Sunday, December 16, 2007

Festive Philosophy?

Well - 'tis the season to tolerate the tabloids feigning outrage at the alleged suppression of Christmas traditions in the name of political correctness (see HERE for an example, and HERE for an article from the Guardian on the topic.).

We discussed this last year (see: ), so will leave it for now: but I did wonder, amidst the songs, the tinsel and the crowds in the shops this week: Is it morally acceptable to lie to children about the existence of Father Christmas / Santa Claus ?

Leaving asides cheap jibes about believing in a fictional old man, who you can't see: why do we perpetuate this falseshood? An interesting discussion at also (as well as mentioning the Tooth Fairy) takes it on to a more serious note with discussions of how much doctors should or should not reveal to seriously ill children. I suppose a number of questions emerge from thinking about this:

- Is it somehow less wrong to lie to children? Is our (apparent) epistemological superiority sufficent warrant for us to deceive them? Would it be wrong to lie to an adult for the same reason.
- When we tell children things about Santa that are not wholly factual - is it for their benefit (the magic of Christmas) - or our own - an attempt to recapture our own lost innocence?

How would/should we react if someone were to tell us that they were going to always be honest with their children - including about the Tooth Fairly and Father Christmas? (or the culturally-specific equivalents)

Of course, you can always read Stephen Law's The Philosophy of Christmas, if you really want to think more deeply in a festive vein...
ps - comments still welcome on the School Uniform debate at:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Philosophy & Ethics Reading Group

Our next book is Dostoevsky's 'The Double'. A short description can be found on the wordpress site: readingphilosophy
Our next meeting will be Tuesday 5th February. Time and place to be confirmed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Got A Complaint?

Philosopher Julian Baggini is currently writing a book on Complaint and asking as many people as possible to contribute by completing a short online survey. After taking the survey you may also want to read his piece for Comment is Free in which he sets out his stall for the book. Incidentally, Julian will be giving a talk on religion and ethics at Cheltenham Ladies College in February and has agreed to also talk at FCH (more details to follow).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas meal final details

Well - chaos and confusion rule - but Shajaat has finally sent me the FINAL details:

I'm really sorry, but among all the chaos and confusion the situation has been resolved. Due to David Webster's talk at the Beehive at 19:30-20:30 on Monday 10th December, the meal at 18:00 would have been too rushed. Therefore, we can still meet at 18:00 for drinks in a pub in the Montpellier area (Suffolk Arms?). Then go to David's talk at the Beehive Pub on Religion being Good or Evil followed by a meal afterwards...21:00-21:30 (Possibly Spice Exchange?) .

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cafe Scientifique, 10th December '07: Religion - Good or Evil?

The people from Cafe Scientifique have persuaded me to do an evening talk on Monday 10th December at the Beehive pub, Tivoli, Cheltenham: see or download details at

The topic is Religion: Good or Evil? So, nothing too heavy then...
Come along and heckle if you must - free wine is rumoured..

RPE Xmas meal

change of plan
Just to let you know that the RPE Christmas Meal will be on Sunday 9th December at Spice Exchange Indian Restaurant, Clarence Parade, Cheltenham @ 18:00.

please let me (or one of the level 3 student reps) know if you would like to come...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Robots, AI, Ethics and Military Technology

Now, we rarely post articles (or links to) from the US Armed Forces Journal on this blog, but I was sent the link to an interesting one, entitled: Fast Forward to the Robot Dilemma. This talks about the ethical issues involved in placing AI (Artifical Intelligence) systems in control of military technology...

He (Major David Bigelow) concludes: It is unethical to create a fully autonomous military robot endowed with the ability to make independent decisions unless it is designed to screen its decisions through a sound moral framework.

Which sound moral framework, I wonder, would that be though? I thought RPE blog readers may find his piece of interest....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Podcast on Moral Realism / Naturalism, etc..

Those of you forced to listen to me witter on today about Intuitionism, Emotivism, and the like may wish to listen to the podcast at HERE which was originally for another class: but which explains some of the ideas I talked about in class today. Let me know if you have any problems....

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sir, Sir, it's a causal fallacy: School Uniform and politics...

So - we have seen a call from the Conservative Party for schools to enforce smart uniforms, have pupils stand when teachers enter the room, and call them Sir and Miss (or like some,perhaps, Madam).

The argument seems to run that good schools have uniforms / formal aspects: therefore the goodness of the schools must be a function of the dress of the pupils and the formal relation with teachers. (It may also be that the proponents of such a view have memories of their own formal schooling and the relative quality of the experience - but the principle is the same).

It looks here - to me - like a good old-fashioned causal fallacy. Without evidence that the uniforms and formal means of address have a causal connection to the behaviour / attainment of pupils - the connection could surely be either coincidental, or both could be the effects of some other, third cause...

Now - I was schooled in the 70s and 80s, and have, possibly as a result of liberal social conditioning, a deep aversion to school uniforms: but when I raise this in classes - my students all seem in favour of them - as do the parents of many of those at the same schools as my children: what's going on in the world?

Is school uniform really a good thing? Why? Can anyone tell me good reasons for it?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Philosophy and Popular Culture…

Since 2000 Open Court publishers (and Blackwells in the UK republishing them) have been putting out a series entitled Philosophy and Popular Culture. The first one I saw (as I unwrapped it one Christmas) was The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’Oh of Homer – which I found, in the quality of its essays, rather mixed.

Since then this phenomena has really taken off (Click here for UK list, or here for USA one) – including volumes on South Park, The Office, Family Guy, Baseball, Running, Woody Allen, Bob Dylan and many more: with more coming all the time.

Is this a good thing? You might think this a stupid question – surely applying to philosophy that things people are actually interested in is a positive move – and exposing the fans of these cultural phenomena is a good way to interest people in philosophy and demonstrate that it is not a pointless waste of everyone’s time…

Yes – and Stephen T. Asma argues this in a piece entitled: Looking up from the Gutter: Philosophy & Popular Culture. Why would anyone disagree?

You can also read more, from the Pop Matters website, where there is a piece entitled: Pop Goes Philosophy - talking both about the Philosophy and South Park book, the Asma article, and the phenomena in general. The authors, I thin, make a good point when they say (after commenting on Asma's piece:

So Asma is missing the big picture when he concludes that philosophy and popular culture are and will remain worlds apart. He is right, however, to be amused by the missionary (and presumptive, I would add) zeal of those who suppose that merely by sugar coating their lectures with references to pop culture, they make philosophy appealing or rewarding to the masses. The fact that most people know little about the history of the mind-body problem and other workhorse topics of professional philosophy does not mean, however, they yearn to know more.

Well - I have read a few (currently reading 'Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind') - and although I have enjoyed some essays I have an odd sense of dis-ease with the series at times: but am not sure why - is it snobbery on my part - I don't think so... also, some essays in them are rather good - so why this sense of concern with the phenomena as a whole?

