1st February: Ethics in Humanitarian Fieldwork

This week’s talk is from Anna Hirsch-Holland, who is a Programme Officer in the Recovery Team of the Red Cross’s Disaster Management Department, supporting their humanitarian work around the world. She says:

“Humanitarian principles resonate in almost every human conscience, with few people disputing the fundamental conviction that we should try to prevent and alleviate human suffering.  Yet the reality of being a ‘humanitarian’, or acting according to the humanitarian ethic, is enormously complex and demanding.  Not just in a practical sense, since the humanitarian imperative is so ambitious in scope – aiming to help anyone, anywhere, who is most in need; but also because the humanitarian principles which inspire and guide the realisation of the humanitarian ethic are often unclear, contradictory, and in conflict with other moral principles.  This becomes especially clear, and difficult, when your day job is to be a humanitarian.  This talk will explore some of the value clashes, ethical paradoxes, moral dilemmas, and ambiguous choices that humanitarian practitioners come face to face with on an almost daily basis.”

25th Jan: Romantic Fates / Romantic Freedoms

Weather permitting, this week’s talk will be by Dr David Greenham. He says:

” The problem of free will and fate is, perhaps rightly, seen as intractable. Nevertheless, many thinkers have felt the need to engage with the questions provoked by freedom and fate, especially as a means of understanding God, Good and Evil. In this talk, I shall consider how such questions were addressed by two ‘Romantic’ philosophers: the American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson; and the German Idealist, F. W. J. Schelling, who take their lead from the arguments of Immanuel Kant. The aim of the talk is, perhaps, as much to find out why this problem is intractable, as to support any particular solutions – as such I would hope that a lively discussion will be precipitated by the unarguably controversial, and necessarily unsatisfactory, answers that Schelling and Emerson provide.”

Put your skis on to come and hear more!


18th Jan: Creating the Old Testament: Who Wrote the Old Testament and Why?

This week, Dr Stephen Bigger returns to the Phil Soc to talk on this subject. He says: “It’s approaching 25 years since I edited ‘Creating the Old Testament’ (1989) for the Society for Old Testament Study. In the 1980s we felt were were on the boundary between the old (proving the Bible narrative and searching for ancient sources) and the new (taking a wholly secular and investigative point of view to work out what the writers meant, whether good or bad). Myself and 16 other top scholars divided up the Old Testament to discuss possibilities. Later, a number of writers continued the thought in their own books, and it has become standard now in academic study. This talk is on the secular study of the Old Testament as purely historical texts, written for social and political purposes to defend an elite point of view. This throws doubt on most of the ‘assured results of Biblical scholarship’ that were held in 1970, despite a backlash by conservative theologians, especially in the USA.”

Sounds interesting and maybe controversial… come along and find out.

11th Jan: How to be certain about anything, even when you’ve got no evidence

This week, Dr Martin Poulter will talk on this subject. He says:

“We are all (hopefully) aware of the need to be skeptical: to question our beliefs, look for evidence and avoid fooling ourselves. The focus of this talk is the psychological approach to skepticism: based not on logic and the idea of a fallacy, but on psychological findings such as confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. You will not need any knowledge of psychology. We will look at the belief traps that we are all vulnerable to and how systems of belief systems can take hold even when the evidence for them is totally discredited.”

Do come along and hear more.

4th January – “Magic Feathers”

Welcome to 2013and the 50th year of the Swindon Philosophical Society.

The first talk of the year is by Swindon’s reigning  Think Slam champion John Little, and is titled ‘Magic Feathers?’ (the reference is to Dumbo.)

John says: “The biologist David Sloan Wilson remarked, ” if science is a religion then its God is Truth.” In the quest for truth such notions as the immortal soul, God, objective morality and free-will might well end up as casualties, not to mention the Meaning and Purpose of life. But perhaps in life, truth is just one good among many, and maybe not the most important one.

Should one be a consequentialist about beliefs, preferring those beliefs with more positive effects, like a modern Nietzsche only embracing beliefs that are life-enhancing and life-affirming. Rejecting this attitude, the stern W. K. Clifford in the Ethics of Belief (1877), claimed that  ‘it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence’. William James replied in The Will to Believe (1896), proposing Pragmatism as a rational compromise.

So where, in current debates about the merits of religion, and after several decades of ‘Positive Thinking’, countless Self-Help manuals and most recently Positive Psychology, do we stand today? Come along this Friday to find out.