Faversham Stoa is a philosophy discussion group meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of every month from 7.30 to 9.30pm in the The Bull in Tanners Street. We cover a large range of topics. If you have an idea for a topic that you would like us to cover why not drop us a line? There's no charge for membership and everyone is welcome to drop in. Just bring your brain and some beer money!

Schedule of Meetings

Tuesday 17 March 2015 — Death: What's it all about?

Of all of the big philosophical questions, 'what happens when we die?' is perhaps the one that has most preoccupied humans since the start of our recorded history. Death is so important, terrifying and fascinating because it frames our very existence. It gives an end to everything we do and an end to everything everyone we know will do. Or is it the end only to the material life, and the beginning of something new?

In this discussion we'll explore how some thinkers have tackled the topic of death and, importantly, explore your own ideas about it.

We'll look at the practical as well as conceptual—after all, dying is a physical process that we all experience as sentient beings. In recent years there has been a significant drive by politicians, the NHS and charities to help more people in this country receive a 'good death'. What does a good death look like? What's the difference between this and a bad death? Is a good death even possible? Some in society are reluctant to talk and/or think about dying—why might this be? Does talking about death bring it closer? Is there a point to talking about it when it is inevitable? Is there a case to be made for denial?

Our discussion will be led by Alice Fuller, a philosophy graduate who has worked in the area of end of life care and disability campaigning for the past five years. Alice currently works for the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association and is a trustee of the mental health charity Mind in Haringey. She lives in Walthamstow, east London.


Tuesday 17 February 2015 — Food Fears

Despite being better fed than any previous generation we are constantly being bomarded in the media by claims and counter-claims as to the safety of our food. Reports of GM crops, mad cow disease, toxic chemicals on our veg, junk food, additatives, all add to our axieties about food. Are these fears justified? Our discussion will be led by a local food technologist who will be able to provide some expert background knowledge.

Tuesday 20 January 2015 — What's wrong with atheism?

This was to have been our Christmassy topic in December but it had to be cancelled owing to the chair going down with the seasonal bug so we are running it in January so you don't have to miss out on the fun!

At Christmas our minds turn to the sentimental babe in the manger (as well as tinsel and presents) and atheists raise their seasonal cry of 'It's all nonsense' and 'We can enjoy Christmas just as much as you! With the rise of the New Atheism in recent years the intellectual attack on religion has increased putting believers on the defensive against what they see as 'Militant Atheism'. At this meeting we will be reversing the trend and putting atheism in the dock instead. Is atheism really as rational and coherent as (non-)believers assert and do they really understand religion or have they got it seriously wrong? This will not be an attempt to justify religious belief but to examine the rationale of the claims of the unbelevers.


Tuesday 16 December 2014 — Meeting cancelled owing to the chair feeling poorly!

Tuesday 18 November 2014 — What history should we teach our children?

The schools' history curriculum has become something of an ideological and political battlefield over recent years with radically different views of what kind of history should be taught in schools and the skills that students should be developing. What is the point of teachinbg history? Should we be teaching lists of kings and queens, a body of facts, sensitivity and empathy with peple of the past or critical skills?

Tuesday 21 October 2014 — Artificial Intelligence

Repeat of last month's topic.

Tuesday 16 September 2014 — Artificial Intelligence

Long-time member of the Stoa Graham Warner will be leading our discussion on artificial intelligence (AI). It's not just the issue of whether and when machines will be able to think like humans, but AI raises the knotty question of what we actually mean when we talk about 'thinking'?

Tuesday 19 August 2014 — Bright Ideas

This is our annual DIY session where members bring along items of their own to discuss. Bring along your own ideas for inventions, innovations and policies that you think would improve life in the UK today. It can be a completely original idea that you have been dying to float or it can be someone else's idea that you would like to champion. It can be serious or it can be as wacky as you like. It can be a Big Idea or something small and quite every-day. All ideas welcome!