Will ponder and get back to you: responses welcome - do you think this is - overall a 'good thing'?


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Staff-Student Christmas Meal

Following the runaway success of last year's event, I am told that students are planning to have another staff-student meal this Christmas.

The date under discussion is Monday 10th December, with The Indus (Indian Restuarant, on Bath Road) as a possible location. Please feel free to comment here - or contact Level 3 Student Rep Frances O'Hagan (I can forward e-mail if you don't have her address). If you want to come make sure Frances knows, as she wants to book the table(s) as soon as possible.. staff too...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Religious Dress back in the News: Sikh Girl Excluded from School

The BBC (and many others) report this case of a girl excluded for refusing to take off a bangle which she considers part of her Sikh faith.
Read the story at:

While the BBC has its usual ranting site at I thought maybe some of the readers of this blog would like to comment here:
- should a school have a uniform policy that bans all religious expression?
- should it have uniform at all?
- should this pupil be allowed back - is she right to hold firm to her belief that she must wear this item?

I look forward to comments...

Philosophy Reading Group

Following a couple of hours dissecting Sartre's Nausea last night and discussing the implications of accepting the Existentialist position, we have agreed our next book (actually, it's a play) to be Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. More information can be found on the wordpress site:

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 4th December so I hope to see as many of you there as possible.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin’

Hi. This thursday (November 8th, 2007) there will be an event at FCH entitled Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin'.

Will Kaufman from the University of Central Lancashire presents this partly-spoken and partly sung event.

'Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin' is a live musical programme that sets the songs of Woody Guthrie in the context of the American 1930s -- the Dust Bowl, the Depression, the New Deal and the state of popular music itself. Will Kaufman brings such hard-hitting Guthrie songs as 'Vigilante Man', 'Pretty Boy Floyd' and 'I Ain't Got No Home' into conversation with other songs of the Depression Era -- from Joe Hill's 'The Preacher and the Slave' to 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'. These renditions, buttressed by detailed historical commentary, exemplify the blending of music and radical politics that marks Guthrie's most powerful and evocative work.'

See for testimonials.

It is 5.30pm in TC006a (FCH) - contact Professor Neil Wynn for more details.

Philosophy & Ethics Reading Group

We will be meeting this evening (Tuesday 6th November) at 6pm in Bar Ha Ha in Montpellier to discuss Sartre's Nausea. Even if you haven't finished the book yet (or even started to read it!) you would still be more than welcome as I'm sure it will elicit some stimulating Existential discussion.
Also, we will be choosing our next book so please come along with some ideas...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Is Everyone Feeling Guilty At The Moment?

I don't want to sound too much like an advert for In Our Time, but the latest programme - which can be dowloaded - is particularly relevent considering the recent lively discussion on guilt. Do you think Melvyn saw the RPE website and decided to do the topic?? Here's the blurb: 'Melvyn Bragg and his guests - Miranda Fricker, Senior Lecturer in the School of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London; Stephen Mulhall, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at New College, Oxford and Oliver Davies, Professor of Christian Doctrine at King’s College London - examine the complex sentiment of guilt.'

By the way, next week he's discussing Avicenna.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

RPE208 wiki

Please visit to see (and register to edit) the Indian Religions module wiki for what will be a student-written glossary of terms for that module (mainly Hindu and Buddhist terms).


Battleground God game

Hi. I just completed the game at which assesses how coherent your beliefs are about God / what we can know about God. You may enjoy it...

I note that at the end - the Philosopher's Magazine trys to sell you a book, by one..... Roy Jackson... Try the game - and if you don't do too well - you know who to ask for help...

Cheers, Dave

Friday, October 26, 2007

Greetings from Beijing


Apologies for the lack of updates, but I have discovered that addresses seem to be unavailable in China (but I am able to post to it). Having talked about the RPE blog this morning, I am looking forward to getting back to the University and to teaching.

I think the thing about the RPE blog that has interested people here is the manner in which Humanities students (thought of as bookish and un-technical) have grasped the opportunity to use a discursive on-line forum. I explained that RPE students never turn down a chance to argue: be it with each other, the staff - or anyone else for that matter...

Well - see you all back in the UK - RPE301, Love Sex and Death on monday!


Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Year in the Blogosphere...

Hi - this is a quick post to say: how has this year been for students and other readers of this blog: In what ways has it been of useful / interesting / annoying - -etc...

I am also posting this to invite comments from those attending my E-Learn paper (in case you're too shy to speak in the session).

I am about to go and do my presentation - so hope this post will gather some comments over the next few days...


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

E-Learn 07 part2, Quebec City

Ok – as the days pass here in Quebec City, I get nearer to my paper (Thursday) on a year of the RPE course blog, I have been astounded by the work being done in many institutions.

Once back, I hope we can use a wiki-based e-glossary for the RPE208 Indian Religions module – and in ethics, well: we think about examples a lot. We ask you think of scenarios. It was that I mind that I listened intently to a paper by Jennifer Jenson from York University, Canada on, of all things, Lego.

Now, some readers will be aware of the craze for on-line Lego based animation (or maybe the Lego Star Wars video games) – and you may have come across the Biblical re-enactments created using the little Danish blocks of plastic (and their virtual form). The package we were shown yesterday allowed users to drop in a backdrop, create unique Lego figures and speech-bubbles – and animate them using the virtual equivalent of stop animation. This may not sound immediately applicable to RPE – but think of spending an hour making a short Lego-animation that demonstrates an example of an ethical dilemma (with no actors, or awkward ethical restraints). Maybe I’ll have to do one to demonstrate that it really does work: I’ll link to some examples when I get the address…

Beyond that, there is a lot of good practice here in relation to all kinds of e-learning – including blogs: I’ll let you know what people think of this one…

Some pictures here too, to give a flavour of the event – and to show that I did find the local Buddhist Meditation centre (but it was closed)…


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

E-Learn 2007

Well, greetings from far away. I write from E-Learn 2007, in Quebec Canada: where I am talking about this blog. As some if you will recall it began following my visit to E-Learn 2006 (see and scroll to the bottom!)

It seems good to be back here to report on a year of using this blog – and using podcasts and the like. I hope we shall find ways on encouraging more of our students to be involved over the next year (so far, we have a group of very keen students who argue [about anything] , a large number of ‘lurkers’ (students who read the blog but do not join in) – and a few who do not read it all…

Anyway – as I find more technology and ideas here at the conference, I will post on the blog….

[BTW: it is freezing here!]

Philosophy Reading Group Blog

Just to remind those of you who are part of the Philosophy & Ethics reading group (and those who aren't) and who are currently reading Sartre's Nausea; we have our own blog open for comments on

Please do post your thoughts / ideas as any discussion will be helpful for when we next meet.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hey - Meat-Head!

