It is time to put to rest the mistakes and assumptions that lie behind a phrase used by some religious people when talking of those who are plain-spoken about their disbelief in any religious claims: the phrase "fundamentalist atheist". What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe - perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)? Or that gods (...) exist only some of the time - say, Wednesdays and Saturdays? (That would not be so strange: for many unthinking quasi-theists, a god exists only on Sundays.) Or might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves - and still do? (shrink)
Half-lost in the now predictable August clamour about sex differences in examination results, renewed today by publication of the GCSE results, are old familiar clues, swirling neglected like scraps of paper in the storm around our heads. In one page of the newspaper you read that girls are doing better than boys at A Level and GCSE, in another you read that young women get fewer Firsts at Oxford than young men, in a third you read how much better all (...) pupils perform when segregated into single-sex classes. Putting these observations together directs attention to a pivotal fact about education: that there are gender-specific differences in the way people get most benefit from it. (shrink)
Last week the Government announced that it is to add a clause to its current education bill requiring that schools should promote marriage and "other stable relationships" as ideals, and should encourage pupils to delay engaging in sex until they are older. The proposal is a sop to those, chief among them the churches, who oppose repeal of the notorious Clause 28 which forbids "promotion of homosexuality" by public bodies.
Among the most important questions still facing human enquiry are those about the mind and its place in nature. What is mind, and what is it relation to body? How should we best understand our common sense concepts of such mental phenomena as belief, desire, intention, emotion, reason and memory? How does the grey matter of the brain give rise to our rich and vivid experiences of colour, sound, texture, taste and smell?
It a mistake to think that opponents of the death penalty are invariably sentimentalists, motivated by tenderness to those convicted of deliberate murder. They might, quite rightly, often be motivated by compassion for others branded as criminals, who in more rational, more just, or kinder dispensations would not be criminals at all – for example, soliciting prostitutes and drug addicts. They might also understand, although (a different thing) neither condone nor forgive, murder committed in the unmeditated grip of passion. Such (...) attitudes are prompted by sympathy for the difficulties that can divert a life into making a hell for itself and others – or just for the frailties of the human spirit, so numerous and sometimes so final that they seem to be its destiny. (shrink)
If we base our understanding of death on evidence rather than fear or desire, we are bound to accept it as a twofold natural process: the cessation of bodily functions, including consciousness, followed by the body's dispersion into its physical elements. Cessation of function and the beginning of physical transformation occur together at the moment of death; exactly what constitutes that moment is a matter of controversy, an important matter because many physiological functions can now be sustained artificially. But there (...) is some agreement that brain death, because it irrevocably ends mental activity, marks the Rubicon. (shrink)
When Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and Anarchy over a hundred years ago, he gave expression to the ideal of excellence in the fostering of culture, by describing it as "getting to know, on all the matters that most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits." Arnold was an inspector of schools, and a champion of higher education, (...) and he believed in excellence in education as the way not only to staff the economy, important though that is, but to produce an enculturated society which will live up to the ideal in Aristotle's dictum: "we educate ourselves in order to make noble use of our leisure.". (shrink)
This week saw the beginning of an action for libel brought by one historian against another over a question of history. The right-wing historian David Irving says the Holocaust was not as bad as has been claimed; he is suing American historian Deborah Lipstadt for calling him "a dangerous spokesman for Holocaust denial." The case, and its explosive content, remind us that history matters.
Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism, it is a recent phenomenon – an invention of the last few centuries – which has been of immense service to demagogues and tyrants but to no-one else. Disguised as patriotism and love of one's country, it trades on the unreason of mass psychology to make a variety of horrors seem acceptable, even honourable. For example: if someone said to you, "I am going to send your (...) son to kill the boy next door" you would hotly protest. But only let him seduce you with "Queen and Country!" "The Fatherland!" "My country right or wrong!" and you would find yourself permitting him to send all our sons to kill not just the sons of other people, but other people indiscriminately – which is what bombs and bullets do. (shrink)
When people die in an accident, suddenly and unexpectedly, with a terrible arbitrariness that seems unjust and cruel beyond description, there seem to be very few consolations for those left behind. That is how it must seem to those bereaved by the Paddington rail disaster last week. In such cases there is no preparation, as with someone long ill; no sense of the quiet inevitability of great age; there is no closure, no proper leave-taking. Too much is left unfinished and (...) unsaid. Even when soldiers go to war, the possibility of their never returning gives a significance to the farewells on the day they left, and that fact brings comfort later. What intensifies the tragedy of sudden accidental death is that none of these helps is available. (shrink)
Religion has been given comfortable house room in liberal democracies, which protect the right of people to believe as they wish, and accept the wide variety of faiths brought into them by immigrants from all over the world. This is right and proper, for freedom of speech and belief are essential values, and the very idea of democratic society is premised on the idea of responsibly exercised liberty.
