Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

Hegel on Freedom

Hegel’s conception of freedom is central to his Introduction to the Philosophy of History and his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) in which it is described as one of its most immediately perceived properties. Yet, it is only through philosophy as speculative knowledge that freedom can fulfil itself. For Hegel, universal history is the slow progress of its understanding and advent through three stages: the earliest one is to be found in Antiquity and is epitomised by the autocratic power of ...

The Search for Authenticity

The term ‘authentic’ derives from the Greek ‘autos’ or self and ‘hentes’, originally meaning ‘worker’ and by extension ‘agent’. The notion of authenticity is alien to ancient philosophers for whom only the free man as opposed to slaves, women and children, is capable of a full rational judgement, dictated by a code of honour or informed by moral principles such as the ones developed by Aristotle in his ‘Ethics’. Augustine introduced a spiritual dimension to the self which emphasised the ...

Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy

Back in 1936, the English mathematician, Alan Turing, imagined a theoretical contraption capable of replicating thought processes. The ‘Turing machine’ proved that instances of intelligent cognition could be produced outside a human brain. Artificial intelligence was born and after the war, Turing went on to work on the first stored-program computer, at the University of Manchester. In 1950, in an article published in the philosophy journal Mind, he wrote: ‘I believe that at the end of the century, the use ...

Is Philosophy under Siege?

Is Philosophy the main victim of the latest paradigm of our time, namely, the systematic undermining and denigration of the concept of truth, so central to any philosophical project? This widespread eroding of critical rational thinking is threatening the very nature of philosophy as well as its existing role in our liberal democracies. Philosophy seems to be under siege from many quarters, all eager to proclaim the demise of a so-called intellectual ‘élite', portrayed as the dangerous guardians of obsolete ...

How Postmodernism Undermined our Perception and Knowledge of Truth

The pursuit of truth has been the major preoccupation of philosophers from Thales’ search for the most elementary component of the universe or Heraclitus’ claim that everything is in constant flow down to Descartes’ attempt to found a new science of nature on purely rational principles and Kant’s systematic enquiry into the universal principles of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Generation upon generation of thinkers endeavoured to propose new systems of thought, buttressed by superseding concepts and models. For the twentieth-century ...

My Top Philosophy Books of 2018

OK, I confess: my favourite philosophy book of 2018 was actually published in 2016 and it is American Philosophy: A Love Story, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In his remarkably riveting enquiry into the ‘zeitgeist’ of early twentieth-century American academe, John Kaag recreates the confident and life-affirming philosophy of William Ernest Hocking, a neglected thinker overshadowed by his mentor Josiah Royce and by William James whose Principles of Psychology prompted Hocking to study philosophy at Harvard. Kaag mixes erudition and ...

K.A Appiah and the Search for Contemporary Identity

Born in 1954 of British and Ghanaian descent, Kwame Anthony Appiah was originally interested in problems of semantics and theories of meaning before turning his attention to the impact of a more and more cosmopolitan world on perceptions of identity. He first considered the relation of personal and group identity to the realm of morals in The Ethics of Identity, published in 2005. To what extent are our deepest personal values attached to our inescapable cultural identity? Nineteenth-century liberalism provided a ...

Isaiah Berlin and the Vexing Issue of Liberty

When Isaiah Berlin died in 1997, his conceptions of liberty and value pluralism were to be read within the dying tradition of totalitarian politics, as implemented by Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. For the Russian-born thinker whose family escaped to England in 1921, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx were directly responsible for a warped interpretation of freedom enabling the state to force its citizens to conform to its own needs and ethereal collective aspirations.  His answer was a more realistic solution that ...

On the Dangers of Sophistry

In a world where the concept of ‘truth’ is being questioned daily to the point that it is regarded, by some, as a flexible commodity to be abused in the name of short-sighted self-interest, it is to be wondered whether philosophy is still of any use in an intellectual landscape blurred by so many claims and counterclaims. Socrates found himself in the same situation as ours when he could only deplore the lack of rigour and clarity of his philosophical ...

Mary Midgley: A Combative Philosopher

Mary Midgley, who died on the 10th October 2018, at the age of 99, belonged with Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot to a formidable quartet of gifted philosophers, all educated at Somerville College, Oxford, in the late 1930’s. Midgley was a late developer as her first noteworthy article on ‘The Concept of Beastliness’, appeared in the Journal of Philosophy in 1973, five years before the completion of her book Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature, published ...

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