‘‘What is Justice?” – Join our Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to discuss: Thursday 26th January 2023, 7:30-9:30pm

Happy New Year to all of our Philosophers!

The first general Grimsby PiPs of 2023 is Thursday the 26th January at 7:30pm, and will be held online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644 (if a password is enforced it is ‘love’). Everybody is welcome, so please come along for a chat, or even just to listen. The following stimulus to discussion is on me…

What is Justice?

Wikipedia tells us that “Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve, with the interpretation of what then constitutes “deserving” being impacted upon by numerous fields, with many differing viewpoints and perspectives, including the concepts of moral correctness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness.” Lots to unpick there! What follows is my summary of an article echoing our question, which covers the three main types of justice and some of the philosophers who developed theories of justice. Read the full article here: https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/what-is-justice/ and I suspect this much longer article from the Intenet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is the source of much of theirs, if you have time and energy to read it: https://iep.utm.edu/justwest

What are the three main types of justice?

Justice can be boiled down into three types: distributive, retributive, and restorative:

  • Distributive justice is about the fair division of resources within a community. “Fair division” means everyone either gets or has access to the same services and physical goods. Why? The basis of distributive justice is that everyone is morally equal. Distributive justice affects areas like income, wealth, opportunities, jobs, welfare, and infrastructure. Principles of distributive justice include equity, need, and proportionality. While the basic definition of distributive justice is simple, how a society should fairly distribute resources is complex.
  • Retributive justice, which can also be called criminal justice, focuses on how to punish crime. It’s based on the idea that when wrongdoing is committed, the wrongdoer should get a proportionate punishment. That doesn’t mean the wrongdoer should be subjected to exactly the same ordeal (i.e. if someone hits someone in the face, they don’t need to be hit back as their formal punishment), but it needs to be proportionate. Those who study retributive justice also tend to emphasize the need for indifference, meaning that justice shouldn’t be personal or based on revenge. While many justice systems include some kind of retributive justice, its effectiveness is debatable. Considering the flaws in many criminal justice systems, retributive justice can also end up harming innocent people or unfairly punishing certain groups over others.
  • Restorative justice was developed in the 1970s, though many of its tenets come from Indigenous justice practices. Restorative justice focuses on helping victims of crimes, but it also wants to help offenders understand the harm they’ve caused. The goal is repair, not punishment. Engagement, accountability, cooperation, and community are all essential principles. Restorative justice practices have been used in many criminal justice cases, but they’ve also been adopted during conflicts involving families, schools, and workplaces. Unlike retributive justice, restorative justice doesn’t focus on what criminals deserve, but rather on what victims need to heal and what communities can do to prevent re-offending.

How have philosophers defined justice?

  • Confucius (551-479 BCE) based everything on the belief that humans were naturally good, which meant they understood the difference between right and wrong and were drawn to doing the right thing. They still needed guidance, however, but instead of specific laws, Confucius advocated for a code of ethics that included Five Constants and Four Virtues. These included Zhong (loyalty) and Yi (justice and righteousness). By following this code of ethics and maintaining a hierarchy of authority (sons obey fathers, younger brothers obey older brothers, and wives obey husbands), Confucius believed strict justice systems wouldn’t be necessary. In Confucius’ view, justice is about ethical behavior (which comes naturally to humans) and maintaining hierarchies.
  • Plato (428/7-348/7 BCE) built on his teacher Socrates’ ideas about justice and the belief that absolute truths exist. Because absolute truth exists, Plato believed justice couldn’t be subjective. Balance and control were essential, as well as a hierarchy. Plato’s vision of a “just” society had three classes: craftspeople, auxiliaries, and guardians. The guardians were in charge, but to achieve justice, all classes must embody certain virtues. Craftspeople should be temperate, auxiliaries should be courageous, and guardians should be wise. In Plato’s mind, only guardians – who were led by a philosopher king – could understand what justice looked like. Like Confucius, Plato’s concept of justice depends on groups staying in a hierarchy and living moral lives.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) centered his ideas about justice on freedom. In his view, freedom is what gives human beings our dignity; it’s our only innate right. All laws must be created through the lens of freedom, bearing in mind that people don’t have the right to infringe on the freedom of others. For Kant, the only moral laws were laws that saw people as free, equal, and independent. What about crime and punishment? Kant believed in retributive justice and lex talonis, which is the theory that punishments need to inflict similar harm as the wrong done. If someone commits murder, death is the only equivalent punishment. Kant does also advocate for forgiveness, however, saying that repaying a wrong out of revenge or hatred is not virtuous. Kant devoted a good deal of his work to justice, applying his theories to private, private, and international law.
  • In 1971, John Rawls (1921-2002) published A Theory of Justice, which is one of the 20th century’s most important books. In this book, Rawls sought to define what a just society looks like. He performed a thought experiment where a group of people live behind “a veil of ignorance.” The veil hides the differences between the individuals, such as their social, economic, gendered, racial, and historical differences. With no outside influences, people wouldn’t try to benefit one group over another. Eventually, the group would settle on two principles. The first states that everyone has the same basic liberties that can’t be taken away, but that may be limited only if someone’s liberties are infringing on those of another person. Rawls’ second principle focuses on equality, including equal opportunities to hold private and public offices, as well as equal (or as close to equal as possible) wealth distribution. To be just, a society must reduce inequalities as best as it can. Rawls called his theory “justice as fairness.” His ideas have been very influential in academic discussions about social justice and human rights, as well as policy-making.

