Fri 23rd Feb – The Future of Housing – Paul Archer

I believe that social science is ultimately about learning from history and so I want to reflect upon the future of housing by looking back at the last one hundred years.  In particular, how did we get from a nation in which 90% of dwellings were privately rented in 1914 to a nation in which 71% of dwellings were owner occupied in 2002.  And why does the great historic process of growing home ownership (and wealth levelling) appear to have gone into reverse over the past 15 years?  Is this part of the growing inequality which the most interesting social thinkers of our time (Thomas Piketty and Walter Scheidel) believe to be the natural default tendency within human societies? What is to be done?
This is a change to the advertised programme.

Fri 16th Feb – Your Personal Data – Jeremy Holt

When I first Googled myself I was astonished at the amount of information about me that was publicly available.

What is the correct balance between individual privacy and an open society?

Should we be concerned about the immense (and rising) power of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple?

Fri 9th Feb – Evidence-Based Ethics – Chris Eddy

The law is subject to ethical limits, in the sense that, as responsible agents, we are implicitly committed to not doing anything, even by law, that we can’t justify. This is what we mean when we say that the law is required to be just.

More than a year ago, several ex-HSBC executives were sent to jail. In the last 12 months a doctor was jailed for surreptitiously taking intimate photos of female patients. This year the masseur for a US national athletics team was jailed for 175 years for touching young female athletes inappropriately, the judge saying, in gloating tones, “I’ve just signed your death-warrant.”

 Considering the offences of which these people were convicted, these sentences go far beyond what’s required to keep the public safe from any threat they pose: they make no sense except as punishments, i.e., as harm inflicted intentionally on the convicts, and I want to consider whether, in the light of such evidence as is available, there is any justification for sentences of that kind?

Fri 26th Jan – Desert Island Books – Marina Strinkovsky

Marina will be revealing and discussing the books that she would take to her Desert Island.

Her choices were

1.  Thais of Athens [in Russian] –  Ivan Efremov

2.  The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

3.  Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

4.  Mansfield Park – Jane Austen

5.  Defenders of the Truth – Ullica Segerstale

6.  The Value of Nothing – Raj Patel

7.  Bloodlands – Timothy Snyder.

{8.  Middlemarch – George Eliot}

Music – Voce Abuso (a Brazilian pop song)




Fri 19th Jan – Why Do We Have Ethics? – Dr Don Cameron


Following Hume, no conclusion about a value can be derived by reasoning about facts alone; at least one value premise is required. From this it can be shown that all the values that arise in society must “boot up” from genetically programmed values. The mechanisms by which these have evolved during our long past as social animals are reviewed, together with the processes of the continuing social augmentation of values.

Our values may have been originally determined by selection of those leaving the most descendants, yet they do not do that in the modern world. To judge what is correct now, we have no criterion other than our existing values. This question may have no solution, but it is (or should be) the most important in philosophy today.

Dr Don Cameron is convenor of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution.

Fri Jan 12th – The Wisdom of Uncertainty – John Little

“Know thyself,” is a precept as old as Socrates. But cognitive researchers from Freud to Kahneman have shown just how difficult this can be. Not only is the mind now seen as a veritable hodgepodge of evolutionary adaptive modules* (the purpose of which is not to establish truth or to reason effectively) but the capacity of human beings to spin and believe stories borders on the truly bizarre. It is this ability to confabulate that I want to explore, using examples from hypnosis, past life regression, split brain research, recovered memory, brain damage, the fantasy life of children, and religion (not to mention ordinary, everyday life).

I want to argue that confabulation (and its cousin, rationalisation) is not confined to the clinically ill or the exotic beliefs of the more simple minded, but is a universal (I almost said defining) feature of the human intellect that we have at least to be aware of, and preferably be on our guard against.

*”All natural selection “cares about” is what traits will get an animal’s genes into the next generation. If having an illusion, having a distorted view of yourself or of other people has helped get genes into the next generation, then distortion can actually be built into the human mind.”                     Robert Wright – Why Buddhism is True.