Two Conceptions of Philosophy: Williamson vs Scruton (Part 2)

In his response to Roger Scruton’s conception of philosophy, published in The Times Literary Supplement, dated 3 November 2017, Professor Williamson adopts a measured and rigorous approach, expected of a logician and philosopher of language. He first finds fault with his colleague’s assumption that the subject of experience ‘is not part of the empirical world’. What of the study of historical agents whose motivations can, indeed, be analysed scientifically by ‘adapting one’s methods to the nature of the problem (at ...

Two Conceptions of Philosophy: Scruton vs Williamson (Part 1)

To try and give a definition of ‘philosophy’ is as pointless as explaining how to ride a bike without inviting the person to just sit in the saddle and start pedalling. Philosophy is, first and foremost, a discursive activity and the voluble, often verbose, Socrates is its perfect embodiment. Born at a time of political turmoil and great mathematical developments, philosophy whose natural curiosity touches on every possible subject, soon found itself torn between solving moral and political issues, on ...

The Best Philosophy Books of 2017: Part 2

Two books, selected by Nigel Warburton in his choice of the best Philosophy books of 2017, focus on the best ways to achieve inner harmony and ultimate wisdom. The first one is Buddhism is True by Robert Wright who sets out to critically analyse ‘the science and philosophy of meditation and enlightenment’. Wright who previously traced the evolution of the human brain in his acclaimed Moral Animal, combines here the lessons of psychology and philosophy of religion as well as personal ...

The Best Philosophy Books of 2017 (Part 1)

Interviewed for the website fivebooks.com, the popular philosopher Nigel Warburton, author of A Little History of Philosophy and Philosophy: The Basics, recommends five books which, in their variety, constitute excellent guides to five different ways of approaching and studying the subject. His first choice goes to a book on the friendship between the Scottish empiricist David Hume and his friend Adam Smith, famous for his economic theory, developed in The Wealth of Nations, published in the same year as the death ...

Humanist Thoughts for the Festive Season

The festive season is traditionally a time dedicated to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the Christian message of love and peace between all men and all nations. This period of self-collected meditation may also become an opportunity for reflecting on the human condition. William James was the first to offer a purely psychological interpretation of the religious experience away from theological dogmas. His approach was scientific and in this respect the American thinker assumed a non ...

Is Existentialism Obsolete?

In a world increasingly divided by religious faiths, existentialist philosophy, and its message of total human responsibility in a meaningless universe, appears like an obsolete remnant of twentieth-century history. By embracing reality in all its physical, emotional, social and political dimensions, existentialist man is compelled to act in relation to all the various factors which characterise his unique ‘situation’. Time and again, Sartre insists upon the inalienable freedom attached to every single one of our decisions and ultimate actions. At ...

On the sources of political authority

Authority without expressed consent is nothing short of autocratic power or as the Ancients called it, tyranny. On the other hand, to preside over a politically educated, active citizenry is true democracy. If authority is the ultimate justification for exercising power, sovereignty remains the very foundation of its legitimacy. It is in the name of popular sovereignty that revolutions erupted in America, France and Russia. The very moment the legitimacy of a political leader is undermined, authority soon erodes to ...

In praise of ‘necessary and wonderful science’

For the past forty years, Richard Dawkins has proved a formidable controversialist and his latest collection of essays, lectures and articles, published under the title ‘Science in the Soul’, confirms his central place and influence in the ongoing debate between religion and science, or shall we say, between emotions and reason. Dawkins always had many detractors who see in his lifelong defence of the Darwinian heritage, a rabid attack on deeply felt beliefs in holy religious texts. As an evolutionary ...

Philosophy in Western Movies

The summer break should be an opportunity to get away from academic books and maybe indulge in the discovery of inspiring novels. But what about films? Twentieth-century philosophers have, on the whole, neglected what the French call ‘le septième art’ as very few thinkers critically studied the moving image, with the exceptions of Gilles Deleuze (‘Cinéma’) or Jean Baudrillard who deconstructed the hypnotic power of images in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. But what of the young Sartre, who declared himself an ...

Descartes’ wax experiment and the project of pure enquiry

Descartes’ rejection of scholastic philosophy is the first step in his systematic questioning and radical re-examining of the foundations of knowledge. The medieval interpretation of the physical world entailed an absolute and unquestionable belief in ‘substantive forms’ or inherent essences, manifesting themselves in phenomena such as fire, regarded as ‘consubstantial’, that is, being intrinsically associated, with the presence of fire. In his ‘Meditations’, Descartes sets out to question the origins of our beliefs in order to make us reevaluate them in ...