Justice from within Capitalism and Empire?

The following embedded podcast (listen here or find it in your own podcatcher if you search ‘what is justice?’ and/or ‘sarah langford’) is a kind and considered view of (criminal and family) justice from within the UK criminal justice system. Do you think it’s an accurate account of justice?

Contrast this with a Marxist view which might posit the idea that capitalist criminal justice wrongly punishes people because their acts are caused by socially conditioned antagonism to their fellows – in conjunction with limited and unstable opportunities to satisfy their needs and desires. Second, that these people do not even deserve punishment because their apparent crimes are reactions against conditions which are, morally speaking, criminal. As capitalism emerged, from 1688 to 1815, law makers in England introduced the death penalty for a myriad of offences in a bid to deter property loss. Poaching of deer, stealing of rabbits, looting from shipwrecks, pickpocketing… every page of the statue book dripped with the threat of the hanging noose. By 1800, there were over 220 property-related crimes in the English criminal law that were punishable by death. Times have, of course, changed – however, I wonder how much of our criminal law system – police, courts, prison – is focused on protection of property and who is it that owns the lion’s share of that property?

And how much does the following trouble that view from within the system – this time from an anarchist perspective (From Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York, Vanguard Press, 1929. Retrieved on 23rd December 2022 from the Anarchist Library):

Justice means that each gets his due. Can the worker get his due or have justice in capitalist society?

If he did, capitalism could not exist: because then your employer could not make any profits out of your work. If the worker would get his due — that is, the things he produces or their equivalent — where would the profits of the capitalist come from? If labor owned the wealth it produces, there would be no capitalism.

It means that the worker cannot get what he produces, cannot get what is due to him, and therefore cannot get justice under wage slavery.

‘If that is the case,’ you remark, ‘he can appeal to the law, to the courts.’

What are the courts? What purpose do they serve? They exist to uphold the law. If someone has stolen your overcoat and you can prove it, the courts would decide in your favor. If the accused is rich or has a clever lawyer, the chances are that the verdict will be to the effect that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, or that it was an act of aberration, and the man will most likely go free.

But if you accuse your employer of robbing you of the greater part of your labor, of exploiting you for his personal benefit and profit, can you get your due in the courts? The judge will dismiss the case, because it is not against the law for your boss to make profits out of your work. There is no law to forbid it. You will get no justice that way.

Alexander Berkman, Justice

And then, there’s this. After just seven years of encounter with justice…


‘‘How do my labels restrict my being?” – Join our Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to discuss: Tonight! 7:30-9:30pm

This month’s general Grimsby PiPs is TONIGHT at 7:30pm – and apologies for such lateness! It is online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644 (if a password is enforced it is ‘love’). Everybody is welcome, so please come along for a chat, or even just to listen. John Mooney has made a number of attempts at writing a spark for discussion he’s ended up feeling like he’s missed the mark, saying that “what I’ve wanted to convey is not what ends up on the page. Some of it’s close, but no cigar.” Actually, I think it’s a great stimulus to discussion – see what you think, over to you, John…

Wtf is your label?

For the record I’d like to state that labels are handy for knowing where something is in time and space and we probably couldn’t function effectively without them. Having said that I would also like people to consider that we can make too any assumptions about the thing/being we’ve labelled based on the label rather than the direct experience.

So what I’ve decided to do is ask myself and anyone reading this to ask some very pertinent questions about how they are defined by others currently and have been defined, by others, in the past.

Locke tells us that “Whatever has the consciousness of present and past actions is the same person to whom they both belong” 27.16 of the famous chapter (27) ‘Of Identity and Diversity’ in Book 2 of Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (2nd edition 1694) and this being at least a starting point for discussion about how we might arrive at a working definition of who your and indeed my “I am” happens to be.

So taking Locke as our starting point what are a few things you remember being labelled from early in your life that will have influenced the person you are now?