Tuesday 15 July 2014 — What does 'funny' mean?

Oliver Double, who runs an MA in stand-up comedy at the University of Kent, will be leading our enquiry at the July meeting. We will be looking at the philosophy of humour, including the main theories philosophers have proposed to explain why we find some things funny. Ironically, none of the theories themselves are very funny, and none of the philosophers involved were very good at telling jokes. So bring your favourite joke along with you for analysis and to give us a laugh!

Tuesday 17 June 2014 — Pragmatism

The word 'pragmatism' has become a bit of a hooray word in recent years within politics and journalistic reporting. It tends to mean someone who is not dogmatic and not tethered to an ideology; someone who considers the facts of a situation and who is primarily interested in practical action. A bold, realisic and decisive person! What's not to like? And the word is not the darling of just a single wing of the political establishment. Both Tony Blair and David Cameron have at various times advertised themselves as 'pragmatists'.

On the other side, though, some commentators see the vague language of 'pragmatism' as attempts to justify the status quo without providing any kind of substantive argument.

The philosophical movement of pragmatism, that started in the late 19th century, bears only a loose connection with the popular use of the term today. Centering on three big US thinkers, William James, CS Peirce, John Dewey and Oliver Wendle Holmes, they rejected broad abstractions and big ideas. They looked to experimental science as a model for how we should progress in knowledge bit-by-bit and learn from our mistakes. They favoured trusting evidence rather than theory; for looking at the specifics of the situation rather than some overarching narrative; for preferring what works to what fits our preconceptions; and for being willing to test our ideas and change direction as is necessary.

So perhaps our politicians are not quite as pragmatic as they like to think?


Tuesday 20 May 2014 — Time travel in fact and fiction

Time travel is one of the staple tropes in Science Fiction where the aim is to play around in the narrative with the various paradoxes produced by the phenomena. However the really weird thing is that some pukka scientists are taking the whole idea seriously. It appears that the theory of relativity suggests a four-dimensional picture of the universe where travel back and forward across the forth dimension may be a genuine possibility.


Tuesday 15 April 2014 — Minority languages: should we let them die?

In the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel, mankind is punished by liguistic diversity. On the other hand in the story of Pentecost, in the book of Acts, where everyone is able to understand the Apostles, universal understanding is seen as a blessing. The idea that we would be better off with only one language is an ancient intuition. It would assist diplomacy and trade just to start with. But this is not a view shared by many modern linguists. Many think that linguistic diversity is what we should aim at.

Sometimes the argument is couched in terms of an analogy with biodiversity. The linguist David Crystal says "We should care about dying languages for the same reason that we care when a species of animal or plant dies. It reduces the diversity of our planet."

Sometimes it’s a rights argument. Nettle and Romaine in their book _Vanishing Voices_ claim that everyone "has a right to their own language, to preserve it as a cultural resource, and to transmit it to their children."

Others talk in terms of the importance of preserving a folk-spirit. “Every language is a temple”, said Oliver Wendell Holmes, “in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined”.

In contrast the writer Kenan Malik thinks that a language is simply a tool for communication and if it no longer functions as that then it should be allowed to die. While people should be allowed to speak any language they like, speaking a minority language should be treated as a personal, private hobby. It should not be sponsored or funded by the state.

So is the death of minority languages a tragedy for mankind, simply a sad, private loss for those declining speakers or a natural evolutionary development of culture?


Tuesday 18 March 2014 — What has Nietzsche done to morality?

Nietzsche is unsual as a philosopher, to say the least. He does not come out of any specific tradition and did not found a tradition or school of thought himself, although many thinkers an writers claim to have been influenced by him, all the way from existentialists to postmodernists.

His style also is unusual for a philosopher. He does not stand above and beyond human emotion with detached rason but argues passionately and polemically. In fact his passion is so fierce at times one wonders whether he is making a serious, rational point or simply trying to have a therapeutic effect on his readers.

