Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group, Grimsby: Philip Pullman: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Thursday, 11th March 2021 7:30 – 9:30pm

Our next PiPs Grimsby Reading Group is on Thursday, 11th March 7:30 – 9:30pm. We will be discussing Philip Pullman: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

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

The Wikipedia entry is very brief, so I simply paste here in toto as a small springboard to thought. It’s a binary idea, so do you stand on one side or the other? Or is the book not binary at all. What do you think?

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a novel by Philip Pullman.

Published in 2010 by Canongate Books, as part of the Canongate Myth Series, it retells the story of Jesus as if he were two people, brothers, “Jesus” and “Christ,” with contrasting personalities; Jesus being a moral and godly man, and his brother Christ a calculating figure who wishes to use Jesus’ legacy to found a powerful Church.

Critical reception

Pullman’s historical understanding has been criticised by Jesuit theologian Professor Gerald O’Collins.[4]

While Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, praised Pullman’s His Dark Materials, he was more critical of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, accusing Pullman of being a “Protestant atheist” for supporting the teachings of Christ but being critical of organised religion.

Diarmaid MacCulloch reviewed the book positively for Literary Review.

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby: “What is Truth?” Thursday, 25 March 2021 7:30 – 9:30pm

An online meeting of our Grimsby Philosophy in Public Spaces group to explore ‘What is Truth?” – Thursday March 25th 2021, 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

Here’s the Zoom link, just come along and join us: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

John Leam has compiled a very comprehensive overview of the topic for us.

What is Truth?

This is perhaps the most fundamental question in Philosophy. I feel it underpins everything else we discuss. Philosophers over the ages have written lengthy theories of truth, many complex, some more simple. What I do know is that in our two hour session we can only hope to scratch the surface and perhaps focus in on one aspect.

It is also interesting that many philosophers talk about truths rather than the singular truth. It may be that we want to focus on what truths are and what (if anything) makes them true.

Instead of trying to give a specific theory or answer the question (I wish!), I thought it best to provide a few snippets in the hope of stimulating thought and providing a starting point from which to move forwards.

Common Usage

The words truth and true are part of our everyday language, so I spent five minutes just brainstorming a few usages just to demonstrate different contexts. There are many more than those I use here. Below are a few, in no specific order:

  • in conversation we often say “to tell the truth” or “to be honest” (as if our usual practice may be not to tell the truth).
  • I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
  • I am the Way, the Truth and the Light
  • I’m searching for the truth
  • She is my true love
  • True story
  • Truth – a Jeff Beck album from 1968 using the word to depict the essence of good music
  • True friend – as opposed to an ordinary friend?
  • Truth versus Lie – such as in the BBC programme Would I Lie to You
  • “We present the truth behind the headlines”
  • True to one’s principles
  • Being true as in “I’ll be True to You”
  • “This Much is True” apologies – I can’t believe I quoted Spandau Ballet
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty / That is all ye know on Earth / And all ye need to know” – Ode on a Grecian Urn. I thought it better to finish on Keats rather than Spandau. Dad (or Spike Milligan) joke. What’s a Grecian urn? About £5 an hour.

Plato

I remember writing about Plato’s ideas of truth with regard to his Theory of Forms, fifty odd years ago. It is perhaps a useful starting point on truth theories. Basically, Plato believed there are truths to be discovered, that true knowledge is possible. Moreover, he believed that truth is not, as the Sophists believed, relative. It is objective. Since it is objective, our knowledge of true propositions must be about real things. These real things are Forms. Basically these are blueprints from which we understand everything. They are therefore more real (or true) than particulars we experience everyday. Plato therefore believed in absolute truth.

Four kinds of Truth

  1. Identity – Truth of description A circle is round because we define a circle as round.
  2. Axiomatic truth – Truth about the system. These could be described as self-evident truths
  3. Historic truth – An event that actually happened. (I have a huge problem with this as historic descriptions of events have proven to be false)
  4. Experimental truths – These may not have the clear conceptual underpinnings of axiomatic truths but hold up to scrutiny through evidence

Logic and Mathematics

There are obviously mathematical truths which I cannot even pretend to be able to explain past the notion of 2+2 = 4 (see below). There are also truths of formal logic. In a basic form this can be shown by:

If P then Q

P

Therefore Q

Theories of Truth

OK so here are some basic outlines of just some of the more modern theories of truth, again in no specific order.