I’ll start:

  1. John, after my father, who oddly, was known as Jack for most of his life.
  2. Catholic, with all of the baggage that comes with that system of thinking.
  3. Boy, for the majority of my child and teenage years.
  4. Scruffiest boy in school (Grammar School badge of honour)
  5. Too clever by half.
  6. Liar, in my defence, telling the truth would often result in punishment.
  7. Black Sheep, my Dad said, on more than one occasion, “You keep on like that and you’ll end up in prison…”

Consequently, from my current vantage point, I can surmise that some of that labelling has resulted in my being a reflexive rebel, but also someone who has tried to be not so judgmental of others. (Right wing politicians and their followers excepted)

So now I am labelled:

  1. A man, although that status has been questioned.
  2. An old privileged white guy.
  3. A Dad/father.
  4. A Widower, for official purposes your marital status is important.
  5. Too laid back.
  6. A woke snowflake.
  7. Gutless Leftist Filth.

Billy has pointed out that labels are what is referred to as intersectional, in that different labels combine to confer a view about a human being based on those labels.

A primer on intersectionality can be found here: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/what-is-intersectionality-explained/

In order to ascertain how our labels intersect we might want to take these tests, https://intersectionalityscore.com/   https://www.idrlabs.com/intersectionalism/test.php and ask ourselves, is this a useful way of conveying who we actually are?

So I’m still investigating my own response to this and hope it’s worth your while to start your own investigation.



Tonight’s PiPs is cancelled

We’re really sorry but tonight’s PiPs now can’t go ahead due to illness/overwork/burnout/living in the 21st Century.

Our next scheduled discussion is ‘How do my labels restrict my being?’ on Thursday, 22 December⋅7:30 – 9:30pm (John will post a spark to discussion right here, so watch this space).

‘‘What are the limits of freedom of speech and who decides?” – Join our Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to discuss: Thursday 24th November 7:30-9:30pm’

This month’s general Grimsby PiPs is Thursday the 24th November at 7:30pm, and will be held online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644 (if a password is enforced it is ‘love’). Everybody is welcome, so please come along for a chat, or even just to listen. Josie Moon has felt free enough to pen the following excellent spark (and as far as I’m aware nobody else was involved in the decision-making…).

What are the limits of freedom of speech and who decides?

In a civilised society (and we might consider if such a place exists) citizens balance their rights with their responsibilities, consider the impact of their actions on others and think before they speak. This is a model of social behaviour to which, I am sure, many or even most aspire. The reality is we fall far short of this model and ‘we’ are subject to an absolute barrage of lies, misinformation, opinions, gossip, slander, and hate speech on a daily basis. I say ‘we,’ – there are of course particular groups and demographics that are subject to more of this barrage than others.

Recently I was struck by a story about victims of the Manchester bombing in 2017. The suffering of the victims has been exacerbated by the behaviour of ‘trolls’* who insist their injuries are fake and that the dead are actually alive and living abroad. This BBC article gives a useful summary of this phenomenon which is widespread and which has affected many victims of violence: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63412651. Those that perpetrate this practice of trolling and harassing victims hide behind the right to free speech, as if the concept is permission to say whatever you like without consequence.

Having been personally affected by people exercising their right to free speech on occasion, I have a particular and subjective view of this apparent right to say whatever you like. Every act of speech has a real and lived consequence. Words are powerful, they are one of the key tools we have at our disposal to make our mark on the world, to influence, engage, persuade etc.  Therefore the words we use should be handled with care and with consideration of the impact they will have.  There is not one of us that does not ill-use our words, some more often than others, but if we are to work towards a society that is truly civilised then it should be beholden on us to measure our words and truly think before we speak.

This subjective position leads me to a consideration of the question, what are the limits of free speech? It seems in our culture, the limits can be tested to breaking point before there are consequences. Poison is poured continually, like the sewage in our rivers and seas and it does no earthly good.  But is that reason enough to impose limits? The short answer is, I don’t know. Any road to censorship is a dangerous one but it seems that there are too many casualties of free speech to not at least discuss what some limitation might look like.

The second part of the question – who decides – is thorny.  No one wants to see an increase in authoritarian control from governments, already there is too much of this and it always works in their favour as a form of suppression.

Perhaps we should decide what the limits of free speech are within our own lives and strive to listen more and speak less. And when we do speak, we might aim to speak wisely and well, considering what the effect of our words is going to be before we spout them.

Perhaps the best known Philosophical writing on free speech comes from John Stuart Mill. This summative paragraph might give us a useful entry into our conversation:

..the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.

