Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Inferring the unconfirmed: the no alternatives argument

By Richard Dawid
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. Thus Arthur Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes describe a crucial part of his method of solving detective cases. Sherlock Holmes often takes pride in adhering to principles of scientific reasoning.

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Does torture really (still) matter?

By Rebecca Gordon
The US military involvement in Iraq has more or less ended, and the war in Afghanistan is limping to a conclusion. Don’t the problems of torture really belong to the bad old days of an earlier administration? Why bring it up again? Why keep harping on something that is over and done with? Because it’s not over, and it’s not done with.

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Disposable captives

By Lori Gruen
The decision by the administrators of the Copenhagen Zoo to kill a 2-year-old giraffe named Marius by shooting him in the head on February 2014, then autopsy his body in public and feed Marius’ body parts to the lions held captive at the zoo created quite an uproar. When the same zoo then killed the lions (an adult pair and their two cubs) a month later to make room for a more genetically worthy captive, the uproar become more ferocious.

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Philosophy and its history

By Graham Priest
If you go into a mathematics class of any university, it’s unlikely that you will find students reading Euclid. If you go into any physics class, it’s unlikely you’ll find students reading Newton. If you go into any economics class, you will probably not find students reading Keynes. But if you go a philosophy class, it is not unusual to find students reading Plato, Kant, or Wittgenstein. Why?

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A question of consciousness

By Susan Blackmore
The problem of consciousness is real, deep and confronts us any time we care to look. Ask yourself this question ‘Am I conscious now?’ and you will reply ‘Yes’. Then, I suggest, you are lured into delusion – the delusion that you are conscious all the time, even when you are not asking about it.

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When science stopped being literature

By Jim Secord
We tend to think of ‘science’ and ‘literature’ in radically different ways.  The distinction isn’t just about genre – since ancient times writing has had a variety of aims and styles, expressed in different generic forms: epics, textbooks, lyrics, recipes, epigraphs, and so forth.

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Is our language too masculine?

As Women’s History month comes to a close, we wanted to share an important debate that Simon Blackburn, author of Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, participated in for IAITV. Joined by Scottish feminist linguist Deborah Cameron and feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan, they look at what we can do to build a more feminist language.

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Gloomy terrors or the most intense pleasure?

By Philip Schofield
In 1814, just two hundred years ago, the radical philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) began to write on the subject of religion and sex, and thereby produced the first systematic defence of sexual liberty in the history of modern European thought.

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Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect: 50 years on

By Alfred Mele
A famous experiment on the behavior of bystanders was inspired by an electrifying episode in New York City in 1964 when Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in the middle of a street. According to newspaper reports, although many people witnessed the early morning attack from their apartment windows when they heard screams, no one tried to stop the assault, and no one even called the police.

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Law and the quest for justice

By Raymond Wacks
The law is always news. It plays a central role of law in our social, political, moral, and economic life. But what is this thing called law? Does it consist of a set of universal moral principles in accordance with nature? Or is it merely a collection of largely man-made rules, commands, or norms? Does the law have a specific purpose, such as the protection of individual rights, the attainment of justice, or economic, political, and sexual equality? Can the law change society as it has done in South Africa?

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William Godwin’s birthday

By Mark Philp
Do people at the end of the eighteenth century celebrate their birthdays? More precisely, what did William Godwin (1756-1836) – philosopher, novelist, husband of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) and father of Mary Shelly (1797-1851) – do on his birthday, which falls on 3 March?

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The great Oxford World’s Classics debate

By Kirsty Doole
Last week the Oxford World’s Classics team were at Blackwell Bookshop in Oxford to witness the first Oxford World’s Classics debate. Over three days we invited seven academics who had each edited and written introductions and notes for books in the series to given a short, free talk in the shop. This then culminated in an evening event in Blackwell’s famous Norrington Room where we held a balloon debated, chaired by writer and academic Alexandra Harris.

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Martin Luther, music, and the Seven Liberal Arts

By The Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe
It was the German reformer Martin Luther who famously said that ‘music was next to theology’. Why did Luther claim that music was ‘next’ to theology, and what did he mean? In the past, scholars have explained that music had a unique capacity to touch the human heart in a way that the spoken word, or other sounds may not do.

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Madness, rationality, and epistemic innocence

Lisa Bartolotti
Madness and irrationality may seem inextricably related. “You are crazy!” we say, when someone tells us about their risk-taking behaviour or their self-defeating actions). The International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) describe people with depression, autism, schizophrenia, dementia, and personality disorders as people who infringe norms of rationality.

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Thinking about the mind: an anti-linguistic turn

By Bence Nanay
Contemporary philosophy of mind is an offshoot of philosophy of language. Most formative figures of modern philosophy of mind started out as philosophers of language. This is hardly surprising – almost everyone in that generation started out as a philosopher of language. But this focus on language left its mark on the way we now think about the mind – and this is not necessarily a good thing.

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