Correspondence Theory

What we believe or say is true if it corresponds to the way things actually are – the facts. (But how can we establish what are facts, especially now given the mass media flow of information?)

Coherence Theory

A belief is true if, and only if, it is part of a coherent system of beliefs

Semantic Theory (Tarski)

Truth is to do with the way in which we use language. 

Pragmatists

Truth is the end of inquiry. Truth is satisfactory to believe. True beliefs are guaranteed not to conflict with subsequent experience.

Deflationary

The predicate true is an expressive convenience. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 is true, where the phrase “is true” adds nothing to the statement 2 + 2 = 4

Constructivist

Truth is constructed by social processes. It is historically and socially constructed and shaped by the power struggles within a community. Therefore, all our knowledge is constructed.

Consensus

Truth is whatever is agreed upon

I hope this has give some stimulus to thought. In terms of everyday usage of the word truth, I don’t think it has ever been more difficult to discern what is true and what is false.

Fake news abounds

John

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby: “Does Human Nature exist?” Thursday, 25 February 2021 7:30 – 9:30pm

An online meeting of our Grimsby Philosophy in Public Spaces group to explore ‘What is a philosophical question?” – Thursday January 28th 2021, 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

Here’s the Zoom link, just come along and join us: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

It’s worth taking time reading Connor’s careful thoughts here as a starting point.

To answer “Does human nature exist?” we first need a working definition of ‘human nature’. I’m going to assume we’re not asking the question “Is there anything at all that all humans do?”, since due to everyone needing food and oxygen, this would be quite a boring question. I’m going to take it as a question about the social/emotional/philosophical nature of humans.

One way to take the question is “Are there certain social behaviours that every individual human is drawn towards?” This seems to be too strong a question, since for any type of social behaviour, you can always find one person engaging in it and another doing the opposite. There are some people who believe things like “deep down, everybody is selfish”, or that everybody is really just acting to pass on their genes. I don’t really find these thoughts very interesting since they seem so obviously easy to dismiss. A less strong version of this question would be “Are there certain social behaviours that every individual human is drawn towards, but can overcome?” This isn’t as easily answered, since it could be the case that those deviating from the norm have had to fight their ‘human nature’ to lead to their preferred behaviours. Perhaps some people might be tempted to say that deep down everybody is hedonistic, but many overcome this because they develop empathy and compassion.

Another interpretation of the question that has a broader scope is “Are there certain social behaviours/structures that human groups and societies always gravitate to?”. This is less strong than our first question since the answer isn’t instantly ‘no’ as soon as we find one person who is a counterexample. Answering yes to this would be saying that parts of our society are inevitable. Maybe government, trade, money, war, technological progress, population growth etc. are always going to happen so long as humans are thriving. This interpretation is also a lot harder to provide evidence for or against, since one would have to make the claim that society would/wouldn’t always end up in a similar state, had history been different. It depends on other hypothetical human societies that we don’t have access to. We could however potentially look to examples of isolated societies in our own history to see how similarly/differently they developed.

There are political philosophers such as Marx who think that all steps in human progression thus far have been necessary and unavoidable, and are leading us towards some inevitable endpoint (in Marx’s view, communism). This again requires a great deal of proof that we don’t seem to have access to. How do we know that we won’t just get stuck in something like capitalism for the rest of human existence? How could we possibly know that it would end at communism and not progress further? Perhaps humanity could split into a whole host of different systems should the globe become a little less connected over time. To me, such views that spell out exact specifics of how humanity will progress are way too fanciful and claim to know too much, and don’t respect the sheer amount of chaos that the world has to offer. So for the question to be interesting, we perhaps need to talk about general tendencies within society, such as conflict, poverty, division etc. that can be seen manifesting in many different scenarios. There’s also a lot of thought to be had about the pragmatics of human existence (having a secure supply of food, shelter and healthy environments etc.) and how these might tend to shape our societies.

