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


                              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].


Next talk: 'The Promise and Challenge of Feminist Epistemology' by Billy Holzberg on Tuesday 12 June 2018

Feminist epistemology was born out of and continues to develop in close relationship with political struggles for gender equality, emancipation and feminist liberation by contesting the exclusion of women’s intellectual labour from the halls of philosophy. In doing so, however, feminist epistemology has not only challenged exclusions of gender, race, class and sexuality in the sites of knowledge production but it has also deconstructed fundamental assumptions about the objective nature of science and philosophy. In this lecture, I will focus on three key insights that feminist epistemology has brought to philosophical debate: positionality, subjectivity and interdisciplinarity. Going through these concepts, I will elaborate on the promises and challenges of situated knowledges that take subjectivity seriously, that draw from a variety of sources, and that highlight how power relations shape the way we understand and make sense of the world. 


Next Talk: A Royal Institute of Philosophy Talk by Dr Christian Piller - 'Beware of Safety'

Beware of Safety:
Philosophers have suggested that a belief has to be 'safe' in order to qualify as knowledge. This means that in order to know something, one's belief need not only be true it, furthermore, needs to remain true in 'close-by possible worlds'. In other words, a belief, if true, is safely true, if it could not have easily been wrong. In my talk I argue against such views. I ague that a concern for the safety of our beliefs would get things 'the wrong way round'. This talk is of interest to those who want to know more about knowledge and about why philosophers tend to make mistakes (myself, of course, excepted.)


Next talk: 'The Limits of Scepticism' by Grant Bartley (Editor, Philosophy Now) 10 April 2018 - 7.30 pm - 9 pm

The Limits of Scepticism
Just how useful is scepticism? Nowadays philosophers use the possibility of doubt to argue against everything from free will to morality, the self, even the existence of our own minds. But is this a good way of arguing? Does it prove anything? Or is scepticism instead about showing the absolute limits of our knowledge? In this talk I will be sceptical about scepticism itself, to try to see just how far it can get us.