Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

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Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:49 pm

AC Grayling: 'How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously'

In his new book, The Good Book: A Secular Bible, the philosopher sets out his manifesto for rational thought. He talks about why religion angers him, the power of philosophy – and his mane of hair

Decca Aitkenhead guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 April 2011 21.00 BST


AC Grayling with his dog Misty. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi

In the unholy trinity of professional atheists, AC Grayling has always tended to be regarded as the good cop. Less coldly clinical in tone than Richard Dawkins, less aggressively combative than Christopher Hitchens, Grayling approaches the God debate with a gently teasing charm that could almost – but should never – be mistaken for conciliation. "Yes, I'm the velvet version," he chuckles.


The Good Book: A Secular Bible by A. C. Grayling

So he insists that his new book does not belong in the same canon as Dawkins's The God Delusion and Hitchens's God Is Not Great. "No, because it's not against religion. There's not one occurrence of the word God, or afterlife, or anything like that. It doesn't attack religion, it's a positive book, there's nothing negative in it. People may think it's against religion – but it isn't." But then he says, with a mischievous twinkle: "Of course, what would really help the book a lot in America is if somebody tries to shoot me."

With any luck it shouldn't come to that, but Grayling is almost certainly going to upset a lot of Christians, for what he has written is a secular bible. The Good Book mirrors the Bible in both form and language, and is, as its author says, "ambitious and hubristic – a distillation of the best that has been thought and said by people who've really experienced life, and thought about it". Drawing on classical secular texts from east and west, Grayling has "done just what the Bible makers did with the sacred texts", reworking them into a "great treasury of insight and consolation and inspiration and uplift and understanding in the great non-religious traditions of the world". He has been working on his opus for several decades, and the result is an extravagantly erudite manifesto for rational thought.

In fact everything about Grayling is extravagantly erudite. We meet at his south London home, where he sits surrounded by teetering piles of books, great leaning towers of learning, and the conversation frequently detours into donnish tutorial mode. Spotting me glance at one of the volumes, which bears the title Epiphenomenalism, he launches at once into a detailed explanation of the concept – but then breaks off in delight as his dog trots in and rolls at his feet.

"Ooh, look at you, Misty!" he gurgles, bending to rub her stomach. "Ooh, you like that, don't you! Why don't you play outside? Oh, you want to stay and be interviewed? Ooh, you'd make an interesting interviewee, wouldn't you!" Then, moments later we are back in a tutorial. "If you're not careful," he smiles, "I'll explain the inter-substitutivity of co-referential terms salva veritate," and sure enough he does.

Who does he think will read The Good Book? "Well, I'm hoping absolutely every human being on the planet." He's sure that a lot of people will wonder just who he thinks he is, to have written a bible, but doesn't appear particularly troubled by this prospect. "The truth is that the book is very modestly done. My wife did give me a card," he giggles, "that said, 'I used to be an atheist until I realised I am God'. And I know that on Monty Pythonesque grounds there's a good likelihood that in five centuries time I will be one, as a result of this." He lets out another little chuckle. "But I certainly don't feel like one now, that's for sure."

The little jokes and kindly bearing can make Grayling sound quite benignly jovial about religion at times, as he chuckles away about "men in dresses" and "believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden", and throws out playfully mocking asides such as, "You can see we no longer really believe in God, because of all the CCTV cameras keeping watch on us." But when I suggest that he sounds less enraged than amused by religion, he says quickly: "Well, it does make me angry, because it causes a great deal of harm and unhappiness."

He is very cross, for example, with the question in the current census that asks: "What is your religion?" The British Humanist Society has just conducted a poll that asked those surveyed if they were religious – to which 65% said no. But when asked, "What is your religion?" 61% of the very same people answered Christian. "You see, they say, 'Oh well, nominally I suppose I'm Christian.' But two-thirds of the population don't regard themselves as religious! So we have to try to persuade society as a whole to recognise that religious groups are self-constituted interest groups; they exist to promote their point of view. Now, in a liberal democracy they have every right to do so. But they have no greater right than anybody else, any political party or Women's Institute or trade union. But for historical reasons they have massively overinflated influence – faith-based schools, religious broadcasting, bishops in the House of Lords, the presence of religion at every public event. We've got to push it back to its right size."

Atheists, according to Grayling, divide into three broad categories. There are those for whom this secular objection to the privileged status of religion in public life is the driving force of their concern. Then there are those, "like my chum Richard Dawkins", who are principally concerned with the metaphysical question of God's existence. "And I would certainly say there is an intrinsic problem about belief in falsehood." In other words, even if a person's faith did no harm to anybody, Grayling still wouldn't like it. "But the third point is about our ethics – how we live, how we treat one another, what the good life is. And that's the question that really concerns me the most."

It's only in the past decade that these three strands of thought have developed into a public campaign against faith – but it wasn't the atheists, according to Grayling, who provoked the confrontation. "The reason why it's become a big issue is that religions have turned the volume up, because they're on the back foot. The hold of religion is weakening, definitely, and diminishing in numbers. The reason why there's such a furore about it is that the cornered animal, the loser, starts making a big noise."