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby: “What is a philosophical question?” Thursday, 28 January 2021 7:30 – 9:30pm

An online meeting of our Grimsby Philosophy in Public Spaces group to explore ‘What is a philosophical question?” – Thursday January 28th 2021, 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

Here’s the Zoom link, just come along and join us: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

I’m going to chance my arm and offer to present the stimulus for this one on the night – and of course question had me reaching for my keyboard – to very little avail. There is much on ‘what is philosophy?’ but little clear on what makes a philosophical question. Our public philosophy group has been going for 3 years now and as with everything, we choose our topics as democratically as possible, but I don’t think I could say WHY these questions and topics are ‘philosophical’ – or even IF they are. So, perhaps what’s needed here first of all is to think about what ‘philosophy’ is first and then perhaps it’s possible to determine what might make for a philosophical question, starting with a dictionary definition.

A dictionary definition

Dictionary definition of ‘philosophy’ from Merriam Webster

The academic discipline of (western) philosophy

According to ‘WikiBooks‘, Western philosophy can be divided into six branches that have assumed various importance over time:

  1. Traditionally metaphysics sets the questions for philosophy.
  2. Epistemology asks how do we know?
  3. Ethics and politics have to do with action and quality of life.
  4. Aesthetics or value theory has to do with beauty, balance, and harmony.
  5. Logic has to do with the relations of things.
  6. Epistemology sometimes replaces metaphysics these days, because it has fewer religious overtones.

Among Eastern European and continental philosophers, philosophy tends to be the study of politics. Logic is critical for analytic philosophers, who are deeply suspicious of ethics, politics, and metaphysics.

Wittgenstein

In his later writings Wittgenstein holds, as he did in the Tractatus, that philosophers do not—or should not—supply a theory, neither do they provide explanations. “Philosophy just puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything.—Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain” (PI 126). 

So, where does this leave us in terms of ‘answering’ the question ‘what is a philosophical question?’ Does the dictionary definition help? The branches and outshoots of academia? Or the brief mention of Wittgenstein (prompted by Connor)? Or… perhaps we should resolve ourselves to embracing the mystery in the process of illuminating the darkness that enfolds us, as suggested in the following:

In philosophy, a teacher is not looking for terminal answers…. Like a terminal illness, a terminal answer gives you no options…. A good answer is instead like a candle in the dark. It provides both light and mystery. It should, of course, illuminate, while at the same time reveal the contours of the unknown so that the listener can surmise that there is much more to be investigated and learned.

Lipman, Sharp and Oscanyan (p. 203, 1980)

What do you think?

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group, Grimsby: Albert Camus: The Plague Thursday, 18th February 2021 7:30 – 9:30pm

Our next PiPs Grimsby Reading Group is on Thursday, 11th February 7:30 – 9:30pm. We will be discussing Albert Camus’ The Plague. Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

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

Albert Camus: The Plague

“Each of us has the plague within him, no one, no one on earth is free from it. We must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody’s face and fasten the infection on him.”

Albert Camus, The Plague, 1947

Albert Camus (1913 – 1960) was a French author and philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. His novel The Plague has recently garnered much worldwide attention do to the pandemic of 2020.

Stephen Metcalf gets to the heart of things here:

“The Plague” takes place in Oran, a city that Camus, as a son and partisan of its rival, Algiers, found tacky, shallow, commercial; treeless and soulless. As a younger man, he’d called it a city without “reprieve.” The citizens of Oran may not be especially sinful, but they subordinate every aspect of life to business (sound familiar?), and this has left them unprepared for something as indifferent to human needs and desires as a pestilence. Like Winston in “1984,” Rieux, the doctor at the heart of the story, is engaged in a constantly losing struggle to assert himself as the protagonist of his own story. There is no action in the novel that is not initiated by the plague itself — in a sense, disease is the only real actor here. An epidemic, it turns out, is “a shrewd, unflagging adversary; a skilled organizer, doing his work thoroughly and well.”

Camus explores ideas about finding meaning, or not, in who lives and who dies in the plague, that the plague – death – is always with us and asks the question what then should we do?

What shall WE do..?

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group, Grimsby: Buddhism Thursday, 14th January 2021 7:30 – 9:30pm

Our first PiPs Grimsby Reading Group of 2021 is on Thursday, 14th January 7:30 – 9:30pm. We will be guided in our reading about Buddhism by John Mooney, who is a dedicated scholar of the subject. This post is quite extensive but magnificent because John has included many useful links for finding out more about Buddhism to inform our discussion.

