Fri 22nd Sept – Against Empathy – John Little

A prevailing view in moral psychology holds that empathy (the capacity to feel what others feel, to delight and suffer with them) plays a key role in morality and in motivating pro-social and altruistic actions. Indeed the absence of empathic emotion is seen to be a key feature of psychopathy.

Recently, Jesse Prinz and Paul Bloom have challenged this view and have argued that empathy does not play a foundational or causal role in morality – neither needed nor necessarily helpful. They suggest that in fact the presence of empathetic emotions is harmful to morality.

Autumn 2017 Schedule

Date                   Speaker                Subject

22 September      John Little                Against Empathy

29 September      Suresh Surendran   Hinduism

6 October             Ned Pegler               Ancient DNA & the birth of Modern Europe

13 October           Vernon Griffiths       The Laughing Romantics

20 October           tbc                             tbc

27 October           Gerry Merrison         What do we mean by the Meaning of Life?

3 November          Paul Archer             Designing Welfare

10 November        James Shires          Security: Knowledge or Practice

17 November        Neil Howard             The Impact of AI/Robotics on Work & Education

24 November        Chris Eddy               What is Logic and where did it come from?

1 December          Mark Everard            Reconnecting Water, People and Wildlife

8 December          G. Hannon/G. Loyden       Chavs in the Age of Robotics

15 December        Larry Chase               Desert Island Books

Fri 19th May – Nationhood and National Feeling – Paul Archer

The new breed of nationalists like Marie Le Pen argue that the really important axis in modern politics is no longer between left and right but between the patriots  / nationalists and the globalists / internationalists.   I think we need to learn to navigate this difficult and uncomfortable territory because it is much too dangerous to leave it in the hands of politicians like Le Pen and Trump.  In this spirit, I want to think about the good arguments on both sides and ask what counts as good and bad nationhood.

Fri 28th April – Dennett’s ‘From Bacteria to Bach and Back’ – John Little

How did we come to have minds?

For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivalled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.

That is now changing, says Daniel Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection.

Fri April 7th – Re-Imagining the Supernatural – Chris Eddy

The word “supernatural” means above nature, and the supernatural has traditionally been imagined as a higher reality, typically a Divine Creator, existing before the Creation, from whom all that we think of as “natural” has descended; but the natural sciences have gradually drained this image of all credibility. Consequently, if we wanted to find a way for scientifically educated people to talk meaningfully about the supernatural, we should need to re-imagine it, and one way of doing this might be to think of the supernatural not in the traditional image of a pre-existing First Cause that created the physical universe, but rather as a Final Effect that appeared only after the Big Bang, after the emergence of life on Earth and after even the evolution of our own species. We could think of it as a reality that has risen above(or “transcended”) the processes of nature.

I shall argue that there are well-attested examples of entirely rational and consciously principled human action which can’t be explained in terms of any kind of natural motive and which must therefore be regarded as miraculous, i.e., supernaturally motivated.

Fri March 31st – Prison – what is it good for? – Paul Archer

As of Friday last week, there were 86,515 people in prison in England and Wales which is around 3 in 2000 of the total population.  I want to review the best research about this prison population including the nature of offences and sentences, the explanation for the extraordinary rise in the prison population over the past decades, the personal characteristics of prisoners (including their mental health), the conditions in prisons, and how we compare with other nations.  I then want to reflect upon the purposes of prison and ask what is prison good for.

Fri March 24th – History as the Art of Making the Past Coherent – Larry Chase

The philosopher-historian R G Collingwood wrote of history as “a negotiation between past and present” and during the talk I want to play around with this epigram. Throughout the nineteen-fifties and sixties, philosophers repeatedly questioned if historians could be objective and accurate given that they are tainted by having to address the past through modern eyes. It’s a fair, relevant concern but not mine for my interest is in the reverse. Travelling around the UK, almost every town identifies itself as “historic”: the churches, dockyards, pubs (etc) carry the same sign and too often this means no more than something is very old and thereby gives it a kind of kudos whereas educators and the government mean something more substantial. Saying that the battlefield at Hastings is historic implies relevance or resonance in the here and now and I want to look at the hold that, in this culture, the facts and fictions of the past has on understanding  the present.