Population Pessimism

Population is a touchy subject. It certainly divides people. There is no better example of this than James Delingpole’s latest tirade against those who advocate seemingly drastic, sometimes fascistic, methods of population reduction. In this case, the target took the shape of BBC TV naturalist Chris Packham. Delingpole was provoked into his polemic by recent comments Packham reportedly made to the Radio Times:

There’s no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we’re not addressing the one single factor that’s putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other – namely the ever-increasing size of the world’s population. I read the other day that, by 2020, there are going to be 70 million people in Britain. Let’s face it, that’s too many. Continue reading “Population Pessimism”

Keele Philosophy Fights Back

Keele Student Union

A success story or a sign of worse things to come? Let’s say both, just to be on the safe side. In what must have been a whirlwind week for the Department of Philosophy at Keele University – the story having only been broken by national news sources less than ten days ago and calls of victory already ringing out this weekend – staff, students and alumni of Keele and elsewhere successfully united to overturn the decision to remove Philosophy from Keele as part of a cost-cutting exercise. After the first signs of movement, regarding the September 2011 intake of philosophy students, in which Brian Leiter quite rightly detected an as-yet-provisional tone, an official statement from the university has indicated a significant shift in the right direction: Continue reading “Keele Philosophy Fights Back”

The Real Problem of Evil

The 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz famously argued that this world of ours is “the best of all possible worlds”, and in doing so founded the philosophical study that he named ‘theodicy’ – the attempt to answer the question of why we suffer in a world supposedly watched over be an all-powerful and benevolent God. The scenes of devastation created by the tsunami that recently hit the east coast of Japan make these kinds of proclamations hard to swallow to say the least. Some philosophers after Leibniz made a point of how blindly indulgent and insensitive such claims can seem in the face of these reminders of the relentless and destructive powers of nature. Voltaire’s famous literary lampoon Candide: Or, the Optimist mocked the academic sophistry of such arm-chair speculation about suffering, and fellow German Schopenhauer, philosophy’s eternal pessimist, was perhaps the most damning of them all, saying once that:

 

…I cannot here withhold the statement that optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind. Let no one imagine that the Christian teaching is favourable to optimism; on the contrary, in the Gospels world and evil are used as synonymous expressions. Continue reading “The Real Problem of Evil”

The Prisoner Dilemma

It is an issue that has been brewing for almost a decade now, since prisoner John Hirst first had his case dismissed by Britain’s High Court in April 2001, and, because in November 2010 the Council of Europe gave Britain six months to bring themselves into alignment with the judgements of the Strasbourg Courts, the question is now on everybody’s lips: Should prisoners be allowed to vote?

Back in March 2004, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that a blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners, irrespective of crime or sentence, was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. By the time of the 2010 elections, the British government had failed to materially respond to these rulings, but now Europe has mounted pressure to change – forcing the new Conservative government to tread carefully the line of avoiding in the future paying out tens of millions of pounds in compensation to prisoners while still keeping sweet the Conservative supporters who want to see Europe’s power over policy in Britain lessened. Continue reading “The Prisoner Dilemma”

The Questionable Questions of Intercultural Philosophy

Orbis Terrarum Nova et Accuratissima Tabula, Pieter Goos (1666)

 

The 9th International Conference on Intercultural Philosophy was held last month at the University of Costa Rica, and went under the banner of ‘Living together: Problems and possibilities in today’s world. An intercultural approximation’. The general objective of the conference was stated as: To know the various dimensions of human living together according to diverse current cultures of the world, particularly as ways of life in today’s societies. The ‘intercultural’ ethos of this particular event consisted in approaching the above objective in a tripartite manner:

1. Each of the various cultures’ perceptions regarding living together; 2. The discussion of the various proposals provided by each culture in relation to living together from an intercultural point of view; 3. The analysis of the possible interpretations of living together for human beings under the current conditions of today’s global society.

Representatives from Korea, Taiwan, Congo, Tunisia, Germany, Austria and much of Central and South America, convened for this occasion in order to share perspectives on the task of living together in the age of globalisation and all its attendant problems (‘…global warming, migration, cultural intolerance, terrorism of various sorts, economical crises…’). Continue reading “The Questionable Questions of Intercultural Philosophy”

Philosophy’s Debt to Society

Barrels of Money, oil on canvas painting by Victor Dubreuil, c. 1897

Spare a thought for Jim. Who’s Jim, you ask? Jim is a man with dreams, dreams which we of all people should be able to relate to. After losing his job in the public sector, Jim now has to decide what to do with his future. As a student he took his degree in Philosophy and English, and has since then continued to pursue philosophy in his spare time. Now he has the opportunity to make philosophy his career, by going back to university and with time, effort and money, one day become a philosopher by trade. But, Jim worries, is chasing after his dream worth it in this most cynically materialistic of ages? Is combining the best of both worlds – the fabled “job satisfaction” – really tenable for Jim? With the help of the Guardian, Jim called upon the nation for advice about his dilemma – who in turn seem to have encouraged him to follow his heart. Continue reading “Philosophy’s Debt to Society”

The Aesthetics of the Video Game

Space Invaders: the early origins of video games.

Tonight is the night of the 7th British Academy Video Games Awards, a ceremony which since 2003 has rewarded the creators of virtual environments that have had men, women and children alike frantically throwing their thumbs around all year. The host of the event, comedian Dara O’Briain, defended the right of the video game genre to be considered a form of art in an interview this morning for the BBC’s breakfast show, against the initial (and perhaps persisting) incredulity of his hosts.

The problem facing O’Briain is not one that has eluded treatment in the field of contemporary aesthetics and the philosophy of art. As surveyed by Grant Tavinor for Philosophy Compass, some interesting questions begin to emerge when the conceptual analyses of traditional philosophical aesthetics are applied to the increasingly sophisticated worlds of computer games. Continue reading “The Aesthetics of the Video Game”