Probably his most profound contribution is to thinking about morality, not by providing a theory but by challenging its very grounds. Nietzsche examines the pyschological, historical and cultural development of morality and concludes that it is a lie told by the weak to control the strong. To liberate themselves and to flourish the strong must see through the illusion of morality and re-evaluate all their values.

The best exposition of Nietzsche’s view of morality is given in his short book On the Genealogy of Morals and also in Twilight of the Idols and The Anitchrist. We will be discussing On the Genealogy of Morals at our next Stoa meeting, led by Edward Greenwood who is an honary member of staff in the English Dept at University of Kent.

Come along and learn how to be a Superman!


Tuesday 18 February 2014 — Lying and Deceit

We will be looking at all aspects of lying and deception this month, so bring along your favourite lies for discussion.

The common view of lying is that it involves uttering a statement that you know to be false in order to deceive someone else that it is true. This view is so entrenched that lying and deceit are almost synonymns. However, we will be looking at the apparantly paradoxical claim that it is possible to lie without deceiving and that it is possible to deceive while telling the truth.

We will also examine the various evasive strategies used in public life to deceive such as the use of weasel words, the non-apology apology, the non-denial denial, the 'mistakes were made' gambit, plausible deniability, ecomony with the truth, false balance, mental reservation and many more.

We will look at practice of 'astroturfing', PR and propaganda used to influence public opinion and we will look at lie detection and self deception. Who would have thought that lying could provide us with such a rich seam?


Tuesday 21 January 2014 — The ethics of violence, war and soldiering

This month we will be discussing war, conflict and soldiering.

Is war an inevitable part of the human condition? Human civilisation has been going roughly 6,000 years and in all that time humans have been fighting wars! And since 1900 there have been over 200 wars. So are our services and campaigns and marches for world peace unrealistic? Should we accept the reality that war is inevitable and give up praying for peace?

Can we mitigate the evils of war by agreeing that war is controlled by 'laws of war'. The Just War doctrine has been the classic argument for controlling war. The main principles are that war must be necessary, proportional, be fought with the right intention, legitimate, be likely to succeed, and be fought for a just cause. However, is it possible in practice for a war to be fought under these conditions?

We are also going to look at what we demand of our servicemen. While under Just War Theory states go into war reluctantly, as a last resort, we don't want our soldiers to go into our wars reluctantly. We want them to be ferocious and enthusiastic for fighting. We want men with high testosterone and aggression to train as soldiers to fight although we also expect them to exercise discipline. They may only kill under specific conditions and they must switch off when not required to do so. Then, when they return to civilian life they must be exemplary civilised members of society. However, we know from crime statistics that some soldiers often experience difficulty in fitting back into normal society.

We will also be looking at the recent trend in families suing the MOD for negligence when relations have been killed in combat. Does this mark a change in the relationship between the state and soldiers? Are they now employees with the MOD having a duty of care under Health and Safety legislation?


Tuesday 17 December 2013 — Whatever happened to the UFOs?

Was the star of Bethlehem a UFO? Well some 'UFOlogists' think it was. Furthermore, despite the recent full disclosure of their UFO files by the Ministry of Defence UFO believers still think that all those blobby pictures of lights in the sky are evidence that we are being visited by aliens on a regular basis.

Our topic for this festive season is UFOs, but don't worry we are not going to sit around looking at videos of indistinct lights in the sky and considering cattle mutilation cases. Peter Morgan is going to look at the whole UFO phenomenon as an example of modern folklore which in these days of high tech communication is still alive.

UFOs of course raises the further issue of whether there might be life teeming on other planets.

In 1961 Frank Drake formulated the famous Drake Equation by which it is supposed that an estimate can be made of the number of ET civilisations throughout the galaxy. The original estimate was between 1,000 and 1,000,000. On the other hand proponents on the Rare Earth Hypothesis argue that the conditions on earth are just right for life and it is unlikely that this precise set of circumstances have arisen anywhere else in the cosmos.