I was reading a blog at today and came across this claim:
Eating meat is totally inefficient, and in a world of desperate starvation and malnutrition, it is also criminal and immoral.
Do you agree (the article above may help)? You might take the view that vegetarianism is 'supra-moral' - good if you DO do it, but not bad if you don't - or you may feel it is morally fine to eat meat - and somehow wrong not to? Or you may agree with quote above...
Of course the implication above is that eating meat is wrong due to the consequences for humans... It seems to ignore the moral status of animals, if they have any..
Comments welcome

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nagel's Bat

Those First-year (or Level 1) students struggling through Nagel's What is it like to be a bat? may find the powerpoint at helpful - it explains the ideas (but does not do the work for the 160 course for you!)... Dave

Monday, October 01, 2007

The march of the militant atheists!

Are atheists the unsung heroes of the modern age? You may have read in the papers that 'Darwin's rottweiler' Richard Dawkins is spearheading a campaign in America to trumpet the voice of the nation's atheists who are seemingly downtrodden by the religious majority. Check out what John Brooke has to say about Dawkins in his podcast. What contribution would an 'atheist bloc' make to society anyway? Does religion still have an important public role bearing in mind the Buddhist protests in Burma as an example?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Philosophy & Ethics Reading Group

I am pleased to announce our preliminary meeting will be next Tuesday (2nd October - Week 2) at 6pm in FCH bar.
It will be an opportunity to meet each other, collate some ideas for our reading material, and to discuss other issues of place and frequency of meetings.
Anyone is welcome to attend. It might be useful to send me an email ( so I at least have an idea of who is interested: but turning up on the night is fine too.

Hope to see you there...

In Our Time

The excellent BBC Radio 4 series In Our Time has returned after a summer break with a discussion on Socrates. You can listen to this at any time on the net and, for one week only, you can download it as an MP3 and chill out to Socrates on your iPod!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society - programme

Hi - below is the programe for the GPS. I would encourage all RPE students (and others) to attend these - you will be made very welcome... [the guilt debate still continues at ]
Gloucestershire Philosophical Society.
Programme: Autumn Term, 2007-08.

Sessions held at 7.30 p.m. room 203 FCH Campus, Swindon Road, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham,
(Other than Brown Jug meeting on December 5th.)

1. Wed. October 10th. 2007. Professor Christopher Norris, University of Cardiff. “Maths, Ontology and Politics: The Work of Alain Badiou.”
Chris Norris will talk on the work of the prominent contemporary French philosopher, author of “Ethics: an Essay on the Understanding of Evil” and “Metapolitics”.

2. Wed. October 31st. 2007. Dr. Ian Jones, University of Gloucestershire. “Race and Reality: Foucault and Jim Crow”.
Ian Jones will discuss his recent study of the medicalisation of racism in the United States as codified in many of the ‘Jim Crow’ laws and practices, and the work of philosopher Michel Foucault in their understanding.

3. Wed. November 14th. 2007. Dr. Stella Sandford, University of Middlesex. “Approaching .the Work of Simone de Beauvoir”.
Stella Sandford, a member of the Radical Philosophy journal editorial board, will discuss her 2007 book How to Read Beauvoir, on the work of the French existentialist and major figure in the history of feminist ideas.

4. Wed. November 28th. 2007. Liz Rolls, University of Gloucestershire: “Containing Grief: A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective”.
Liz Rolls will be talking about her extensive research over the last few years into the issues of grief and childhood bereavement.

5. Wed. December 5th.2007. 10.30. a.m. at the Brown Jug, Bath Rd., Cheltenham. Gloucestershire Philosophical Society Seminar: Cracker Barrel Philosophy: innate wisdom and its critics”.
Is there an innate wisdom shared by or sharable by all: are technical, professional languages merely ‘vernacular wisdom gone to college’? Or do they give us more powerful means of enquiry? What is ‘experience’ and how do we measure or apply it?

6. Wed. December 12th. 2007. Dr. Ieuan Lloyd, formerly University of Wales, Swansea: “Relativism: A Modern Fad?”
Ieuan Lloyd will investigate the issues in the ongoing debate over the currency of relativism in philosophy, and raises pertinent questions regarding its status in the climate of postmodernism.

The dates of the AGM and annual dinner will be fixed at the first meeting.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Natural (2)

Thanks to all students who took part in the Week Zero (Freshers week / Induction week) activities last week. They worked hard - both on the trip and back at FCH.
Our trip to Westonbirt Arboretum allowed us to reflect on was is meant by 'natural' - and the groups took a range of approaches - from the narrative account of a lost little leaf - to more detailled work on a range of philosophers. I have posted more pictures to the RPE Flickr book so go there for a look if you're interested. We hope to get a cross-year social event organised soon...


This morning I was with our friends at BBC Radio Gloucestershire talking to John Rockley about guilt. We covered eco-guilt, parental guilt and charity use of guilt to get us to pay up.

Two questions spring to mind that students might be interested in:

  • What makes you feel guilty?

  • Is guilt a bad thing / is it pointless / should we not feel even more guilty?

I look forward to your responses... please use the 'comments' option to respond..

Cheers, Dave

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Just a quick post to welcome the new intake of Religion, Philosophy & Ethics students - who we meet tomorrow...

On behalf of myself, Dee, Alison, Roy, Melissa and Nigel (and the others you will have from time to time) - we hope all goes well in Induction week - and that students from years 2 and 3 will join in welcoming you...


Friday, September 14, 2007

RPE 307

For those of you keen to make a start on Beyond Good and Evil (and why shouldn't you be!) we will be using the translation by Marion Faber, published by Oxford University Press. Translations do vary quite a bit so it's best we all follow the same one. In terms of commentaries, take your choice from either Laurence Lampert or Douglas Burnham, or both if you're feeling particularly flush at the moment! Looking forward to it and remember that the text is open to interpretation and it's your understanding of it that I'm particularly interested in!

For Nietzsche 'Fans'

Check out the Nietzsche Circle. Their 'vision statement' is: 'To create an intellectual and artistic community whereby individuals of similar spirit and vision may come together and explore Nietzsche’s philosophy, developing ways in which it can be transfigured.' It's good particularly for book reviews and essays on Nietzsche. Also, Brian Leiter (who has written an excellent book on Nietzsche's moral philosophy) has started up a new Nietzsche blog.

Thursday, September 13, 2007



As part of our induction activities for new students next week, we shall be asking them what is meant by term 'natural': what does it mean to talk of an 'unnatural' practice - especially as an evaluative moral term?

We shall be spending some time at a place where people go to spend time in 'nature' (Westonbirt Arboretum) - what does it mean to call such a place 'natural'? - And does spending time in such places assist us in reflection? I (and the new students) would appreciate any thoughts - or indeed references - that will help us think this through...

Comments welcome via the blog..

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Author - Emily Ryall

Hello everyone, and thanks to Dave for trusting that I'm not going to abuse my privileges as a site author.