John Stuart Mill


* The origin and etymology of ‘troll’

‘If that’s your philosophy, what’s your practice?’ – Join our Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to discuss: Thursday 22nd September 7:30-9:30pm

“Philosophy, done well, should be a rigorous, structured, sequential conversation (with others or oneself) that is both collaborative and oppositional, that attempts to explore, explain and justify the structure and content of our thoughts in response to perceived problems and puzzles about reality, knowledge, value and meaning. Philosophy employs a method/process (more often than not ongoing) of reflection, reasoning and re-evaluation, by employing the appropriate intellectual virtues or excellences, in order to make good, though provisional judgements about what seems possibly (metaphysically) true, possibly (morally) right, and (logically) coherent. The aim is to improve our understanding (also understanding what we don’t understand) of: the world, ourselves, our experiences and other people, by refining how we think about those things. The hope is that by doing philosophy we learn to think better, to act more wisely, and thereby help to improve the quality of all our lives.”

This quote goes some way to describing the first practice of philosophers, The whole PDF is here. https://www.philosophy-foundation.org/asset/download/566/What%20is%20Philosophy%3F.pdf

This month’s general Grimsby PiPs is Thursday the 22nd September at 7:30pm, and will be held online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644 . Anybody is welcome, so please come along for a chat, or even just to listen. John Mooney brought this interesting topic to us and he has extracted the following thoughts from his very own head…

I will attempt to start this discussion with a statement which I will ask you to accept as an established state of affairs, that: if you are alive, you are meeting the things that occur in the world with a practice and that practice will be exhibited by a set of behaviours and attitudes.

If, for example, a person uses violence as a way of solving disputes or imposing their authority they could be described as a practising thug or a practising authoritarian patriarch, depending on your sensibilities and context. In many ways that practice defines them from the point of view of the external observer and I would argue, it is the same for all human beings and the things human beings encounter in the natural world

I will qualify the above by saying that a practice may be unconscious and habitual, extremely conscious and aware or somewhere on a continuum between those two extremes. The non habitual practice will, in many cases be based on a set of rules or standards, be they religious, humanist, fascist or self imposed based on your own understanding of how to be a human being.

They may also be regarded as philosophical, and if we look at the above quote from the Philosophy Foundation there are defined approaches a philosopher is expected to take in order to arrive at a better understanding of the world.

I am not therefore looking to investigate how disciplined practice might make me a much better banjo player, more that when I encounter an issue which requires me to better understand it, I approach it in a conscious and critical manner. I may also, following my own philosophical understanding, attempt to employ compassion as well as critical thinking. My practice might therefore be described as compassionate criticism, others might call it tough love.

If then we use the quote at the beginning as a rule of thumb to describe the starting point of philosophical practice the question I really want to ask is having done the thinking and we are now thinking better, do we act more wisely and improve the quality of all our lives?

For me the most obvious area to investigate was that of ethics and I expected to find that philosophers who engage with the knotty subject of morality would have arrived at some guidance for those interested in living a moral life, imagine my surprise then, when I came across this;

An interesting blog post at The Splintered Mind: Eric Schwitzgebel has pointed out a discrepancy between what ethicists preach and what they practice. While ethicists espouse more stringent moral views than non-ethicists (e.g., 60% of them believe eating red meat is morally objectionable, versus 45% of other philosophers and 19% to other academics), they do not behave statistically significantly differently compared to those other groups in the relevant ethical actions (e.g., in their actual consumption of meat). Schwitzgebel’s aim is “not to scold ethicists for failing to live up to their often high standards but rather to confront the issue of why there seems to be such a tenuous connection between philosophical moral reflection and real-world moral behaviour.” Should ethicists in fact practice what they preach?


These are very interesting ideas, but I wonder if you’ve undersold the “job description”. Moral philosophers are not moralists. That is, it is not the job of the moral philosopher to exemplify any particular moral code, as it might be of preachers, educators, or community leaders.

In fact, the task of moral philosophy is marked by a reflective distance from practice. We all have strong psychological programming (acculturated, innate, or otherwise) to unthinkingly act upon a certain range of views. In order to question and probe the received moral positions of one’s own culture, one needs to be able to detach philosophizing from action. In a sense, one needs to be able to take one’s ethical views “offline” in order to subject them to reflective scrutiny.

If that’s right, then a gap between theory and practice may very well be a psychological prerequisite of doing moral philosophy. The moral philosopher’s behaviour goes on auto-pilot, defaulting to conventional standards, and so can be minimally distinguished from the behaviour of others, even while the moral philosopher’s theory may widely diverge.
Of course, if moral philosophy is to have any practical value, then we might hope to be able to close this gap at some point. But when? If the gap is needed to pursue reflection, then closing the gap locks the philosopher into some set of views, so presumably this ought not be done until moral theory is somehow 
complete or immune to revision. Does that ever happen? Doubtful, and so it is unclear why any individual moral philosopher might aim to close the gap.
This suggests a societal division of intellectual labour. Most people are fairly consistent in their moral beliefs and behaviour, partly because they don’t engage in much reflection upon the accepted standards of the community. Moral philosophers (and some others) are tasked with that reflection, which requires opening a gap between theory and practice, and so leads moral philosophers to exhibit something that looks at least mildly hypocritical. But this is for everyone’s benefit, if we want moral systems to be open to change and growth. Moral philosophers do the necessary reflective theorizing, even if its practical effects can (eventually) be detected only at the societal level, and not at the level of the individual philosopher.”

