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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Next talk: An Interview on Simone de Beauvour's 'The Second Sex' with Julia Bebington

Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986) wrote The Second Sex in 1949, and it seems is still relevant today.  I will ask Julia questions about the book and de Beauvoir's reasons for writing it.  We will look at de Beauvour's early life and times at the Sorbonne;  her personal and intellectual relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre; and her "take" on existentialism, including whether it differed from that of Sartre and if so in what way.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Next talk: 'Descartes & the Origin of Modern Philosophy' by Grant Bartley (Editor, Philosophy Now) 14 February 2017

Descartes is sometimes called 'the father of modern philosophy'. But in what ways is it true?  What was the context of this supposed start of modern philosophy, and how have Descartes' concerns influenced the philosophical mainstream and been addressed through the centuries, even down to the present day? Come and find out!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Next Talk: "We're All Kantians Nowadays: How Immanuel Kant Influenced Western Thought" a talk by Dr Daniel Barnes

Immanuel Kant is feared and admired in equal measure: feared for the unforgiving complexity of his writing, and admired for his sweeping revolution in metaphysics. Famous for the Copernican Revolution in philosophy – the claim that the mind’s representations of the world are logically prior to the objects of which they are representations – Kant’s philosophy heralds the birth of modernity. In this talk, I survey the key points of Kant’s work and demonstrate how they have filtered down through the centuries into almost every facet of philosophy and life. From ethics and aesthetics to mathematics and metaphysics, Kant’s influence is everywhere, especially where we do not expect it, such as in the work of Jean Baudrillard and our conception of liberalism. If all philosophy is just footnotes to Plato, then all of life is just a footnote to Kant.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Next Talk 'Nietzsche' - 'Is there a "hard problem" of value?' - given by Dr Manuel Dries - Tuesday 8 November

What does Nietzsche mean when he says that “values are created”? In this talk I argue that Nietzsche rejects value realism in favour of a non-realist conception of value, which he takes to be superior due to one specific property of values, their “aliveness”. While Nietzsche was optimistic that realist views could be eliminated, and that eventually most or all would come to conceive of values as created, I want to raise the possibility that there may be a "hard problem" of value analogous to the “hard problem” in the philosophy of mind. If there is a hard problem of value, and for the realist any created value simply does not count as a value, it is unclear if Nietzsche’s conception is constructive.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Next Talk 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' given by Simeon Underwood 11 October 2016


In his classic History of Western Philosophy (1946) Bertrand Russell wrote:  “Roman armies, Roman roads, Roman law, and roman officials first created and then preserved a powerful centralised state.  Nothing was attributable to Roman philosophy, since there was none.”  This reflects a general view within traditional histories of Western philosophy.  But it is also a simplification, to the point of being misleading:  even if the Roman period contributed few works or names to the canon of great works of Western philosophy or to the lineage of great (male) Western philosophers, it saw a great deal of interesting philosophical activity.  Much of this activity was important in its own day and has influenced later Western philosophy even down to the present day.  

In my talk I will be giving an introductory outline of the main features of Stoicism and Epicureanism, two philosophical systems which flourished in the first and second centuries CE.  Also, reflecting the focus of this year’s Barnes Philosophy Club season, I will be drawing out some more general issues about the history of philosophy.  Russell's mis-representation of the period raises some interesting questions about how we think about philosophy itself.   

Friday, August 5, 2016

Next talk: Politics in an age of technology: thinking with Jean-Luc Nancy, by Prof Joanna Hodge


Jean-Luc Nancy is sufficiently Marxist to suppose that 'all that is solid melts into air'. This talk will look at two ways in which he has shown how classical notions of politics: sovereignty and community, are on their way out. In their place he analyses shared appearings of unprecedented formations (comparution) and a divided inheritance of meanings and identities (partage). The key notions to be explored are the retreating of the political and the supposed deconstruction of Christianity. Both are already in process- the task is to trace out their movements and ascertain their  implications.