What would aliens look like if we really encountered them? Most Close Encounters on record describe beings who are suspiciously humanoid, with a hint of reptile or insect. And if they can't speak English then at least they can communicate telepathically.

Come to the Stoa while we look to the stars this Christmas!


Tuesday 19 November 2013 — Faith and Belief

With Christmas coming up next month this might be a good time to review the notion of 'Faith' both in its secular and religious contexts. Christians often claim that their belief in God is based on 'faith', while atheists like to quote Mark Twain's aphorism 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so'. In this meeting we will be attacking both positions as mistaken!


Tuesday 15 October 2013 — Political Correctness

The phrase 'political correct' has become a term of abuse for those who are pedantic about the use of inclusive and non-offensive language and who want to police other people's use of language. A movement that started out as attempting to promote freedom and equality has now become identified as oppressive and dictatorial and frequently compared with George Orwell's 'Newspeak'. So—is there anything to be said for political correctness or should we all toughen–up and stop being over-sensitive?


Tuesday 17 September 2013 — Journalism

These days journalism not only reports the news, it is the news. In discussing the state of journalism today we will obviously be looking at the Levison Enquiry and issues of privacy and bias, but we will also be considering how stories are selected and the way celebrity and sensational stories tend to lead. It appears that many stories are not copy-edited or fact checked these days; many stories come from wire services and some journalists even use Twitter and Wikipedia as sources. With the increase in news media outlets there is a pressure on journalists to concentrate on quantity and not quality with a consequent decline in investigative journalism which is expensive in terms of money and time. Will so called 'citizen journalism' using on-line blogs drive the professional journalist into extinction and what will that mean for quality and freedom of the press?

Tuesday 20 August 2013 — Bright Ideas

In August we normally have a DIY session where members bring along items of their own to discuss. Following last August's successful session on Bright Ideas we are repeating it. Bring along your own ideas for inventions, innovations and policies that you think would improve life in the UK today. It can be a completely original idea that you have been dying to float or it can be someone else's idea that you would like to champion. It can be serious or it can be as wacky as you like. It can be a Big Idea or something small and quite trivial. All ideas welcome!


Sunday 21 July 2013 — Population: a tale of sex and money

Sara Parkin OBE will be talking about population policy at University of Kent at Canterbury, School of European Culture and Languages adjacent to the main visitors' car park. 2:30–4:30pm. All welcome. No entrance charge. This is a meeting organised by the East Kent Humanists and supported by various local green groups. Please note this is not a Stoa event and so is not at the Bull.

Tuesday 16 July 2013 — The future of universities

Attending university has become financially difficulty for many and applications have been falling. At the same time a lot of courses are now being offered on-line, many free. Will the future of higher education be driven by IT and will students have to forego important lessons in independence amd autonomy through losing the experience of living away from home?


Tuesday 18 June 2013 — Music and Meaning

David Reason, Honorary Senior Lecturer History & Philosophy of Art, from the University of Kent who will be leading our discussion on Music this month. What is music? Is it a special type of language? How does it affect our emotions? Are there universal truths about music or is it all culturally relative?


Tuesday 21 May 2013 — Wealth and our problem economy

Everyone is aware that there is currently a problem with the economy, but looking deeper, are we perhaps becoming increasingly dependent upon an economy built upon solving problems that we ourselves created in the first place? Is GDP a sufficient measure of the well-being of a country?

In a speech in 1982 Robert Kennedy said:

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, ...the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. ...It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.


Tuesday 16 April 2013 — What is Science?

Serge Jezequel, retired pharmaceutical chemist living in Kent, will be leading our discussion this month on 'What is Science' and looking at scientific method. He argues that most people, even educated ones, think that they know what science is, but they don't really, except at a superficial level. This is the main reason why so many people will still endorse, not only faith, but also pseudo-science and bad science as a source of knowledge. They can be confused by journalists, politicians, statistics, the internet, etc. and even become totally anti-science. Serge thinks that people cannot have a sensible debate involving science without first understanding properly what it is.


