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Tintern Philosophy Circle ~ Philosophy for All

Updated 16 December 2016

Meetings in 2016

19 January

Vanessa Dodd on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the real monster behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?

The novel Frankenstein is famous as a critique of science and the dangers of man overreaching himself. The talk will present a new approach which will emphasise Rousseau's in influence on Shelley and show how the novel is a critique of his philosophy, and especially of his theories on the 'natural man'..

16 February

John Clarke on Human Rights. Animal Rights. Some Philosophical Issues

Rights in various forms have had a huge impact on the shaping of modern liberal democratic theory and practice, and today the concept is very much alive with, for example, the resurgence of the Civil Rights movement in the USA, and the intended scrapping of the Human Rights Act. The talk will outline the historical evolution of the principle of human rights, and will examine some of the philosophical questions surrounding it. Special attention will be paid to the extension of the concept of rights to non-human animals.

The issue of animal rights was first brought into philosophical debates by Peter Singer in his controversial and very readable book Animal Liberation. A useful introduction to the general question of human rights is Jack Donnelly's Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice

15  March

Steve Eddy Can the ends justify the means?

The talk will look at humanity's attempts to coerce others into giving into demands by violent means, focusing especially on what terrorists want and how governments respond. It will explore what utilitarianism might have to say about these issues, and compare this with an approach based on the moral absolutes of duty-based ethics. Expect to hear something about Bentham, J. S. Mill, Kant, the IRA, ISIS and the terrorist who became an international hero!

19 April

John Clarke Kant and the European Enlightenment

Immanuel Kant is often looked upon as the greatest modern philosopher who, in his own words, brought about a 'Copernican Revolution' in human thought. What exactly was that 'revolution'? Was it really as world-changing as he claimed? And do his ideas still have relevance today?

If you want a good read on the 18th century Enlightenment which details the contribution to it by philosophers, we recommend Anthony Pagden's The Enlightenment and Why it Still Matters.

17 May

Margaret Majumdar on Sartre and Political Commitment

Following John Clarke’s recent talk on Sartre in November 2015, I will take up where he left off and discuss the attempts Sartre made to reconcile his existentialist philosophy of freedom with the need for political commitment in the run up to World War II and beyond. I will also focus on his subsequent positions, particularly with reference to Marxism and the politics of the Left, as well as the anticolonial struggles, most notably those around the Algerian War of Independence.

21 June

 Bob Clarke Understanding the Hierarchy of Life

How do we understand the complex phenomenon of life? We usualy employ a hierarchy of 'levels', running up from physics, via biochemistry, genetics, the cellular and multicellular on to conscious life, and beyond that to ecosystems & perhaps up to James Lovelock's 'Gaia'. There have always been strong disagreements between those who favour 'top down' (e.g. cultural) and those who favour 'bottom up' (e.g. materialist, reductionist) explanations, but in recent times serious philosophical and scientific movements have sought to reconcile them. This talk will survey the ways in which they are approaching this reconciliation, and will aim to see why such a reconciliation should be seen as an important human enterprise

19 July

John Clarke discusses the question is democracy in crisis?

This seemed to be an especially important topic of philosophical interest at the present time.

Philosophers have debated the merits and drawbacks of democracy since the time of Plato, but in recent times democratic institutions, and the principles on which they are founded, have come under especially severe scrutiny, with people complaining that elected governments are too remote and indifferent to their needs and opinions, with many not interested in voting, or accusing politicians of corruption or of deception. John will open up the discussion by outlining some of the philosophical issues behind the rise of democracy in the modern world, and by indicating some of the main issues which face us today.

We can recommend the following book, published in 2013: Yannis Papadoploulos: Democracy in Crisis: Politics, Governance and Policy. Also, less academic and more provocative is David Graeber: The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement

20 September

Dr Matt Dunn How much can we know from our senses?

The world we perceive is inherently subjective. Recent developments in psychophysics demonstrate that our internal model of the world is constantly updated by the incoming stream of sensory information, in order to provide an experience that appears stable and allows us to act quickly on new information. Our expectations and previous experiences literally colour our view of the world. To varying degrees, vision scientists are beginning to challenge the view that this 'internal model' is a truthful account of the external world. This talk will overview some of the mysteries of visual neuroscience and discuss what happens in neurological patients when perceptual stability breaks down. We will discuss how much we can know about the world from direct observation, and review how the limits of our own senses relate to those of other animals.

18 October

John Clarke Creativity: Myth or Mysticism?

Artists and poets are said to be 'creative', but what exactly does this mean? And where does the idea come from - who created it? Is it just a myth invented by Romantic poets? Or is it a special mystical talent confined to a privileged few? Or stolen from theology? And why is there so much talk about creativity nowadays in fields ranging from business management and marketing to education and personal development? Does it say something about our contemporary worldview?

15 November

Dr Peter Sedgwick on Nietzsche's Philosophy

20 December

Steve England on Time for Bergson and Heidegger