Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group, Grimsby: Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes – Thursday, 13th January 2022 7:30–9:30pm

Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes

Our next PiPs Grimsby Reading Group is on Thursday, 13th January 2022 7:30–9:30pm. We will be discussing Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes. Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link:

We love having new people come along, so please join us!

Meditations on First Philosophy is made up of six meditations, in which Descartes first discards all belief in things that are not absolutely certain, and then tries to establish what can be known for sure. He wrote the meditations as if he had meditated for six days: each meditation refers to the last one as “yesterday”.

Connor will be guiding our discussion on the night, but as there’s quite a limited time to engage with Descartes and his Meditations, I simply point to versions of the text – one of the most influential in Western philosophy:

Our Topics for 2022, Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group Grimsby

If any of the following lights your candle, come along and join us – subscribe to the blog or get in touch!

General Philosophy Group

  1. A world without police is more possible (and necessary) than you think
  2. What is gender?
  3. Do we have a duty to help those less fortunate?
  4. Does the mind exist? What is it?
  5. What is Reality?
  6. Do we all conform in the end?
  7. What is virtue?
  8. What makes for a good human life?
  9. The problem of evil
  10. If that’s your philosophy, what’s your practice?
  11. What class are you and does it even matter?
  12. Festive Thought Experiment

Short Text Philosophy Reading Group

  1. Descartes – Meditations
  2. Thoreau – Civil Disobedience
  3. Sartre – Existentialism is a Humanism
  4. John Locke Two Treatises or Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  5. Rousseau – Emile, or On Education
  6. Emma Goldman – Anarchism and Other Essays
  7. John Rawls – Theory of Justice
  8. Judith Butler – Gender Trouble
  9. Ayn Rand – The Fountainhead
  10. The Sane Society – Eric Fromm
  11. Victor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
  12. Proudhon – What is Property?

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group, Grimsby: The Art of War by Sun Tzu – Thursday, 9th December 2021 7:30 –9:30pm

Our next PiPs Grimsby Reading Group is on Thursday, 9th December 7:30 – 9:30pm. We will be discussing The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link:

We love having new people come along, so please join us!

John Leam has prepared the following to stimulate discussion has this to say about it:

Let me say from the start that I struggled with reading this text, not because it was difficult, but because it just didn’t interest me. I feel that John Mooney will have a more empathetic feel for it given his greater understanding of eastern philosophy and religion. I will, however, attempt to stimulate some thought before our meeting on Thursday 9th. 

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu was born Sun Wu in China around 544BC (or at least this is the traditional view as there is little to authenticate this historically). The title Sun Tzu is a title of honour meaning Master Sun. The Art of War is attributed to him and described as a masterpiece on strategy which transformed military thinking. I think it is important to relate it to Taoist thinking where the general would be seen as an enlightened master of strategy.

There is no doubt that the book has had a major influence on military strategy throughout the ages, heavily influencing Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. It is also official reading for the US Army and Marines. For me, it is a manual on strategy rather than a philosophical text but there are interesting elements and consequences that we may wish to explore.

The first thing we may want to consider is the meaning of the word “art” in this context or, indeed, in any context.  We could look at the many meanings and interpretations of the word ART or just consider what it means in this context. There is something unsettling about the words ART and WAR being combined.

What follows in the text is a manual on how to be a successful general and how to lead your army to victory. It is both a practical guide and a discussion on strategy, deception and manipulation. It is not my intention to summarize the text but to highlight some of the more interesting quotes in the hope that these will stimulate discussion. I will do this without comment so as not to pre-determine the direction of discussion although I will make some closing remarks. So here goes – in no particular order:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”

“Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak”

“War is based on deception. We must deceive our enemy”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles”

“That general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack”

“Put yourself beyond defeat first then look for a way to defeat the enemy”

“There is no instance of a country benefiting from prolonged warfare. Do not besiege walled cities”

“Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”

“It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it out” (with rapidity)

“Many calculations lead to victory; few calculations lead to defeat”

There are particular points on military strategy such as when to lead your army to the high ground etc but I don’t think we will be talking about detailed military strategy. What strikes me from reading these quotes again is that there is a link to Machiavelli and our discussions last month. Sun Tzu’s strategies can just as easily be applied to political manoeuvring as they can to military campaigns and as such there is a lot to explore around the manoeuvres of today’s politicians and political leaders around the world.