Our discussion will take taking place online via Zoom at this link: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

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

John’s Buddhist Philosophy Primer

I think it’s fair to say that before his awakening the “historical figure” of Siddhartha Gotama of the Shakyamuni Clan (aka The Buddha) was struggling to understand what the hell was going on with this existence malarkey and left his comfortable life to seek the “truth”

The telling of his story, prior to and following that decision, is mythologised and has had countless bells and whistles attached over time (about 2500yrs give or take a hundred) but the important part of the story is that, despite having been protected by his father and family from the harsh realities of life, he discovered that people got old, got sick and eventually died. This provoked an existential crisis and the rest, as they say, is history.

If you like stories (I do) you can find a version of the Buddha’s life here https://www.diamondway-buddhism.org/buddhism/buddha/

Prior to his awakening then, he had been appraised of and shocked by the reality of human existence and this provoked him to leave home to search for the answers he was seeking.

The Four Noble Truths

Post awakening he had the following realisations expressed in the Sutras as the Four Noble Truths – the first one he already knew, the following three are the crux of his realisation:

1. Life Means Suffering

To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

2. The Origin of Suffering is Attachment

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and, in a greater sense, all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe. One can have a preference for things and principles, but attachment yields suffering.

3. The Cessation of Suffering is Attainable

The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dis-passion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dis-passion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it. Dis-passion does not mean inaction, or lack of joy. Indeed, Buddhist monks and the Dalai Lama are very jovial, passionate, and happy people.

4. The Path to the Cessation of Suffering 

There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described in more detail in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming,” because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.  

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is summarised as follows:

1. Right View

To see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truths. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

Words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak amiably, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others.

5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. Harmlessness essentially states that Buddhist practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm to other living beings or systems. Such occupations include “trading in arms and lethal weapons, intoxicating drinks, poisons, killing animals, [and] cheating”, among others. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Refers to the practice of keeping the mind alert to phenomena as they are affecting the body and mind. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualize sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the fact of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualization in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

8. Right Concentration

Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations  ( Original text here http://campaugusta.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Eightfold_Path.pdf )

This then is the basis of the Dharma or the universal truth common to all individuals at all times as proclaimed by the Buddha.

The Five Precepts

Following a basic understanding of the Dharma, those who subsequently choose to take up training as monastics or lay practitioners, vow to follow the Five Precepts which, stated positively, could be translated as follows:

  1. To the best of my ability, I will protect and support life and encourage the fulfilment of the potential for loving kindness, compassion and understanding in others.
  2. To the best of my ability, I will take only what is freely given and vow to practice gratitude and generosity.
  3. To the best of my ability, I will respect and support on-going relationships, honour my commitments, and practice discernment between those things that arouse passion and the compulsiveness to act on them.
  4. To the best of my ability, I will say what is true, useful, and timely and practice deep listening such that both my speaking and listening reflects loving-kindness and compassion.
  5. To the best of my ability, I will maintain a clear and alert mind that is aware of its motivations, moment to moment, such that it can discern between what is the cause of suffering and what is not the cause of suffering.

Once a person is established in their practice there is another vow, that of the Bodhisattva, to be taken which to the unenlightened appears to be a set of impossible tasks, one form of which is:

Beings are numberless,

I vow to save them all.

Delusions are inexhaustible,

I vow to end them all.

Dharma gates are boundless,

I vow to enter them all.

The Buddha Way is unsurpassable,

I vow to accomplish it.

With all this talk of suffering and difficulty following the Way I am reminded of something Leonard Cohen said at a concert in London, that he had “…studied deeply in the philosophies and religions but cheerfulness keeps breaking through.” and I would suggest that remaining cheerful in the face of that which is seemingly endless is as important to develop as compassion or loving-kindness.

Consequently the next piece of reading I will suggest will be much easier to read if you approach it cheerfully go here https://plumvillage.org/sutra/the-diamond-that-cuts-through-illusion/ in which, just to add to the confusion the following word is used often.

Tathagata

  1. an honorific title of a Buddha, especially the Buddha Gautama, or a person who has attained perfection by following Buddhist principles.