Politics in an age of technology: reading Jean-Luc Nancy
Joanna Hodge
‘Ecotechnics damages, weakens and upsets the functioning of all sovereignties except those that in reality coincide with ecotechnical power.’ Nancy 1996/2000 p. 135-136  
There are three key terms to explore here: politics, community and world, out of which Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinctive notion of eco-technics arrives for inspection, as a challenge both to Heidegger’s notion of technology, and to the more current, more widely discussed notion of bio-power. Jean-Luc Nancy is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Strasbourg, France, where he worked for many years in close collaboration with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1940-2007, and see Fynsk 2007). In the nineteen seventies they wrote together two significant books, delineating a set of shared concerns, The title of the letter: reading Lacan (1973) and The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism (1978). In that same decade Nancy published three books, on Hegel (1973) on Kant (1976) and on Descartes (1979).
Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe organized the first major conference on the writings of Jacques Derrida, under the title The Ends of Man (1980), with its challenge to the three fold implication of ends as human purposes, ends as a finality of a perfectibility, pre-inscribed in a divine or natural teleology, and those ends, as figured in the writings of amongst others Michel Foucault, which chart a major modification in the thinking of any human essence. Out of this conference arose a collective research programme, under the title Centre for philosophical research on the political (1980-1984),which explored the double senses of politics as institutionally framed practice, and accompanying techniques,  (la politique) and ‘the political’ (le politique), the distributions of meanings and forces in which order and meaning consist. It also gave rise to the notion of a withdrawal of politics (le retrait du politique) giving way to another inauguration of meaning and order.  
In addition to this notion of a withdrawal of politics there are three further conceptions to introduce. Jean-Luc Nancy charts the emergence of radical politics out the epoch of competing socialist and anarchist commitments to notions of community and communism. In their place he introduces his account of an unworked, or an unworking of community (la communaute desoeuvree). This follows through an analysis of incompatibilities between the three notions of the ends of man, as previously outlined. The second notion is that of a sense, or creation of the world, which breaks with the horizons of a thinking of the world, fixed as either Kantian Ideal, or Husserlian horizon, and inaugurates a radically materialist account of meaning and identity. The third notion is that of a necessary and inevitable deconstruction of Christianity, with which Jean-Luc Nancy came into conflict with his old friend and colleague, Jacques Derrida. There are three dimensions to explore: there are the dynamics of friendship and of collective work in philosophy; there are the technical questions about the status and purpose of these innovatory terms; but lastly, and most significantly, there is the challenge to confront what is living and what is moribund in thought, with respect to a relation between philosophy and politics, in the two senses given above.

Preliminary Reading:
Christopher Fynsk: Obituary for Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe Radical Philosophy 144, July/August 2007
Marie-Eve Morin: Nancy (Cambridge: Polity 2014)
Jean-Luc Nancy:  Being Singular Plural (1996) translated by Robert D Richardson and Anne O’Byrne (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press 2000)  
Jean-Luc Nancy:  The Creation of the World or Globalization (2002) translated and introduced by Francois Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Albany NY: State University of New York Press 2007)
Daniele Rugo:  Jean-Luc Nancy and the thinking of otherness: philosophy and the powers of existence  (London: Bloomsbury 2013)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Next talk: 'Philosophy and the Idea of European Union' by Prof Simon Glendinning 14 June 2016


Consider the following two political desires:
1. A desire for national self-determination, self-government, autonomy, independence, and sovereignty
2. A desire for union with other nations, and the at least partial sacrifice of all the above that this would entail.
It can be hard to imagine at first glance why one might affirm the second if one has already achieved the first; in fact, especially if one has achieved the first. So where does the second political desire come from? What sort of motivation could it possibly have for a sovereign nation-state? Taking the European Union and its member-states as my example, this talk will explore the reasons why "ever closer union among the people of Europe" might be a political desire worth having.

Simon Glendinning is Professor of European Philosophy in the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Since 2007 he has been trying to work out what. if anything, philosophy can contribute to our understanding of Europe, its unity and disunity, its integration and its disintegration. He is currently half-way through writing a two-volume book on European identity, entitled "Europe's Promise".

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Next Talk: 'Jeremy Bentham and Sex' by Professor Paul Kelly on 10 May 2016

"​Throughout the nineteenth century Utilitarians such a John Stuart Mill had sought to rebut Carlyle's charge that psychological hedonism was no more than a philosophy for swine. Jeremy Bentham, JS Mill's intellectual godfather, was unconcerned by such high mindedness and in a series of unpublished works written between 1814-1817 he addressed the issue the regulation of sexual behaviour. My talk will address those works and set them in the context of Bentham's broader utilitarian philosophy and provide an assessment of whether the philosophy of swine criticism was merited. The talk will be of interest to those interested in ethics and moral philosophy, utilitarianism and the history of nineteenth century English philosophy. I cannot guarantee that it will be of great interest to those whose primary interest is sex! "

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Next talk is 'Liberty and Harm: can utilitarianism save us from each other?' Tuesday 12 April 2016

You can't keep all the people happy all the time, but it seems plausible to aim to keep as many people as happy as possible. From Epicurus through to Mill, many philosophers have identified "the good" as whatever causes pleasure, or reduces pain. But where does this leave justice and integrity, and can pleasure really be a noble enough foundation for our ethics and politics? 

I will explore various criticisms of utilitarianism - that it's impossible in practice, leads to absurd conclusions, fails to explain some fundamental aspects of human morality, and in some situations could even prove dangerous. As we seek to shore up and defend utilitarianism, it tends to retreat to the sidelines, providing less practical assistance than we might hope.