Arendt on In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France and then America. She wanted to understand how politics had taken such a disastrous turn and, drawing on ideas of Greek philosophers as well as her peers, what might be done to create a better political life. Often unsettling, she wrote of ‘the banality of evil’ when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust.
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On Kant's Dog
As Darling puts it, ‘Our apparent desire to protect those animals to which we more easily relate indicates that we may care more about our own emotional state than any objective biological criteria.’ She looks to Kant, who saw animal ethics as serving people. ‘If a man has his dog shot . . . he thereby damages the kindly and humane qualities in himself,’ he wrote in ‘Lectures on Ethics.’ ‘A person who already displays such cruelty to animals is also no less hardened toward men...’ Some years ago, Christine M. Korsgaard, a Harvard philosopher and Kant scholar, started working on a Kantian case for animal rights... Animals can’t reason their way to choices, Kant noted, so the freedom of rights would be lost on them. If the nectar-drinking hummingbird were asked to exercise her will to the highest rational standard, she’d keep flying from flower to flower... Korsgaard argued that hanging everything on rational choice was a red herring, however, because humans, even for Kant, are not solely rational beings. They also act on impulse. The basic motivation for action, she thought, arises instead from an ability to experience stuff as good or bad, which is a trait that animals share. If we, as humans, were to claim rights to a dog’s mind and body in the way we claim rights to our yard, we would be exercising arbitrary power, and arbitrary power is what Kant seeks to avoid. So, by his principles, animals must have freedom—that is, rights—over their bodies.This view doesn’t require animals to weigh in for abstract qualities such as intelligence, consciousness, or sentience. Strictly, it doesn’t even command us never to eat poached eggs or venison. It extends Enlightenment values—a right to choice in life, to individual freedom over tyranny—to creatures that may be in our custody.

"If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots? - http://www.newyorker.com/?p=3282142. This is an interesting article on animal and robot ethics. It summarizes a range of approaches before demonstrating why it might help to focus on how our ethics are shaped by our interactions with creatures and things. As the author concludes, "As people, we realize our full selves through appropriation; like most animals and robots, we approach maturity by taking on the habits of the world around us, and by wielding tools." 

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On Pursuing Wisdom
Charles Taylor’s approach to philosophy is always shaped by deep ethical commitments and public concerns. He addresses technical intellectual problems, but he is never interested in them only as technical problems. He writes accessibly. He travels widely, not simply to speak to audiences about arguments he regards as conclusively settled but to engage in discussions that are always potential occasions for intellectual advancement ― and he listens patiently to the most naïve questions, treating each as though it might contain an important new idea. Taylor’s approach also brings philosophy into the full range of human sciences and brings the more empirical humanities and social science into philosophy. It must be so, he seems to suggest, if the study of philosophy is truly to pursue wisdom.

Craig Calhoun, "This Philosopher Has Reimainged Identity and Morality for a Secular Age," - http://huff.to/2eeFn1W. This is a very helpful summary of Taylor's thought upon winning the inaugural Berggruen prize for philosophy. Calhoun is himself a distinguished social scientist.

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On Zeno's Paradoxes
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as ‘immeasurably subtle and profound.’ The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight which is at a series of different points but moving at none of them, or that of Achilles who, despite being the faster runner, will never catch up with a tortoise with a head start. Aristotle and Aquinas engaged with these, as did Russell, yet it is still debatable whether Zeno’s Paradoxes have been resolved.

Melvin Bragg is back for a new season of In Our Time. This season begins with a discussion of Zeno's Paradoxes -  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vs3v1

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On Duchamp
Our explanation of the artwork’s power is much more controversial: we believe that Fountain is art only insofar as it is not art. It is what it is not – and this is why it is what it is. In other words, the artwork delivers a true contradiction, what’s called a dialetheia. Fountain did not simply usher in conceptual art – it afforded us an unusual and intriguing concept to consider: a work of art that isn’t really a work of art, an everyday object that is not just an everyday object... It was Duchamp’s genius to have found a way of presenting an object that was simultaneously both art and non-art. It is high time that we recognised that Duchamp’s contribution was profoundly and intentionally paradoxical.

Graham Priest, "It Is and It Isn't,"  Aeonhttp://bit.ly/2dmhxkB. The essay explores Duchamp's Fountain which was part of his pioneering work in Dadaism. This latter movement influenced a range of thinkers, including Karl Barth. It is also interesting that the notion of truth being discussed here is related to the Greek notion of aletheia, and it strikes me akin to Heidegger's notion of unconcealedness. 

