Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Puzzle Link and usual 'Christmas banned' nonsense

Peter Cave has a Christmas puzzle for the entertainment of philosophers at - enjoy

See previous links at for stories on banning Christmas, etc- expect usual tabloid versions this year too...


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prezi on Buddhism

Hi. I will be using Prezi on the RPE208 Indian Religions module for the Buddhism aspect next Semester, but thought you'd like to see one by someone else on Buddhism...

Either see below or look at


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cheating and Sport?

I am not that interested in professional football; the cultural imperative for all men to attend with irrational gusto to the minutiae of its details leaves me cold, and feeling distanced from it. Nonetheless, I was struck by Guardian sport blog headline:

The night France's philosopher king spat in the face of the common man

Now, the headline seems wholly over the top: but maybe there is something of interest here. I forced myself to read the entry. And, there was indeed something of interest there. The blog author (Paul Hayward) notes that the French coach sees the incident as failure of the referee - and not a matter of cheating. I can see it is a mistake by the referee. To me this is the game and not cheating says the French coach.

The blog author advances more evidence of the same attitude in sport - and this leads him to the view that as far as many players and others are concerned - they should be able to do anything and it is then the job of the match officials to spot and punish rule-breaking. Paul writes:
With each swan dive, handball and feigned injury we have shuffled to the moment where the modern player thinks it is his duty to cheat, and the responsibility of the state to stop him. To Henry and Domenech, this was a failure not of spirit, of fair play or values but of governance
This is interesting. The idea here is that you should do anything you can to win - and the game is to avoid detection. The rules, it implies, are to be enforced onto you, not something you seek to follow from an intrinsic respect for them. Is it fair to say that many feel the same about the law? If we think about a particular part of the law - motoring restrictions (against speeding, parking where we choose, etc) - I think there parallel is quite striking.

To return to sport though, does such a view not mean that cheating is impossible? If you get away with it - that is fine; if you are caught, you are punished and the rules are upheld. I wonder if I feel the same about lying, or stealing...


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scared of Gloucestershire...

Some days the news stories seem too much to bear: In the Telegraph, we have a strange piece titled: Let's get it straight: Irish child abuse was perpetrated by the trendy, modern post-Vatican II Catholic Church where the author seems to have been given space to follow his wholly unsubstantiated (to an extent we wouldn't tolerate in an essay) line that liberalising Catholic attitudes to sexuality are the main cause of the child abuse scandal.

Then we read in the Guardian:
Uganda considers death sentence for gay sex in bill before parliament
: Minimum penalty is life in jail, under anti-homosexuality bill; US evangelists are main activists behind measure - which tops off a pretty bad day for religon in the press...

anyone have any good news?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

CNN is putting together a set of videos on this year's Hajj. The first one is below...

If the video does not display above - you can go to:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Philosophy Society: November

After another date change, the philosophy reading group will be meeting Thursday, 12th November at Park Campus. However, we will not meet in The Gallery Room. We will have a seminar room as we had for the summer meetings. Our best bet is to meet in front of the SU Bar at 6.55pm and go from there.
This month we will be discussing "The Theses on Feuerbach" by Karl Marx. Why not also have a look at Feuerbach and Hegel (with your extra time) as Marx is responding to the philosophical armchair tendency of 'interpreting' rather than 'changing'? The link:

If you have too much time on your hands (about two minutes), have a look at this:

Look forward to having a rousing discussion tomorrow evening,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Religious Movements list

The University of Virginia has a great page at giving profiles for a huge number of religious movements: be it the Amish, Falun Gong, Jesus Army, UFO cults or Zoroastrianism - they are all there...


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Abraham and the Sacrifice of his Son in the three Abrahamic Faiths

The University is joining the Al Mahdi Institute in Birmingham in an exploration of the topic of Sacrifice in the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The focus is a single text: the story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son, which is told in the Scriptures of all three faiths (Genesis 22; Sura 12) and developed in their art and literature.

Professors Melissa Raphael and Gordon McConville from the Humanities Department will consider the text from the perspective of Judaism and Christianity respectively, while Dr. Ian Williams of Al Mahdi will do so from the perspective of Islam.

The event will take place at Francis Close Hall on 16th November from 11.15 in the Chapel Side Room. All are welcome.

To register, please contact Patricia Downes,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Autumn is a time for paradox and punishment..

As the nights draw in, and summertime evening frolics become less feasible, our students, no doubt, are turning to more cerebral means to pass the evening hours. One way might be to consider the paradox at which I thought interesting.

PEAsoup is good blog, which often has things of note on it - but I thought this, albeit drawn from a book (by Saul Smilansky) - was worth pointing out. I won't explain more - in the name of maintaining the suspense till you get to the actual site...

Best enjoyed in a leather armchair, with sherry and a cat while looking out at the quickening dark of the Cotswolds (or not).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It is Never to Late to Learn

As I said to my students in RPE101, Philosophical and Ethical Arguing (and probably scaring them a little, though that was unintentional), you have to
own your own learning, by which I meant you have to transform yourself from a passive to an active learner.