Even if this is true, however, the atheist movement has been accused of shooting itself in the foot by adopting a tone so militant as to alienate potential supporters, and fortify the religious lobby. I ask Grayling if he thinks there is any truth in the charge, and he listens patiently and politely to the question, but then dismisses it with a shake of the head.

"Well, firstly, I think the charges of militancy and fundamentalism of course come from our opponents, the theists. My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we're doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don't like it," he laughs. "So we speak frankly and bluntly, and the respect agenda is now gone, they can no longer float behind the diaphanous veil – 'Ooh, I have faith so you mustn't offend me'. So they don't like the blunt talking. But we're not burning them at the stake. They've got to remember that when it was the other way around it was a much more serious matter.

"And besides, really," he adds with a withering little laugh, "how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don't collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It's like sleeping furiously. It's just wrong."

If Grayling does have one fundamentalist article of faith, it is that all of us are capable of understanding philosophy. He grew up in a colonial family in what is now Zambia, where the grownups' chief preoccupation was adultery, leaving him free to bury himself in books. He first read Plato at 12, and says enthusiastically, "Anybody could read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in the bath, it's great stuff!" – although I suspect his idea of an easy read may not be the same as yours or mine.

The author of 30 books, he is a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College in London, and a supernumerary of St Anne's College, Oxford, as well as a UN human rights activist. But he is probably best described by that phrase that tends to make the British uncomfortable – a public intellectual.

"I spent the first half or more of my career in the ivory tower writing technical philosophy, but I recognised very early that academic philosophy is a very narrow part of the field. This is one of my big things: that philosophy belongs to everybody. Until 100 years ago philosophy did belong to everyone. Today, unfortunately, it's become very jargon-laden and scholastic, so it's become very specialised. But a lot of the stuff I've written has been trying to show people that this is part of the conversation mankind has with himself, about all the great questions. We're all intelligent monkeys, 99% of us are perfectly capable of understanding this, and I feel reasonably confident that given enough time and typewriters I could explain most of what goes on in technical philosophy to someone who has no background in it at all."

Is there a sniffy faction within the world of philosophy that takes a dim view of attempts to make the subject more widely accessible?

"Oh, I'm absolutely sure of it. But I also think that attitude has moderated considerably over time. Ten to 15 years ago, when I started to try to do this, I'm pretty sure there was a lot of sniffing going on." He does a bit of his own sniffing, though, a moment later, when I mention the popularity of bestselling writers whom he has described as quasi-philosophers.

"Hmm, yes, the [Alain] de Bottons and so on," Grayling murmurs rather sorrowfully. "He's a perfectly nice fellow, but it's not philosophy. It's cream-puff stuff. What worries me is that someone will go to it thinking, 'Ooh, this is an opportunity to think and find out something', and then they find that it's actually very shallow and doesn't have deep roots. And I do think that people who do this kind of thing should really have done some work and got engaged in something serious, and then they won't make too many mistakes when it comes to trying to introduce others to it."

Nobody could doubt that Grayling has "really done some work". He first had the idea for The Good Book as an undergraduate, and it certainly reads like the opus of an out-and-out workaholic. "I think all of my family would say I was to some extent a workaholic," he agrees, smiling wryly. He lives with his second wife, a novelist, and their 11-year-old daughter, but also has two grownup children from his first marriage, and one can't help suspecting that they all help him connect with a world that wasn't reading Plato at 12.

He attributes his workaholism to the death of his sister, who was murdered in South Africa in her 20s. His feelings towards the continent of his childhood, and of his sister's death, are so painfully tender that it's only in the last year that he has been able to eat any tropical fruit at all. "I've just been able to start eating some mango," he says quietly.

It's a rare moment when Grayling's scrupulously rational mind allows for a glimmer of something more emotionally subjective. But, of course, most people's lives and judgments aren't really guided by rigorous reason at all – which must be maddening to him. So I wonder what he makes of humankind's perverse attachment to non-rational impulses.

"I think they are failing in their responsibility to themselves as intelligent beings. By not being sufficiently reasonable. If you really press them, just ask them, aren't you glad that the people who built the aeroplane you fly in used reason? Aren't you glad that the pilots were trained according to reason? Aren't you glad that your doctor or train driver thinks about what they do and uses reason? And they will say yes. Then you say, 'Well, OK, if that's the case then how about applying it to your own life as well?'"

We've come to the end, and I have one more question. Can I ask, I venture tentatively, about your hair?

"Oh God, my hair."

He is invariably described as the lion-maned philosopher, so I'm curious to know how he maintains his magnificent locks. "Well, I don't really use very many products," he says. "It must look very artificial, but it isn't, and I do get a lot of stick for it. I put a bit of sticky stuff just to hold it up there – I don't know what the brand is, it's a sort of little thing of hairspray. I mean any sticky thing will do just to keep the front up."

