Oct 2nd – Prof. Chris Bertram on Our Moral Duties to Refugees and Asylum Seekers

“This summer’s “refugee crisis” has dominated the news. The UK, like all Western nations, is a signatory of the Refugee Convention, though in practice it does what it can to evade its requirements. This talk looks at the reasons behind the Convention, whether the definition of a refugee is adequate, and what it would mean to do our fair share in supporting the persecuted.”

Chris Bertram is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol. This meeting is held in conjunction with Swindon Humanists.

Sept 25th….Chris Eddy on T.S. Eliot

T.S.ELIOT: PHILOSOPHER-POET

To qualify as “great”, a performance in any art needs a great audience, i.e., an audience which exercises power in cultural and political terms, and it needs a great subject.   When Eliot wrote  “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, there was adult male suffrage with universal primary education, but no radio or television and scarcely any cinema: print was then still the only medium in which it was possible to address a great audience, so verse was still in with a chance which no longer exists.   The poem itself addresses the subject of “greatness” and the fear of confronting it, which must by any reckoning count as a great (i.e., culturally central) subject: “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker … And in short, I was afraid.”   In its time, Eliot’s poem was bidding for, and (I think) achieved, a greatness that children of an electronic culture would mostly find difficult to grasp.

Through the figure of Prufrock, Eliot dramatizes an action of timeless significance in modern terms. We hear the voice of a character who with increasing desperation senses the approach of a general disaster whose dimensions he can dimly discern, but which, however sensitive and sophisticated he may be, he lacks the courage or the energy to confront. The poem is relatively brief, – much shorter than most short stories, – its subject-matter intensely compressed, its expression elegant, witty and sophisticated, its rhythms strong, but subtle, making it eminently memorable and quotable; its observation is vivid and it makes startlingly new and brilliant use of familiar poetic forms.

“Prufrock” is about a state of mind that is by implication widely shared, so that the poem becomes a diagnosis of the state of a civilization from a particular perspective, and in that sense offers itself as prophetic.  The philosophical point of the poem is that, if, as time passes, we want to gain rather than lose our sense of coherent direction and purpose in life, we mustn’t give ourselves excuses or succumb to cynicism, but, like Eliot himself, accept the challenge, even though failure is all but certain, to match up to the greatest examples our culture has to offer.

 

SEPT. 18th – John Little – Are Humans Driverless Cars? Free Will Revisited.

 

How do you think of your future?

As inevitable?….already laid down though unknown to you….nothing you do can change it?   No more alterable than your past?

As inevitable?…. Though partly the result of your choices and decisions, these are the products of a physical system – the brain – which is determined by prior events over which you have no control?

As open? Your choices and decisions can alter it?  These involve an element of free will….not determined by physical causes?

If the latter, haven’t you fallen into magical thinking….that somehow human beings have the ability to transcend the causal structure of the world….to tear a rip in the space-time continuum?

Given the results of modern neuroscience can the feeling that we could have acted otherwise than we did be more than an illusion?

Do we have to give up notions like moral responsibility as a consequence?

Or are we missing something?

Fri 11 Sept – Paul Archer on The Joy Of Tax.

 

“Around the world, it is taxation that pays for pensions, healthcare, education and other hallmarks of a modern state and yet fundamental discussion about taxation policy is relatively unusual and poorly informed. 

I want to discuss the universal issues surrounding taxation policy in the context of the mechanics of the United Kingdom system of taxation and think about why taxation policy is so difficult.

We will look at the principle of progressivity, the academic debate about top marginal rates and the best taxation policy for economic growth as well as addressing the great challenge to taxation policy described by behavioural economists as ‘loss aversion’.”

Expect close argument,  backed up with good solid data, followed by a very lively discussion.

To get us all in the mood  – here’s George Harrisons opinion –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtksJEj2Keg


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