For those of you that are unaware of the fact: believe it or not, the Sport, Health and Social Care students do have a philosophy strand to their courses (it's not all running about on the astroturf!) - and that is where I come in. So let me introduce myself. Although my background was originally in Philosophy and Linguistics I am now lecturing over at Oxstalls mainly on the Sports & Exercise Science, and Sports Development degrees. This year I will be taking over the Sports Ethics modules (SV201 and SV302) which will hopefully be the forum for some very stimulating discussion surrounding the issues of violence, doping, and cheating in sport, as well as other aspects; for instance, the relationship between politics and ethics in sporting events. As both of these are on the RPE pathway I hope I would not offend my colleagues at FCH too much in encouraging the RPE students to take up the opportunity of one of these modules.

Additionally, I will be setting up a philosophy and ethics reading group in the University. It is anticipated that this will be a very informal session where we can attempt to comprehend and discuss issues in selected texts. More details will follow in the near future but I hope our first meeting to be around Week 2 of term. Again, I would encourage any interested parties to participate.

Other than that, you can find out more about me and my research interests on either my own website: or on the official faculty page (which also has a very cheesy photo of me!).

Essay Competition

University of Kentucky
Fifth Annual Prize Essay Competition in
European Philosophy from Kant to the Present

TOPIC: The Implications of Bio-Medical Technology for
Human Nature

This topic may be addressed historically, systematically, or through any combination of these two approaches. The winning essay will receive a prize of $1000 and, upon recommendation of the selection committee, be published in Inquiry. The author of the winning essay will also be brought to the University of Kentucky in the Fall of 2008 to present it.

The winner of the first four annual Prize Essay Competitions were Sami Pihlström (University of Helsinki), Robert Guay (Binghamton University), Helder De Schutter (University of Leuven), and Herbert de Vriese (University of Antwerp) for their essays “Recent Reinterpretations of ‘The Transcendental’ Revisited” (Inquiry 47, No. 3 [2004]), “The ‘I’s Have It: Nietzsche on Subjectivity” (Inquiry 49, No. 3 [2006]), “Nations without Nationalism” (Inquiry 50, No. 4 [2007]), and “The Myth of the Metaphysical Circle.”

Essays will be judged by a process of blind review. Submissions should be appropriately formatted for such a process, with the author's name and other identifying information appearing only on a separate cover sheet. Essays should be double spaced, in English, and no more than 8000 words in length. Past and present faculty and students at the University of Kentucky are ineligible to compete. Submissions should not have been previously published or submitted for publication.

The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2008. Essays should be submitted in triplicate in typed (hard copy) form to Ms. Katie Barrett, Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0027 USA. No electronic submissions please.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

20,000 and counting

So - we hit over 20,000 for page hits to the blog - thanks to all those who have joined in, as we almost get to the 1-year birthday of the R-P-E blog.

I am hoping that two new authors will begin to post with me here soon. Emily Ryall and Roy Jackon - both philosophers here at the University of Gloucestershire. We will shortly welcome new students - and look forward to another busy year of blogging...

Cheers, Dave

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fair Use and Copyright - video

This is interesting on copyright and 'fair use'.... if you can follow it!


Monday, September 03, 2007

Religion and Public Opinion

An article on the Times website reports on a YouGov poll that finds that:

NEARLY half the British think that religion is harmful, according to a poll
carried out by YouGov. Yet more than half also believe in God “or

Is this a contradiction? These two halves are unlikely to be precisely exclusive - so a number of people clearly take the view that there is a God (or 'something') - but that the human response to this (if that is what we cal religion) is harmful... I guess it brings us to the question: can we have 'God without religion'? (and would we want it...)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Running Away.. - for anyone with spare cash to donate to charity!

[image is not my actual legs; for illustrative purposes only...]

Shameless Self Promotion...

In case readers are interested, both in general terms, and because of a piece entitled Even Philosophers Get the Blues, see this press release (also available from Amazon, etc):

Essays prove the Blues was an African American invasion of European music.

The impact of African American music on western, white popular music is well documented. But while much has been written about the influences of black music on early rock n’ roll and the explosion of British popular music in the 1960s, little has been said about the earlier, and broader, effects.

Cross the Water Blues: African American Music in Europe (University Press of Mississippi) is a unique collection of essays examining the flow of African American music and musicians across the Atlantic to Europe from the time of slavery to the 20th century.

Editor Neil Wynn has assembled a broad exploration of different musical forms such as spirituals, blues, jazz, skiffle, and orchestral music. The contributors consider the reception and influence of black music on a number of different European audiences, particularly in Britain, but also France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The essayists approach the subject through diverse historical, musicological, and philosophical perspectives. A number of essays document little-known performances and recordings of African American musicians in Europe. Several pieces, including one by Paul Oliver, focus on the appeal of the blues to British listeners. At the same time, these considerations often reveal the ambiguous nature of European responses to black music and in so doing add to our knowledge of transatlantic race relations.

Contributions from Christopher G. Bakriges, Sean Creighton, Jeffrey Green, Leighton Grist, Bob Groom, Rainer E. Lotz, Paul Oliver, Catherine Parsonage, Iris Schmeisser, Roberta Freund Schwartz, Robert Springer, Rupert Till, Guido van Rijn, David Webster, and Neil A. Wynn

Neil A. Wynn is professor of twentieth-century American history at the University of Gloucestershire. He is the author of Historical Dictionary from the Great War to the Great Depression, From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society, and The Afro-American and the Second World War.

For more information contact Clint Kimberling, Publicist, at
Read more about Cross the Water Blues: African American Music in Europe at:

Friday, August 17, 2007

'Properly Basic' Beliefs and the Existence of God

Over at Go Grue they have been having a fascinating discussion regarding Alvin Plantinga'a treatment of whether belief in God is 'properly basic'.. The nature of the way the authors deal with the argument will also be of interest, I think, to Philosophy students..

The link is:


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Where do philosophers go?

We were very pleased with the success of our call for accounts of how people started out as philosphers - how they ended up in this profession / calling / vocation/ etc - see - for people's stories: some very intriguing ones.

I thought it might be of interest to see where - after starting out - people felt the study of philosophy had taken them in their lives: and the impact thereupon (a real word?)...

comment welcome via the blog here...


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another year...

As A-level results loom, some of us are preparing for clearing - the annual round of last-minute scrambling for places... [mind you - we do at least now have potable running water back]

Here at the University of Gloucestershire - in (really) sunny Cheltenham - we are preparing for the first run of year three of the Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course. We are also welcoming another intake of first years (though we may have places through clearing - see for details on the process - or contact us via e-mail).

For current students - please use to see the timetable, and student records to choose your modules. Remember that those entering levels 2 and 3 will need 4 modules per semester...

Hope you are all having a good summer...

Monday, July 30, 2007

University closed till Friday 3rd August

As some of you may have heard, as a result of flooding there is no running water in our taps here in Cheltenham...