It must require a lot of attention, though, doesn't it? "No, it doesn't really, but I do get a lot of stick for it. You see, I used to have very, very long hair in the 60s, so this is very restrained for me. But I said to my kids a few years ago, I'm going to shave all my hair off, I keep getting all this stick about it – I'm going to shave it all off. They said: 'No! You won't look the same, it won't be you.'"

He says he isn't remotely vain, but he does look like someone who cares a great deal about his appearance. "Ooh, well, that's very kind of you to say," he smiles. "I'm not self-conscious or aware of myself. I just give the wrong impression with this hairstyle. This may seem an odd thing to say, and I'm sure psychologists would pounce on this, but actually – well, actually, I don't sort of exist. The rest of the world does, and I'm really interested in it. If there's a group of people sitting round, and I think about it afterwards, I always fail to remember that I was there, if you see what I mean."

So when he sees himself in group photographs?

"Oh, I'm surprised to see there I am! Yes, very surprised."

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  pinhedz on Wed Apr 13, 2011 9:41 am

Richard Feynman said that the most difficult concepts in mathematics and physics should be explainable in relatively simple terms (relatively simple, meaning in terms of university freshman algebra and geometry, which is beyond the grasp of most people).

Feyman's comment is often quoted, but there is a catch attached, which is less often quoted--he said that understanding the complex concepts in those simple terms requires great intelligence.

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Fri Apr 15, 2011 4:07 pm

The original Guardian "Philosophy is supposed to be difficult" article which inspired this thread on the old ATU site:

*********************************************************************************

Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

We complain about its thorny prose and technical intricacy – but should philosophy really be accessible to all?


Was Plato really, as Simon Blackburn claims, 'writing for humanity'? Photograph: Alamy

A piece by Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn in the current issue of the Society of Authors journal addresses the intractable question of whether philosophy ought to be accessible to the general reader. "The great philosophical writers of the past wrote for humanity," Blackburn begins, enumerating Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Mill and even Wittgenstein. The rot set in, according to him, during the 20th century, with the academicising of the discipline, although the origins of the corruption can be traced back to Hegel and probably Kant, who had "already taught it to speak German". As opposed to common-sense utilitarian English, perhaps (assuming we overlook the classical Greek of Blackburn's first two heroes).

It seems a reckless wager at best to portray Plato as "writing for humanity", when the philosophers in his ideal state are to be kings – that is, not just good at what they do, but rulers over the rest in a hierarchically ordered, rigidly unified polity. If ever a thinker wrote for his own kind, it was him. And, for that matter, do the Philosophical Investigations of Wittgenstein really speak to everybody?

There is nothing new in the phenomenon of theorists in any technical branch of knowledge wondering aloud about whom they are talking to, apart from each other. In the early part of the last century, something of the same conversation was happening in theoretical physics. Ernest Rutherford declared – though the quote is often misattributed to Einstein – that "it should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid", and Einstein himself claimed that all physical theories ought to be capable of so straightforward a description that "even a child could understand them".

But is this such an obviously helpful ideal? Most people don't expect to be able to understand other kinds of specialist discourse. The lay person would understand little or nothing of micro-electronic engineering, has no interest in doing so, and is content to leave it to the initiated. But philosophy is about the world we live in, and our lives in it, Blackburn objects, waving the flag for the enriching humanities against the sterilities of technology. Therefore everybody should be able to understand it. On this view, what differentiates philosophy from science is the fact that it poses questions about the world we live in and our perceptions of it, and even makes suggestions as to what we ought to do in our lives. Neither of those approaches is absent from theoretical science, though. What would be the point of researches into the causes of obesity or the effects of climate change if they didn't tell us, or at least strive to tell us, what we ought to do about such matters?

The point is that philosophy is as much a technical discipline as these other sciences are, and as little capable of being diluted down to words of one syllable. One of the reasons for this is that philosophy isn't necessarily just a set of conclusions. To many of the most recent western thinkers, it is first and foremost a methodology, rather than an attempt to arrive at a fixed theory. The Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor Adorno declared, "The crux is what happens in it, not a thesis or a position… Essentially, therefore, philosophy is not expoundable. If it were, it would be superfluous; the fact that most of it can be expounded speaks against it."

Popularising philosophy became a lucrative publishing trend in the 1990s, with the likes of Alain de Botton, AC Grayling and Jostein Gaarder offering homogenised summaries of the principal thinkers, often presented chronologically as though they represented a gradual progress towards enlightenment, and mined for what they could tell us, in the era of self-help literature, about how to be content with our lives. In their bland readability, these books defeated their own avowed project of getting everybody interested in the great philosophers, by confessing how unreadable the texts of Kant and Hegel themselves must be.

In a final somersault, Blackburn states that making philosophy accessible should not be a question of simplifying it but of bringing people up to its level. So the problem turns out to lie after all not with the attempt to interpret the world, but with the faculties of those who want to hear it interpreted. Always supposing the point isn't, rather, to change it.

