Saturday, March 29, 2008

St Bernard's Catholic Grammar - Slough

Friday saw me endure a 5+ hour driving extravaganza as the UK road system seemed close to collapse - or somehow trying to thwart my efforts to get to St Bernard's Catholic Grammar school in Slough and back...

Despite the traffic, the day was well spent - the two groups a Y12 and a Y13 cohort) were lively and asked good, difficult questions. The first session was on Free-Will and Determinism. Following this up - I found a really interesting video on this. This is an interview with philosopher Daniel Dennett - most known form his work on consciousness. Although the interview does not touch on the religious aspects of the relation to Omniscience of determinism that we talked through in the session - he does offer a model of compatibilism - that attempted reconciling of free-will and determinism that we covered. It should appear below - but if there is a problem - click HERE

The second lecture was on Freud and religion - and I think, from the comments of the group, that we ended with quite a rounded view of his approach to religion. You could follow this up at

I enjoyed the visit - and hope to see you again...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weston College and Buddhism

Last week we were lucky enough to welcome a group from Weston Super Mare to the University, to talk about Buddhism - and the Four Noble Truths in particular.

I hope you enjoyed being with us - if you want to know more about Buddhism, a good place to start is the collection of Theravada texts at which also has a subject index which is very handy (as our students here will tell you...)
There is a podcast on the Four Noble Truths (along with primary source text) at -which may also be of help...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Baskets

As I was researching for my essay on business ethics and globalisation, I have come upon a polarity of ideas: from Milton Friedman, "the business of business is business",, to Hume's naturalistic fallacy of an is not an ought The naturalistic fallacy is particularly interesting as our global suppliers are often from under-developed countries and imposing western business acumen as well as western ethics is often not a good fit. While shops reassure customers that their suppliers follow ethical standards, what happens practically is a different matter.

Anyhow, from my research, I remembered a book of short stories by B. Traven, a mysterious German writer which little is known, who lived in Mexico and wrote stories about Mexico and the Mexican Indians. The story that jogged my memory is called "Assembly Line". Here's a link to the story and it is not long to read. Roughly the story runs: Mr. Winthrop a New Yorker is vacationing in Mexico and discovers an Indian making exquisite baskets for 50 centavos (four cents). The Indian is an artist: he collects bast fibers, plants, roots, insects (for dye) equalling a time of 20-30 hours per basket. He does not paint the designs onto the basket, he weaves the designs into the basket. He calls each basket a heartsong. Well, Mr. Winthrop's eyes roll into his head as he calculates the profit he is about to fleece from contracting ten thousand baskets from the Indian. As per norm, while one basket is 50 centavos, ten thousand baskets would cost far less per basket, according to business procedures familiar to Mr. Winthrop - my good lordy, caballero, as the Indian calls him. The Indian who cannot even imagine what ten thousand baskets is, tallies the total like this, "The price is well calculated now without any mistake on my side. If I got to make one thousand castitas each will be three pesos. If I must make five thousand, each will cost nine pesos. And if have to make ten thousand, in such a case I can't make them for less than fifteen pesos each." B. Traven ends the story on a non-Friedmanite note, "And in this way it happened that American garbage cans escaped the fate of being turned into receptacles for empty, torn, and crumpled little multicolored canastitas into which an Indian of Mexico had woven dreams of his soul, throbs of his heart: his unsung poems.

I think the story is worth a read and seasonal as bulk packaging and chocolate consumption (a greatly contested source of exploitation) is synonymous with Easter celebrations.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

High Drama in the West Midlands (well, Bromsgrove)

Wednesday saw me off to visit South Bromsgrove High School Technology and Language College - to talk about Buddhist ideas of Life after Death - and the Problem of Evil.
It was a memorable trip..

I was almost late due to transport difficulties - and our second session was interrupted by a fire alarm - it has been ages since I have lined up with 1300 pupils and staff in a large sports area.. That was made up for by cake - as one of the group was celebrating her 18th birthday: so on balance an enjoyable visit..
The group asked some very good questions - and it was a pleasure to come and talk to so thoughtful and reflective a class - good luck with the A2 exams!

For more on the problem of evil (buy our A-level Religious Studies Problem of Evil DVD here !) - see the post at - and look at the YouTube clip, and the other links in that post. On Buddhism - there are great resources at Access to Insight - I would start with their subject index.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

St Mary's School - Shaftesbury...

Well -after rather a long drive, this Tuesday saw me arrive at St Mary's School, in Shaftesbury - where I talked (quite a lot, if I recall) about Utilitarianism.

Those interested in the Omelas short story that I mentioned, and its relation to Utilitarianism can look at some discussions we had on this site by clicking HERE... I also talked about moral dilemmas - such as those at - which might remind you of some of the ones I used in the session!

