Welcome to this week’s round-up. First, some good news: the Arts and Humanities Research Council has agreed to fund a project I’m going to run from the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, to research and encourage the growth of philosophy groups around the world.
The project will involve me writing a report on the rise of philosophy groups and the different forms they take; and will also set up a website where people can find out how to run philosophy groups or locate their nearest group. You can get involved, by keeping an eye out for any philosophy groups near you, wherever you are in the world, and putting me in touch with them. The idea is to help the creation of a global philosophy group network.
Talking of which, here is an article from the Boston Review, looking at the example of Brazil, where philosophy classes are compulsory for children. Some people say it gives them the tools to discuss justice and rights, while critics say it is a well-intentioned mistake when some of these children still don’t have basic literacy.
Here is a good TED talk by Julian Baggini considering the nature of the self. Baggini argues that, just because the self isn’t some permanent entity, that doesn’t mean it’s an illusion. Rather, he suggests it’s like a waterfall – although the water always changes, the waterfall is nonetheless ‘there’. And we can also steer the self, and slowly choose its direction, he says. So we can build our selves over our lifetimes.
I agree – though if you accept the idea of self-authoring, as I do, then you still have to ask: what is that free, conscious bit of us that can choose our direction? Is it always there? Can we develop it?
These questions of the self, consciousness and identity go back at least as far as the Stoics, who, as the Stoic expert AA Long discusses in this talk that I videoed on Monday, helped to invent the modern notion of the self. The Stoics argued that the ‘real’ self is our free rational consciousness – that part of our personality that observes, considers and chooses what to believe. They thought this part of us was divine – a fragment of the Logos, the ‘god within’, an inner daemon (this is where the word eudaimonia comes from – it means ‘having a kindly daemon within’). But, as Long explores, there are some paradoxes here. If ‘I’ am really a fragment of the divine consciousness, then who is really calling the shots -’me’ or my inner daimon? Who’s in charge? Am I authoring myself, or is God authoring me?
Talking of communicating with your inner daemon, here is an article from Time magazine about new research into magic mushrooms here in the UK. The research suggests that, rather than ‘expanding’ the mind, mushrooms shut down the parts of the brain that make things familiar and habitual, so that the everyday becomes suddenly strange and new.
Is grief a mental illness? The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) which psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illnesses is reportedly considering classifying grieving as a form of depression, which critics say is pathologising something that is quite natural. How long is it appropriate to grieve? How should one grieve – uncontrollably, or with firm Stoic rectitude? I am not sure scientists or philosophers can answer such questions objectively, but that doesn’t stop them trying. Here is a great article by Roland Pies, a leading American psychiatrist who has also written books on Stoicism and Judaism, arguing psychiatry needs to scrap the DSM altogether.
The Young Foundation, the East London think tank, is launching a new enterprise called Resilience on February 7th with a talk by Brigadier-General Rhonda Cornum, the director of the US Army’s ambitious resilience training programme. I wrote an article in the Spectator about Cornum and the programme, which you can read here.
Finally, some pieces on the crisis in capitalism. Here is a very interesting discussion from C-Span with Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former NYT journalist, about the triumph of the corporate state and the failure of the liberal elite to challenge corporate interests. Hedges is no populist firebrand – he’s been a war correspondent, he’s trained as a priest, he’s very smart and well-read, and his analysis is pretty devastating. Watching the video (all three hours of it) motivated me to read Hedges’ 2002 book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, which is an excellent blend of reportage, moral meditation, and cultural analysis. A very humane human, by all accounts.
The New Economics Foundation is also holding an event in London this coming Tuesday about the failure of the elite to protect the public interest, in a discussion which includes Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and sociologist Richard Sennett.
The ethical crisis in capitalism is apparently leading to a boom in demand for ‘ethical consultants’ at corporations. This article complains that few of these ‘ethics consultants’ have any training in philosophy, and that they’re really instrumentalist poodles of corporations rather than genuine ethical guardians. This article, by a leading ethics consultant, puts forward a somewhat rosier picture, and notes how many philosophy departments are now offering degrees and PhDs in ethics consultancy. And this article talks about the venerable ethics consultant Lee Taft, who teaches organisations not merely to cover their asses legally when malfeasance is exposed, but instead to genuinely repent, say sorry and make amends. If only Rupert Murdoch had hired him…
See you next week,