Posted by Stuart Walton Friday 25 February 2011 12.01 GMT guardian.co.uk

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011


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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Fri Apr 15, 2011 4:11 pm

A.C. Grayling quotes:


"It takes a certain ingenuous faith - but I have it - to believe that people who read and reflect more likely than not come to judge things with liberality and truth."
— A.C. Grayling (The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century)


"Middle age has been defined as what happens when a person's broad mind and narrow waist change places."
— A.C. Grayling (The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century)


"Just as modern motorways have no room for ox-carts or wandering pedestrians, so modern society has little place for lives and ways that are too eccentric."
— A.C. Grayling (The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life)


"To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries."
— A.C. Grayling


"Misuse of reason might yet return the world to pre-technological night; plenty of religious zealots hunger for just such a result, and are happy to use the latest technology to effect it."
— A.C. Grayling (The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century)


"...mastery of the emotions is fundamental to a virtuous life."
— A.C. Grayling (Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God)


"Just as modern motorways have no room for ox-carts or wandering pedestrians, so modern society has little place for lives and ways that are too eccentric"
— A.C. Grayling (The Meaning of Things)


"The media no longer hesitate to whip up lurid anxieties in order to increase sales, in the process undermining social confidence and multiplying fears."
— A.C. Grayling (Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God)


"The notion that evil is non-rational is a more significant claim for Eagleton than at first appears, because he is (in this book [On Evil] as in others of his recent 'late period' prolific burst) anxious to rewrite theology: God (whom he elsewhere tells us is nonexistent, but this is no barrier to his being lots of other things for Eagleton too, among them Important) is not to be regarded as rational: with reference to the Book of Job Eagleton says, 'To ask after God's reasons for allowing evil, so [some theologians] claim, is to imagine him as some kind of rational or moral being, which is the last thing he is.' This is priceless: with one bound God is free of responsibility for 'natural evil'—childhood cancers, tsunamis that kill tens of thousands—and for moral evil also even though 'he' is CEO of the company that purposely manufactured its perpetrators; and 'he' is incidentally exculpated from blame for the hideous treatment meted out to Job."
— A.C. Grayling


"Eagleton has spent his life inside two mental boxes, Catholicism and Marxism, of both of which he is a severe internal critic—that is, he frequently kicks and scratches at the inside of the boxes, but does not leave them. Neither are ideologies that loosen their grip easily, and people who need the security of adherence to a big dominating ideology, however much they kick and scratch but without daring to leave go, hold on to it every bit as tightly as it holds onto them. The result is of course strangulation, but alas not mutual strangulation: the ideology always wins."
— A.C. Grayling




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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Guest on Sun Apr 17, 2011 9:50 pm


........

Guest
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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  tigerlily on Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:19 pm

Eddie's first post about the book....it's stuff like this that makes ATU so essential for me....being introduced to something I would have never been aware of otherwise.

I have been pondering the idea of religion lately, actually for the past several years, trying to get my head around the idea that, while being raised as a Lutheran, I just don't know if I can buy into all that stuff anymore. So I think I will look for this book, maybe it can help me sort through my own thoughts...

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:30 pm

^

You might like to start with this one, Tigerlily:


The Tao of Pooh- Benjamin Hoff.


The Vinegar Tasters:

Wiki:

The book starts with a description of the vinegar tasters, which is an actual painting portraying the three great eastern thinkers, Confucius, the Buddha, and Laozi over a vat of vinegar. Each tasting the vinegar of "life," Confucius finds it sour, the Buddha finds it bitter, but Laozi, the traditional founder of Taoism, finds it satisfying. Then the story unfolds backing up this analogy.

Hoff presents Winnie-the-Pooh and related others from A. A. Milne's stories as characters that interact with him while he writes The Tao of Pooh, but also quotes excerpts of their tales from Milne's actual books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, in order to exemplify his points. Hoff uses many of Milne's characters to symbolize ideas that differ from or accentuate Taoist tenets. Winnie-the-Pooh himself, for example, personifies the principles of wei wu wei, the Taoist concept of "effortless doing," and pu, the concept of being open to but unburdened by experience. In contrast, characters like Owl and Rabbit over-complicate problems, often over-thinking to the point of confusion, and Eeyore pessimistically complains and frets about existence, unable to just be. Hoff regards Pooh's simpleminded nature, unsophisticated worldview and instinctive problem-solving methods as conveniently representative of the Taoist philosophical foundation. The book also incorporates translated excerpts from various prominent Taoist texts, from authors such as Laozi and Zhuangzi.

The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for 49 weeks and is used as required reading in some college courses.


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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  tigerlily on Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:53 pm

Thank you Eddie Smile

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 30, 2011 4:37 pm

The Good Book: A Secular Bible by AC Grayling – review

And in the year 2011, Anthony the Seer did come forth with flowing locks and dispensed wisdom to the people…

Richard Holloway The Observer, Sunday 24 April 2011


'His locks had not been shorn in many long years': AC Grayling. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian

In my former treatise, Anthropophilus, I described to you the melancholy decline of the old religions of the west. Divided into a thousand competing sects, each with a murderous hatred towards the others, they tore themselves apart over the place of women in their midst and how best to punish those who dared to love members of their own sex. In dismay at the spectacle, the people turned away from them, forsook their temples, and left them to their own sad devices. However, they remembered the wisdom of the Old Book that had guided them for so long, and how it said, "Where there is no vision, the people perish, and they trembled with fear, for they knew not where to turn." It is the purpose of this new treatise, Anthropophilus, to tell you of the things that came to pass in Year I of the Great Instauration or, for those who use the old reckoning, 2011.


