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Next Royal Institute of Philosophy Talk: ' The Religious Roots of Utopian Thinking' by John Madeley

Chair: Dr Barbie Underwood
Speaker: John Madeley
Picture: Phillip Medhurst 


Next Royal Institute of Philosophy talk , 'Que sais-je? (What Do I know?) on Tuesday 14 May 2019, Coach & Horses, Barnes High Street 7.30 - 9 pm

Paul Fletcher: Speaker
Dr Barbie Underwood: Chair      
Abstract :  How did Montaigne know what he did, who inspired him, and can we learn from his methods of inquiry? Montaigne, like only a select few philosophers, makes us not only think but seems to touch us extraordinarily; we feel almost as if he is speaking to us personally. ‘Que sais-je? –What do I know?-  is a question we often ask ourselves in times of doubt. How could a 16th-century philosopher help us through these modern times? In this talk, I shall be drawing on the essays of Montaigne so we may be able to seek solace by allowing him into our lives. In troubling times could Montaigne help calm our social, political and cultural trials and tribulations? Can an SOS call to Michel De Montaigne help our plight? 

Royal Institute of Philosophy Talk: 'Hijacked in Heterotopia? The Ethics of Facebook' by Nick Aldridge on Tuesday 02 April 2019

 Speaker: Nick  Aldridge
It is smashing to have one of our own giving a talk and I thank Nick for all his thoughts and hard work in preparing a hot topic of online social networks, including Facebook,  which have a role in spreading information and (mis)information.
 Nick examined Foucault’s notion of heterotopia: a kind of artificial utopia that reflects and distorts the “real” world and asking what what are the consequences for our world.  I liked the angle which asked to what extent is human nature, rather than technology, to blame for our troubles and concerns.  

But, thank you, to you the audience, who contributed very well, where, as well as asking pertinent questions, encouraging discussion, and adding some amusement -  although I'm not going to recount certain online jests !

Dr Barbie Underwood: Chair


Online social networks have come in for much recent criticism over their use of data, their role in spreading (mis)information and unsavoury content, and their supposed ill effects on our mental health. In this talk Nick will examine the nature and purpose of a social network, drawing on Foucault’s notion of heterotopia: a kind of artificial utopia that reflects and distorts the “real” world, while illuminating the artificiality of our own social constructs. But how do social networks reflect and distort our world, and what are the consequences? To what extent is human nature, rather than technology, to blame for our troubles and concerns? Nick will discuss these questions, drawing on an essay by Robin Rymarczuk in Philosophy Now, the thoughts of ethicists who have emerged from the major technology companies, and his own experience. 


Next Royal Institute of Philosophy talk : Prof Sue Mendus, ' Democratic Dirty Hands' Tuesday 12 March 2019

                  Prof Sue Mendus Speaker
Emerita Professor Sue Mendus talk on 'Democratic Dirty Hands' was timely.  She has certainly put a fresh light on an old topic.  She moved seamlessly from personal wrongdoing to a discussion revolving around the need to lie in politics;  she gave many interesting examples such as Churchill and the bombing of Coventry and John Major's talks with the IRA;  but this sells short a fascinating and stimulating talk.

As ever the questions and discussion from the floor were spot on, and Sue said afterwards that she really enjoyed responding to them.  So thanks again for your part in an excellent meeting.

(Meanwhile outside the wind howled and the Second Meaningful Vote happened.  So was this Philosophy as an Escape from the Real World, or was it Philosophy addressing it ?!) 

How, in a democracy, should we understand politicians who do what is morally wrong? Machiavelli famously (or notoriously) insisted that politics demands dirty hands and that those who refuse to get their hands dirty will inevitably fail in political life: ‘the prince’ he said, ‘must learn how not to be good’. But Machiavelli was not writing in or for a democracy, and it is sometimes argued that in a democratic society there can be no defence of political dirty hands. In 16th century Italy the prince could justify his wrongdoing, but in 21st century Britain, the Member of Parliament cannot. Is this true?


Next Royal Institute of Philosophy talk: 'Weakness or Freedom of Will' by Dr Barbie Underwood on Tuesday 12 February 2019

The crew members entering getting

  ready to take part - this was a slightly different talk in that it was interactive discussing the notion of Weakness of Will leading to discussing Freewill and Determinism

Some thinking going on !There seems to be more involved than just will power in our eating that extra chocolate or handful of crisps or nuts. Questions arise such as: 'Is our will free to choose or refrain?' or 'is our free will an illusion anyway?'  Although aspects of the question were initially discussed by the ancient Greeks, more recently philosophy, psychology, neuroscience have picked up the mantle to go deeper into the question of our choices.