Of course this phrase 'active and passive learner' is a fine example of gobbledygook (even though it is beloved of our university), but even jargon can hide a kernel of truth. I was reading on the train that morning of an emeritus professor who is still working at the age of 90 (you can read the article here if you want to).

What inspired me wasn't his age (though it's impressive), but how he talked about his experience as a student. He said,

"It's really about whether you want to learn. There's a fundamental difference between being taught and learning yourself, which is what you've got to do to reach a really high standard."

"Learning for yourself", well that is what research is, and should't that be what we teach above all?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Ethicist

Ethical advice via podcast?
"Randy Cohen, Times Magazine columnist, answers readers' questions on ethical issues each week."

I enjoyed some - but the phrase "Cake-free workplace"? : only in America...


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Philosophy Society Update

The October meeting for the Philosophy Society will be held on the 8th, at 7pm in The Gallery Room above the SU Bar at Park Campus. All following meetings will fall on the first Thursday of the month.

I found an interesting dialogue on "Before the Law" that you may like:
Also, an allegorical similarity has been drawn between "Before the Law" and the Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant", where entrance is obstructed by what appears to be an amorphous set of temporal circumstances (note how bribery and charm are used to seduce "the gatekeeper" in Kafka and in Seinfeld). What do you think? Is it fair to draw a comparison between the two? Here are the links to the episode (each about seven minutes):

The link to "Before the Law" is:
And Derrida's essay "Law of Genre":

Any questions or comments can be made here or to Shelley

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dawkins on Science

I read this in the Guardian the other day. Though, as students in RPE 201 know (Philosophy, Science and Belief), I am not an ardent fan of his, I do believe he’s absolute right about this, when he writes about scientists,

"Scientists often disagree with one another, sometimes passionately. But they don't go to court to sort out their differences, they go into the lab, repeat the experiments, carefully examine the controls and the statistical analysis. We care about whether something is true, supported by the evidence. We are not interested in whether somebody sincerely believes he is right. There exist objective methods for discovering whether he is, as a matter of fact, right. If he is wrong, the evidence will show it, and – notwithstanding Judge Eadie – be blowed to whether he is sincere in his error or not."

Not quite sure what he means by ‘blowed’, but it’s a pretty accurate description of what scientists do as opposed to pseudo-scientists.

If you want to read more go to

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Philosophy Society September 2009

The Philosophy Society has ended its first year with the promise of a successful second year now dawning. We have a new wave of fervour from a long list of Freshers to add to our small, but dedicated, core group. Over the past year we have turned our attention to:
  • business ethics by looking at a 1970s article by economist Milton Friedman, "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits" (in other words the business of business is business), and a short story by B. Traven, "Assembly Line"
  • political philosophy by reading Machiavelli's The Prince and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience
  • Herman Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener in tandem with Emerson's The Transcendentalist (which is considered the inspiration behind Bartleby)
  • Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, studying the two famous chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor"
  • Paul Caddle, one of our members, led a meeting on paradoxes, which generated a rousing round of comments
  • Christopher Norris, a philosopher from the University of Cardiff, who gave a paper entitled, "The New Musicology: What's it all about?", followed by a lively discussion
  • Robert Ellis, another guest speaker, who gave a paper, "Moral Objectivity and the Middle Way". For more information, you can look at Robert's web-site at this address:
  • the philosophical themes underpinning the two films Arlington Road and Primer

For our October meeting we are reading "Before the Law" from Kafka's The Trial found at this address: Also, if you are interested in further study, please read Derrida's "Law of Genre" found at this address:

The Philosophy Society meets (usually) on the first Thursday of every month at 7pm in The Gallery Room above the SU Bar at Park Campus. However, I am still uncertain whether the meeting will be on the 1st or 8th of October. I will post and send emails with this information in due course.

If you have any queries about The Philosophy Society please contact Shelley Campbell

Film & Philosophy

Some pictures here of today's induction-week presentations on Crimes and Misdemeanors - but for those still keen to think aobut this movies - there is some useful discussion at the Philosophical Films website, the C&M page is at

There were some really exciting ideas in the presentations this morning - and there is a forum for discussion of them on the RPE ning... (where there are more photos)


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Moral Modularity in Buddhism?

If you're keen to get going this term - you could head to the Columbia Society for Comparative Philosophy and get the podcast of an intriguing talk: Owen Flanagan (Duke University). The lecture was entitled "Buddhist Ethics and Moral Modularity" and the respondent was Professor Wayne Proudfoot.

The podcast is HERE - enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This is a post just for our current RPE / Philosophy students: we have a social network (with chat, forums, etc) for the course at - all level 2 and 3 students should have had an invite to join by now - and level 1 students (who are still in he process of registering this week) will get an invite soon...

If I have missed anyone - just email me from your glos account and I'll add you...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bertrand Russell: Comicbook Superhero!