The Good Book: A Secular Bible by A. C. Grayling

The people were in great perturbation and their hearts failed them for fear of the things that were coming on the earth. Then arose Anthony the Seer, a man whose locks had not been shorn during the many long years he communed with the ancients in his cave of making. He came forth blinking into the light and delivered unto the people a great book that contained the vision they longed for, and they rejoiced greatly.

Anthony the Seer, though mighty in learning, was a man of modest and courteous demeanour. Afraid that the people might come and try to make him their leader – since that is the kind of thing people who cannot think for themselves are wont to do – he was careful to tell them that he himself was not the author of the visions contained in the book he had brought forth from his cave, he was merely their transmitter and occasional redactor.

Moreover, it was not a new vision he had brought unto them. It was ancient human wisdom, a wisdom that had been suppressed by the dark force of the Old Religion, which hated people thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for their own lives. But now, as the old superstitions retreated in bickering disarray, that older wisdom had found its voice again. All he had done was to gather these ancient traditions and compose them into the narratives now contained in a thick but attractive volume – complete with a blue ribbon to mark the attentive reader's place – he called The Good Book. He urged the people to read it in any way they chose, and grow wise. And the people rose up in their thousands and besieged Amazon to send the book unto them that they might grow wise. And Amazon did as they sought. And lo, the people did indeed grow wise, for truly it was a good book, full of sage counsel, wise advice and comfort for the sorrowing.

Then it was that the Great Instauration came to pass. The Humanist Church of the Ancient Wisdom was formed to provide for the solemn reading – and occasional chanting – of The Good Book. When the Humanists took over Westminster Abbey in 3051, it became their custom, on the anniversary of his death, to carry The Good Book with Lights and Incense to the centre of the nave, where they stood above the place to which the bones of the Great Instaurator had been translated. Then they chanted all 16 chapters of the Book of Lamentations, using the ancient Phrygian tone.

The Humanists' Liturgical Year was entirely built round the Book. January was the month for the recitation of Genesis, February of Wisdom, March of Parables, April of Concord, May of Consolations, June of Sages, July of Songs, August of Proverbs, September of The Lawgivers, October of Acts, November of Epistles, and December of The Good. Using the old reckoning, the 5011 Tercentary Edition of The Good Book removed Histories to a separate appendix, because it was thought to be too long and tedious for public worship. This was the beginning of the Great Schism and the First Humanist War of 5079. By 6011 the people had turned away from the feuds and disputes of the Humanists. Their temples were forsaken. And again the people knew not where to seek for guidance.

Then one day, in the ruins of an ancient library at Lambeth on the south side of the Thames, a collector of ancient technologies found a book called Ecclesiastes. When he had read it, he lit his lamp and ran into the market place to share it with the men assembled there. And this is what he read:

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun."

Richard Holloway was bishop of Edinburgh 1986-2000 and is the author of Between the Monster and the Saint (Canongate)

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:21 pm

This much I knowAC Grayling, philosopher, 60, London


AC Grayling; Interview by Tim Adams

The Observer, Sunday 5 July 2009


Philosopher AC Grayling photographed in London, June 2009. Photograph: Karen Robinson

A human lifespan is less than a thousand months long. You need to make some time to think how to live it.

The democracy of blogging and tweeting is absolutely terrific in one way. It is also the most effective producer of rubbish and insult and falsehood we have yet invented.

I am putting together a secular bible. My Genesis is when the apple falls on Newton's head.

I spent the first 13 years of my life in Zambia. In Africa you can't walk in the countryside and think. You might be eaten by a lion. You have to read instead.

My mother was a straight-up-and-down racist of a very marked kind. She used to laugh at the shopping lists the cook would try to copy out. It would never have occurred to her to teach him to read.

I would imagine Jesus was a kind of Jewish reformer. If you were looking for an equivalent to the figure you dimly perceive through the gospels it would probably be a Richard Dawkins.

I'm a vegetarian, but I wear leather shoes. Some people say that's a contradiction; I say I'm doing my best.

I used to be a terrible hypochondriac when I was young and a great reader of medical dictionaries. One day I realised that I was not actually frightened of terminal illness but of not getting done the things I wanted to get done.

I recently retraced on foot a famous journey that William Hazlitt made from Shropshire to Somerset to visit Wordsworth and Coleridge. I spent two weeks slogging through nettle beds before I realised the bastard had taken the coach.

When I was 14 a chaplain at school gave me a reading list. I read everything and I went back to him with a question: how can you really believe in this stuff?

