Philosophy

What is grief?: A personal and philosophical answer

A few years ago, I lost a very close friend. His name was Matt. I found this loss an appalling and bewildering experience, in part because I’d never lost anyone as close. I’d lost my grandparents, but they were all very old when they went; whereas Matt was 12 years younger than me. There is a difference between someone going ‘when their time has come’ and someone being untimely ripped away from one. Furthermore, Matt was exceptionally full of energy and life.

Religion after the death of God?: the rise of pantheism and the return to the source

“The way you use the word “God” does not show who you mean, but what you mean”. — Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Religion is and always has been much more and much other than just g/God, and certainly than the God of the Abrahamic religions. It is an awesome mistake to tie religion closely only to God, let alone to God as a lone super-person. As the philosopher Wittgenstein once, wonderfully, put it: It is very important that we talk of God’s eye, but not of God’s eyebrows — or eyelashes.

How whales and dolphins can teach us to be less stupid

For those tens of millions of us who have been watching the extraordinary

‘Blue Planet II’, the final programme in the series (which looked at the human-caused threats facing the seas) may have come as both a wake-up call and a disappointment. Disappointment, at what we’ve done to this beautiful planet. And perhaps also, disappointment that the BBC didn’t look deeply enough into why these harms have happened.

What emerges when we reflect more profoundly in this way?

Gaia is dead: we have killed her, you and I: A reworking of Nietzsche’s ‘The Madman’

‘Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: “I seek the living Earth! I seek our planet, with all its riches of life. I seek Gaia!” — As there were many people standing about who did not believe in Gaia, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why! is Gaia lost? said one. Has Gaia strayed away like a child? said another. Or does She keep Herself hidden? Is She afraid of us? Has She taken a space-voyage? — the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub.

Why 'Effective Altruism' is ineffective: the case of refugees

The Effective Altruism (EA) movement has garnered a lot of attention over the last year.

And it got a huge boost with the Zuckerbergs' announcement that they would donate 99% of their Facebook shares to charity.

The EA movement is now the world's largest and most influential organised philanthropy network. So why does it have so little to say about the refugee crisis - surely one of the major humanitarian issues of our time?

The real reason why libertarians become climate-deniers

We live at a point in history at which the demand for individual freedom has never been stronger — or more potentially dangerous. For this demand — the product of good things, such as the refusal to submit to arbitrary tyranny characteristic of ‘the Enlightenment’, and of bad things, such as the rise of consumerism at the expense of solidarity and sociability — threatens to make it impossible to organise a sane, collective democratic response to the immense challenges now facing us as peoples and as a species. ”How dare you interfere with my ‘right’ to burn coal / to drive / to fly; how dare you interfere with my business’s ‘right’ to pollute?” The form of such sentiments would have seemed plain bizarre, almost everywhere in the world, until a few centuries ago; and to uncaptive minds (and un-neo-liberalised societies) still does. But it is a sentiment that can seem close to ‘common sense’ in more and more of the world: even though it threatens to cut off at the knees action to prevent existential threats to our collective survival, let alone our flourishing.

An allegory of a ‘therapeutic’ reading of a film: of Melancholia

  1. This essay is a (more or less philosophical) account or allegory of my viewing(s) of Lars von Trier’s remarkable film, Melancholia (2011). It is personal, and philosophical. (The personal here turns out, potentially, to be philosophical.) Von Trier’s film in turn is clearly among other things a (brilliantly accurate) allegory of (his) depression; and it is also clearly (though at the very same time) much more than that. In expressing my experience of the film and the world (and my experience as a part time mega-melancholic – which is part of my basis for using the adjective “brilliantly accurate” in the previous sentence), my essay is inevitably personal, ‘person-relative’. Furthermore: This is an inevitable feature of therapeutic philosophy, the philosophy practiced most famously by Ludwig Wittgenstein. As the later Gordon Baker for example explained clearly2: such philosophy responds to the individual reader (/ viewer). And vice versa. In a kind of dialogue or (to use the term that Melancholia prefers) dance…

How ecologism is the true heir of both socialism and conservatism

I recently debated with Roger Scruton at the LSE on this question (you can listen to the podcast). This short article examines a couple of my main conclusions and from my own ongoing work in this area. My aim is to show how ecologism is the true heir of both socialism and conservatism, properly understood. A ‘socialism’ based in local and historical traditions; in the land, in resistance – a genuinely egalitarian socialism learning from Karl Polanyi and Andre Gorz more in the final analysis than from Karl Marx (let alone from John Rawls), and owing much in the present day in this country to Simon Fairlie and Maurice Glasman. And a ‘conservatism’ that is actually serious about conserving our ecosystems – a conservatism owing much in the present day to John Gray and Roger Scruton, as well as to ‘radical conservative’ thinkers such as Gandhi and Ivan Illich.

The philosophical and political implications of 'The Spirit Level'

If you want a primer on Wilkinson and Pickett's joint book The Spirit Level, then the pieces here are worth a look (one by me). And for a comprehensive set of responses to their critics, including a pre-emptive strike against Gerry Hassan’s recent piece on OK this is all you need. (It is worth noting too that Wilkinson and Pickett’s work is peer-reviewed; that of their critics isn’t.)

For me as a philosopher, the thing about The Spirit Level that is most exciting is that as a study of the pervasive harms of inequality it strongly suggests that John Rawls's 'difference principle', which says that inequalities are OK provided that they materially benefit the worst off, a principle that has dominated political philosophy for 40 years, is simply wrong. Empirically wrong.