10th Anniversary Party on 13th July

Thank you to everyone who attended our celebration on 13th July, in recognition of the huge achievements of Barbie Underwood, our Chair Emerita in building the Barnes Philosophy Club over a decade. Barbie has organized almost a hundred talks in Barnes, which have brought a fascinating range of ideas and discussions to our community.

We held a panel discussion on the topic of "What counts as philosophy?" with contributions from Andrew Ward, Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell, Richard Ashcroft, Dr Yasemin J Erden, and of course from Barbie herself. 

I enclose a letter from Barbie below, and her speech at the event.

A letter from Barbie to the Barnes Philosophy Club

Dear All,

The event on Tuesday evening was smashing. 

I felt extraordinarily moved by the occasion.  It was not just that people said nice things:  but what really moved me was the way everyone put themselves out, either to either turn up, with Andrew from York and Chris from Sheffield, or to go online, as Sophie-Grace and Paul did. 

The gift I received was just amazing -- 'Jazz on a summer's day' has a special place in my heart, plus special champagne -- what more does a girl want?  This was just perfect.

The only downside with these kinds of events is that one wants to spend longer with people.  When, as was the case on Tuesday, there are quite a few people around, you can barely say hello before you have to move on again. 

It has been a privilege to create and sustain the Club (and to manage to keep it free!), and I am so pleased that Nick and the team have taken over.  Of all things philosophy is needed more now than ever.  And this is the context in which the panel discussion on Tuesday was so interesting and enjoyable.   

Richard's talk managed to be succinct, funny and worthwhile at the same time, and certainly started bells ringing!  I enjoyed both Yasemin and Andrew very much as well. The problem as I see it is that when we talk about Philosophy today it seems as if we’ve taken everything out of the cup;  now we have to talk philosophy “of”:  so not just philosophy, but philosophy of something.  I therefore especially liked Sophie-Grace's contribution because she gave us a thread back to the past of western philosophy (let’s make no mistake:  it’s western philosophy that we deal with most of the time:  it would be lovely to have eastern philosophy at some point ...).

I attach a note of my talk beforehand if you want to read it and pass it on to anyone.

Thank you so much to Nick for organising it all, and thanks also to Robin for dealing with the technology -- all very impressive.

Bless you, and thank you so much for all your support.  Long may it last!

Very good wishes for the future.


Dr Barbara Underwood

What philosophy has meant to me

by Dr Barbara Underwood


            I was just flicking through the latest edition of RIP’s  Philosophy Journal when I spotted Bertrand Russell’s view on the point of philosophy: “to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.”    Slavoj Žižek suggests that philosophy’s job is to ask the right questions.

          Whilst Stephen Hawking was not a philosopher, he said that philosophy is dead (I suppose a pun on Nietzsche’s God is dead) because it does not take sufficient notice of science. I can vouch for this: I was running a junior philosophy club on science, much to the amusement of the juniors, I could not even get a hardboiled egg into the neck of the bottle.

For years I was a session singer with no formal education at all except for music.   Then I came across OU, actually the BBC TV programmes, and thanks to it and the patience of teachers such as Winifred who understood me (actually our relationship was a little like Educating Rita) OU whetted my appetite for Philosophy and at the age of 40 I managed to get into University of York.

Among other teachers  at York, I really enjoyed such lecturers as Roger Woolhouse on the 17th Century, and Richard Francks on Spinoza, But the lectures of Andrew Ward on Kant stood out for me.  Not just his lectures, but his ability to argue with clever students, and he was also a good performer and a joy to watch.  As a performer myself I also appreciated the art of delivery. 

By the way while I was at York I also scored a husband, Simeon, he was working there as an assistant registrar.

After a Masters at King’s College London I continued with a PhD at Manchester. Since then I have always maintained interest in philosophy, doing a couple more courses at OU.

I was too old to start a new career teaching philosophy other than on an ad hoc basis.  But then a truly good friend of mine encouraged me to start a club in Barnes.      

At first I thought that a bit odd - I couldn’t imagine many people being interested in philosophy. But nevertheless a few people turned up at the Methodist church.

I loved the idea of discussing philosophy linking academe with “ordinary people” and ordinary life. Then one day Richard at the Coach & Horses said he would give us a room at the back for free in return for drinks.

I gave all the lectures at first – one day thought I was clever enough to give a potted history of Philosophy and 45 minutes later I had only managed to       reach the beginnings of the Medieval period. But we had a great time as a small group.

 One day Chris Bainbridge came in on my lecture on Kant: an Introduction to his Critique of Pure Reason. As he opened the door he remarked, ‘Blimey - they’re all women!’ However, I realised that I could no longer give all the lectures myself.

Then I remembered Richard Ashcroft and Piers Benn from my days at Imperial. They both very kindly came and gave talks.

Then I wrote to OU and the best thing happened - with Sophie-Grace. Talking as I was just now of performers, she is another one who gives a splendid delivery with very little jargon.  By the way I am working my way, through her work on Epiphanies – I hope it is now a book?

And a real joy for me are the people here at the club the ones who have   contributed (which is what I wanted in the first place) and taken on the task of a talk with enthusiasm: Chris Bainbridge, Nick Aldridge, Robin Strachan, John Madeley, Julia Bebington, Paul Fletcher (who I will come back to in a minute). Even notables such as Philip Collins writer for The Times, Dr Yasemin Erden and a memorable talk by Bishop um ‘thingy’, and last but not least, Simeon Underwood.

I’d also like to mention Julia Bebington because although being extremely enthusiastic on the books I had lent her, she did not want to talk because she had never done it.  I suggested that we did it as an interview and so we rehearsed and rehearsed it.  When the time came she was not only fine but she took to the floor and started engaging, answering the          questions as well.  I am proud of her.  Paul Fletcher is another one to be proud of.  He was encouraged by the club and now has an MA for all his hard work.

Although the club has grown like topsy I have been able to keep the club    free, save buying a drink, without having a formal membership - only a mailing list. All the lecturers gave of their time for free, but I insisted on paying their expenses and if they needed to have a bed and breakfast and suppers we did that too. Members of the club also put people up as          well.

Dear Yasemin had brought the club to the attention of RIP a few years ago: they have started to support us which is absolutely wonderful and has meant we could do a bit more. I feel really proud, not least because it’s usually only universities who get this honour.

I sincerely hope that the club continues in whatever form but an enormous thanks goes to Nick Aldridge for the online work he has managed to do in bringing philosophy to us

So, for me, the purpose of philosophy or what counts as philosophy is, yes, to question, to ask, to seek, to clarify, to deepen thinking at its best.        As Gadamer said, we bring our prejudices to the table.

My view is, the minute we start to think, to form some sort of argument, that’s philosophy.

So let’s not be put off asking questions (particularly the women), or even, like Julia, giving a talk ourselves.

Thank you!