I always knew this was the case, of course. A new comicbook (or graphic novel) called 'Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth' has just been published by Bloomsbury. Described as: 'it's the story of the quest for the foundation of mathematics, starring and narrated by Bertrand Russell, the British logician, philosopher, mathematician, reformer, pacifist, activist, jailbird and chronic womaniser. It's set 50 years ago on 4 September, 1939, when Russell arrived at an American university to lecture on "The Role of Logic in Human Affairs" before a sceptical audience, just after Britain had declared war on Germany. The book delves into Russell's past, his childhood and the first inklings of his search for the certainties upon which maths, and therefore all science, ultimately rest.'

A real page-turner. Move over Batman!

A warm welcome to the new RPE students

It's the start of a new academic year and, hopefully, lots of interesting comments and debates on the RPE blog. Do make your voice heard and I hope you visit this site frequently as it is not only a place for debate, but also for useful information.

Enjoy induction week, and all the RPE staff look forward to seeing you in class.

More details of induction week can be found at:

Oh, and for Wednesday evening for the Project, the website for the Exmouth Arms can be found at:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Philosophy Course Map

Now that is exciting..

The Single Honours Philosophy map is now online. Be AMAZED by the new modules; be ASTOUNDED by the route requirements and compulsory courses; be slightly troubled by the enthusiasm of the staff...

In case you can't wait to click through... here it is:

Philosophy (Single Honours Degree) Course Map

To achieve your award you must pass the correct number of CAT points at each level and meet all award requirements (see UMS Regulations) as well as passing ALL compulsory and core requirements, including:

Level I: RPE101, RPE102, RPE107 and PHI190 plus either RPE104 or RPE105

Level II: RPE207

Level III: RPE307 and PHI333

Notes: N/A

Level I Modules:

Code and Title CAT
Study Period
PHI190: Studying The Humanities: Learning And Personal Development
Restrictions: Cannot be taken with EX160, or any other module coded 190
15 N/A
RPE101: Philosphical And Ethical Arguing 15 SEM1
RPE102: Religion In The Contemporary World 15 SEM1
RPE103: Contemporary Ethical Issues 15 SEM2
RPE104: Introducing Islam 15 SEM2
RPE105: Judaism 15 SEM1
RPE106: New Religious Movements 15 SEM2
RPE107: Western Philosophy 15 SEM2
RPE108: Greek Philosophy 15 SEM1
RPE136: Overseas Study Visit
Restrictions: Cannot be counted with OTC136 Overseas Study Visit or OTC116 Overseas Study Visit
15 N/A

Level II Modules:

Code and Title CAT
Study Period
PHI201: The God Of Philosophy 15 N/A
PHI202: The Rationalists 15 N/A
PHI204: Critical Philosophy 15 N/A
PHI299: Scholarly Project 15 N/A
RPE201: Philosophy, Science And Belief
Prerequisites: Pass RPE101
15 SEM1
RPE206: Ethical Traditions
Prerequisites: Pass RPE101
15 SEM1
RPE207: 20th Century Western Philosophy 15 SEM1
RPE209: Philosophy Of Mind
Prerequisites: Pass RPE101
15 SEM2
SPX208: Ethics And Morality In Sport I
Restrictions: Cannot be taken with SV201
15 SEM1
SY232: Social Theory: Major Shifts In Modern Society
Restrictions: Cannot be counted with SY227 or SY228
15 SEM1

Level III Modules:

Code and Title CAT
Study Period
PHI301: Buddhist Philosophy
Restrictions: None. However, students are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with the basic teachings and practices of Buddhism before the start of the module.
15 N/A
PHI302: Islamic Philosophy
Restrictions: None. However, students are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with the basic teachings and practices of Islam before the start of the module.
15 N/A
PHI333: Dissertation 30 N/A
PHI398: Indpendent Study 15 N/A
RPE301: Love, Sex And Death 30 YEAR
RPE304: Ethics And Reason
Prerequisites: Pass RPE201, or RPE207, or SY22x
RPE305: Philosophy And Literature
Prerequisites: Pass RPE2XX, or EX2XX
15 SEM2
RPE307: Philosophical Close Reading 15 SEM1
SY319: Research, Epistemology And Philosophy
Restrictions: Cannot be taken with SY310
15 SEM1

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swings and Roundabouts...

Some changes to let people know about this summer...

Some minor changes to the RPE Course have taken place, and we have also launched a straight Philosophy programme as well.

The role of Course Leader has passed from myself to Dr Roy Jackson - who now takes on the role - and good luck to him with all those annual reports, programme change committees and student questions...

In addition to that - we have a new member of staff as well. Dr William Large has joined us and will be teaching from Spetember. I expect Will to introducue himself on here soon, but if you can't wait his profile at his previous job is still live HERE - but probably not for long...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Simon Critchley on Heidegger - on Guardian Website

Over at you'll find Simon Critchley offering an intro to Heidegger: which is worth a read. He is going to blog more on this - so may be worth a look...

You may also enjoy the wide range of comments that have been posted (!)