If that’s true then what’s the point of the philosophising on moral issues? If your investigation and intellectual understanding doesn’t at least give rise to putting it into practice to see its consequences in action, even if that’s for a limited time, you might as well be analysing the popular cultural implications of the Marvel Universe in a Media Studies discussion group.

The other thing that really struck me was the line “We all have strong psychological programming (acculturated, innate, or otherwise) to unthinkingly act upon a certain range of views.” as if this negated the need, as philosophers, to make conscious our programming and consider if we as individuals should make changes to our unconscious habitual actions.

To regroup slightly, for me philosophical practice at a base level is to question the accepted way of looking at the world, as e.g. Heidegger questioned the orthodoxy of Cartesian dualism so Mooney questions the orthodoxy of philosophy as an abstracted academic pastime. I am quite aware that as General McArthur put it “…the battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy” but surely we should at least try to practice what we are intellectually convinced is the best way to proceed when we engage with the world?

Whether you choose one or any combination of the following Western areas of study as your philosophical starting point Logic, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, Political Philosophy, Ontology, if that’s your philosophy, what is your practice?

Because I am convinced that the following quote, in a nutshell, is the purpose of philosophy, or at any rate the only one that makes sense to me.

“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind.”

Marcus Garvey

That Garvey’s words and actions gave rise to this man writing this song shows that a philosophical practice can make great changes in society and in our shared culture.



Join our Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to discuss ‘The Problem of Evil’ – Thursday 25th August 7:30-9:30pm

This month’s general Grimsby PiPs is Thursday the 25th August at 7:30pm, and will be held online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644 . Anybody is welcome, so please come along for a chat, or even just to listen.

The Problem of Evil

Expressed in full as ‘the problem of evil’, this is shorthand in philosophy for a very old discussion that is really about the existence of god. In short, why does ‘evil’ of any variety or amount exist in a good God s creation?

The “trilemma,” passed down to us from Epicurus through David Hume, is the classical statement of this problem.

  • If God is all powerful, he should be able to eliminate evil.
  • If God is all good, he should want to eliminate evil.
  • Evil exists.

These three (“tri-”) statements constitute a problem (“-lemma”) because believers want to affirm each, but cannot do so because they are mutually inconsistent. Thus there are two choices: give up one of the statements or retreat into irrationality by abandoning the logical system that provides the conclusion.

So, did god create evil? One argument is that our free will is the source of evil. But didn’t God create free will? And doesn’t that make god the ultimate source of evil? Doesn’t that make god responsible for our sins? Is that Isaiah 45:7 (KJV), says “I make peace and create evil”? If god isn’t the source of evil, what can the bible possibly mean when it tells us that “an evil spirit from God” came upon King Saul (I Samuel 18:10)?

When Nietzsche killed off god he had it in for evil as well: In Beyond Good and Evil, he constructed an argument against what he called the “herd morality” of Christianity, and he complained “everything that elevates an individual above the herd and intimidates the neighbour is henceforth called evil.” Nietzsche claimed that it was a dangerous idea that distorted human nature, ‘evil’ was invented by the church and was a completely alien concept to the noble philosophers of the ancient world. Was he right, did Christianity really invent the idea of evil? And has the idea meant anything more than excessively bad?

Some more questions:

  • Was Nietzsche’s hatred of Christianity a natural consequence of his belief in the unlimited possibility of mankind’s self creation?
  • Can religion still be seen as a way of interpreting and judging good and evil in modern western civilisation?
  • What have the discoveries of Darwin and our knowledge of the true physiological nature and history of humanity done for us in terms understanding our concepts of good and evil?
  • And if we have enough basic self confidence in our own selves, do we need God?

On top of the classical philosophical conundrum, it might also be worth exploring how useful the term ‘evil’ is to we contemporaries.

There is debate on how useful the term “evil” is, since it is often associated with spirits and the devil. Some see the term as useless because they say it lacks any real ability to explain what it names. There is also real danger of the harm that being labeled “evil” can do when used in moral, political, and legal contexts. Most theorists agree use of the term evil can be harmful but disagree over what response that requires. Some argue it is “more dangerous to ignore evil than to try to understand it”. Do you agree?

One school of thought holds that no person is evil and that only acts may be properly considered evil. Some theorists define an evil action simply as a kind of action an evil person performs. But just as many theorists believe that an evil character is one who is inclined toward evil acts. Who is right?