When the International Olympic Committee meets in Moscow this weekend to choose a host city for the 2008 Games, the front-runner will be China's capital Beijing. Its main rivals are Toronto and Paris, but Canada and France have twice hosted winter or summer Games. In addition, the IoC's retiring President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is a keen supporter of China's bid, and was disappointed when Sydney beat Beijing for the 2000 Games by just two votes. As his last presidential act he (...) wants to be able to declare Beijing the IoC's choice. (shrink)
AC Grayling is Britain’s leading popular philosopher. A professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, he has written over 20 books, ranging from academic monographs such as Truth, Meaning and Realism to more accessible works such as What is Good? and The Mystery of Things. His most recent books are Towards The Light and The Choice of Hercules.
In this new collection A.C. Grayling adds to the variety of discussion and insight in his previous three essay collections. He returns to questions of personal ethics and the problems of the contemporary world, but also looks at the lives and ideas of great thinkers, the role of the arts in civilisation, and the need for reason everywhere Anthony Grayling illustrates in his celebrated accessible prose what each area offers to thought. In a wide-ranging array of illuminating topics, THE HEART (...) OF THINGS shows how far-reaching Grayling's masterly, and timely, commentary on the humanities is to general readers. (shrink)
In his major new book A.C. Grayling examines the different ways to live a good life, as proposed from classical antiquity to the recent present. Grayling focuses on the two very different conceptions of what a good life should be: one is a broadly secular view rooted in attitudes about human nature and the human condition; the other is a broadly transcendental view which locates the source of moral value outside the human realm. In the modern world - the world (...) shaped by the rise of science in the seventeenth century - these two views have come increasingly into conflict, and the constantly accumulating tension between them is one of the greatest problems faced by the twenty-first century. Using his renowned clarity of thought and philosophical rigour, AC Grayling has produced an invaluable guide through mankind's ethical struggle to live decently. (shrink)
"A distinctive voice somewhere between Mark Twain and Michel Montaigne" is how Psychology Today described A.C. Grayling. In Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life Without God, readers have the pleasure of hearing this distinctive voice address some of the most serious topics in philosophy--and in our daily lives--including reflections on guns, anger, conflict, war; monsters, madness, decay; liberty, justice, utopia; suicide, loss, and remembrance. A civilized society, says Grayling, is one which never ceases having a discussion with itself about (...) what human life should best be. In this book, Grayling adds to this discussion a series of short informal essays about ethics, ideas, and culture. A recurring theme is religion, of which he writes "there is no greater social evil." He argues, for instance, that liberal education is better than religion for inculcating moral values. "Education in literature, history, and appreciation of the arts," he says, "opens the possibility for us to live more reflectively and knowledgeably, especially about the nature and variety of human experience. That in turn increases our capacity for understanding others better, so that we can treat them with respect and sympathy, however different their outlook on life." Thought provoking rather than definitive, these essays don't tell readers what to think, but only note what has been thought about how it is best to live. A person who does not think about life, the author reminds us, is like a stranger mapless in a foreign land. These brief and suggestive essays offer us the outlines of a map, with avenues of thought that are a pleasure to wander down. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of the most famous and important philosophers of the twentieth century. In this account of his life and work A.C. Grayling introduces both his technical contributions to logic and philosophy, and his wide-ranging views on education, politics, war, and sexual morality. Russell is credited with being one of the prime movers of Analytic Philosophy, and with having played a part in the revolution in social attitudes witnessed throughout the twentieth-century world. This introduction gives a clear (...) survey of Russell's achievements across their whole range. (shrink)