Monday, May 18, 2009

The 'Other' Hay Festival

How The Light Gets In is the UK's first philosophy and music festival in Hay on-Wye which runs over the same ten days, 22-31 May, as the Hay Literary Festival. For the first time ever in the UK, music and philosophy collide as top thinkers, leading musicians and pioneering artists explore the issues that matter through debate, music and live performance. With the overall theme: ‘Crunch. Values and Belief in a new era’ the Philosophy Sessions examine where we are and where we might go from here. The festival brings together a celebrated cast of speakers including philosophers Simon Blackburn, Susan Neiman, AC Grayling, sociologists, Steve Fuller, Zygmunt Bauman, and political theorists Will Hutton, Phillip Blond, Geoff Mulgan. Evenings are host to musical sets from performers including Michael Nyman, Baka Beyond, Stephen Fretwell and many more; and daily comedy sketches come courtesy of the likes of Ed Aczel and Robin Ince.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Excellent Buddhist Podcast

Smith Taken from :

"Fredrick M. Smith from the University of Iowa presented his talk on "Indian Buddhist Sociolinguistics and Buddhist Notions of Possession: A Fragment from the Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa" on April 30, 2009 as part of the Columbia University Buddhist Studies Seminar series."

The podcast is at

The Centre for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University (New York) has some excellent material online - start at its blog at


Friday, May 01, 2009

Baggini's Philosophy Monthly

Julian Baggini, editor of The Philosopher's Magazine and previous speaker at our University, has launched a new monthly podcast which is available on iTunes. Episode 1 featured a talk with the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks and Julian's visit to the Hobbes festival in that sweet little Cotswold town of Malmesbury. The second edition has just come out and features an interview with the former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries on whether Christianity is a force for good.

...oh, and while you're at it, check out the Bristol Festival of Ideas podcast!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buddhist Art

The Telegraph reviews a new Gallery at the Victoria and Albert museum, devoted to Buddhist art.
The review [click HERE] raises some issues about detachment, and the nature of the images, and whether the gallery actively promotes Buddhist values - so may well be of interest...

Also see for the Many Faces of Buddhism webpages, for events in London at present..


Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogging Nietzsche

The Guardian online has an excellent site where various experts provide infomed comment on philosophy texts. Giles Fraser has written comments on Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, Julian Baggini on Hume's views on religion, and currently Mary Midgeley is commenting on Hobbes' Leviathan. Check this out.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Islam Conference next week - Shi'ism: Past and Present

Just a reminder about next week's event - students (and others) are all welcome - but do register first - some details should be HERE, or contact Patricia Downes for details on attending. The programme for the day is:

10.15 – 10.45 Registration and Coffee
10.45 Welcome: Dr Shelley Saguaro, Head of Department of Humanities, University of Gloucestershire

10.50 – 11.35 Rt. Rev. Prof. Kenneth Cragg (Oxford),
Why the Early Emergence of the Shi’a from within Sunni Islam?

11.40 – 12.25 Dr Arzina Lalani (Ismaili Institute, London),
The Shi’i Tradition in Islam

12.35 – 1.10 Shazim Hussayn (al Mahdi Institute, Birmingham),
The concept of the Mahdi in Shi’ism
Dr Simonetta Calderini, (Roehampton University,)
Women, Wealth and Inheritance under the Fatimids

1.10 – 2.00 Lunch

2.05 – 2.50 Dr Moojan Momen (Wixamtree),
Undercurrents in Shi`i Esotericism from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Century
Dr Theodore Gabriel, (University of Gloucestershire),
Shi’ism and Christianity

3.00 – 3.45 Saleem Khan (Pakistan & London Metropolitan University)
Accommodating Sectarian Diversity in Pakistan

3.45 Vote of thanks: Dr Theodore Gabriel


FEES: £16 (£8 for students and the unwaged; £5.00 for students of University of Gloucestershire). Tea/Coffee will be served morning and afternoon.
A sandwich lunch (to include sandwiches, crisps, cookies, fruit and coffee/tea) will be available if ordered when your booking is made. The cost for this is £5.50 and should be sent with your conference fee (or email Patricia to arrange)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ted Honderich to speak in Cheltenham on War and Terrorism

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society, Summer Term.

Talk on Wednesday22nd. April, 2009, 7.30.p.m. FCH HC203 University of Gloucestershire

Professor Ted Honderich, UCL
"Terrorisms, Terrorist Wars: A philosophical perspective."

Professor Honderich is an internationally renowned political philosopher; editor of the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, and Chair of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.

All welcome.

Artificial Intelligence debate

Some details of an interesting local event:

Café Scientifique Finale

Tuesday 12th May: (Last Debate in the current Café Scientifique Series) On Artificial Intelligence

Arrivals: from 7:15pm for 7.30pm kick off, finish around 9:30ish

Location: The Pavillion (in the gardens of The Royal Oak pub) 42, The Burgage, Prestbury, Cheltenham GL52 3DL

(plenty of parking opposite and in street)

Dr David Biggs
, the University of Gloucestershire's Post Grad Director in Occupational Psychology will be discussing amid other things, the pending release of Terminator 4 which in turns sparks debate about the varying forms of artificial intelligence and expert systems writing out psychometric profile reports for people from ethnic minorities... More information to follow, but for now, please pencil this date in your diaries!