Tuesday 19 March 2013 — Creativity

Creativity has become a buzz-word today. Everyone wants a 'creative' job and people who are 'creative' are regarded as the best kind of people. But what is creativity? Is it enough for someone to produce something unique or novel? Surely there has to be some added value. But what is that special value that differentiates the merely original from the creative?


Tuesday 19 February 2013 — The Two Cultures

In his 1959 Rede Lecture, CP Snow, who was both a scientist and a widely read novelist, argued that western culture had become split into two camps: the humanities on one hand and the sciences on the other. These two camps are largely ignorant of each other and even sometimes mutually suspicious and hostile. Snow describes interviewing scientists who had never even read Dickens and humanities academics who were proud of being unable to describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Are the sciences and humanities still split 60 years later? Given the amount of popular science in bookshops, on magazine racks and on the web, perhaps things have changed a lot.

Perhaps we confront a worse problem now, that most people are ignorant of both cultures.

Certainly in education we still appear to have the great pressure to specialise early on.

So... have you read Dickens AND so you know the Second Law of Thermodynamics?


Tuesday 15 January 2013 — Meeting cancelled

Tuesday 18 December 2012 — The Philosophy of Christmas

Love it or hate it, Christmas is here again, so let's philosophise about it.

We take as our text for the season, Stephen Law's 2003 book, 'The Xmas Files: The Philosophy of Christmas'.

(1) Christmas is obviously a tradition, so what is the content of that traditional and what is the value of tradition anyway?

(2) In 1957 C.S. Lewis published “What Christmas Means to Me.” Amongst other things he thought that we get exhausted by having to support the commercial racket while carrying on all our regular duties as well. “Can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter ??” Lewis demanded plaintively.

The obligation of giving a gift of equivalent value to someone who gave us a gift to us or to return a card to someone who has sent us one can seem like a kind of moral blackmail.

Suppose we don't like the present we have been given, should we be honest about it? Law raises the issues involved in the chapter entitled Aunt Gertrude's Hideous Tie

(3) A theme that comes up again and again during the season, which sends us all on a guilt-trip, is the question of The True Meaning of Christmas. Whats your view? Is the only true meaning a religious one or can atheists and the non-religious authentically celebrate Christmas and give it a meaning of their own.

(4) Christmas is a time of bad taste and kitsch images and decorations. Is the sentimentality around Christmas actually morally damaging to us or just a bit of harmless escapism?


Tuesday 20 November 2012 — Restorative Justice

Should the state have a monopoly on the administration of justice -- or should the community be involved in restoring equity? What place do institutions and practices of restorative justice have a part to play?

Tuesday 16 October 2012 — Complementary & Alternative Medicine

There is much debate about whether alternative medicine treatments are genuinely effective, no better than placebo or downright harmful. We will be discussing so called 'Complementary and Alternative Medicine' in relation to Evidence Based Medicine which is the methodology behind NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence). Is it all just snake oil? Perhaps you have benefited from alternative treatments yourself. Come along and have your say.


Tuesday 18 September 2012 — Becoming British

Patti Whaley was born a US citizen but has now taken the Citizenship Test and has become a British Citizen. She will be talking about her experience of studying for, and taking the test and she will be setting a mock test for us to sit! How well will you do? You will also be asked to come up with your own question to add to her own set of citizenship questions that she has been gleaning from friends and contacts. The Citizenship test offers a good opportunity to look at what British identity amounts to today.


Tuesday 21 August 2012 — Bright Ideas

In August we normally have a DIY session where members bring along items of their own to discuss. This year it's Bright Ideas. Bring along inventions, innovations and policies that you think would improve life in the UK today and we will vote to decide on the best one. It can be a completely original idea that you have been dying to float or it can be someone else's idea that you would like to champion. It can be serious or it can be as wacky as you like. It can be a Big Idea or something small and quite trivial. All ideas welcome!