You might also want to scan read this article to see how diverse Buddhist thought has become since Siddhartha Gotama left home. The Dharma gates are indeed boundless: https://www.quora.com/How-many-Buddhist-sutras-are-there

And a final useful link: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-indian-buddhism/

To end on a cheerful note I will leave you with one of my favourite poems

Shovelling Snow With Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shovelling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shovelling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

(Billy Collins)

Here are our Philosophy in Public Spaces Reading Group texts for next year – subscribe to the blog to find out when and where to join in!

The results are in for our poll of texts for next year’s philosophy in public spaces reading group – and here they are (I’ll add them into the calendar):

  1. Buddha – Philosophy: The Diamond Sutra + modern texts
  2. Albert Camus – The Plague
  3. Philip Pullman – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
  4. Eric Fromm – To Have and To Be  
  5. Peter Kropotkin
  6. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – Communist Manifesto
  7. Cornel West – ‘Malcolm X and Black Rage’
  8. Mary Wollstencroft – Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  9. Nietzsche – Genealogy of Morals
  10. Hannah Arendt – excerpts from The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem
  11. Machiavelli – The Prince
  12. Sun Tzu – The Art of War

We’d love you to come and join us, so subscribe to the blog or contact us to keep updated.

Ian Brocklebank: Virtuous Man, Philosopher

Ian Brocklebank was part of our Grimsby Philosophy in Pubs group. He came along and enjoyed the simple pleasures of having a pint and thinking and being in company with others. Ian died this week. That’s a hard thing to write. We will miss him. But, I smile when I think of him and, given we talk about our lives through the lens of philosophy, I will always think of Ian in terms of Aristotle’s ideal man, the Aristotelian gentleman:

“The ideal man is altruistic because he is wise. He never feels malice and always forgets injuries — In short, he is a good friend to others, because he is his own best friend.”

Online Philosophy in Public Spaces Grimsby: “Christmas Thought Experiment: Radical Translation” Thursday, 17th December 7:30 – 9:30pm

Absolutely nothing to do with Christmas at all – it just so happens that we’ve now started something of a tradition in our Grimsby (now online) PiPs group for our pre-Christmas discussion – a thought experiment followed by performance experiments (of more below).

Anyway, you are very welcome to join our online meeting of Grimsby Philosophy in Public Spaces group to explore the ‘Radical Translation’ thought experiment, skillfully guided by Connor – Thursday December 17th 2020, 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

Here’s the Zoom link, just come along and join us: https://zoom.us/s/91328331644

Some thoughts about it by Connor:

This thought experiment, created by W. V. Quine involves thinking about how we might translate a language that has been completely alien to us up to this point. When we hear a native speaker of the language say ‘Gavagai’, they are always around a rabbit, so it seems natural to conclude that in this language, ‘Gavagai’ simply means rabbit. Quine tells us that while it’s pragmatic to assume that they mean rabbit, this isn’t the only or ‘best’ translation. ‘Gavagai’ could also mean something like ‘undetached rabbit parts’,since a word with this meaning would also only be uttered at the sight of a rabbit. Finally Quine argues that this kind of indeterminacy of translation actually applies to language that we already speak, since we can’t be certain that other people don’thave these kinds of odd concepts when using the word ‘Rabbit’ for instance. This viewpoint has been called ‘semantic behaviourism’, as it concludes that the only thing that language tells us for certain is the stimulus that the speaker has been subjected to and is reacting to – not what they actually mean or think. This could be seen as a somewhat sceptical view of language, and if taken to its extreme would conclude that we can never know anything about anybody else’s intentions or concepts.

This is a short summary of the thought experiment, just to give a rough idea of what it’s going to be about, and I will be going much more in depth on the night. If you want to read up more on it beforehand, you can check out the pages on the Stanford Encyclopedia or Wikipedia:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/quine/#

IndeTranhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indeterminacy_of_translation

And afterwards, because it’s Christmastime and we all need to engage with our world in challenging ways in challenging times, Josie helpfully suggests the following:

I think it would be a good idea to ask people in advance to prep a song or a poem, and indicate if they are willing to share something – that way, no one’s on the spot or awkward, we can prep a running order. Might be nice to have a chat about how everyone sees Christmas and what/how they celebrate as well. Alternatively, I could prep a Christmas quiz – I used to do a fiendishly tricky and intellectual one as a teacher in a former existence!! 

Here’s a video. It’s the source of my own extensive knowledge of the Philosophers.