• Open to all — bring a friend/neighbour!
• Admission is free
• Bar food available
• First drink is kindly sponsored by The University of Gloucestershire.

Café Scientifique has become a regular event in the county as part of the University’s commitment to public engagement and all age learning.

To find out more about the Café Scientifique network visit or to join us online for regular updates and reminders join The Café Scientifique Cheltenham group on Facebook,
or for more information email Emma Heathcote-James

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Philosophy Society Update

We will not meet on the first Thursday of May, but will meet on the first Thursday of June, the 4th. Gallery Room. Park Campus. 7pm.

We will be reading The Brothers Karamazov, a personal favourite. But not to fear, not the full 832 pages, only the Chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor", probably about 20 pages. The link for "Rebellion": and the link for "The Grand Inquisitor": If you are alert and lively you may like to read D. H. Lawrence's "The Legend of The Grand Inquisitor"; it is available in the learning centre

Look forward to seeing you in June,

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter reflections

Thought our readers might be interested in reading the following reflections on Easter from a Buddhist perspective:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

God edition..

New Statesman at has an issue focused around God and the relationship between politics and religion..
Might be of interest..

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Philosophy Society Update

Despite the end of lectures for 2008/2009, hopefully some students are still around for The Philosophy Society meeting when we will be discussing Civil Disobedience by Thoreau.

As always, we are meeting in The Gallery Room at Park Campus at 7pm. The date is this Thursday, 2nd April.

Civil Disobedience is a short essay and can be easily read between now and Thursday. If you do not have the link:

I am looking forward to a lively discussion,
Shelley Campbell

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cordoba Field Trip...

see for trip photos...

In March the successor to Nigel Scotland’s long-standing Rome trip took place. This involved Roy, Shelley and myself taking 21 students (5 of them 2nd years, the rest level 1 – all RPE students) to Cordoba in Andalucía, Spain. This trip was to explore the period of Islamic rule, the philosophers who emerged from it, the relation of faiths in that period (and the claims of a Golden age of religious tolerance that surround the period), the route of Greek ideas (such as those of Aristotle) into Europe, and the Christian re-conquest of the area.

Wednesday – a mid afternoon coach whisks us to Birmingham airport for a glamorous, jet-set flight with RyanAir to Malaga.. We are (much to my relief) met at the airport by another coach and driven to Cordoba, where we are dropped only a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

We arrive at Los Patios ( ) around midnight – relieved that despite only having one star the hotel is friendly, clean and incredibly well-situated (it turns out to be a great place – with nice staff, night porters to let late students in, good food, and more – we hope to use it again next year).

Thursday – after a lie in – we have an orientation walk to Plaza de las Tendillas, so that students can find non-tourist shops, supermarkets, and the like. We then have lunch and cross the newly restored Roman Bridge to the new Torre de la Calahorra museum: this tower features a history of Andalucian life in the Islamic period – with models, speaking statues, and wireless headphones.

Here we began to understand the situation that prevailed in Cordoba during the Andalusian Umayyad dynasty, which lasted from 756 to 1031: often referred to as a ‘Golden Age’ of religious tolerance. While this is a simplification, the idea of an accommodation that allowed Muslim, Jews and Christians to live in relative peace, within part of Europe, is a compelling area to study – and this proved a good place to start.

More at

Some felt the museum might be a rather smoothed out account of the history – but it was good as an introduction to the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the region. Many of us were glad to get out onto the roof terrace of the museum..

This museum also had a model of the large Mosque in Cordoba – now a Cathedral – which we were to visit the next day – as it would have been in its heyday, rather than as it is now (where there is now a huge Cathedral sticking out the middle of it – a very striking image if you are able to view it from above).

Following this we went to Cordoba’s archaeological museum – where much of the city’s Roman heritage is on show – which is significant and very visible around the city. There is also material here from the Visigoth period that came before the arrival and dominance of Moorish culture.

Friday was a busy day – dominated, as is the city, by the Mezquita – the grand Mosque that is now a Cathedral. Our guide, Imma, took us round the Jewish quarter and a Synagogue before we entered the hugely impressive Cathedral/Mosque.

The building still inspires strong feelings, and there was a lot to reflect on after and during this visit. The Catholic Church offers a very particular view in the leaflet that you collect as you enter – which implies that the place was a Christian place of worship (due to the presence of a Basilica prior to the Mosque) and that the re-conquest and consequent building of the Cathedral was merely a reclaiming. This seems, at the least, a simplification.

The building itself left us all with some sense of awe, but also perhaps with more troubling feelings regarding its history and claims made about it. We were also told that Muslims have often requested that Catholic authorities allow them to pray in the Mezquita/Cathedral – but that they are always turned down.