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On Habermas
Unlike Kant, Habermas is a thinker of late modernity; he no longer subscribes to the lofty belief in philosophy as the ‘queen of the sciences.’ Instead, as a critical theorist in the tradition of his teachers, he embraces a conception of ‘post-metaphysical thinking’ that sustains an alliance with the rest of the human sciences and remains responsive to its own social-historical context. Although genuinely metaphysical knowledge is no longer the rightful province of philosophical speculation, Habermas still cleaves in his own way to what Adorno once called ‘metaphysics at the moment of its fall.’ In our capacity for rational communication and in our appeal to a morality that leaves no one behind, there lies (in Habermas’s phrase) ‘a moment of unconditionality.’ While it lacks the prestige of a metaphysical absolute, it still bears a trace of the older idealism. Habermas calls it ‘an absolute that has become fluid as a critical procedure.’ Mundane reason, in other words, isn’t wholly mundane: In its modest commitment to rational argumentation, it keeps alive the universalizing impulse of the monotheistic religions when it strives to break free of its own conditions and ‘points beyond all particular forms of life.’

Peter Gordon, "A Lion in Winter," - https://www.thenation.com/article/a-lion-in-winter/. Interesting review of a recent biography of Jürgen Habermas.

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On Teaching Critical Thinking
I believe that the problem is not what is taught in schools, but how it is taught. It is not enough to simply offer curriculum about the ills of racism, homophobia, or bullying, and then expect lasting results from students who are entrenched in cultural beliefs that are reinforced by society. How can it be a surprise that a number of Americans lean toward authoritarian ideals when, according to Marzano Learning Sciences Center, an educational consulting and research group located in West Palm Beach, Florida, 58 percent of class time in K-12 schools is used for lecture with the teacher delivering content? Or that a number of Americans choose to ignore facts and reason when only 6 percent of class time is used for cognitively complex tasks? In a 2012 Center for American Progress student survey, one third of American 12th-graders said they engaged in class discussions only two times a month or less, suggesting that the majority of 17- and 18-year-old American public-school students (young adults coming upon voting age) rarely spend time engaging in dialogue during the school day. The current state of American politics is not surprising when the country’s youngest citizens are given few opportunities to engage in critical thinking and discussion. In order to counteract these trends, it is essential for educators to provide exploratory opportunities for students to not only think about the experiences of other people, but to also challenge their own inherent belief systems through experiential learning.

"Can Morality Be Taught?" - http://theatln.tc/2cXUKst

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On Lo and Behold
I deeply regret the fact that deep critical thinking and imaginative thinking, creative thinking, is lost. In my opinion computers, and in some sense the internet, are the worst enemy of deep critical thinking. Youth of today are using machines to basically replace their examination of the things they are observing. They don’t understand what they’re looking at or what they’re hearing, or what they’re learning. They depend upon the internet to tell them and decipher it. They look at numbers instead of ideas. They fail to understand concepts and this is a problem... Whether we use science or ancient Greek or philosophy, it’s those tools that are important. Those are the things that people are going to be able to use in the future. The actual information that we learn in school won’t be important. Because it will be dwarfed by the information that’s coming out on the internet every single day.
— Chapter IX. The Internet of Me

Werner Herzog, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World - http://www.loandbeholdfilm.com. This is an interesting commentary on digital life today by a masterful documentary film maker. This chapter in the film focuses on the need to rethink education, shifting it to analytical and critical thinking skills. 

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On Gutenberg
And so, though he had not invented movable type, if Gutenberg is to be credited with anything it must be that he made it work—that aided by the comparatively economical Latin alphabet he systematically tackled each aspect of a finicky, delicate process until he had perfected it. If calligraphic ink did not meet his needs, he would look elsewhere; if embossed characters were too costly to cut individually, he would find a way to produce them in bulk; and if a firm hand was necessary to get the best impression of the printed page, he would choose tools and materials that could withstand that pressure. Johannes Gutenberg was not the father of printing so much as its midwife.

Keith Houstan, "The Prints and the Pauper" - http://ilovetypography.com/?p=19968

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On Bayle's Tolerance
It is easy to see why many of Bayle’s readers thought that he was only pretending to believe in God. Could such a merciless critic of religious reasoning really have been pious in private, or was he feigning faith? It is impossible to tell. Besides, there is a third possibility. Perhaps sometimes he believed, and sometimes he didn’t. One reason why he was such a peerless dialectician is that he was good at seeing both sides of an argument. Intellectual modesty was the virtue that Bayle preached most often, which is why he was held up as a hero by the 18th-century philosophes... However, if any set of values counts as typical of the Enlightenment, they are tolerance, intellectual caution, the questioning of authority and the disentangling of morality from religion. If anyone deserves credit for promoting these values with unparalleled vigour, it is Pierre Bayle. It is a pity that he turned out not to be immortal, because the battle for them can hardly be described as won.