'The unconsidered life is not worth living' - Socrates. Thinking about life, what it means and what it holds in store does not have to be a despondent experience, but rather can be enlightening and uplifting. A life truly worth living is one that is informed and considered so a degree of philosophical insight into the inevitabilities of the human condition is inherently important and such an approach will help us to deal with real personal dilemmas. This book is an (...) accessible, lively and thought-provoking series of linked commentaries, based on A. C. Grayling's 'The Last Word' column in the Guardian. Its aim is not to persuade readers to accept one particular philosophical point of view or theory, but to help us consider the wonderful range of insights which can be drawn from an immeasurably rich history of philosophical thought. Concepts covered include courage, love, betrayal, ambition, cruelty, wisdom, passion, beauty and death. This will be a wonderfully stimulating read and act as an invaluable guide as to what is truly important in living life, whether facing success, failure, justice, wrong, love, loss or any of the other profound experience life throws out. (shrink)
This is the first volume of a two-volume introduction to and guide through philosophy. It is intended to orientate, assist, and stimulate the reader at every stage in the study of the subject. Eleven extended essays have been specially commissioned from leading philosophers; each surveys a major area of the subject and offers an accessible but sophisticated account of the main debates. -/- An extended introduction maps out the philosophical terrain and explains how the different subjects relate to each other. (...) The first part of the book deals with the foundations of philosophical enquiry: epistemology; philosophical logic; methodology; metaphysics; and the philosophy of mind. The second part offers four historical chapters, two on ancient and two on modern philosophy, introducing great thinkers from the past, explaining and discussing their ideas, and showing the value of studying them today. The third part comprises two chapters devoted to questions of value, in ethics and aesthetics. Full annotated bibliographies are provided at the ends of chapters to serve as guides to further reading. -/- This is real philosophy, not simplified philosophy; it will be accessible for the beginner but equally valuable for the third-year student. Deep and challenging questions are not shirked; the reader will be given a sense of involvement in the practice of philosophy today. (shrink)
This companion to the highly successful Philosophy: A Guide through the Subject, (recently reissued as Philosophy 1) is a lively and authoritative guide through important areas of philosophy that are typically studied in the later parts of an undergraduate course. Thirteen extended essays have been specially commissioned, each introducing a major area and giving an accessible and up-to-date account of the main debates. The first seven cover the philosophies of language, psychology, religion, and the natural and social sciences. The second (...) part of the book completes the guide through the history of philosophy begun in the first volume, covering later ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, Kant, continental philosophy from Hegel, Frege, Russell Wittgenstein, and Indian philosophy. (shrink)
This comprehensive new collection is designed as a complete introduction to philosophy for students and general readers. Consisting of eleven extended essays, specially commissioned for this volume from leading philosophers, the book surveys all of the major areas of philosophy and offers an accessible but sophisticated guide to the main debates. An extended introduction provides general context and explains how the different subjects are related. The first part of the book deals with the foundations of philosophical inquiry: epistemology, philosophical logic, (...) methodology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mind. The second part offers historical chapters, two on ancient philosophy and two on modern philosophy. Finally, two chapters deal with questions of value, ethics and aesthetics. Each chapter has a full bibliography. The contributors include Bernard Williams, Roger Scruton, Martin Davies, David Wiggins, Christopher Janaway, David Papineau, and Mark Sainsbury. Designed to be as useful to the third-year student as to the beginner, this exciting new text will give each reader a unique sense of involvement in philosophy as it is practiced today. (shrink)
Ludwig Wittgenstein was an extraordinarily original philosopher, whose influence on 20th-century thinking goes well beyond philosophy itself. In this short, non-technical introduction to Wittgenstein's thought, Grayling describes both his early and his later philosophy, the differences and connections between them, and their effect on contemporary thought.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was an extraordinarily original thinker, whose influence on twentieth-century thinking far outside the bounds of philosophy alone. In this engaging Introduction, A.C. Grayling makes Wittgenstein's thought accessible to the general reader by explaining the nature and impact of Wittgenstein's views. He describes both his early and later philosophy, the differences and connections between them, and gives a fresh assessment of Wittgenstein's continuing influence on contemporary thought.