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?