John Leam

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby: “Is there such a thing as madness?” – Thursday 25th November 7:30 – 9:30pm

An online meeting of our Grimsby Philosophy in Public Spaces group to ask the question ““Is there such a thing as madness?” – Thursday 25th November 2021, 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link:

We love having new people come along, so please join us!

John Mooney has provided us an extensive spark to dicussion, which he says was hard going and is probably all over the place, which is probably just as it should be. Difficult to argue with (and, actually, it is a fantastic read!).

Is there such a thing as madness?

This is the question I am endeavouring to encourage people to consider, so in my head I asked Suggs if madness exists and, in my head, he said “when we’re all together on stage, then yes.”

Which I thought was a bit cryptic so I decided to consult Psychology Today (Having already tried to consult Psychology Tomorrow but that proved impossible because time travel doesn’t work) and although their preferred term is insanity this is what I found.

“Insanity. n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behaviour.

Insanity is a concept discussed in court to help distinguish guilt from innocence. It’s informed by mental health professionals, but the term today is primarily legal, not psychological. There’s no “insane” diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

As I had not looked at a philosophical response to insanity or madness before I did some searching and the two names that were most frequently referred to were Foucault and Hegel, so to the French view first.

Foucault wonders about our relationship to madness and how it has changed through history and concludes that:

The constitution of madness as a mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, affords the evidence of a broken dialogue, posits the separation as already effected, and thrusts into oblivion all those stammered, imperfect words without fixed syntax in which the exchange between madness and reason was made. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue of reason about madness, has been established only on the basis of such a silence.”

He goes on to claim, as I read it anyway, that most of us are mad and/or deluded

“In a general way, then, madness is not linked to the world and its subterranean forms, but rather to man, to his weaknesses, dreams, and illusions. Whatever obscure cosmic manifestation there was in madness as seen by Bosch is wiped out in Erasmus; madness no longer lies in wait for mankind at the four comers of the earth; it insinuates itself within man, or rather it is a subtle rapport that man maintains with himself. The mythological personification of madness in Erasmus is only a literary device. In fact, only “follies” exist—human forms of madness: “I count as many images as there are men”; one need only glance at states, even the wisest and best governed: “So many forms of madness abound there, and each day sees so many new ones born, that a thousand Democrituses would not suffice to mock them.” There is no madness but that which is in every man, since it is man who constitutes madness in the attachment he bears for himself and by the illusions he entertains.

Philautia is the first figure Folly leads out in her dance, but that is because they are linked by a privileged relation: self-attachment is the first sign of madness, but it is because man is attached to himself that he accepts error as truth, lies as reality, violence and ugliness as beauty and justice. “This man, uglier than a monkey, imagines himself handsome as Nereus; that one thinks he is Euclid because he has traced three lines with a compass; that other one thinks he can sing like Hermogenes, whereas he is the ass before the lyre, and his voice sounds as false as that of the rooster pecking his hen. In this delusive attachment to himself, man generates his madness like a mirage. The symbol of madness will henceforth be that mirror which, without reflecting anything real, will secretly offer the man who observes himself in it the dream of his own presumption. Madness deals not so much with truth and the world, as with man and whatever truth about himself he is able to perceive.”

There is a video that looks at Foucault’s assessment of insanity/madness here which investigates the written work Madness and Civilisation, the full text can be found here.

It might be interesting to introduce R D Laing at this point as he seems to concur with Foucault about the fundamental problem in relating to madness.

“The most serious objection to the technical vocabulary currently used to describe psychiatric patients is that it consists of words which split man up verbally in a way which is analogous to the existential splits we have to describe here. But we cannot give an adequate account of the existential splits unless we can begin from the concept of a unitary whole, and no such concept exists, nor can any such concept be expressed within the current language system of psychiatry or psycho-analysis.