Some info HERE might be of interest..

On Friday evening we all went to the Plaza de la Corredera for a drink, followed by a meal at the Hotel – and an early night before Saturday.

Saturday began with a 6.30am alarm call… As is that was not enough of a shock for students, we then walked 25 minutes to Cordoba train station for the early morning train to Seville. Arriving at 8.30, and after a breakfast, we set off to find the Alcazar (Alcázares Reales de Sevilla) – which is a fortress with the most amazing, extensive gardens.

The place looks Moorish in style, and was mostly made by Moorish workers, but despite smaller earlier buildings, much of this Alcazar was built in the 1360s for King Pedro (the Cruel). Some argue that the Islamic buildings here were even built on the site of Visigoth buildings. However, this mix of claim and confusion over historical buildings seems not uncommon in a region where what may seem a matter of dusty history still has the power to cause passionate disagreement and dispute.

This was followed by the Cathedral in Seville – also on the site of a Mosque – the spire contains much that was a minaret and there are small parts of the arches of the mosque still intact if you look hard enough. You can climb the spire to get stunning views of the city – as we did, but this was another to chance to reflect on the purpose of the trip, in coming to an understanding of the way in which religions in this region have interacted.

Some students (and staff) also managed to find Flaherty’s bar and catch a Liverpool victory over Man Utd….

After a late night back, Sunday began with the Cordoba Alcazar – the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Spanish for "Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs"), – with huge Roman mosaics, and yet more elaborate gardens, – and then coach-plane-coach journey to Cheltenham, arriving at FCH in the early hours of Monday morning….

While formal student evaluations are a matter for exciting places like Course Boards – early informal reports suggest that this was a great way for students to learn, to get to know each other and to acquire more general life-skills and confidence. We hope to repeat it next year – and hope that more Humanities students will opt for the module (to be known as RPE136 in future) – or to attend as part of an Independent Study module.


Oh- a prize (coffee from the refectory?) for anyone (not on the trip) who can tell me what these fine gentlemen are doing… (and yes, it is religious)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Week 12 RPE 103 Lecture

Next week in the RPE 103 lecture slot I will be giving a lecture on philosophical/argumentative essay-writing. I would highly recommend that ALL students taking RPE 103 and RPE 107 with me attend this lecture. You should all want to improve the way you write; ergo you should all be there.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back from Spain...

Well - as we got back to Cheltenham about 1.45am, a proper update may have to wait a day or two - but after our adventures in Cordoba and Seville - with Cathedrals, Alcazars, Mosques, Synagogues, Spanish trains, and more - I'm glad to repeat that all were counted out and counted back - much to my relief...

click the picture to the right to enlarge it...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

RPE 107 Presentations (Reminder)

Hello all. Please remember that each group must hand in a short summary/bullet-point document to do with their presentations... This is not necessary for the 103 presentations.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Worst Argument Result...

When I went to cover a RPE101 (Philosophical and Ethical Arguing) class in December, I chatted with the students about fallacies and bad arguments – and was reminded of an in-class exercise I often did with students. This involved taking in a pile of the day’s newspapers and the class, in groups, hunting through them for examples of various fallacies (Straw Man, Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc [and causal fallacies in general], shifting the burden of proof, and the like). This was always fun, but I thought that our blog might be the means for a more ambitious version of this activity…

So in December we asked for submissions for our Britain’s Worst Argument competition. As you can see from the comments left on the blog – we had a lot of response – and lots of submissions also came by email. The one that received the most comment was the Atheist’s Nightmare – possibly due to the comic connection of fundamentalist creationism and a banana – but this was American and not eligible. We did have quite a crop of submissions relating to creationism and the Design Argument (for God’s existence), but most of these were from across the Atlantic.

I think one of my favourites, and it was sent anonymously so I cannot say where it hails from, was:

I got this one from a hairdresser when inquiring about a shampoo against hairloss:

Hairdresser: "It has been thoroughly tested and it works on 30%"

Me: "Well,... that sound good, but do you have one with more percentages?"

Hairdresser: "No,... but think again, there's a fifty-fifty percentage change that it will work on you?"

Me: (I teach statistics)"How's that?"

Hairdresser: "Well, that's obvious, either it works on you, or it doesn't!"

No need to say, I bought the shampoo right away.

This makes a great point about people’s (mis)understanding of probability and statistic, and also really made me smile. However – this is a competition – and needs a winner… (drum roll…) – and I think the worst argument we encountered (from more than one submission) is the nationalistic deployment of bifurcation. It was captured by Shelley Campbell (one of our postgraduate students) when she wrote (in response to the original post):

Politicians use this one - if we are not heart-throbbing nationals then we are traitors. For example, "If you are not for us, you are against us."

Bifurcation is where you present the reader/listener with only two alternatives, and imply that if they reject/are not aligned with one, they agree with/are aligned with the other alternative by default.

