“What evidence is there to support our moral beliefs? We assume that it is (usually) wrong to tell big lies, to steal, etc., but many philosophers, and many non-philosophers, have despaired at giving convincing grounds for such beliefs. It is hard to say much beyond ‘Well, that is just obvious!’ or ‘Don’t hold inconsistent moral beliefs’. This predicament contrasts with the rigorous evidence we have for our beliefs about the physical world (climate-change denialists notwithstanding). The contrast has tempted some philosophers to argue that moral theories can rest on the same kind of evidence as scientific ones, or even that scientific and moral beliefs form part of a single coherent and well-evidenced picture of the world. I will describe these efforts before highlighting a problem: their threat to undermine scientific enquiry itself, which need to be (in a specific sense) value free.”
"There was of course progress in philosophy long before Hegel, particularly amongst the Ancient Greeks. But Hegel's study of the whole history of philosophy enabled him to blend the strong points of previous philosophers and produce what he considered to be a definitive account of progress in philosophy. To Hegel, this progress in philosophy ensures progress in history - not in a linear way, but in a teleological way. It was Hegel's immense faith in all this that enabled him to defend the French Revolution even after the Terror had left other intellectuals despairing of a way forward. Although there are unresolved problems, modern society owes an enormous debt to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. All this is up for discussion."
Next talk: 'The Rise and Fall of Analytic Philosophy in the 20th Century' by Robin Strachan, 09 May 2017
'Analytic Philosophy' was dominant in the early 20th Century, but later was forced to change into different forms. Analytic Philosophy, a system to allow the study knowledge itself, started as a rejection of traditional Idealism that is as deduced by human thought and incorporated mathematics into a logical technique. Its leading lights were Wittgenstein and Russell, who went on to have a long and varied relationship including in 1911, the 'search for a hippopotamus' in their room.
In this talk I will discuss what the system of ‘Logical Atomism' was and how it worked, and how the study of the relationships between words and terms became part of a 'Logical System'. In every 'System' there contained propositions and 'beliefs' which might consist of many 'true' and 'untrue' statements.
Problems arose however when the analytic technique could not be easily changed into reconstruction of ideas. By the 1930's the more 'Politics, Sociology and Economics' orientated members of the 'Vienna Circle' were already moving Analytic Philosophy into new forms of thought incorporating broader science. As Analytic Philosophy continued to be challenged, it led to some infamous public conflicts including the time when Wittgenstein reportedly waved a poker at the Psychologist and Empiricist Karl Popper in 1946.
I will try to show how there might be 'Systems of Thought' that one day might even permit mathematical analysis of 'Philosophical Positions'.
The title is a bit worthy. I debated as other possibilities 'You're everywhere and nowhere, baby' or, better still, 'There's always something there to remind me', but decided to play safe. The point is that Plato has had a profound influence on Western culture in many areas, its music, religion, philosophy and science. I will be looking at some aspects of Plato's philosophy and then trying to show how it influenced writers and thinkers as varied as Augustine, Descartes, Nietzsche and Bob Dylan.
Next talk: An Interview on Simone de Beauvour's 'The Second Sex' with Julia Bebington Tuesday 14 March 2017
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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.
Christopher Fynsk: Obituary for Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe Radical Philosophy 144, July/August 2007 https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/wp-content/files_mf/rp144_obituary_lacouelabarthe.pdf
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)