This week I convened a philosophy seminar in Oxford with Kasia de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer. Singer is probably the world’s most famous living philosopher, well known for his pioneering work on the ethics of our treatment of non-human animals, on global poverty, and on many other issues. Less well known, perhaps, is the fact that Singer has recently changed his mind on the question of what really matters. I’m talking here about what matters for individual beings – what makes their lives good or bad for them.
There are various more or less familiar acts by which to communicate something with the reasonable expectation of being believed. We can do so by stating, reporting, contending, or claiming that such-and-such is the case; by telling others things, informing an audience of this-or-that, or vouching for something; by affirming or attesting to something’s being the case, or avowing that this-or-that is true.
What do these acts have in common? Each is an instance of the kind of speech act known as an assertion.
Oxford University Press has partnered with the Hegeler Institute to publish The Monist, one of the world’s oldest and most important journals in philosophy. The Monist publishes quarterly thematic issues on particular philosophical topics which are edited by leading philosophers in the corresponding fields. We sat down with the Editor of The Monist, Barry Smith, to discuss the Journal’s history and future plans.
This May, we’re featuring Søren Kierkegaard as our philosopher of the month. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kierkegaard made his name as one of the first existentialist philosophers of his time. Centuries later, scholars continue to comb through his works, which were produced in such abundance that it is difficult, even now, to come away with a cohesive portrait of the Danish scholar; not to mention the fact that many details of Kierkegaard’s personal life remain unknown.
Huckleberry Finn, when faced with the opportunity to turn in the slave Jim, is tortured about what to do. At first he leans in favor of turning him in, because Jim is someone else’s property. And as he was taught in Sunday school, acting as he had been toward Jim was what got people sent to hell. But he can’t stop thinking about Jim’s companionship on the river, and how Jim had been nothing but kind to him all along, a real source of comfort and friendship. So Huck, with trembling hands, finally declares, “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell,” and decides not to turn Jim in.
“East is East and West is West, and ne’er the twain shall meet.” Well, no. Kipling got it wrong. The East and the West have been meeting for a long time. For most of the last few hundred years, the traffic has been mainly one way. The West has had a major impact on the East. India felt the full force of British imperialism with the British East India Company and the British Raj.
Descartes divided the mind up into two faculties: intellect and will. The intellect gathers up data from the world and presents the mind with various potential beliefs that it might endorse; the will then chooses which of them to endorse. We can look at the evidence for or against a particular belief, but the final choice about what to believe remains a matter of choice. This raises the question of the ‘ethics of belief,’ the title of an essay by the mathematician William K. Clifford, in which he argued that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.’
This May, the OUP Philosophy team are honouring Kierkegaard as the inaugural ‘Philosopher of the Month’. Over the next year, in order to commemorate the countless philosophers who have shaped our world by exploring life’s fundamental questions, the OUP Philosophy team will celebrate a different philosopher every month in their new Philosopher of the Month series. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a Danish philosopher, theologian, and the father of existentialism.
Buddhist moral psychology represents a distinctive contribution to contemporary moral discourses. Most Western ethicists neglect to problematize perception at all, and few suggest that ethical engagement begins with perception. But this is a central idea in Buddhist moral theory. Human perception is always perception-as. We see someone as a friend or as an enemy; as a stranger or as an acquaintance. We see objects as desirable or as repulsive. We see ourselves as helpers or as competitors, and our cognitive and action sets follow in train.
As 2.6 million men and women return home from war, the prevalence of veteran suicide and post-traumatic stress is something that is frequently discussed by civilians, politicians, and the media, but seldom understood. These changes extend beyond psychological readjustment, physical handicap, and even loss of life. The greatest wounds, in fact, may not even be visible to the naked eye. While the traditional dialogue concerning veteran assistance typically involves the availability of institutional services, military hospitals, and other resources, there is an increasing need to address what many call the “moral injuries” sustained by soldiers during combat.
After three inconclusive rounds in the preceding days, in which nobody secured the two-thirds majority needed to win, on the morning of 31 January 2015 a fourth round of voting was held in the Italian Parliament to elect the country’s President. This time, a simple majority of the 1,009 eligible voters (the members of both Chambers of the Parliament plus some delegates from the Regions) was enough to decide the election.
Philosophers love thought experiments. Many of us deploy them as our version of the scientific method: They isolate some feature of our experience and evoke intuitions about it, and these revealed verdicts enable us to adjust relevant theories in light of what we find. Sometimes we appeal to these science fiction cases too quickly when there are plenty of real life cases all around us that are potentially more fruitful.
To celebrate Earth Day on 22 April, we have created a reading list of books, journals, and online resources that explore environmental protection, environmental ethics, and other environmental sciences. Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in the United States. Since then, it has grown to include more than 192 countries and the Earth Day Network coordinate global events that demonstrate support for environmental protection. If you think we have missed any books, journals, or online resources in our reading list, please do let us know in the comments below.
In the philosophy of religion ‘Wittgensteinianism’ is a distinctive position whose outlines are more or less unanimously agreed by both its defenders and detractors. By invoking a variety of concepts to which Wittgenstein gave currency – language games, forms of life, groundless believing, depth grammar, world pictures – the defenders aim to defuse rationalistic criticisms of religion by showing them to be, in the strict sense, impertinent.
We all have experiences as of physical things, and it is possible to interpret these experiences as perceptions of objects and events belonging to a single universe. In Leibniz’s famous image, our experiences are like a collection of different perspective drawings of the same landscape. They are, as we might say, worldlike. Ordinarily, we refer the worldlike quality of our experiences to the fact that we all inhabit the same world, encounter objects in a common space, and witness events in a common time.
Philosophy is one of the oldest fields of study in the world, branching out to various areas. How well do you know the writings of the most influential philosophers? Do you know the difference between sayings from Kant, Nietzsche, and Locke? Take the quiz below to see how well read you are in philosophy.