Tuesday 17 July 2012 — Is the Invisible Hand Green?

Whilst Green means different things to different people, a central tenet is that the economic model that holds sway across most of the world results in levels of environmental degradation and consumption that impact negatively on local, national and the global environment to such an extent as to threaten the well-being of humans who inhabit those environments. Is this true? Or is the attempt to recover what has been lost - a simpler more rooted view of life, in step with the rhythms of the natural world - a version of romanticism that inhibits rational analysis of industrial, technological and scientific problems that offer the key to human survival? Faith in nature rather than science and technology may be sincere but misguided.


Tuesday 19 June 2012 — Risk

This month we are pleased to have with us David Reason, Honorary Senior Lecturer History & Philosophy of Art, from the University of Kent who will be leading our discussion on risk.

A lot of research shows that we humans tend to be very poor as estimating risk frequently responding to the subjective feeling of risk rather than the reality. Biases seem to be built into our thinking. For instance people often tend to exaggerate rare risks and downplay common risks. We also tend to downplay risks we control (such as smoking) and exaggerate those we don't control (say, risks from terrorism). So if you thought human beings were rational animals, think again. Risk seems to be one of those areas where we all make poor judgements!

If you don't read or listen to anything else, take a look at the short video (21 mins) on The Security Mirage.


Tuesday 15 May 2012 — Status

Our topic this month is about an almost universal anxiety: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. We care about our status for a simple reason: because most people tend to be nice to us according to the amount of status we have.

Tuesday 17 April 2012 — Money Reform

We all want as much of it as we can get and if we don't have enough of it we can literally starve to death. But money is funny stuff. It's no longer backed by deposits of gold or the savings of bank depositors. Nowadays banks can lend out far more money than they actually own themselves so it looks as if everyone is in debt to everyone else in the system with nothing behind it. Is it all just a game of smoke and mirrors lasting as long as there is confidence in the game? Anne Belsey, long-standing member of the Stoa and an leading member of the Money Reform Party, will be leading our discussion this month on ideas for reforming the monetary system to prevent the kinds of crises that have occurred in the financial institutions over recent years.


Tuesday 20 March 2012 — What's the value of modern art?

Our March 2012 meeting is a discussion of modern art: abstract and conceptual, made and ready-made. Referring back to our January meeting, is it all 'bullshit' and a case of 'the emperor's new clothes', or is there some substantive value in this kind of art?

Robert Cambridge from Whitstable, who is an art enthusiast, will be provoking our conversation and using illustrations from the work of Pablo Picasso (women with eyes in the wrong place), Henry Moore (funny shaped stones with holes), Marcel Duchamp (the urinal), Tracey Emin (the unmade bed), Damian Hirst (the split cow) and Carl Andre (the pile of bricks). Come along and be prepared for your assumptions to be challenged!


Tuesday 21 February 2012 — Buddhism Comes West

This month we will be looking a Buddhism, but not just as another religion with its own specific set of beliefs. We will be considering the question of how Buddhism has moved into western society and culture and how it has adapted and changed during that process of moving.


Tuesday 17 January 2012 — Bullshit!

In general conversation bullshit refers to anything that one judges is nonsense, stupid, worthless or deceptive. However, the Princeton philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, was not satisfied with this rather loose use of the term and wanted to pin down the essence of bullshit a bit more scientifically and wrote about it in his 1986 paper entitled 'On Bullshit'.

The essence of bullshit, Frankfurt decides, is that it is produced without any concern for the truth. Bullshit needn't be false: "The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong." The bullshitter's fakery consists not in misrepresenting a state of affairs but in concealing his own indifference to the truth of what he says.