American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck describes evil as a kind of personal “militant ignorance”. According to Peck, an evil person is consistently self-deceiving, deceives others, psychologically projects his or her evil onto very specific targets, hates, abuses power, and lies incessantly. Evil people are unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim. Peck considers those he calls evil to be attempting to escape and hide from their own conscience (through self-deception) and views this as being quite distinct from the apparent absence of conscience evident in sociopaths. He also considers that certain institutions may be evil, using the My Lai Massacre to illustrate. By this definition, acts of criminal and state terrorism would also be considered evil.

Finally, the root meaning of the word ‘evil’ is of obscure origin though shown to be akin to modern German Das Übel (although evil is normally translated as Das Böse) with the basic idea of ‘transgressing’, which might suggest a much milder, much more socially and temporally grounded concept, whereby a person might transgress against the ten commandments (You shall have no other gods before me, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images etc) – most if not all of which are up for debate in our times, or against laws such as the ones that could get you murdered by the state in 18th Century England (like stealing a handkerchief) – this understanding of the term has a very different resonance to the hellfire and damnation otherworldly satanic beelzebub the father of lies that we receive from films like The Omen and The Exorcist, which gave me many a disturbed night’s sleep after watching it in my youth…

Note Change of day – this Friday: Grimsby Short Philosophy Text Reading Group: Emma Goldman – Anarchism and Other Essays, is now FRIDAY 12th August 7.30-9.30

A one-off change of day – our Reading Group is now on Friday, 12th August 2022 7:30–9:30pm. We will be discussing some key essays by anarchist writer and political activist, Emma Goldman. Our discussion will take place online via Zoom at this link:  https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

See here for links to the text/audio: https://pipsgy.wordpress.com/2022/06/11/grimsby-short-philosophy-text-reading-group-emma-goldman-anarchism-and-other-essays-thursday-11-august-7-30-9-30/

And here for John’s spark: https://pipsgy.wordpress.com/2022/08/02/grimsby-short-philosophy-text-reading-group-emma-goldman-anarchism-and-other-essays-thursday-11-august-7-30-9-30-2/

Grimsby Short Philosophy Text Reading Group: Emma Goldman – Anarchism and Other Essays, Thursday, 11 August 7.30-9.30

Our next – online only! – bi-monthly PiPs Grimsby Reading Group is on Thursday, 11th August 2022 7:30–9:30pm. We will be discussing some key essays by anarchist writer and political activist, Emma Goldman. Our discussion will take place online via Zoom at this link:  https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

We love having new people come along, so please join us from wherever you are in the world!

John Leam will lead the discussion and offers some excellent and challenging guidance after having thoroughly engaged with the text (see below).

See here for links to the text/audio: https://pipsgy.wordpress.com/2022/06/11/grimsby-short-philosophy-text-reading-group-emma-goldman-anarchism-and-other-essays-thursday-11-august-7-30-9-30/

Emma Goldman – Essay on Anarchism

If you open a conversation about anarchy, most people will believe that the term is synonymous with chaos. I asked a few of my non-political mates what they associated with anarchy and their responses commonly included:

  • Every person for themselves
  • No government or organisation
  • No police
  • No law
  • No community (this last one I found particularly interesting)

If you want a brief summary of Emma Goldman’s life, you won’t find it in this spark. Look at Wikipedia. Our task on the night is to look at the Essay on Anarchism, to try to understand it, point out its strengths and acknowledge its weaknesses. I am not a believer in anarchism but I have tried to look at the essay from a neutral point of view, if that is possible. (That’s another philosophical discussion)

Goldman defines anarchism thus – The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary. She quotes John Henry Mackay – “I will not rule and also ruled I will not be.”

In terms of forming a question for our discussion, Goldman perhaps sparks a couple herself when she mentions two objections to anarchism:

  1. Anarchism is impractical, though a beautiful idea
  2. Anarchism stands for violence and destruction – therefore it is vile and dangerous.

Goldman’s passion is undisputed. “Anarchism must needs meet with the combined ignorance and venom of the world it aims to reconstruct.” She recognises opposition to her ideas from both “the ignorant mass” as well as the “intelligent man” believing that both judged not from knowledge but from “hearsay and false interpretation.” Her aim is “to do away with the wrong and foolish- to build and sustain a new life.” Maybe another question we should ask is whether her arguments in this essay are strong enough to convince us that anarchism is capable of achieving this.

Goldman believes that social order rests on the materialistic basis of life (a point with which I agree). She states that a solution can only be brought about by consideration of the two phases of life – the individual as well as the collective. She believes that the individual and society have waged a relentless and bloody battle for ages, each blind to the value and importance of the other. Goldman further aligns the State, society and moral laws as having the same basis as religions. “Man can have all the glories of the earth but he must not become conscious of himself.” For Goldman, Anarchism brings to man (her use of the word!) the consciousness of himself so that God, the State and society are non-existent. Individual instinct is the thing of value in the world, the true soul out of which will come the reborn social soul.  She views anarchism as the great liberator of man, the arbiter of the two forces for individual and social harmony. This is a clear statement, but does she actually prove that anarchism is capable of achieving this?

