Archive for February, 2015

This week we are joined by Geoffrey Findlay, talking on this topic. He says:

“Prompted by Richard Dawkins’ remark last year that ” parents should not read fairy stories to their children as…… they are harmful to their education by instilling a false belief in the supernatural” , Geoffrey Findlay will lead a debate on Fairytales, Myths and Legends – when do they become dangerous ?    Given the history of wars of religion and the persecution of other religions – which continues today in hideous form on most continents –  just how dangerous is the ‘belief in the supernatural’ ?  To what extent do fairytales, myths and legends contribute to this danger ? how far can we distinguish between them and their contribution to the evils involved ?  if we can identify the source(s) of the danger, what should we – can we – do to counteract it ?”

I hope to see you there.


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This Friday, 20th February 2015 from 7.40pm at the Friends Meeting House, Paul Archer and John Little will be debating ‘Defending the Blank Slate’.

To set the framework for a debate, Paul says:

“The historic starting point in the social sciences has been to consider humans as learning machines shaped by their experiences, whether that be the experience of their families, their social groupings or their broader culture.  The explanations that we seek for differences in human behaviour (in for example psychology, sociology and economics) are about how people have been affected by the environment in which they live.  The explanations given by social sciences have a reformist edge in that these environments are something that can in principle be changed.  This is in contrast to explanations of human behaviour drawn from beliefs about a human nature that has been formed by evolution over tens and hundreds of thousands of years.  These explanations have a conservative (with a small ‘c’) edge in that they identify factors that it is beyond our power to change.  The variability of human behaviour over history and between cultures suggests that the potential for change by learning is impressive and also uncertain.  For this reason the starting point should be to assume that behaviour is the result of learning until the contrary is proved.  For example, although it is theoretically possible that girls are under-represented in science GCSEs and A Levels as a result of preferences installed by evolution, this would be a bad (and lazy) starting point for an explanation.  The challenge is to do the difficult social research to find out whether the representation of girls in science varies between cultures and in different settings (btw… yes, it does), which is to focus on explanations in terms of learning rather than biology.”

John will say yes to this, but that it would be good nice to know which areas of behaviour are malleable and which are going to be very hard to change, and that it would be a mistake just to swap a crude genetic determinism for an equally crude cultural determinism.


I hope to see you on Friday.

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This week, Dr Rahman Khatabi will be speaking on this topic. He says:

“Traditional narratives of moral philosophy seem to be silent on modern issues such as ‘our duties to the environment’.

It seems to many that the right way to go about environmental problems is for the government to legislate and enforce; for institutions to comply with legislation when they carry out their tasks, and for individuals to hope that everything will be fine. But will it, in the risk society that we live in, where we can demonstrate that adverse effects (outside the range of natural events) are our making and not acts of God? 

My presentation will look at the pervasive sustainable development industry ( as big as 7% of GDP in England). I will show that in a risk society, individuals need to have a culture of critical thinking and then act as moral agents. In this way, they will be the lubricant in a governance system comprising the government, institutions and individuals. Although I will be reviewing traditional moral theories (but deeming them to be hopeless) I will rely on an evolutionary framework, whereby morality is seen as essential to good governance.”

I hope you can join us.

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This week we are joined by Vernon Griffiths, who is know to many in the Phil Soc.

He says: “My  main argument focuses on the effect of 16th century Humanists in providing new translations of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into the languages of Europe, together with its propagation by printing.  I aim particularly to look at how William Tyndale’s translation to “ploughboys” English helped provide a climate in Britain which encouraged science to flourish in the 17th century.”

Do come along this Friday to hear more.

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