Next Talk: 'The Earthly Paradises of William Morris' a Royal Institute of Philosophy talk given by Chris Bainbridge on Tuesday 08 January 2019

A a very interesting and enjoyable talk on William Morris it was,  showing some of his more socialist-marxists leanings 'As for whether Morris was a Marxist, well there are many different varieties of Marxist.  But the route described by Morris is very much that outlined by Marx – violent revolution, followed by an authoritarian, centralised state (“dictatorship of the proletariat” )with ultimately the withering away of the state and a communist society based on the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. Beyond that, Marx said very little about his communist utopia (which is apparently in line with the Jewish tradition)

                              Chris Bainbridge



William Morris (1834-96) was a poet, craftsman, environmentalist, and maker of fine books. His influence is still strong today. There can hardly be a middle class home in Britain that doesn’t have a Morris pattern, on curtains, wallpaper, chairs, carpets, even dresses and shirts. He wrote of several “earthly paradises”, including an epic poem of that name, influenced by Norse sagas and medieval legends. But I want to focus on “News from Nowhere”, a “utopian romance” published at the end of the 1880s, when Morris was a committed revolutionary socialist. A thinly disguised Morris goes to sleep in his Hammersmith home and wakes up in the same place in 2102. The influences of Plato, Thomas More and Karl Marx are very strong, but there are also shades of lighter works such as Three Men in a Boat, Wind in the Willows and even Mills and Boon, with some surprising descriptions of places that will be very familiar to Barnes people. News from Nowhere has been called the only English utopia since Thomas More that qualifies as literature. I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the ideas expressed in it, and assess their relevance today.


Barnes Philosophy Club: 'The Value of Art' by Dr Daniel Barnes - A Royal Institute of Philosophy talk

Tuesday  13 November. Daniel Barnes and his 60+ audience, in a local pub on a cold Tuesday night !

As his abstract says, he showed just how that despite all the money and headlines, art will survives the ravages of capitalism. High auction prices, billionaire collectors, celebrity endorsements and artists’ publicity stunts only serve to create the myth that the value of art is monetary, but the true value lies in the way that art enriches human existence. 

The evening was a mix of fun, interest and serious debate on the Value of Art, being the title of his new book.

In a world where contemporary art is bought and sold for millions, it is more difficult than ever to tell the difference between good art and expensive art, but it is possible if we understand the concept of value. In this talk, I will argue that art is valuable as both culture and economics, but these are radically different things and the art market constantly attempts to blur the boundaries. Through a heady mixture of art market news, art criticism and philosophy, I will show that, despite all the money and headlines, art will always survive the ravages of capitalism. High auction prices, billionaire collectors, celebrity endorsements and artists’ publicity stunts only serve to create the myth that the value of art is monetary, but the true value lies in the way that art enriches human existence. ​'​


Next Talk: 'Utopias and Medical Futures' A Royal Institute of Philosophy Talk by Prof Richard Ashcroft Tuesday 09 October 2018

Dr Barbara Underwood, Chair

“One of the interesting things about contemporary politics and social thought is that imagining better ways to live through the invention of utopias seems to have nearly disappeared. Social transformation guided by images of an ideal, well-ordered community or city is out of fashion. By way of contrast, we are overwhelmed by invitations to improve ourselves through diet, exercise, cognitive therapies, education and technology. Apps, fitbits, “smart” devices surround us, and we are encouraged to see this as a good thing, more “evidence-based” and more effective. Contemporary social critics try to push back and question this image of permanent, continuous self-improvement, but seemingly to little effect. I would like us to reflect on the disappearance of Utopia and the dominion of personalised technologies, and think of them as counterparts. Instead of making ideal societies for humans to live in, we are creating idealised humans to live in society. Either way we hold one variable constant and transform the other in the name of achieving the Good and the Just. In this talk I will explore these ideas, and concentrate on ideas of improving human beings through medical technologies, but we can range more widely in discussion.”

Next Talk: 'Should we Want to Believe in God' by Dr Piers Benn on Tuesday 11 September - A Royal Institute of Philosophy talk at NEW VENUE Coach & Horses 7.30 pm- 9 pm* Dr Barbara Underwood, Chair            

Dr Piers Benn

Debates about the existence of God are familiar in philosophy. But the question of whether it is a good thing that God exists (or would be a good thing if he did) is much less discussed. Perhaps this is because, to many people, it seems crazy to deny that it would be a superlatively good thing if the cosmos were ruled by ultimate love and justice, that goodness will ultimately prevail and the 'every tear shall be wiped away'. Atheists are sometimes accused of not wanting God to exist, because they do not want to surrender to the sovereignty of God or face judgement for their sins. I want to defend (some) atheists of the charge of not wanting God to exist. However, there is a serious question of whether - at least from the standpoint of atheism or agnosticism - it would be an entirely good thing, or a good thing all things considered, if God existed. This becomes especially apparent when we consider particular religions traditions, and wonder whether the conception of God that they advocate is a conception of a supremely good Being. For believers, the question is obviously settled. However, non-believers lack a decisive a priori reason to think it settled.

[Piers Benn is a Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London and an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University London Centre].