And - as I said after a simliar session (albeit in the West Midlands, rather than Dorest): For those who thought I was a little tough on Utilitarianism (I have been accused of this) - you can redress the balance at

I hope the sessions were of some use for your AS Religious Studies paper - and thanks for inviting me..

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Thou shalt not pollute the Earth"?

Hello to all, and thanks for reading my first post here! My Name is Jason Chambers and I am a third year student of R.P.E at the University of Gloucestershire.

I found this interesting, the Vatican have decided its time to update the book on what contemporary actions may result in eternal damnation; quite thoughtful of them, really. Among those joining the original seven deadly sins are 'Inflicting poverty' and 'Environmental pollution'

Are these really needed?

Details on the B.B.C website, link below:-

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So much for happiness?

Now - many of you will have heard me deride the notion that happiness is the goal of all life, especially moral decisions. Maybe I have overstated this at times - but a piece HERE takes issue with the slew of new books telling us how to be happy.

Even if it is a worthy goal - can we teach people to be happy?

King Edward VI School, Stratford upon Avon - visit

Well - another visit. This time to historic (and busy) Stratford, to see one of our graduates who is now a teacher at the King Edward VI School - known to some as Shakespeare's school...

I was there to talk about ethics (as in the AQA Philosophy AS syllabus) - and talked about Kant and also Utilitarianism. We also talked about the nature of moral dilemmas - see for some examples. If you follow the link HERE there is more on ethical ideas - follow the links!


Friday, March 07, 2008

Evil Stalks the West (Midlands): Cadbury College Visit

Well - today was a day of evil.. I went to Cadbury College where I did three sessions with AS groups - all on the Problem of Evil.

See more on Evil at and also on the 'Irenaean theodicy' at
(or buy our 'Problem of Evil DVD'! Aimed at A level Religious Studies / Philosophy and Ethics: HERE )

I thought the discussions were very useful - and I liked the points made about the nature of God - indeed, all the questions today showed some real insight: and I hope to be back before too long.

I also found this YouTube video (with music - if you keep listening) that addresses Voltaire's reaction to the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, and the Problem of Evil - and it is well worth watching through...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Philosophy & Ethics Reading Group

Our next reading will be Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. We will discuss this at our next two meetings so will break it into the two volumes. It can be found in various places online but it is probably much better to get hold of a hard copy.

Due to the Easter break, our next meeting will be 6pm, Tuesday 8th April at Bar Ha! Ha! in Montpellier.

More details can be found on our wordpress site:

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Upcoming Events: Islam and the Veil Conference, Islam and Nietzsche Paper

Just to let people know on Tuesday 29th April 2008, the University of Gloucestershire is hosting a conference on Islam and the Veil.

Contact Patricia Downes for details. Or click HERE for the brochure.

The programme includes the following sessions
Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke (Oxford): Respect in a Plural Society
Dr Simonetta Calderini (University of Roehampton): Veiling among Ismaili Women
Mrs Sariya Contractor (University of Gloucestershire): The Hijab, a Symbol of Muslim Women’s Identity
Mrs Rabiha Hannan (SACRE, Leicester): An exploration of head covering and face veiling among Muslim women in Leicester.

Also - don't forget Roy's paper at the Gloucesterhire Philosophical Society - on Islam and Nietzsche is on the 12th of March see: for details: all welcome

Monday, March 03, 2008

Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative

Readers of this blog may be interested in the FREE online, e-learning courses at The blurb there says, about the Open Learning Initiative

Through the OLI project, Carnegie Mellon is working to help the World Wide Web make good on its promise of widely accessible and effective online education. OLI grew out of collaboration among cognitive scientists, experts in human computer interaction and seasoned faculty who have both a deep expertise in their respective fields and a strong commitment to excellence in higher education. The project adds to online education the crucial elements of instructional design grounded in cognitive theory, formative evaluation for students and faculty, and iterative course improvement based on empirical evidence.

I had a go at Chapter 1, Part 1, of the Logic Unit - good stuff: don't let the diagram at the start of the intro movie to scare you off! As they say: Il y a un chat dans la théière.

Queen Elizabeth's Mercian School Visit - Ethics..

Last friday [29th Feb] I headed up the delightful M5 and M42 to Queen Elizabeth's Mercian School to talk to Years 11, 12 and 13 (in varying quantities) about various things.

We began with arguments for the existence of God - mainly the Ontological argument. Some suspected I was playing some kind of theological conuring trick - defining things into existence (and treating existence as a predicate) - maybe they were right...
See for more on God as a necessary being. We also spoke about the Cosmological argument - and the idea of an unmoved mover... Click HERE for more on that topic..
After lunch, we talked about ethics in general, and dilemmas - such as those at - and more real life ones such as at
I had a good time - and hope the session were useful - be glad to be back soon.