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 ...

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 ...

Hartmut Rosa and the Concept of ‘Resonance’

In a technological world driven by intense productivity and relentless competition, individuals are caught between the imperative to be more efficient ‘performers’ and the natural need to slow down, recuperate and revive themselves. Heir to the Frankfurt School for Social research, the German philosopher and sociologist Hartmut Rosa offers a new approach of twenty-first life after his well-received critique of our high-speed society Alienation and Acceleration, published in 2010. Constantly bombarded by external stimuli, we seem to have lost the will ...

Philosophers and Politics

Disillusioned by his failed mission to turn the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius II into a Philosopher-King, Plato immortalised, in the Allegory of the Ship, the isolation of the philosopher in a world plagued by false ideas and unprincipled politicians. His mentor Socrates kept away from political intrigues to concentrate on his ‘daemon’ (or ‘spirit’) and how to reach truth through his ‘maieutic' method of eliciting new ideas through argumentative dialogue. Diogenes shared Socrates’ splendid detachment from public affairs as illustrated by ...

Philosophising in the Shadow of Trees

When gathering his students outside the Academy, did Plato urge them to sit in the shade of (already) ancestral olive trees or did he urge them to stand in-between the shadow of its imposing columns? Apart from the Buddha, longing for spiritual experience under a Bodhi tree, philosophers do not seem to lift their heads to admire these mute witnesses of historical events and by-gone generations. And yet, the first (possibly philosophical) conversations of our remote ancestors took place in ...

Herbert Marcuse, Catalyst of the 60’s Protest Movements

Today, who remembers or even reads Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), post-Marxist theoretician and last proponent of a society founded on total human emancipation and personal self-accomplishment? In The One Dimensional Man (1964), his scathing attack of the ‘ideology of advanced industrial society’, Marcuse deplored the narrowing down of modern consumers’ aspirations as ‘they recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.’ Exiled to America with his fellow-members of the Frankfurt School of Social ...

Bergson and Proust on Time and Memory

In his 1910 doctoral thesis entitled Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, Henri Bergson (1859–1941) argued against the received quantifying method of dividing time into countable units which ignored and simply disposed of its psychological dimension. Instead, he developed a new theory of time, conceived as an essentially subjective experience, introducing the concept of ‘pure duration’ made out of ‘nothing but a succession of qualitative changes, which melt into and permeate one another, without ...

Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou’ Relation

In an age where identity is being questioned in the light of the latest technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, Martin Buber’s thought is a welcome reminder of how our relation with others remains the deepest and most solid foundation of our morality and humanity. Steeped in Jewish theology and culture, Buber (1878–1965) was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century as he transcended his own Jewish faith to encompass the Christian tradition and offer the ...

The Late Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (Part 2)

The origin and nature of ‘belief’ was Russell’s central philosophical preoccupation throughout his long life. In The Problems, he delineates five different causes which are: A spontaneous unconscious inference between a world like ‘fire’ and a physical, verbal, visual or psychological reaction to it. In this respect, such a belief can be found in animal as well as human behaviour as in the case of a cat rushing to his mistress every time the latter calls out the word ‘fish’ ...

The Late Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (Part 1)

By the time My Philosophical Development was published in 1959, forty seven years after The Problems of Philosophy, Russell’s ‘realist’ and ‘atomist’ phases had given way to a form of empiricism grounded in the first-hand experience of common sense but informed by Hume’s philosophy and complemented by some of the conclusions of modern psychology. The late Russell continued to object to Kant for placing epistemological knowledge inside the subject, through the ‘categories’ while leaving the extra-mental in the object itself. His ...