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”

Is Money Ever Free?

What would you do if a cash machine gave you £100 instead of £10? The law states that you should give the excess funds back, but most of us probably wouldn’t. A recent story on the BBC website reported that cash machines in Melbourne, Australia were giving out more money that they were supposed to. This drew quite a crowd, with people forming queues to take advantage of what one witness described as “free money”. But what are the moral implications of taking money from banks, and why would most of us feel like it’s not really stealing.

Simon Rippon of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics thinks that a person who takes money from a malfunctioning cash machine is often judged Continue reading “Is Money Ever Free?”

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”

Foe of Feminists Revived

Image: Bilz 1894

Last year biological determinism in the study of sex and gender experienced a resurgence, with the professor of Development Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, Simon Baron-Cohen, as its new figurehead.

In the spring months of 2010, the issue of female representation in public and intellectual spheres was passed along from public intellectual to public intellectual in a series of finger-pointing articles featured on the Guardian website.

Critic and novelist Bidisha initiatiated the debate with a scathing attack on the sorry state of the literary festivals and competitions that she had been involved with, complaining that she was ‘tired of being the token woman’. In the process Bidisha implicated Hay’s How The Light Gets In philosophy festival for its disproportionate number of male speakers. She revealed that she was happy to have had to drop out of the event on account of other engagements, highlighting that the only approvable gender balance in the whole festival was unfortunately within the entertainment tents.

Julian Baggini, the increasingly public face of philosophy as well as adviser to the How The Light Gets In festival, responded with an appeal to the practical issues involved in booking female guests, who he maintains are culpable to some extent Continue reading “Foe of Feminists Revived”

Interview: The Philosopher’s Toolkit

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Peter Fosl and Julian Baggini make complex and abstract philosophical work accessible to the uninitiated with their outstanding books The Philosopher’s Toolkit and The Ethics Toolkit. In this interview, Peter Fosl talks about what philosophy did for him, and why he is motivated to share what he calls  one of “the extremely good things” he has discovered in life.

The Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write The Philosopher’s Toolkit and The Ethics Toolkit?

Peter Fosl: I wrote them for two reasons, really.  First, I took up work on the toolkits to advance my project of bringing philosophy to as many people as possible. The second reason I became involved with the Toolkit projects was Julian Baggini. I had come to know Julian and his work through writing for The Philosophers’ Magazine (which he co-founded and edits). Julian has proven himself stunningly effective at bringing philosophy to a wide audience and doing so in a way that doesn’t dumb the material down. Continue reading “Interview: The Philosopher’s Toolkit”