I'm passionately in favour of legalising heroin and cocaine. But I despise people who depend on these things. If you really want a mind-altering experience, look at a tree.

I don't believe in killing animals, but I think President Obama did a justifiable thing in swatting a fly. Flies spread disease.

Christian churches and Muslim groups have no more right to have their say than women's institutes or trades unions. The government has actively encouraged faith-based education, and therefore given a megaphone to religious voices and fundamentalists.

I have enough faith in statistics to know there must be conscious life on other planets.

Initials can be useful to hide behind. I once heard Jonathan Ross on the radio asking Kirsty Young who she had coming up on Desert Island Discs. When she mentioned "AC Grayling" Ross replied: "Oh, I know her."

Science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty and therefore a mark of maturity. It embraces doubt and loose ends.

I'm not sure it is possible to think too much. You don't refresh your mind by partying in Ibiza.

Life is all about relationships. By all means sit cross-legged on top of a mountain occasionally. But don't do it for very long.

Every professor of philosophy needs a nine-year-old daughter. Mine has a habit of saying, "Daddy, that is a very silly idea." She is always right.

• Liberty in the Age of Terror, by AC Grayling, is published by Bloomsbury, £12.99

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  eddie on Sat Jul 02, 2011 7:33 am

Love's Work by Gillian Rose - review

Last words from a philosopher who loved life

Nicholas Lezard guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 June 2011 10.00 BST

I struggle to think of a finer, more rewarding short autobiography than this. Gillian Rose, professor of social and political thought at Warwick University, and dying of cancer at the age of 48, managed to complete and publish this before her time was up. If her mind could be characterised it would be by a phrase something along the lines of: a fierce vigilance of thought. She was not going to be fooled by anything, and aspired to the persona of Miss Marple. In her professional life she was an implacable and feared opponent of modish reason-denying relativism; and some part of that intellectual struggle continues in these pages. "To destroy philosophy, to abolish or supersede critical, self-conscious reason, would leave us resourceless to know the difference between actuality and fantasy, to discern the distortion between ideas and their realisation." (Rather in the way, she says, that it is actually horribly irresponsible to stop small children playing with guns: it's a manifest "loss of trust" in play as a means of discerning truth from fiction.) It comes as little surprise that, after having found conventional medicine no help in containing or curing her disease ("medicine and I have dismissed each other"), she has even less time for alternative therapies: "From the iatrogenic materiality of medicine to the screwtape spirituality of alternative healing, I am prescribed these equally sickly remedies in a combined dosage which characterises the postmodern condition itself." As you can see, this is far more than just invective, although I wouldn't have been surprised if those around her found her spiky, restless intelligence a little exhausting at times.


Love's Work by Gillian Rose

But this is only a small part of Love's Work. It is, in part, conventional memoir: of her Jewish family, her hugely strained relationship with her father, her much more pleasant relationship with her stepfather, whose surname she adopted; and various love affairs, none of which seem to have ended happily. But that is not the point, to have a happy love affair. "Love" and "life" are for Rose almost interchangeable words; we read the phrase "life affair" more than once. And for those who have suffered for and in love, this may prove to be one of the most useful books they will ever read. Here there are no soupy platitudes which deal with that near-miraculous unlikelihood, the happy and eternal love affair: Rose is the enemy of fatuity, which you had better be, if you are going to give any honest, meaningful answer to the question of whether the agonies of love are worth its joys (or vice versa). "In personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a fundamental change in the terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change . . . There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy."

It might seem that, from the extensive quotation (and I'm not the only critic who has cited so much of her book in review, or admitted to doing so), this is, in more than one sense, a "difficult" book. Well, yes and no. (Who can say where difficulty resides? I couldn't even finish the first sentence of The Da Vinci Code.) Certainly, there is a lot going on in here. The thought is clotted, but I use the word not as it is commonly used, as in harmfully or opaquely congested, but as applied to cream: rich, satisfying, desirable, and to be approached and ingested with respect. It is a short book – 150 pages, along with a coda constituting Geoffrey Hill's poem "In Memoriam: Gillian Rose", which is as typically moving and thought-provoking as you could hope for (and I salute the editor at NYRB whose idea it was to include it) – but it bears much rereading. It is the essence of her philosophical work – I thank her for quoting Hegel on comedy, the only lines of his I can claim to have understood – as well as a meditation on the physical, and not without its moments of stern humour ("nowhere in the endless romance of world literature . . . have I come across an account of living with a colostomy"). It makes profound sense of her chosen epigraph: "Keep your mind in hell, and despair not."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  usеro on Wed Apr 24, 2013 12:28 am

but

was philosophy supposed to be boring/annoying?