As a result, the University is closed until Friday 3rd August - so if you have any course-related question, do e-mail - but replies may be slower than normal...

Once all is back to normal here, it may be that we want to think over the debates that have been happening here - over how quickly the usual order, some have claimed, turns to chaos - with panic-buying, police supervising water supplies, etc - and the converse tales of neighbourly solidarity...

For more news on the University of Gloucestershire - see

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why Study Philosophy?

I note that at there is a set of for/against arguments dealing with this topic – and links to the many University Departments who offer a rationale for such studies.

At Elon University, Nim Batchelor has a page entitled: How can I tell my parents that I want to be a philosophy major?

But – what do those who are actively studying on a philosophy course – or active in philosophy as teachers or in some other sense - think?

Does the study of philosophy make you:
More content – or more despairing and miserable?
A better (more virtuous) person?
Awkward and disputatious?
Smug and self-righteous?

Or perhaps the study of it has benefits that aren’t as clear and as much to do with what impact it has on the individual student…

Comments welcome…

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Love, Sex, Death and Podcasting

Those of you preparing for your third year of Religion, Philosophy & Ethics (rather than just relaxing all summer), will have noted the module Love, Sex and Death. I just came across a really intriguing podcast at:
which I thought would make an interesting pre-module listen. Enjoy...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Religion, Philosophy & Ethics (RPE) Staffing Update...

Well, after a very demanding and competitive process (we were hugely impressed by both the quantity of applicants, and the very high quality of them) of selecting a new member of staff to join us on the RPE team, we can announce the result. From next Semester, we will be joined by Dr Roy A Jackson. We are very excited about this - and I have asked him for a paragraph to introduce himself - which is below. I also managed to persuade him to let me have a photo of him. I am sure students will join the staff in making him feel welcome.

I was born in Liverpool and did my doctorate at the University of Kent where I also lectured for a number of years. I have, in my time, taught in secondary schools, colleges and various universities including Durham and King’s College London. I specialise in Nietzsche, Philosophy of Religion, and Islamic Philosophy and recently published two books for Routledge: Nietzsche and Islam, and Fifty Key Figures in Islam. I’m really excited at the prospect of teaching in the RPE department and, of course, experiencing the ups and down of the Robins (Cheltenham Town FC!).

Sunday, June 17, 2007

UK Association for Buddhist Studies: Conference 6-8 July 2007

The Teaching of Buddhism in Higher Education
St Anne's College, Oxford
In association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies ( )
Conference 6-8 July 2007
Cheers, Dave

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Religion, Philosophy & Ethics (RPE) Summer Meal

Thanks to the Student Reps who have organised this. Following the success of the RPE Xmas meal, we are now having an event on Wednesday 13th Jun 2007 at 6pm. It will be at the Cheltenham Tandoori (details below).

If you want to come, and have not told Shajaat (or your student rep) - I can pass on a message - so we have an idea of numbers...

See you there - - Dave

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Buddhism revision session

Just to remind RPE202 students that there is a revision session, Monday 11 June, 12noon. Meet in my office...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Summer Competition

Yes, a Summer competition. In the style of local newspapers everywhere, I thought students might want to show us where they get to this summer by sending in pics of themselves with the Dept of Humanities brochure...

Prizes may be forthcoming... Brochures can be found outside my office (QW219) - or at reception, or from Patricia Downes in the UMS office...

To get us started - see the RPE Photo album where pictures will be posted, one to get you started is there already...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dumbsh*t Decisions

What kinds of stupid decisions are trivial enough to forgive? Can we have some rules please? See the Utah State philosophy blog at for a rather interesting discussion..

News of the RPE Summer Meal, and a Summer competition to follow...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Starting Out as a Philosopher (and A-levels)

Many people (in the UK) find their first taste of studying philosophy to be the AS /A2 Religious Studies courses - most notably the Philosophy & Ethics A Level options....

I thought it would be an interesting post for this site to ask the readers of the blog (many of our students did these qualifications) to tell us about their experiences - and others, how did you encounter philosophy? To summarise - we would love to hear:

  • Tips / Advice for AS/A2 Philosophy & Ethics students
  • Anecdotes about your studies at A-Level (16-18yrs old - for readers abroad!)
  • How did (for all blog readers) you first encounter philosophy as a subject - and what did you make of it?

  • And a question for students: Why are you studying philosophy? How did it happen?


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Islamic Philosophy

Those of you studying the Islam module, RPE104, on the Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course may be interested (as indeed all RPE students may well be) in the resources about Muslim philosophers and the influence of Islamic philosophy that are at

There is a lot of material, but it is worth having a good look around, and seeing what might apply to your in-class studies at present.


Monday, May 07, 2007


Some of you will know what 'Open Source' software is - where the code is freely available, and people can amend it as they choose. But what about an Open Source religion? This is what Yoism claims to be:

"Uniting Atheist, Skeptic, Agnostic, Realist, Enlightenment,Humanist, Unitarian,
Transcendentalist, Pantheist, andDeist systems of belief to create the World's
First Open Source, Rational Religion, the advent of Yoismmarks a turning point in the history of Homo sapiens,the next stage in human development: Childhood's
. "
Is it serious? Is it a joke? A serious joke? Maybe up your own mind at

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

UC Berkeley Podcasts

Got access to iTunes? Go to - go to their iTunes thing and look at the Arts and Humanities section for some really fantastic podcasts. Enjoy... Dave

Does Philosophy of Religion exist?

Google “Philosophy of Religion” and see what pops up…
(or just click here)

Look at key textbooks with the title (or click here)

What you will note is the Theistic focus of the topics - the nature of God, arguments for/against God, the Problem of Evil, etc.

Is this discipline which has grown up most notably in Anglo-American philosophy, not better titled 'The Philosophy of Theism'?

Philosophy Talk Radio

Philosophy Talk - a radio show co-hosted in the USA and Australia - has an archive of its chirpy but intriguing discussions online.

I have just enjoyed the one at - which should be of interest to all Religion, Philosphy & Ethics students (as well as those revising for AS / A2 Religious Studies (Philosophy & Ethics) exams)

they also have their own blog at:


Students on the RPE202 Buddhism module may find the podcasts at of interest..

Or maybe some Zen Radio at


Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Course Map

Hi - long time, no posts...

Well, the sun has been out, and it has been the holidays.
Anyway, back to it as we are, I thought I would update students (and other interested parties) with regard to changes to the Field (Course) map for next year...

New modules:
RPE108 Greek Philosophy
OTC116, Rome Field Trip (now counts as an RPE module)
RPE209 Philosophy of Mind
RPE208 Religions of India (double module, replacing the Hinduism and Buddhism modules)
RPE307 Close Philosophical Reading

RPE301 Love, Sex and Death and RPE304 Ethics and Reason are both to become 'double' modules...