Again she identifies issues with which it is difficult to disagree, stating that religion, property and government are the stronghold of man’s enslavement. Statements such as “Property is robbery” and “Wealth means power”  and “Centralisation is the death knell of liberty” are easy to accept. Similarly, the idea that each person should be free to choose the mode of work, the conditions of work and the freedom to work is hard to argue against from a theoretical viewpoint.

From this, Goldman moves on to make the following bold statement about the nature of anarchism believing it will mean “Voluntary and distributive associations, gradually developing into free communism —— but with complete individual and social freedom.”  This is in contrast with systems of government. “All government is tyranny” (Emerson) – the aims of which are the complete subordination of the individual.

So I return to the questions that Goldman herself posed and particularly the one about Anarchism being a beautiful ideal. It is. But is it practical? I am yet to be convinced in any way unless on a very small scale in a closed group. But you would expect that from me given my scepticism abut most things. I would love to be proven wrong and to believe that anarchism can exist in this world we live in.

There are other things which trouble me about Goldman’s essay. She states that “Crime is nought but misdirected energy.” This, to me, is completely idealistic. Some crime is certainly that and some crime comes from the necessity of poverty, but how is rape merely misdirected energy. I am sorry but I don’t accept that all mankind is basically good!

I also think that at times there is an elitist view in Goldman’s writing. She bases some of her ideas on the intelligence of people even stating that anarchism is “a conclusion arrived at by hosts of intellectual men and women.” She is almost evangelical in her enthusiasm, holding up anarchism as supreme in term of political and social ideas.

I realise that I have turned away from the neutral. I am that person who sees anarchism as a beautiful ideal but struggles to see it as practical. I will not give my reasons here but leave it open for the discussion and for those who have more positive belief in anarchism to present their views first. I did find the essay very interesting and loved Goldman’s passion. She didn’t convince me though.

Join our Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to explore the question: ‘What is Virtue?’ – Thursday 28th July 7:30-9:30pm

This month’s general Grimsby PiPs is Thursday the 28th July at 7:30pm, and will be held online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644 . Anybody is welcome, so please come along for a chat, or even just to listen.

This month, we’re honoured to have our thinking challenged by Holly

What is Virtue?

Given our PIPs context, I googled “virtue and philosophy” rather than go down the lexical rabbit hole, but, it might be worth us asking wtf is going on there. I have included a link to the etymology of virtue below, because we might decide we do want to go down that round and discuss feminist values at some point during the evening.

virtue | Etymology, origin and meaning of virtue by etymonline

I mean, come on. What’s with the double standards?

However, my initial search surfaced Aristotle’s theory of virtue ethics, which I have found interesting to explore. Rather than focussing on an outcome, it instead focuses on what kind of person you should be (or try to be).

I found a couple of cool vids on the subject. The first one is more general and charitable (in the philosophical sense) and is less chained to the ins and outs of the theory constructed by Aristotle. The pace is pretty fast though!

Aristotle & Virtue Theory

This second one goes through the theory more, and poses some questions and possible arguments at the end. I found this to be less charitable and more academic, so I enjoyed it less, but the pace was much better.

Aristotle’s Ethical Theory

But don’t worry, I will now give a quick summary of the basics.

Basically, the theory argues we have a fixed nature as human beings. Just like a knife’s purpose is to cut, and hence we would say the knife that cuts well is a good knife, so too does our functioning as human beings involves being moral and being social. And humans want to be virtuous by their nature, and being a virtuous person means knowing what the right thing to do is. To be virtuous is to know the correct course of action, and the correct course of action is the reasonable and measured action in the situation (this will vary from person to person). And a virtuous person is good by their nature of being virtuous.

This was sounding like bs to me a bit. I was like, no, sorry. You don’t just be good. Why aren’t we all just good people then? But Aristotle claims that virtue is a kind of practical wisdom and a virtuous character is developed habitually. Furthermore, we instinctively know what it is to be good and do the right thing because it is in our nature. This necessarily doesn’t mean that we achieve the correct outcome though! Remember, being virtuous is a practice, so all we can do is try. Aristotle also says we can help ourselves become virtuous by emulating someone else who is virtuous, until it becomes habitual for us.

Being virtuous, according to Aristotle, is a struggle and a practice, but it is necessary to facilitate human flourishing. You will always be striving to improve yourself and you will never be “done”. but the result will be that you are a virtuous/good person.

Undoubtedly I’ll give a few examples to clarify things during my wee presentation. In the meantime, I hope that spurs something for ya. Please bring your own thoughts and your big brains to the meet.