The questions that we will be setting out to answer in our session are:

  • Is there more bullshit around now than in previous generations?
  • If the is an increase in bullshit, how do we account for it?
  • Why are we more forgiving of the bullshitter than the liar, given that the bullshitter has less respect for the truth than the liar?
  • Is bullshit having a morally corrosive effect on society today?

We will also looking at various examples of bullshit in a number of domains which will be illustrated by video clips


Tuesday 20 December 2011 — Limits to the Scientific Quest?

Science represents one of the most successful of humanity's achievements but the philosophical basis of this activity has provoked much debate. Karl Popper claimed that the important criterion rested with the Falsification Principle in which statements could, in principle, be shown to be erroneous. Later, Thomas Kuhn drew attention to the way in which scientific ideas are propagated with normal science depending on a set of accepted principles and actions, whereas revolutionary science involved discrepant examples that could lead to a paradigm shift and a new way of thinking.

A scientist himself, John Dore, our discussion leader, will attempt to present an analysis of the way that science is actually done and to re-consider whether either of these viewpoints represents an accurate picture of what the practice of science involves.

We shall see that there are vast differences even within the realm of the physical sciences itself as to what constitutes knowledge (energy conservation, molecular interactions, fundamental particles and black holes).

Development in the biological sciences depends on a much less rigorous establishment of ideas and the human sciences engage in concepts, which are themselves open to question with issues such as psyche and consciousness almost impossible to address.

So, is science progressive? Is it goal-oriented in the sense that we are always approaching a better explanation of the world we live in? Are there questions that we cannot or possibly should not address? Where are the limits, conceptual, practical, sociological and philosophical, if they exist at all?

Tuesday 15 November 2011 — Philosophy of Engineering

It is a commonplace that engineering as a source of both products and employment is in decline in the UK. However, we are surrounded by technology to the extent that the way we live depends on systems that have artifacts of all types at their base.

Does the loss of engineering employment provide an indicator of a maturing economy that has moved on or does the fact that 'Made in the UK' is rarely seen have implications for other aspects of our lives including a sense of ourselves as active agents in the world?

Tuesday 18 October 2011 — William James and the case for Universal Consciousness

William James, famed as the father of American psychology, had a great interest in trance mediums who appeared convey knowledge of events that they could not, by the widest stretch of imagination, have acquired naturally.

Although James firmly assented to the conventional view of psychology that "thought is a function of the brain", he was forced to conclude that the very best mediums did have access to paranormal knowledge of some sort.

As a result James developed a theory that the brains of mediums must be letting through consciousness itself which originated outside of themselves.

Chris Bratcher will be discussing James' theory of universal consciousness and it relationship to psychical research.


Tuesday 20 September 2011 — Freedom

This month we are going to use the current (2011) Reith Lectures as our starting point for a discussion on the question of freedom.

The title of the lectures is 'Securing Freedom' with Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi giving the first two entitled 'Liberty' and 'Dissent' respectively. The third, so far, is by former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, on issues of the role of the intelligence and security services in protecting those liberties that Aung San Suu Kyi and her like are fighting for.

If you don't get a chance to read or listen to anything else just take a look/listen at the first lecture as this is the one we will mainly be focusing on.


Tuesday 16 August 2011 — Philosophy in the News

We do not close down over the summer like a lot of groups but our August meeting is always a do-it-yourself session rather that having someone introduce a topic. This month you are invited to bring along a story currently in the press that you think exemplifies a philosophical issue or problem that we can discuss.