There are other minor changes, linked to changes in the shape of the academic year, but these are the main ones...

Cheers, Dave
[Field Chair, Religion, Philosophy & Ethics]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Buddhism, Philosophy as therapy - some thoughts..

Some thoughts over Easter: I know many students are away for the break – perhaps you may have more time than normal to think? so some thoughts....

Many of you are doing the Buddhism modules (RPE202), and there also seems to be a ‘craze’ for seeing philosophy as, in some sense, therapeutic (see . I was thinking of these two things in tandem this afternoon, and it struck me that we have been discussing themes pertinent here in class.

These have come out of our discussion as to whether Buddhism (esp in its early phase) counts as a religion. Well – I welcome comments on that topic – but also: can philosophy count as therapy?

Buddhism seems to count as therapeutic: –it includes the philosophy and a particular targeted practice (though we might, of course, dispute the accuracy pf the former and the efficacy of the latter).

Indeed Buddhism is if anything more sceptical of a certain philosophical ‘view holding’ (though after the very early phase scholasticism becomes a key part of Buddhist tradition), as we see in the Sisupacala Sutta, (trans from, SN 5.8):

At Savatthi. Then, early in the morning, Sisupacala the nun put on her robes and, taking her bowl & outer robe, went into Savatthi for alms. When she had gone for alms in Savatthi and had returned from her alms round, after her meal she went to the Grove of the Blind to spend the day. Having gone deep into the Grove of the Blind, she sat down at the foot of a tree for the day's abiding.

Then Mara the Evil One, wanting to arouse fear, horripilation, & terror in her, wanting to make her fall from solitude, approached her & said, "Whose philosophy do you approve of, nun?"

"I don't approve of anyone's
philosophy, my friend."

For whose sake
have you shaved your head?
You look like a contemplative
but don't approve
of a philosophy,
so why are you wandering here

[Sister Sisupacala:]
Outside philosophers place
their confidence in views.
I don't approve
of their teaching.
They're not adept in the

But there is
the Awakened One,
born in the Sakyan clan,
a person without peer:
Mara's subduer,
everywhere undefeated,
everywhere freed,
endowed with an
Eye all-seeing, reaching the end
of all kamma —
with the ending of
acquisitions, released.

He, that Blessed
One, is my teacher.
It's in his Dhamma
that I delight.

Then Mara the Evil One — sad & dejected at realizing,
"Sisupacala the nun knows me" — vanished right there.

Is the Nun here rejecting all views? We often get the view in Buddhism that the practice consists of the three elements found in the 8-fold path: wisdom (insight, maybe), morality (or virtue) and meditation practice.

Can Western philosophical traditions be considered as in any sense therapeutic without this kind of holistic approach?

Further, can Buddhism really be said to reject ‘views’ – and still propagate a position on as
many issues as it seems to?


Thursday, March 29, 2007

New comment on The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

For more new comments on The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas see and scroll down - including a response by Ursula LeGuin herself, sent to Martha Allen Sherwood, in the context of discussions about the story...
Cheers - Dave

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The runaway trolley and brain damage

For a video-podcast of me outlining the basics of the trolley problem see: 

Some of you will have discussed in class the classic moral problem sometimes known as the runaway trolley case - where a trolley car is running out of control down a hill - and is about to kill 5 people, but you happen to be stood by a switch - with a lever: pull the lever and it switches trackes and the 5 people are safe.... but (there's always a 'but' in these examples) there is one person on the other track - do you pull the lever 'killing' 1 and 'saving' 5?

Now - you will recognise in this issues of Utilitarianism, and there are numerous variants that demonstrate some of the problems associated with assessing situations on the basis of utility... what if you knew some of the people - or if the 1 was a doctor, and the 5 were criminals on work-release - etc... Other variants include an example where there is no switch but you can push a man (in some version a fat man) in front [you are unable to put yourself in its path] and hereby save the 5 - is this different?

In surveys people are often reluctant to act when it involves an act which seems so directly like 'killing' - but I came across this interesting article in the New York Times which quotes a survey that seems to link answers to this variant version to areas of the brain - via a survey involving people with damage to certain parts of their brain. It is at:

If we accept this - what does the link between brain areas and moral choice say about the nature of moral choice itself?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Buddhism podcast 4

Yes, here is the latest Buddhism (RPE202) podcast. This is on 'views' - and is limited by my being a bit full of cold - but hopefully still makes some kind of sense..

It follows up on the some of the discussions we have had in class regarding the way in which it might be not just the content of religious beliefs and ideas that matter in Buddhist thought, but also the manner in which the views are held...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Horse Racing and Ethical Concerns

Well, as Cheltenham Festival (the racing one) comes to an end after the Gold Cup, I have spoke to a number of students who have had moral concerns about the status of horse racing - mostly jump racing...

Well- - I thought it was an intriguing topic for the blog..

The Animal Aid website at says:

Most people regard horse racing as a harmless sport in which the animals are
willing participants who thoroughly enjoy the thrill. The truth is that, behind
the scenes, lies a story of immense suffering. Approximately 15,000
foals are born into the closely-related British and Irish racing industries
each year, yet only a third go on to become racers. Those horses who do not
make the grade may be slaughtered for meat or repeatedly change hands in a
downward spiral of neglect. Of those horses who do go on to race, around 375
are raced to death every year.
Beneath its glamorous façade, commercial horse racing is a ruthless industry motivated by financial gain and prestige. Cruelty? You can bet on it!

And a campaign to ban the use of the whip says (see: )

Why should the whip be banned?
ITS USE IS TO PROMOTE UNNATURAL SPEED - The overiding reason for using a whip upon a racehorse is to get it to perfom at its absolute optimum - to encourge it to try harder or run faster than it would under natural conditions. This is of little benefit to the horse itself. Surely, to demand a horse runs at an artifically engineered speed through using a whip is done merely to satisfy human expectations and desires to see how fast horses will go in competition with each other.
A RACE IS STILL A RACE IF A WHIP IS USED OR NOT - The point of horse racing must be that they race against each other over a predetermined course and distance and the horse that passes the finishing post first wins. Whether a whip is used or not in this process is immaterial - without whips, a race could still be run and winners declared.
FOR SAFETY REASONS - Some horses veer or at least run away from a whip,
especially if inexperienced - this means that if for example a jockey is using
his whip in his right hand, the horse will move to the left. This can potentially cause accidents. Also, by running at an unatural speed - flat out - horses can make mistakes, especially when jumping.
WHAT WAS ACCEPTABLE THEN SHOULDN'T BE NOW - We do not use physical persuasions upon humans to control their behvaiour any longer, eg corporal punishment - why should horses be physically persuaded by the use of the whip to give unreasonably beyond their all? In different times, using a whip upon an animal was viewed as acceptable as it could be used on a human being, but this should no longer be the case.