I could speak to a student: are you going to do that essay today, or be a life-wasting loser who never achieves anything? It is not uncommon in many settings, and is a way of trying to preclude the discussion of other possibilities (are you going to give up your job, or do you not love me? - there are states of affairs that might combine some of the two? or third options?).

The argument is more sinister though when used to dismiss political views by claiming they are insufficiently patriotic / pro-British (in this case). In the recent discussion of 'British Jobs for British Workers' it was hard (should one have wished to do so) to criticise the protesters without seeming unpatriotic or anti-British: in cases of war, this can lead not only to faulty reasoning - but to death and loss of life...

What is so bad about bifurcation?
• It is effective – in the heat of an argument we often fall for it: thinking that if there are only two options, we must defend one – even if absurd – rather than allow the one we dislike to dominate.
• Often the person using it does not really see things in such stark terms themselves.
• It is ‘bad’ because it is used effectively all the time in politics – witness the scramble to prove oneself patriotic in the US elections.
• Beyond nationalism, bifurcation impoverishes political debates all around us: “if you disagree with me, you are an extremist of some sort” – this is a common, dangerous and fallacious strategy: the worst argument (in the broadest sense) that we came across…

Friday, February 27, 2009

"Shouting fire in a crowded theater" - Freedom of Speech

Nigel Warburton published Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction this month.
With coincidental timing, last week the Home Office refused Geert Wilders entrance into the UK. Wilders is a member of the Dutch Parliament and famous for his anti-Islamic zealousness.
"I despise what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire
This quote of a commitment to free speech is at the heart of a civilised and tolerant democratic society. Free speech encourages participation in political debate not passive acceptance of policy, handed down from the law-makers. It encourages individual contribution.

However, what of the dangerous consequences of expression where other factors are more important than free speech? i.e. national security, risk to children, pornography, hate speech. Should the government employ censorship?

If censorship becomes regulated by law, will censorship encroach creativity? History is beset with instances of book burning in order to save the masses from corruption. Expression of ideas has been a catalyst for threats of torture and persecution. Would censorship replace democracy with totalitarianism?

While Wilders is well-known for his noisy right-wing opinions, some believe that by refusing him entrance into the UK has been unintentionally good for democracy. Instead of nodding and sighing in comfortable inertia, ideas to which we disagree invigorate and stimulate opinion and action. John Stuart Mill holds the opinion that disagreements arising from freedom of speech regenerates an otherwise plodding existence.

Should freedom of speech be the uncontested right of all citizens in a democracy? Or should freedom of speech be tempered with censorship of the kind Oliver Wendell Holmes indicates when there is "clear and present danger", i.e. shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

RPE 103 and 107: Important

103 and 107
Please try and get your presentation groups and topics to me ASAP...I would like to start the presentations next week (Week 9) but this might be unrealistic. If we only start in Week 10, all of you must be ready to present by that stage. Some of you have requested specific weeks to present in, and that is fine...if you have not made such a request, I expect you to be ready to present in Week 10.

Some people seem to be struggling with time committments, and have therefore requested to do a second essay instead of the presentation. This is okay, but you need to speak to me to clarify your reasons for not being able to do the presentation. There are good reasons ("I am going to be in New Zealand") and there are bad reasons ("I don't feel like doing a presentation"). If we have decided you can do the second essay, you can use the essay topics in the module guide, or clear a topic with me.
Next week's (Week 9) reading is Thoreau's "A life without principle". See post below.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Readings for RPE107

Because some of you have been missing lectures, I have been getting emails asking for links to the readings we will be doing for the rest of the course. So here they are:

Anslem's Ontological Argument:

Thoreau's "Life without Principle" and "Civil Disobedience":

Nietzsche "On the Origin of Good and Evil": [or] in the Learning Centre

Schopenhauer "On Religion": [Yes, this is long. It is also very good. Stop moaning. You're big boys and girls now, so read it.]

Friday, February 13, 2009

RPE107 Presentation

Each group must choose one of the following papers (or excerpts of text) for their presentation/written work combo. There is enough choice for every group to do something different, so we will work on a “first tell Carl choice, first served” basis. Consult your group and make a choice, then email me quickly to ensure you get the topic you want.

Remember that you are being “examined” on your ability to draw out the central claims and conclusions, and the movement from claim to conclusion (i.e. the ARGUMENTS) in the text…you are then required to evaluate these arguments and to give supporting/counter arguments where appropriate. So you must clarify the stance being taken in the piece, and then take your own stance on it. This can be done, as previously discussed, any way you like (visual aids, drama etc) as long as it is clear what you are up to.

Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapters 1 – 7 (Internet Classics Archive text, NOT the ILT Digital Classics text) @

David Hume – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “On the origin of ideas”, @

William James – What Pragmatism Means @

John Stuart Mill – On Nature @ [OR] On Liberty @ the Learning Centre

Bertrand Russell – In Praise of Idleness @ [OR] Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind @

Jean-Paul Sartre – Existentialism is a Humanism @

Peter Singer – All Animals Are Equal @

These are all interesting pieces that require thought and reflection. So get cracking.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Californian Octuplets

A 33-year-old Californian, single mom, Nadya Suleman, gave birth to octuplets 27th January 2009. She already had six children ranging in ages from two to seven. All fourteen children were conceived using infertility treatments. She states, "That was always a dream of mine, to have a large family, a huge family."

