Fri Nov 4th – On Reading a Platonic Dialogue – Nathan Pinkoski

‘I believe that Plato actually succeeds in convincing those who read and understand his dialogue. But here is the difficulty: the number of people who read Plato is limited; and the number who understand him is still more limited.’

–Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel.
Philosophers often read Plato’s dialogues in order to identify a series of philosophical arguments: for example, a theory of forms or ideas, a theory of recollection, or a theory for why the philosopher should be king. Philosophers then take these as independent propositions, call it Plato’s teaching, and debate their strengths and weaknesses.
In this talk, I argue that this approach impoverishes the reading of Plato in two respects. First, it misunderstands Plato’s teaching. Plato embeds his philosophical arguments in the dramatic action of a dialogue. In many cases, attending to the dramatic action shows what Plato’s teaching regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the argument really is. Second, it neglects  a number of Platonic themes–themes which are critical to grasp if one wants to understand the totality of Plato’s teaching. I shall show how this takes place by discussing Plato’s Meno andRepublic.
To facilitate discussion, I invite participants to bring copies of Meno and Republic if they wish.

Fri 28th Oct – Your Pain, My Pleasure – Chris Eddy

The rhetorical shock-tactic of Utilitarians is to appear at once deeply cynical and wildly idealistic.   They claim, – this is the cynical bit, – that all pleasure is good and all pain is bad, that happiness consists in the predominance of pleasure over pain, and therefore, – this is the idealistic bit, – that we always have a good reason to choose the course of action which seems most likely to produce the greatest happiness (the most pleasure and the least pain) for the greatest number of people.

But the Utilitarian premise is false: not all pleasure is good and not all pain is bad because, as theologians, philosophers, dramatists and psychologists across the centuries have testified, one person’s pain can be another’s pleasure, because pleasures are particularly valued for being exclusive, and because the pleasure of a victory is measured in the numbers of those over whom we triumph: ‘We few!  We happy few!’
That we should ‘help our friends and harm our enemies’: in real terms, that’s what the Utilitarian concept of justice amounts to.   Utilitarianism won’t get us to the Golden Rule, – ‘Always treat others, even your enemies, as you would wish them to treat you,’ – so how do we get there?

Fri 21st Oct – Reflections on Mortality – Jeremy Holt

After briefly outlining the effect that the death of others has had on his own life Jeremy will explain why the subject has become of increasing interest to him. He will review various literary references to death and choose his favourite Last Words by famous people. He will talk about society’s attitude towards death and why he thinks it should be changed. He aims to bring a slightly light hearted approach to the most serious of subjects

Fri Oct 14th – What’s the use of the History of Philosophy? – Dr Andrew Pyle

In his new book ‘The Dream of Enlightenment’ Anthony Gottlieb continues his mission to show that the great dead philosophers have been misunderstood and that they deserve to be taken more seriously. “It is because they still have something to say to us,” he says, “that we can easily get these philosophers wrong.”

Andrew Pyle agrees. His theme will be “What’s the use of the History of Philosophy? – a Reply to Gilbert Harman” and he writes, ”It will be my best attempt to answer a challenge posed to me at Swindon (and elsewhere), which is simply ‘Why not tackle the great problems of philosophy directly, instead of looking to the past for enlightenment?’ “.

Andrew is Reader in Early Modern Philosophy at Bristol University.

Fri Oct 7th – Why Don’t we Think Clearly about Climate? Peter Von Lany

Why, given widespread acceptance that our global climate is changing, is there still a significant gap between awareness and action?

There is broad agreement that our global climate is changing, with strong evidence that the rate of change is strongly influenced by our emission of green-house gases (GHG’s). Given a growing awareness of this situation, why is there still a significant gap between this awareness and the actions we have committed to in reducing the causes of climate change and the steps we are taking to adapt to the impacts of climate change. My talk, drawing from my own experience and from an article in New Scientist last year, will consider the structural and psychological barriers we face in adapting to climate change and in adjusting our behaviour to reduce the emission of GHG’s. The discussion that follows will provide an opportunity to consider how we can overcome these barriers.