Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

I’m the mother I am thanks to my daughter’s disability

On the first Mother’s Day that my daughter, Sesha, no longer lived at home with us, I received a lovely basket with various hand-crafted gifts from her. With help from her aide, she handed it over to me, and as I gushed she looked so very pleased. Mother’s Day is a time for children to […]

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A.J. Ayer and Logical Positivism

Alfred Jules Ayer (1910-89) was a philosopher and a leading English representative of Logical Positivism. He was responsible for introducing the doctrines of the movement as developed in the 1920s and 1930s by the Vienna Circle group of philosophers and scientists into British philosophy. Ayer’s philosophy was also influenced by empiricism of David Hume and the […]

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G.E.M. Anscombe on the evil of demanding unconditional surrender in war

During military conflict, what are the constraints on the things that a warring nation may do to achieve their objectives? And what constraints are there on the objectives that such a nation should have in the first place? A traditional answer to the first of these questions draws a sharp line at the deliberate killing […]

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Space for concern: Trump’s executive order on space resources

Among the bevy of executive actions undertaken by President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 crisis is, of all things, an executive order (issued on 6 April 2020) promoting the development of space resources, which states in part that: Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer […]

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Is the fetus a resident or a body part?

Pregnancy has variously been described as unique, confusing and full of ambivalence; as involving a doubling or splitting the person; and as challenging widely-held philosophical assumptions about firm distinctions between self and other or mind and body. But what, exactly, is pregnancy? What is this unique human – and mammalian – state? What is its […]

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Why vaccines should be compulsory

Imagine we develop a vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19). Suppose the vaccine has some very small chance of some serious side effects, for instance seizures. However, this vaccine can save millions of lives globally, in the same way as other vaccines do. You are the prime minister and you have to decide whether to make […]

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Re-reading Camus’s The Plague in pandemic times

Sometime in the 1940s in the sleepy colonial city of Oran, in French occupied Algeria, there was an outbreak of plague. First rats died, then people. Within days, the entire city was quarantined: it was impossible to get out, and no one could get in. This is the fictional setting for Albert Camus’s second most famous novel, The Plague (1947). And yes, there are some similarities to our current situation with the coronavirus.  First, […]

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How G. E. M. Anscombe revolutionised 20th-century western philosophy

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe (b. 1919-d. 2001) was an important figure and gave significant contributions to the field of analytic philosophy, philosophy of mind, and moral and religious philosophy. Born in Limerick in March 1919 to Allen Anscombe and Gertrude Anscombe (nee Thomas), the family returned to England when her father returned from the British Army […]

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Why self-help won’t cure impostor syndrome

Do you feel as if your professional success is due to some kind of mistake? That you don’t deserve your grades, promotions, or accolades? That you’re somehow getting away with a fraud which could be uncovered at any moment?  We have a name for that cluster of anxieties: you’re suffering from impostor syndrome. At the heart […]

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What is the place of human beings in the world

Philosophers disagree on what philosophy is supposed to do, but one popular candidate for what is part of the philosophical project is to try to understand the place of human beings in the world. What is our significance in the world as whole? What place do human beings have in the universe and in all of […]

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Let people change their minds

Everyone does it. Some people do it several times a day. Others, weekly, monthly, or even just a few times in their lives. We would be suspicious, and rightly so, of someone who claimed never to have done it. Some have even become famous for doing it. Making a public show of it can make […]

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How fake things can still help us learn

We often appreciate things that have a certain weathered look about them. From clothes to home furnishings, people find aesthetic value in the distressed, the tarnished, the antique. Yet underlying this interest in the appealing look of age is an expectation that vintage things be of their vintage. Knockoffs, fakes, and otherwise inauthentic things are quick to undermine […]

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The remarkable life of philosopher Frank Ramsey

Frank Ramsey, the great Cambridge philosopher, economist, and mathematician, was a superstar in all three disciplines, despite dying at the age of 26 in 1930. One way to glimpse the sheer genius of this extraordinary young man is by looking at some of the things that bear his name. My favourite was coined by Donald […]

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Five philosophers on the joys of walking

René Descartes argued that each of us is, fundamentally, a thinking thing. Thought is our defining activity, setting us aside from animals, trees, rocks. I suspect this has helped market philosophy as the life of the mind, conjuring up philosophers lost in reverie, snuggled in armchairs. But human beings do not, in fact, live purely […]

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Using math to understand inequity

What can math tell us about unfairness? Bias, discrimination, and inequity are phenomena that are deeply complex, context sensitive, personal, and intersectional. The mathematical modeling of social scenarios, on the other hand, is a practice that necessitates simplification. Using models to understand what happens in our social realm means representing the complex with something much […]

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Henry David Thoreau and the nature of civil disobedience – Philosopher of the Month

Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher, environmentalist, poet, and essayist. He is best known for Walden, an account of a simpler life lived in natural surroundings, first published in 1854, and his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience which presents a rebuttal of unjust government influence over the individual. An avid, and widely-read, student of philosophy from the classical to the contemporary, Thoreau pursued philosophy as a way of life and not solely a lens for thought and discourse.

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