Are there any ethical problems here?

  • Is there a case for a large family in global challenges of overpopulation, environmental impact and a possible reliance on a concaving social service?
  • In cases of IVF, there is a procedure of selective reduction, in other words, aborting fetuses above four to reduce risk of losing all and enhancing the chances of those remaining. This was not followed here. Also, given Ms. Suleman's age, there should have been no more than two embryos implanted according to The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). What happened here?
  • The role of doctors - surely the doctors would have disagreed with Ms. Suleman's decision to risk all eight embryos?
  • IVF is a self-funded intervention - does this provide a buffer between the will of the patient and the responsibility of the doctor?

Although a story of strong emotional impact, is there a clear ethical position?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Worst Argument - result soon - snow permitting..

Well, chaos here due to snow and ice (we can't cope in the UK with this weather) meaning two days of cancelled lectures, and a conference tomorrow.

Nonetheless, the results of the 'Worst Argument' competition will be announced on this blog in the next few days...


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Philosophy Society cancellation

Due to weather conditions the Philosophy Society will be cancelled tomorrow night. Everybody now has another month to read Machiavelli's The Prince, slim in size but broad in content. The next meeting will be Thursday, 5th March.

Look forward to a lively debate then!


click to enlarge map

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Cordoba Field Trip

Students wishing to come on the trip to Cordoba (all three years, not just those on OTC136) can now book - we need you to book flights and pay the deposit by the 12th of Feb though:
If you have not received the full details by email by Wednesday 4th Feb - email and ask Patricia to send them to you...
Cheers, D.

links here to lots of pictures...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Worst Argument?

Click here: if you are looking for the 'worst argument' competition: we will be announcing a winner around the end of this week..

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Fear of Death (video)

An interesting video here - from Yale - on the Fear of Death: Maybe I should adopt the cross-legged, converse-and-jeans look for my RPE301 lectures?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Islam Conference 2009, 28th April: Shi'ism - Past and Present

On Tuesday 28th April 2009, the Department of Humanities at the University of Gloucestershire will host its annual Islam conference.

This year the topic is:


The event will be held at:
TC001 - Tiered Lecture Theatre, FCH Campus, Swindon Road, Cheltenham.
Contact for details: Full Programme to follow shortly - all welcome (including students!)..

You can book HERE

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Four Noble Truths podcast

Those of you studying our Indian Religions module may wish to visit to download a podcasst of my reading the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, about the Four Noble Truths.

Hope this is useful - and that you enjoy the visit of today's meditation teacher...


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Limits to Rights

What are rights? Can they only be ascribed to human beings or also to animals... the environment... inanimate objects?

Jonathon Wolff, Christopher Stone and Kenan Malik discuss these questions on the BBC Radio 4 'Law in Action' programme.

It is definitely worth listening to this articulate and stimulating discussion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seventh Seal (again)

We will be looking at the film The Seventh Seal in class today.

Look at for some ideas (see list of questions near base of the page) - and make comment via this blog post.

Other ideas are at

Prefer the Bill and Ted version? see


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sense about Science?

Following RPE201 (Philosophy, Science and Belief)- many of us have been talking about related issues - - I thought this video might then be pertinent..
D. Revolutionary Minds

Why Study Philosophy?

We have discussed this previously - see HERE and HERE to look at what we came up with - but I wanted to raise it with a new 'batch' of students - our current first year cohort.

I have pasted below the initial questions I have asked the RPE187 class - and await the answers with interest. [Other readers of the blog are welcome to join in!]

So: why study philosophy

1 – Pragmatic:

What skills can you take from the subject? What else (if anything) will it make you good at?

2 – Social / Political:

Does a philosophical education make you a more aware citizen – who makes better choices?

Are you more moral as a result of the study of ethics?

Is a society with more philosophers in it, more or less likely to be:
  • Fairer?
  • Smooth functioning?
  • Well organised?
  • Argumentative and disputatious?

3 – Personal

Has your study so far impacted upon you as a person?

Is this a subject which changes people – unlike, perhaps, some other subjects (can you think of an example of a subject which doesn’t change people?)?

If it does bring about personal change – what is the nature of this change?

Other: Are there other reasons?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Philosophy Reading Group Update

The Philosophy Society is hotting up with enthusiastic responses to the reading (along with many other topics). Next month's reading is Machiavelli's The Prince. It promises to be an invigorating topic: cruelty, evil, politics, being misunderstood, Nietzsche's Ubermensch. Just the right tone to prepare us for February, the month of love. For more information the reading group blog can be found here:

We will meet Thursday, 5th February, 7pm, The Gallery Room (above the SU Bar at Park Campus). New-comers welcome!

If you have any questions please contact Shelley Campbell s0510427