All best,


Be original, come join our ONLINE Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby discussion group to explore the question: ‘Do we all conform in the end?’ – Thursday 23rd June 7:30-9:30pm

This months question for our general PiPs Grimsby meetup is ‘Do we all conform in the end?’, and will take place Thursday 23rd June, 7:30-9:30pm, online at https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

Young John in Acting Mode

The following reflection is from John Mooney (pictured)

In my teens my hair was very long and I wore clothes that marked me out as part of the rock sub-culture (no pictures of this, unfortunately). My musical tastes included Jimi Hendrix, Dr John, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Free to name but a few. I liked to think of myself as different, free of normality, but looking back I conformed to the unwritten rules of the sub-culture.

Essentially I remember myself as being rebellious in response to the institutions that were representative of what I would now call The Establishment, but was effectively as stuck as those who conformed, in that my knee jerk response to instruction was to rebel without any real examination as to whether those instructions might or might not benefit me.

History has however many examples of people who are labelled iconoclasts, who have kicked against the established practices and addressed absurdities of behaviours and traditions only to find themselves pariahs and imprisoned, expelled or executed as a result. (See the history of Socrates for an early example)

But whilst I attempted to be iconoclastic (at least enough for my father to be convinced I would end up in jail) in reality I conformed to the rebellious/ish standards of my peer group and consequently had a sense of belonging to that particular form of community.

I think we should reflect on the idea that because human beings are social animals and that to be a part of a society/community we need to find ways of fitting in, without risking expulsion or worse, this may well be a really powerful drive to conform.

This from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-conformity-2795889

In 1955, Deutsch and Gerard identified two key reasons why people conform: informational influence and normative influence.2

  • Informational influence happens when people change their behaviour in order to be correct. In situations where we are unsure of the correct response, we often look to others who are better informed and more knowledgeable and use their lead as a guide for our own behaviours. In a classroom setting, for example, this might involve agreeing with the judgments of another classmate who you perceive as being highly intelligent.
  • Normative influence stems from a desire to avoid punishments (such as going along with the rules in class even though you don’t agree with them) and gain rewards (such as behaving in a certain way in order to get people to like you).

So from the same website, we have these explanations about why we conform and some of the potential contexts:

Types of Conformity

Normative and informational influences are two important types of conformity, but there are also a number of other reasons why we conform. Types of conformity include:

  • Normative conformity: Changing one’s behaviour in order to fit in with the group. For example, a teenager might dress in a certain style because they want to look like their peers who are members of a particular group.
  • Informational conformity: Looking to the group for information and direction (this happens when a person lacks knowledge). Think of attending your first class at a new yoga studio. You would probably watch what others were doing to see where you should hang your coat, stow your shoes, unroll your mat, and so on.
  • Identification: Conforming based on social roles. The Stanford Prison Experiment is an example of this type of conformity.
  • Compliance: Changing one’s behaviour while still internally disagreeing with the group. For example, you might read a book for your book club and really enjoy it. But at your book club meeting, you learn that the other members all disliked the book. Rather than go against the group opinion, you might simply agree with the others that the book was terrible.
  • Internalization: Changing one’s behaviour to be like another person. You might notice this in a friend who’s taste in music or movies shifts to match that of their romantic partner.

These then are a few of the insights of the psychology of conformity, what of the role of philosophy?

When I search for philosophers on conformity a name keeps cropping up, Søren Kierkegaard and this website https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/11/26/kierkegaard-individual-crowd-conformity-minority/  has a number of quotes on conformity and non-conformity which are food for thought when considering how have been in our lives and how we are now.

I’ll give a couple here to show that Kierkegaard has a less than benign attitude to the crowd and those that conform.

“Truth always rests with the minority … because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.”

“Most people become quite afraid when each is expected to be a separate individual. Thus the matter turns and revolves upon itself. One moment a man is supposed to be arrogant, setting forth this view of the individual, and the next, when the individual is about to carry it out in practice, the idea is found to be much too big, too overwhelming for him.”

This idea that there is a level of fear or a lack of confidence when we are attempting to practice what we preach I find very compelling. The gulf we cross when we unwaveringly stick to our own distinctive way of being is one that may well lead to isolation and loneliness, is the challenge that Kierkegaard issues to us as individuals.

Where I end up is in this space where I am aware that I sometimes make choices which other people find anything from somewhat odd to quite difficult to understand and as I get older I no longer seek to justify those choices. For me the worst place to be though is in the position of knowing that I am conforming for a quiet life (which I do because I enjoy being peaceful), or in order to pay the bills or please another, but if you felt you had a choice you would be somewhere else doing something completely different.

The question then is are you prepared to live with the potential of real pain, psychological or physical, in order to live as authentically as you can, or would you rather accept the comfort of the crowd?

Cheers All

John Mooney