Is this convincing? Clearly the are issues about the instrumental use of animals, but for those who eat meat, wear leather and have pets - can we really criticse here without being hypocrites? What defence is offered by the industry? The Horseracing Regulatory Authority has guidance on the whip:

The HRA will not tolerate abuse of the horse and consider its welfare, and the safety of the rider, to be paramount. The whip should be used for safety, correction and encouragement only and they therefore advise all riders to consider the following good ways of using the whip which are not exhaustive:

Showing the horse the whip and giving it time to respond before hitting it.
Using the whip in the backhand position for a reminder.
Having used the whip, giving the horse a chance to respond before using it again.
Keeping both hands on the reins when using the whip down the shoulder in the backhand position.
Using the whip in rhythm with the horse’s stride and close to its side.
Swinging the whip to keep a horse running straight.

The HRA has asked Stewards of Meetings to consider holding an enquiry into any case where a rider has used his whip in such a way as to cause them concern and publish the following examples of uses of the whip which may be regarded as improper riding:
Hitting horses:to the extent of causing
with the whip arm above shoulder height;
rapidly without regard to their stride, i.e. twice or more in one stride;
with excessive force;
without giving the horse time to respond.

In this view - the whip is of benefit to the horse - it helps it race well and stay safe... But what of the wider moral argument? Many feel that horse-owners love and care deeply for their animals, the business provides employment and pleasure to thousands and further to this - many feel that the horses derive pleasure from racing themselves (and that racing is natural to them)- and that the critics are sentimental hypocrites...

Well - enough from me - what do you think on this topic..


Monday, March 12, 2007

Open debate on religious fundamentalism

The theme of religious fundamentalism will be discussed at a panel event at the University of Gloucestershire (FCH campus) on Thursday 15 March at 7.30pm.
Organised by the University of Gloucestershire chaplaincy, the panel will include Mr Ahmed Bham from Gloucester Muslim Welfare Association and Professor Melissa Raphael, Dr Dee Carter and Dr David Webster from the University’s Department of Humanities.

University chaplain and organiser, Rev Pete Sainsbury said, “What is fundamentalism? How did it play out in religious and public life in the twentieth century and what does it mean now? These are some of the questions we will be discussing and we would like anyone who is interested in this debate to come and join us.”
“There are varieties of fundamentalism and we’ll be discussing the usefulness of the term in understanding religious, as well as secular belief,” added Dr David Webster, course leader in religion, philosophy and ethics.
The panel will invite questions and opinions from the floor. Light refreshments will be served after the event. Everyone is welcome.
For further information, contact Rev Pete Sainsbury on 01242 714593, or email

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ethics in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Note: If you are a student looking at this to help with a paper/essay on the Omelas short story - that is great, we hope something here helps - but be sure to give a reference - and send me an e-mail to let me know if you find the material useful..

Dave W:

Last Semester (in RPE101, Philosophical and Ethical Arguing) we used the Ursula Le Guin short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas to discuss a number of ethical concerns that we were going over in class. Details of this post are at:

In EZ205 (Ethics and Language), we have covered a number of ethical theories, and I wanted to raise some of the related issues with the class. I would like you to look at the story and consider your response in a number of ways….

  • What is the nature of the ethical problem here? How is it linked to the theories we have been looking at in class?
  • What would you do – and why?
  • In what way do we share the dilemma of the people of Omelas in our current economic and political world?
  • Would it be worth the life of one innocent child to free the world from, say, AIDS?
  • Is the contrivance of the story useful - do such exmaples help our moral thinking?
  • In Le Guin’s description of the city of Omelas (which is striking), what do we learn of her view of what the Good life consists of?

Please use the ‘comments’ feature of the blog to respond to these questions (and make any other comments others that occur while reading or reflecting…)
Other RPE students (and indeed anyone else) are welcome to join in here!

See you in class…

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Buddhism podcast 3

Hi, the Buddhism podcast 3 is now on-line.

It is short, and about Not-Self (Anatta) - and is really just a reading of the start of the Buddhist text Questions of King Milinda - which uses the idea of a chariot...

The text - to read along - is at:

The picture is me 'podcasting', as some have said it is hard to listen without a mental image - not sure if this will make it worse or better...


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Group Discussions...

Following the post about the skills philosophy/ethics students need, we hagve been using the 187 (Skills) module to discuss what procedures might best enable group / class feedback discussions, and whether any ground rules are needed for them... Comments for this post will reflect the in-class thinking - and further comments, as ever, are welcome...

Buddhism Podcast 2: The Four Noble Truths

Hi, the second podcast for RPE (Religion, Philosophy & Ethics) 202 Buddhism is now available. This is a longer piece - so is hosted in a different location to the other podcasts for RPE.

This podcast is a reading (by me) of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, on the Buddhist notion of the Four Noble Truths, with comments and explanations. While I will give a handout to you in class, the sutta is also at

The podcast download is at or on the Higher Education section of iTunes.

As ever - do let me know if there are technical problems (it is a 27MB file, so you may need the patience of a Buddha...)


Sunday, February 18, 2007

EZ205 Langauge and Ethics podcast / Utilitarianism powerpoint

For those on EZ205 Language & Ethics, there is a short podcast with some definitions of Moral Realism at: - hope it is useful. [It may be of interest to those studying A-level, ( As / A2) Religious Studies, Philosopy & Ethics - or for thier revision]

Those studying RPE103 Contemporary Ethical Issues may also want to have a listen. I have also added, at the same location, a copy of the Utilitarianism powerpoint that EZ205 and RPE103 students may find of use...

Cheers, Dave

[Oh - posts about the skills needed to study philosophy and/or ethics are still very welcome on the post below...]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What skills do philosophy / ethics students need?

This post is to ask our students (and others) what skills they think are important in the study of Religion, Philosophy & Ethics. While it is initially for current students to reflect on what they did well/badly in the first semester - I, as ever, welcome contributions from our wider readership..


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ladies College Philosophy & Religion event

Last week, some of our staff and students attended an event at the Cheltenham Ladies College on Religion and Philosophy. This was mainly aimed at students of A-Level Religious studies (philosophy & ethics) - but they kindly had asked RPE students too.

Below is a report from two of the students who attended:

From Carol:

When we were given the opportunity to attend a Philosophy conference, three of us fellow students jumped at the chance. Not only did we think that the day would be philosophically interesting, we also wanted to have a 'peek' at the very famous Cheltenham Ladies College, where the conference was held. The building was very grand indeed. Although the conference was aimed at A-level students, it was a very intellectual discussion. In fact, we all feel that studying the 'Philosophy, Science and Belief' module (RPE 201) really helped us to gain a strong grounding in the discussions.

Keith Ward started the conference off by talking about the statement 'God is a delusion' and examined where our beliefs in God come from. He then opened the discussion to the students who asked many interesting questions. One young lady asked where our morals come from if we do not possess belief in God, Keith Ward very quickly replied that we cannot have a real morality if we do not believe in God, which of course we all disagreed very strongly with (as we feel we do possess morality!)

