MEETING CANCELLED (SNOW) Fri March 2nd……….. See March 16th

Joe Henrich is the new Steven Pinker. Young, handsome, Canadian, teaching at Harvard with a background in anthropology, psychology and economics he argues that humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals?    His book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains―on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations.

This is a change from the advertised programme.

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 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?