The words of the current technical vocabulary either refer to man in isolation from the other and the world, that is, as an entity not essentially ‘in relation to’ the other and in a world, or they refer to falsely substantialised aspects of this isolated entity. Such words are: mind and body, psyche and soma, psychological and physical, personality, the self, the organism. All these terms are abstracta. Instead of the original bond of I and You, we take a single man in isolation and conceptualize his various aspects into ‘the ego’, ‘the superego’, and ‘the id’. The other becomes either an internal or external object or a fusion of both. How can we speak in any way adequately of the relationship between me and you in terms of the interaction of one mental apparatus with another? How, even, can one say what it means to hide something from oneself or to deceive oneself in terms of barriers between one part of a mental apparatus and another? This difficulty faces not only classical Freudian metapsychology but equally any theory that begins with man or a part of man abstracted from his relation with the other in his world. We all know from our personal experience that we can be ourselves only in and through our world and there is a sense in which ‘our’ world will die with us although ‘the’ world will go on without us. Only existential thought has attempted to match the original experience of oneself in relationship to others in one’s world by a term that adequately reflects this totality. Thus, existentially, the concretum is seen as a man’s existence, his being in-the-world” R. D. Laing (The Divided Self p.19)

He also seems to have a great deal of fellow feeling with Foucault’s view of humanity when he says

“We are all murderers and prostitutes no matter to what culture, society, class, nation one belongs, no matter how normal, moral, or mature, one takes oneself to be.”

Now for the German perspective, this stuff is difficult to access online and I’ve had to satisfy myself  with this short analysis of Hegel’s view and his attitude toward those deemed mad.

“Hegel views madness as a return to a pre-rational state of being. The self tries to cut itself off from the social world of shared meaning and rationality, and entrenches itself in a private internal world, the “life of feeling” (Hegel, 1978, section 408). This retreat is a response to the inevitable sense of alienation that the self encounters as it tries to grapple with the ‘otherness’ of the world. For Hegel, therefore, madness is a possibility that is inherent in the development of consciousness, because of the pain and frustration involved in its evolution towards a fuller, more developed state.

Berthold-Bond brings out the similarities between Hegel’s view of madness as a retreat to a pre-rational state, and Freud’s concept of the ‘unconscious.’ Both are realms dominated by instincts and feelings, in which the norms of rational thought are forgotten and discarded. For Hegel and Freud, withdrawal into this mode of thought is pathological and undesirable. In contrast, for Nietzsche, the world of private feeling is the more genuine state of being, and the civilised world of conventions only represses the unique creativity of the human spirit.”

Whilst Hegel, Foucault and Laing looked at the treatment of those judged to be mad by those who make those judgments, Jung e.g. was, amongst much else, concerned with what he saw as the phenomenon of group/societal madness and its infectious nature.

“Crimes the individual alone could never stand are freely committed by the group [smitten by madness].”  Carl Jung, The Symbolic Life

“The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than [an] outbreak of epidemic insanity… No one knew what was happening to him, least of all of the Germans, who allowed themselves to be driven to the slaughterhouse by their leading psychopaths like hypnotized sheep.”

Carl Jung, After the Catastrophe

However if I continue down the psychology/psychiatry rabbit hole I would be at this for a very long time, the point being that often we separate the individual who appears mad to us and seldom consider the general madness of humanity as a group, which I think is really worth considering.

From a personal perspective I feel that if judgments on madness are going to be made then there needs to be some sort of sanity benchmark to place those judged to be mad/insane against, but if we analyse any individual’s behaviour and thought I’m pretty sure we could find aspects of their being which would appear bizarre and irrational to us and finding someone who is “normal and sane” to be the benchmark would be an interesting challenge to say the least.

Maybe the apparent sanity with which we generally conduct ourselves is a carefully constructed mask which disguises our natural selves and when we act authentically to the world as we find it we would be condemned as insane quite quickly.