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  usеro on Wed Apr 24, 2013 12:54 am

eddie wrote:"I think they are failing in their responsibility to themselves as intelligent beings. By not being sufficiently reasonable. If you really press them, just ask them, aren't you glad that the people who built the aeroplane you fly in used reason? Aren't you glad that the pilots were trained according to reason? Aren't you glad that your doctor or train driver thinks about what they do and uses reason? And they will say yes. Then you say, 'Well, OK, if that's the case then how about applying it to your own life as well?'"
but it's been a long way to aeroplanes and trains. They're not poisoned precisely with lack of reason
eddie wrote:"Just as modern motorways have no room for ox-carts or wandering pedestrians, so modern society has little place for lives and ways that are too eccentric."
eddie wrote:
about Gillian Rose wrote:it is actually horribly irresponsible to stop small children playing with guns: it's a manifest "loss of trust" in play as a means of discerning truth from fiction

I wondered about, recently, if people had their right back (back? oh wait) to kill, would they be more prone to it? As if admitting it of their own "choice"/realisation, wouldn't it give them power but in the end not to kill/for destruction?
And also, if your dog is more agressive than the other street dog, don't you fear yours less (aren't you less frightened with the possibility of his attack) as you two have played and lick and interact naturally? Historically, what do you fear more, a lion or a court?

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Yakima Canutt on Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:48 am

userо wrote:what do you fear more, a lion or a court?

1 The world is all that is the case.

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.

1.12 For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.

1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.

1.2 The world divides into facts.

1.21 Each item can be the case or not the case while everything else remains the same.

2 What is the case--a fact--is the existence of states of affairs.

2.01 A state of affairs (a state of things) is a combination of objects (things).

2.011 It is essential to things that they should be possible constituents of states of affairs.

2.012 In logic nothing is accidental: if a thing can occur in a state of affairs, the possibility of the state of affairs must be written into the thing itself.

2.0121 It would seem to be a sort of accident, if it turned out that a situation would fit a thing that could already exist entirely on its own. If things can occur in states of affairs, this possibility must be in them from the beginning. (Nothing in the province of logic can be merely possible. Logic deals with every possibility and all possibilities are its facts.) Just as we are quite unable to imagine spatial objects outside space or temporal objects outside time, so too there is no object that we can imagine excluded from the possibility of combining with others. If I can imagine objects combined in states of affairs, I cannot imagine them excluded from the possibility of such combinations.

2.0122 Things are independent in so far as they can occur in all possible situations, but this form of independence is a form of connexion with states of affairs, a form of dependence. (It is impossible for words to appear in two different roles: by themselves, and in propositions.)

2.0123 If I know an object I also know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs. (Every one of these possibilities must be part of the nature of the object.) A new possibility cannot be discovered later.

2.01231 If I am to know an object, thought I need not know its external properties, I must know all its internal properties.

2.0124 If all objects are given, then at the same time all possible states of affairs are also given.

2.013 Each thing is, as it were, in a space of possible states of affairs. This space I can imagine empty, but I cannot imagine the thing without the space.

2.0131 A spatial object must be situated in infinite space. (A spatial point is an argument-place.) A speck in the visual field, thought it need not be red, must have some colour: it is, so to speak, surrounded by colour-space. Notes must have some pitch, objects of the sense of touch some degree of hardness, and so on.

2.014 Objects contain the possibility of all situations.

2.0141 The possibility of its occurring in states of affairs is the form of an object.

2.02 Objects are simple.

2.0201 Every statement about complexes can be resolved into a statement about their constituents and into the propositions that describe the complexes completely.

2.021 Objects make up the substance of the world. That is why they cannot be composite.

2.0211 If they world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true.

2.0212 In that case we could not sketch any picture of the world (true or false).

2.022 It is obvious that an imagined world, however difference it may be from the real one, must have something-- a form--in common with it.

2.023 Objects are just what constitute this unalterable form.

2.0231 The substance of the world can only determine a form, and not any material properties. For it is only by means of propositions that material properties are represented--only by the configuration of objects that they are produced.

2.0232 In a manner of speaking, objects are colourless.

2.0233 If two objects have the same logical form, the only distinction between them, apart from their external properties, is that they are different.

2.02331 Either a thing has properties that nothing else has, in which case we can immediately use a description to distinguish it from the others and refer to it; or, on the other hand, there are several things that have the whole set of their properties in common, in which case it is quite impossible to indicate one of them. For it there is nothing to distinguish a thing, I cannot distinguish it, since otherwise it would be distinguished after all.

2.024 The substance is what subsists independently of what is the case.

2.025 It is form and content.

2.0251 Space, time, colour (being coloured) are forms of objects.

2.026 There must be objects, if the world is to have unalterable form.

2.027 Objects, the unalterable, and the subsistent are one and the same.

2.0271 Objects are what is unalterable and subsistent; their configuration is what is changing and unstable.

2.0272 The configuration of objects produces states of affairs.

2.03 In a state of affairs objects fit into one another like the links of a chain.

2.031 In a state of affairs objects stand in a determinate relation to one another.

2.032 The determinate way in which objects are connected in a state of affairs is the structure of the state of affairs.

2.033 Form is the possibility of structure.

2.034 The structure of a fact consists of the structures of states of affairs.

2.04 The totality of existing states of affairs is the world.

2.05 The totality of existing states of affairs also determines which states of affairs do not exist.

2.06 The existence and non-existence of states of affairs is reality. (We call the existence of states of affairs a positive fact, and their non-existence a negative fact.)

