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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How well do you know Ludwig Wittgenstein? [quiz]

This June, we’re featuring Ludwig Wittgenstein as our philosopher of the month. Born into a wealthy industrial family in Austria, Wittgenstein is regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century for his work around the philosophy of language and logic. Take our quiz to see how well you know the life and studies of Wittgenstein.

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Real change in food systems needs real ethics

In May, we celebrated the third annual workshop on food justice at Michigan State University. Few of the people who come to these student-organized events doubt that they are part of a social movement. And yet it is not clear to me that the “social movement” framing is the best way to understand food justice, or indeed many of the issues in the food system that have been raised by Mark Bittman or journalists such as Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan or Barry Estabrook.

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How is the mind related to the body?

At one point in the recent film The Imitation Game the detective assigned to his case asks Alan Turing whether machines could think. The dialogue that follows is perhaps not very illuminating philosophically, but it does remind us of an important point: the computer revolution that Turing helped to pioneer gave a huge impetus to interest in what we now call the mind-body problem. In other words, how is the mind related to the body? How could a soggy grey mass such as the brain give rise to the extraordinary phenomenon of consciousness?

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The role of logic in philosophy: A Q&A with Elijah Millgram

Elijah Millgram, author of The Great Endarkenment, Svantje Guinebert, of the University of Bremen, to answer his questions and discuss the role of logic in philosophy. On other occasions, you’ve said that logic, at least the logic that most philosophers are taught, is stale science, and that it’s getting in the way of philosophers learning about newer developments. But surely logic is important for philosophers. Would you like to speak to the role of logic in philosophy?

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Paradox and flowcharts

The Liar paradox arises when we consider the following declarative sentence: This sentence is false. Given some initially intuitive platitudes about truth, the Liar sentence is true if and only if it is false. Thus, the Liar sentence can’t be true, and can’t be false, violating out intuition that all declarative sentences are either true or false (and not both). There are many variants of the Liar paradox. For example, we can formulate relatively straightforward examples of interrogative Liar paradoxes, such as the following Liar question: Is the answer to this question “no”?

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Philosopher of the month: Ludwig Wittgenstein

This June, the OUP Philosophy team are proud to announce that Ludwig Wittgenstein is their Philosopher of the Month. Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-born philosopher and logician, regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. Wittgenstein was born the youngest of eight children into a wealthy industrial family in Vienna, Austria. He intended on studying aeronautical engineering, but his interest in the philosophy of mathematics led him to Cambridge where he studied under Bertrand Russell.

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What made Russell feel ready for suicide?

In early May 1913 Bertrand Russell sat down to write a book on the theory of knowledge, his first major philosophical work after Principia Mathematica. He set a brisk pace for himself – ten pages a day at first, up to twelve by mid-May. He was “bursting with work” and “felt happy as king”. By early June he had 350 pages. 350 pages in one month!He never finished the manuscript. Some parts of it were published as journal articles, but the book itself was never completed. (It was later published posthumously under the title Theory of Knowledge.) What went wrong?

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Is pleasure all that matters?

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.

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Authoritative speech

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.

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An interview with the Editor of The Monist

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.

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How much do you know about Søren Kierkegaard? [quiz]

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.

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Being true to your true self

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.

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Philosophie sans frontières

“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.

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Do we choose what we believe?

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.’

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Philosopher of the month: Søren Kierkegaard

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.

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What can we learn from Buddhist moral psychology?

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.

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