Anyway, I hope this has been sufficient to stimulate both rational and irrational thought on this subject and I look forward to our discussion.



In Christian mythology Christ went into the wilderness for forty days and nights to eventually put Satan behind him, he was tempted by Satan in order to get him to forget his holy, God given mission and to give himself to the pleasures of the world. This is more than an echo of the Buddhist myth of Mara trying to tempt the Buddha to give up his attempt to find enlightenment by the use of fear and temptation, effectively appealing to the ego based desires. In our time this process would be seen as dealing with our mental health.

Do people go mad or are they just broken by events and relationships and loss and doomed attempts to find meaning?

2022 is going to be amazing!


Arguable. At any rate, now I have your attention, our ongoing explorations of philosophical ideas will at least help us begin to make sense of whatever arises in those sunlit uplands – so…

…I’m compiling two questionnaires to send out for us to choose 12 topics and 12 texts for our two philosophy enterprises.

Before I send out, if there are any burning hot topics or short texts that you’d like in the list for voting, email me double-quick at

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group, Grimsby: The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli – Thursday, 11th November 2021 7:30 –9:30pm

Our next PiPs Grimsby Reading Group is on Thursday, 11th November 7:30 – 9:30pm. We will be discussing The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous instruction guide for the glory and survival of princes and royals. Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link:

We love having new people come along, so please join us!

Tonya has prepared the following to prompt your thinking.

Machiavelli (1469–1527) was an Italian statesman and political philosopher whose most famous work, Il Principe (The Prince, 1532), put forward the controversial idea that a successful ruler would sometimes have to commit immoral acts, such as deception or ruthless killing, in order to maintain his rule and the stability of his kingdom.

The Prince was a practical guide for ruling (though some scholars argue that the book was intended as a satire and essentially a guide on how not to rule).

Is our Niccolò “an amoral cynic who supposedly considered the end to justify the means,” or, “a crystal-clear realist who understands the limits and uses of power”?

How would you place yourself in this debate?

And will we find a true Machiavellian amongst us on the night? Join us and find out.

As you read, make a note of any passages that that resonate with you and are perhaps relevant to your own experience of power.

Here’s the book in digital and audio versions:

What Justifies Authority?


the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

a person or organization having political or administrative power and control.

knowledge and expertise


show or prove to be right or reasonable.

This is such an open question and I suspect one that needs sub-questions and more of a definition. 

There are different kinds of authority and I’ve been thinking about how they appear in our culture: Here are just some of the ‘authorities’ that are recognised and which (arguably) have some legitimacy:

  • Religion – the church/churches
  • Politics – the state
  • Local Government – the ‘local authority’
  • The police and judicial system
  • Education
  • Science
  • Medicine
  • Parents/families/guardians
  • Expertise

Perhaps questions we might want to ask are:

  • How do those claiming to have authority show that they are right and reasonable?
  • How do those claiming authority maintain it?
  • How can authority be challenged?
  • When authority is challenged, what is a right and reasonable basis for that challenge?

Here’s a thought from Noam Chomsky

“authority, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate and that the burden of proof is on those in authority. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled.”

Saturday at Seven – Tonight! – Philosophy in Public Spaces Online Event: How do we judge whether something is rational?

How do we judge whether something is rational?

This is the second PIPs national online group Saturday at Seven (tonight! 7pm – see website schedule here). A number of groups have gone back to meeting in the pub, with others slowly returning, however the benefits of online access is evident, particularly for those who may not live near a local group, or prefer not to attend pub sessions at the moment. Being able to provide country-wide access via a permanent online group we hope to give all our members and subscribers a chance to enjoy the serious informality of a PIPs style community philosophy group.

Topic/question for this Saturday’s meeting is:  How do we judge whether something is rational? See website schedule here:  –  All are welcome, come and join us.

Zoom Meeting link:
Meeting ID: 883 8543 9577
Passcode: S@7

Future topics will be proposed and presented by group members as we go. All are welcome, hope to see you there.