"The Tolerant Philosopher: Why Pierre Bayle is the Forgotten Figure of the Enlightenment" - http://www.newstatesman.com/node/303786

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On Occam's Razor
Occam’s razor was never meant for paring nature down to some beautiful, parsimonious core of truth. Because science is so difficult and messy, the allure of a philosophical tool for clearing a path or pruning the thickets is obvious. In their readiness to find spurious applications of Occam’s razor in the history of science, or to enlist, dismiss, or reshape the razor at will to shore up their preferences, scientists reveal their seduction by this vision. But they should resist it. The value of keeping assumptions to a minimum is cognitive, not ontological: It helps you to think. A theory is not ‘better’ if it is simpler—but it might well be more useful, and that counts for much more.

"The Tyranny of Simple Explanations" - http://theatln.tc/2bxsMEi. It is interesting that the closest thing to Occam's razor found in Occam's actual works is cited in this article as follows: “It is futile to do with more what can be done with fewer" (Summa Logicae, 1323).

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On the Talmud
Clearly, each of these scenarios is more far-fetched than the last. The rabbis are trying to save appearances, to preserve an internally incoherent law, no matter what logical contortions are required. The Gemara never does seem to settle on just one explanation for how an ox could ever become forewarned with regard to people, and the proliferation of arguments from different rabbis is a sign that perhaps no satisfying answer is available. In the attempt to make the biblical law clearer and more useful, the Talmud has instead created a new series of difficulties. This dynamic is one reason the process of interpreting and codifying Jewish law is open-ended: The Talmud is not the end of argument, but the beginning.
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On Goethe
Robertson’s final chapter turns to religion. Raised a Protestant, Goethe retained a soft spot for Luther’s Bible. At heightened moments he tended to recycle its phrases and imagery. Yet many of the outward manifestations of Christianity filled him with loathing. He abhorred the sight of crucifixes and the sound of church bells. By contrast, he inclined sympathetically towards Judaism and Islam, which refrain from depicting the deity in visual terms... This enduring commitment to striving, so often taken as the key to Faust’s career, is perhaps best viewed as the inevitable legacy of the Enlightenment. Its value is thrown into question by the multiple murders, brute thuggery, land-grabbing and summary evictions in which he was complicit, along with the invention of capitalism through the creation of paper money and the use of slave labour in a colonial context. Readers of The Essential Goethe may judge for themselves to what extent the early Faust foreshadows twentieth-century brutalities. If his trajectory should be followed by purification and transfiguration, that would surely be, as Gandhi is reported to have remarked of European civilization, a good idea.
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On Bonhoeffer's Anti-Judaism
On 2 July 2000, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, deferred action on the petition to have Dietrich Bonhoeffer named a righteous gentile. My contention is that critics of this decision conceal a more pernicious difficulty that arises in Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran legacy. David Nirenberg’s recent Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, demonstrates the history and development of such categories with particular attention to Luther. What goes unnoticed is the ongoing operations of anti-Judaism in later theologians such as Bonhoeffer. Although Bonhoeffer may not have been anti-Semitic, the degree to which his theology remained bound to centuries old anti-Judaism is another matter.

Timothy Stanley, "Bonhoeffer's Anti-Judaism," Political Theology - http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10773525.2016.1187000. This is the abstract from an article I wrote for Political Theology that is now available in volume 17, issue 3. The premise is focused on Bonhoeffer, but is equally applicable to other Christian thinkers of the time, such as Barth.

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Reading Religion Review
Stanley’s Ricoeurain critique of Habermas sheds light on why this volume itself resists ‘integrating’ the diverse and at times conflicting voices that it includes. The work’s task, as Stanley notes, is neither to ‘settle’ the question of religion and the (post-)secular, nor to predict their futures. Rather, it presents a welcome invitation to wade patiently through the unsettling muddiness of the debate itself, relinquishing any imminent prospect of coming unstuck. The work addresses itself, therefore, not to a bounded ‘postsecular’ but to the uncertain space that comes ‘after secularization’ in academic theory.

Stephanie Wright, "Review of Religion after Secularisation in Australia," New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, September 2015. 256 pages. - http://readingreligion.org/books/religion-after-secularization-australia. This is a new review site hosted by the American Academy of Religion. They very perceptively reviewed this recent edited volume. 

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