Anthony Flew was allotted to speak next, although he forgot that he had to be there and so he was late! (He is very old so we cannot hold him entirely responsible...) Keith Ward stepped in to talk about the Verification principle (he was a student of the very famous A. J Ayer!) and also spoke briefly on falsification. He was very impressive actually; he hadn't prepared but managed to speak very coherently on the subject.

During this time, some students attended an exam preparation workshop, which we did not attend (mainly due to the fact that we have just finished our exams!). Then it was time for a break - tea, coffee and biscuits were supplied! Yummy! Back to the Princess Hall again for another talk from Keith Ward examining the problem of evil, and attempting to explain why there is evil in the world today. From a Christian view, he attempted to explain evil due to our freedom in the world, and God could not intervene otherwise he would jeopardise our freedom. He also attempted to explain the notions of God's goodness and his omnipotence. Some 'smart alec' attempted to argue a very silly point - comparing God with Hitler - the room went incredibly silent by this remark!

Lunch time, and we went to a very cute little tea room.

When we arrived back, feeling very full, Anthony Flew had arrived! He looked very old and doddery, but also had a very warm charm to him. Flew and Ward had a debate concerning God's existence, but it was incredibly difficult to hear Flew, everyone had to strain their ears very hard. They both hated Darwin, and Flew became very animated indeed when he was arguing his point against Darwin. What we did find frustrating was that both Ward and Flew possessed belief in God, we would have liked to have seen an atheist there to stir things up a little!

Overall, it was a really enjoyable day!

From Shelley:

Anthony Flew apparently got the days muddled and didn't arrive until the afternoon. So Keith Ward delivered an unrehearsed and, well, an unwritten, talk on verification and falsification, which was impressive, but I still found him irritating. (By the way, without Philosophy and Science RPE201, I would have been lost for a lot of the day). When he talked about 'the problem with evil' he seemed to be saying that without God, there is no criteria for morality, goodness, friendship, all the virtues, really. So a young woman challenged him on it and he answered in a kind of wet way, and what I gathered from his response was that he didn't think morality, etc, was possible without God. Frankly, I didn't think he answered any of the questions well. He could lecture from his own position, but he didn't do well defending it. Also, he was always referring to striving towards the Good, as an objective reality that exists, God, Supreme Good, Ultimate Reality. And although, I couldn't formulate a question, I wasn't convinced by his argument (he also seemed like a dapper, chirpy-voiced, personable, cheerful, unangst-ridden little man which irritated me).

Frances, Emily and Carol asked very good questions.

Anthony Flew hates Richard Dawkins. That came over loud and clear. But it was the only thing from him that did. He became very excited about 'time'. He was downright animated stating there hasn't been enough time for the natural selection process to have evolved to where we are today. But the problem with using ‘time’ to refute evolution theory and thereby using the refutation to support independent design theory, is fallacious reasoning of the bifurcation flavour. It’s the same as using irreducible complexities to slam evolution theory but simultaneously and indirectly using it to support independent design (as Carol pointed out in her question to Keith Ward – which he didn’t answer properly – where’s the little symbol on the keyboard that sticks its tongue out?). What I mean is the faulty reasoning is the either/or one, ‘if it’s not this, it’s that’. The ‘time’ evidence falsifies evolution theory. But that doesn’t necessarily lead to the acceptance or truth of independent design theory.

Keith Ward hates Richard Dawkins too. I think he used the word 'stupid' several times to describe RD. Unfortunately, I had to strain very hard to hear Anthony Flew. The afternoon session was organised like a conversation between KW and AF. So it was a little frustrating because AF couldn't be heard. Or Keith Ward would pontificate and Anthony Flew would nod his head and reply ‘Yes, yes’. He must be in his deep 80s and it was a great opportunity to see him, though.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ethical Decisions - and the study of philosophy and ethics

I was reading a comment over at the UNF philsophy blog:(here) where a UNF philosophy student [I think] relates a (rather frightening) real-life incident that she was involved in - and then relates it to the topic at hand (the 'Golden Rule' in ethics):

But you can bet if I wake up and find a burglar in my home, the furthest thing
from my mind will be the golden rule, however conceived or applied. And when I
call 911, it won’t be because I have reasoned that doing so will restore a
person’s soul to a state of virtue. More particularly, I won’t be doing that
type of reasoning while the burglar is in my home.
Here is a point about how we decide - the process in the split-second moment - and whether we at that point apply any moral theory at all. Maybe we just act on instinct (that's what is sometimes feels like). OR perhaps we implicitly apply some set of crtieria? Or maybe it is habit/training?

The second thing I thought about after reading this was: Does the study of ethics make you a better person?

[This is very pertinent in the UK, as many more people seem to be studying philosophy and ethics at A level
A-Levels (split into As/A2) are what UK students do between school and University - normally around the ages 16-18
AS and A2 Religious Studies now have a large portion of this type of material in them]


There could be numerous answers:

  • Yes - I now think about others much more, and more concerned to act in an appropriate manner.
  • No - but I am better at justifying my actions (actually driven by my lusts) to others as ethical.
  • No - it has no impact.
  • I still act the same - but tend to feel worse about it aftewards than I used to...

I am sure there are other answers - but wanted to ask readers: has the study of philosophy & religion (esp. ethics) changed you as a person?


Answers welcome from our Religion, Philosophy and Ethics students - and anyone else who has studied topics with an ethical/philosophical aspect: what did it do to you...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Podcast for Buddhism module

Okay - if you want to listen to the 1st (technically the second, but the first one was a test) podcast on RPE202 Buddhism, go to and download the mp3. Then listen to it - simple as that...

We should have the rest of these - as done - up on iTunes, so that they will be proper podcasts - anyway - comments on this first one are welcome...

[I am aware of the sound quality/volume issues - and hope to address these shortly]


Monday, February 05, 2007

New Humanities course brochure

The new Departmental course brochure (for Humanities at the University of Gloucestershire - that is English Language; English Literature; Creative Writing; History and Religion, Philosophy & Ethics (RPE)) can now be downloaded at:

Friday, February 02, 2007

University of North Florida Philosophy Blog

I recently had an e-mail from our friends at the University of North Florida's Philosophy department (Hi Rico) - to let us know that their philosophy blog is now back and up and running at full speed- and I must say I was very impressed. It is at:

What is notable is the range of contributors - and the practice of gettng students to contribute material. So - in case you didn't have enough to do - I would be very happy to receive student material for this blog...

Also -please do visit and make some comments - 2nd years may be interested in the piece criticising Singer's 'speciesism' notion, for example.
(Just be sure to tell them you're from the University of Gloucestershire's Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course when you make the comment!)

Looking forward to getting back to teaching...


[Image: University of North Florida]