2.061 States of affairs are independent of one another.

2.062 From the existence or non-existence of one state of affairs it is impossible to infer the existence or non-existence of another.

2.063 The sum-total of reality is the world.

2.1 We picture facts to ourselves.

2.11 A picture presents a situation in logical space, the existence and non-existence of states of affairs.

2.12 A picture is a model of reality.

2.13 In a picture objects have the elements of the picture corresponding to them.

2.131 In a picture the elements of the picture are the representatives of objects.

2.14 What constitutes a picture is that its elements are related to one another in a determinate way.

2.141 A picture is a fact.

2.15 The fact that the elements of a picture are related to one another in a determinate way represents that things are related to one another in the same way. Let us call this connexion of its elements the structure of the picture, and let us call the possibility of this structure the pictorial form of the picture.

2.151 Pictorial form is the possibility that things are related to one another in the same way as the elements of the picture.

2.1511 That is how a picture is attached to reality; it reaches right out to it.

2.1512 It is laid against reality like a measure.

2.15121 Only the end-points of the graduating lines actually touch the object that is to be measured.

2.1514 So a picture, conceived in this way, also includes the pictorial relationship, which makes it into a picture.

2.1515 These correlations are, as it were, the feelers of the picture's elements, with which the picture touches reality.

2.16 If a fact is to be a picture, it must have something in common with what it depicts.

2.161 There must be something identical in a picture and what it depicts, to enable the one to be a picture of the other at all.

2.17 What a picture must have in common with reality, in order to be able to depict it--correctly or incorrectly--in the way that it does, is its pictorial form.

2.171 A picture can depict any reality whose form it has. A spatial picture can depict anything spatial, a coloured one anything coloured, etc.

2.172 A picture cannot, however, depict its pictorial form: it displays it.

2.173 A picture represents its subject from a position outside it. (Its standpoint is its representational form.) That is why a picture represents its subject correctly or incorrectly.

2.174 A picture cannot, however, place itself outside its representational form.

2.18 What any picture, of whatever form, must have in common with reality, in order to be able to depict it--correctly or incorrectly--in any way at all, is logical form, i.e. the form of reality.

2.181 A picture whose pictorial form is logical form is called a logical picture.

2.182 Every picture is at the same time a logical one. (On the other hand, not every picture is, for example, a spatial one.)

2.19 Logical pictures can depict the world.

2.2 A picture has logico-pictorial form in common with what it depicts.

2.201 A picture depicts reality by representing a possibility of existence and non-existence of states of affairs.

2.202 A picture contains the possibility of the situation that it represents.

2.203 A picture agrees with reality or fails to agree; it is correct or incorrect, true or false.

2.22 What a picture represents it represents independently of its truth or falsity, by means of its pictorial form.

2.221 What a picture represents is its sense.

2.222 The agreement or disagreement or its sense with reality constitutes its truth or falsity.

2.223 In order to tell whether a picture is true or false we must compare it with reality.

2.224 It is impossible to tell from the picture alone whether it is true or false.

2.225 There are no pictures that are true a priori.

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Yakima Canutt on Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:29 am

Im gon tell Uwe about French Philos. How bout JP Sartre. OK wel... when peeps jut out their arm in the manner of the "handshake" ... wel to JP Sartre, occasionally that arm can look like a graet big pointless worm stupidly writhing about etc. Yowzers ehj?

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Yakima Canutt on Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:31 am

user wrote:Im gon tell Uwe about French Philos.  How bout JP Sartre.  OK wel... when peeps jut out their arm in the manner of the "handshake" ... wel to JP Sartre, occasionally that arm can look like a graet big pointless worm stupidly writhing about etc.  Yowzers ehj?
Hehoheho, it's like looking at a spread of candy and spices and tri-coloured pasta, and yu just can't figure out why it's there in the first place, capeesh ROFLF

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Yakima Canutt on Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:34 am

i know right. whatevinator 2000 LMAO

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Yakima Canutt on Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:37 am

"So what I told you was true ... ... from a certain point of the view."   -

^^^Rolling Eyes  gag Bea with a rune, gawd, wot a cop-out rite Rolling Eyes 


Exclamation Arrow Question Arrow Question Exclamation

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  pinhedz on Fri Aug 23, 2013 9:54 am

"...it has a form, it has height, width ..."

Quoting Kant on the few things we can know a priori. geek

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  Yakima Canutt on Fri Aug 23, 2013 1:17 pm

I'm looking at this developing Topic and there's something I must clarify vis a vis my last posting- my "eye-rollers" were directed at the opening Kenobi quote, and NOT at Data's timeless wisdom.


thing is, Kenob is just dishing out a shopworn truism to cover his arse for lying

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

Post  pinhedz on Fri Aug 23, 2013 1:54 pm

Thank you--that needed to be said.  

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Re: Philosophy is supposed to be difficult

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