogy, Art and Architecture (Routledge, 2013),Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (Routledge, 2011), The Perception of the Environment (Routledge, reissued 2000), andLines: A Brief History (Routledge, 2007).
Student, staff and the public are warmly invited to this very special event. Tickets are £5 to the public. University of Gloucestershire staff and students are admitted free of charge, but must obtain tickets through the Online Shop.

Claudia Terstappen: bush fire landscapes

Claudia Terstappen's Northern Territory landscapes are intriguing as they are about fire: Claudia Terstappen, Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia), 2002, Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia) 2002, From the series Our ancestors 1990- This is a landscape that is shaped by fire: Claudia Terstappen, After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia), 2002,...

January 28, 2014

Speaking Well of the Dead: Maps of Human Values

Just a quick note to let y'all know that, together with Andrew Higgins and Jacob Levernier, I've started to map human values by data-mining obituaries.  The basic idea is to display networks of the traits and other good-making features attributed to people in their obituaries.  Here's an example, based on obituaries from Eugene, Oregon:

Test Descriptions

The size of the words indicates the number of other words that co-occurred with them in a single obituary. The thickness and brightness of the edge connecting a pair of terms indicates how many times those terms co-occurred. Terms that share their color grouped together in much the same way that items in a factor analysis group together: they tend to co-occur with each other and not with other terms.  The pink and light-blue groups are probably too small to interpret, but the others seem to meaningful.  For instance, the green group is centered on humor and agreeableness.  The red group seems to be mostly a matter of political liberalism.  And the dark-blue group seems to be about commitment to the local community.

I'll be putting up more of these and discussing them at my blog.

January 27, 2014

John Davies: the shock of the old

John Davies is known for his north of England landscapes.and the industrialisation of space. Those made between 1979 and 2005 show the complex scenery of post industrial and industrial Britain. He is widely regarded as Britain's leading landscape photographer, and has spent 30 years photographing the industrial and post-industrial landscapes...

January 21, 2014

The Sundance Film Festival Portraits

Photographer Victoria Will wet plate (Tintypes) portraits made at The Sundance Film Festival of some of Hollywood's current film stars. Victoria Will, Mark Ruffalo, Sundance portraits The results are unpredictable because of the finicky nature of the chemistry but the process does suit portraiture: Victoria Will, Michael Shannon, Sundance portraits...

January 19, 2014

Truth-making and Reference-making: Revised and Expanded

A revised and much expanded version of my series of posts on truth-making and reference-making--including criticisms of previous theories, a reply to Greg Restall's arguments for the triviality of the truth-making relation, and answers to several objections--is now available here on Scholardarity, for only ten cents!

The problem of how best to explain the truth-making relation is a vexed one for truth-maker theory. As Raimi points out in his introductory survey, theories of this relation face four main difficulties:
An adequate definition of the truth-maker relation must satisfy at least four conditions. It should not fall victim to any of the following problems: (i) the problem of counterintuitive truth-makers; (ii) the problem of excluded truth-makers; (iii) the problem of missing truth-makers; and (iv) the problem of unnecessary truth-makers. A definition falls victim to the first problem if it classifies as truth-makers for a certain proposition entities that are intuitively not truth-makers for this proposition. It falls victim to the second problem if it fails to classify as a truth-maker for a certain proposition an entity that intuitively is a truth-maker for this proposition.  It falls victim to the third problem if it fails to account for any truth-maker for a certain proposition that intuitively has a truth-maker. Finally, it falls victim to the fourth problem if it classifies a truth-maker for a proposition that intuitively has no truth-maker. (Truth and Truth-Making, pp 13-4)
            In this paper I propose an account which I hope will not succumb to any of these problems. Section 2 sketches a couple of the major accounts that have been given of the truth-making relation, and explains what their problems are. In Section 3 I explain the basic ideas behind my own proposal, where I introduce the idea of reference-making, and use it to account for the idea of truth-making for subject-predicate sentences, taking a truth-maker to be a reference-maker for a sentence.  In Section 4, I give a quasi-formal account of how it can be applied to truth-functional compounds, quantified sentences, and modal sentences. Section 5 gives a reply to Greg Restall’s arguments that logical considerations lead quickly to the trivialization of the truth-making relation: that everything is a truth-maker for every true truth-bearer. I show that this does not hold for my approach, and in the process show how it avoids problem (i). Next, in Section 6 I discuss some of its philosophical implications. Then, in Section 7, I show how my account, contrary to first appearance, can be tweaked to avoid truth value gaps. Section 8 answers objections to my views. Finally, I conclude the paper in Section 9. 

January 14, 2014

Claude Cahun: surrealism

Originally and most publicly a writer, Cahun rarely published and never exhibited her photographs which were not created, for the most part, for public consumption. Although recognised for her literary contribution in France, in the English-speaking world Cahun has come to be known primarily for her performative self portraits of...

January 13, 2014

Francesca Woodman: self, femininity and photography

Francesca Woodman was an America photographer who lived from 1958 until 1981. Her interest was in female subjectivity, seriality, Conceptualist practice, and photography’s relationship to both literature and performance. Though she experimented with various types of camera and formats of film while working, many of her pictures were made using...

January 12, 2014

picturing the cosmos

This composite image is from NASA's Dawn mission and it shows the flow of material inside and outside a crater called Aelia on the giant asteroid Vesta. The area is around 14 degrees south latitude. The images that went into this composite were obtained by Dawn's framing camera from September...

January 10, 2014

Philosophers' Carnival #159

Due to formatting Problems, the Carnival has been moved here.

January 08, 2014

acquisition's in the tech industry: iPhoneography

I hate this. A small company develops good software, gets bought out by a giant tech company, and the software is taken off the market. A case in point is the KitCam app for the iPhone made by GhostBird Software. It is an iPhone camera app that augments apple’s built-in...

December 29, 2013

ravaged landscapes

From Lewis Baltz's Candlestick Point-- a book of stark photographs of a ravaged, ugly land that is far removed from an heroic vision of America. This is the wasteland. Lewis Baltz, Candlestick Point, #45, 1989 This is conceptual rigorous work premised on groups of images or a series. As a...

December 17, 2013

aerial views of the Australian landscape

The aerial view of the landscape offers a different perspective to earth-bound landscape photographers. The former has been photographically explored by Richard Woldendorp. He works from small aircraft such as a Cessna flying between 500 and 1,000 metres above the ground and uses three different cameras, a Pentax 6x7, a...

December 12, 2013


These days - most of the RPE student activity seems to be on the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/RPEglos/ - I would recommend a look at this for anyone who wants to get a real sense of what our students discuss..

The Francis Close Hall campus here in Cheltenham at the University of Gloucestershire
As Christmas approaches, we can look back at the recent RPE activity we've been engaging in. We went to Leicester for Diwali, have planned for Spain in March, again, and had a run of recent Open Days.

All this has been alongside our teaching - you can see our course maps : HERE.  Some modules ended the year with a Christmas Philosophy Quiz - where one third year student seemed to defeat all comers..

Wall Street in the 1970s: Charles Gatewood

In his "Wall Street" series of the 1970s, Charles Gatewood captured the eerie starkness of life in the shadows of New York's financial center. Between 1972 and 1976, Gatewood hung out on corners near the New York Stock Exchange. Most of the people he photographed were walking to or from...

December 11, 2013

More little videos

Is Reason better than (blind) Faith? http://wp.me/p2xWwL-66
 Another of our short Philosophy of Religion videos..

There also some new videos about Buddhism on here -including one where Dr William Large asks me a bunch of difficult questions