Tuesday 19 July 2011 — Post-modernism

Postmodernism is difficult to define embracing as it does so many areas including art, philosophy, literary criticism, scholarship, architecture and food. Furthermore, different proponents give different accounts of what pomo is and are frequently hostile to the very idea of definition. Some even reject the epithet being applied to themselves. Whatever else you say, you have to agree that pomo is controversial. Most pomos will hate the idea of trying to categorise and pin down their ideas - but here goes with a few bullet-points:

  1. Disillusionment with modernism and its optimism
  2. Rejection of 'Grand Narratives' or big overarching theories
  3. Disbelief in objective and absolute truth
  4. Subjectivism - There is no meaning to the statement 'the world as it really is. There is just the world as it is to you or me or him or her.
  5. There are no facts only interpretations
  6. Relativism - both about truth and values
  7. Rejection of belief in Progress (with a capital 'P')
  8. An attitude of Scepticism, Irony, Cynicism

Tuesday 21 June 2011 — Optimism and Pessimism

Optimism and pessimism are always future-directed. You can only talk about hoping or fearing outcomes that are located in the future and are to some extent currently unknown.

So what is your highest hope for what will happen in the future? What is your worst fear? What is your best bet for what will actually happen?

Can we meaningfully take an optimistic or pessimistic stance viz-a-viz life as a whole? What kinds of argument or evidence can we adduce to persuade others of our belief?

Tuesday 17 May 2011 — Simone Weil

Simone Weil, “religious searcher”, “wayward saint”, French philosopher, labour activist, teacher, factory worker, journalist, revolutionary Marxist, soldier, pacifist, anarchist, Christian mystic, Jew and Catholic was born in Paris in 1909 and died in a sanatorium in Ashford in 1943 at the age of 34. She is buried in Bybrook cemetery and there is even a road in Ashford, Simone Weil Avenue, named in her memory. So there is quite a local connection!

Tuesday 19 April 2011 — What now for the nation state?

Global capitalism encourages the growth of transnational organisations that are not rooted in culture, social norms or a value system but nevertheless depend upon the existence of these things in legal jurisdictions to further their interests and ends.

Whilst driven primarily by economic forces acting out in international markets globalisation has also had profound social and political consequences. It could be argued that the emergence of new social and political structures not rooted in the traditional nation state pose a profound threat to what we might think of as the classic liberal democracy. Does this matter? If it does, what can be done about it?


Tuesday 15 March 2011 — Electoral Reform

In the UK we are to be offered a referendum to change the system by which we vote in general elections. So what is proportional representation, the single transferable vote? Come and find out!


Tuesday 15 February 2011 — Religion without supernatural belief

Is it possible to be religious in the absence of a belief in the supernatural? Some people think you can and, indeed, some clergy, notoriously dubbed in the press as "Godless Vicars", take this position. In the early 80's philosopher and theologian Don Cupitt reflected on the decline of religious faith in western culture in his TV series 'Sea of Faith'. The TV series gave rise to an organisation of the same name which promoted the view that you could participate in religion as a purely expressive form without any reference to the supernatural claims of religion, their tag-line being: Exploring religion as a human creation. Our discussion will be led by a 'Godless Vicar' (not his own description) who will be arguing that denying a supernatural reality does not necessarily result in atheism and irreligion.


Tuesday 18 January 2011 — Time

St Augustine famously said in the 4th century: What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.. He did not have the benefit of a knowledge of the scientific theory of Relativity which seems to imply that the experience of time flowing is really an illusion. But is it? It just seems to raise more questions than it answers.


Tuesday 21 Dec 2010 — Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men!

Last year, on Dec 20th, the BBC broadcast 'Songs of Praise' from Bethlehem, a Palestinian town under Israeli control. This fact was not even mentioned. There was no reference to the Security Wall that surrounded the town.

Nearly seven years ago, on 27 Jan 2004, Dr Rowan Williams gave a sermon at St George's Jerusalem, in which he said: "This security fence stands as a terrible symbol of the fear and despair that threaten everyone in this city and country, all the communities who share this Holy Land."

We need to know more about the historical background to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As a country we have a moral responsibility to implement the second part of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which stated that "It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."

Israel depends on the financial support of the United States. President Obama has failed to stop the growth of Israeli settlements. Backed by Christian Zionists, the Jewish lobby has tremendous influence in the USA. The Bible is used to justify the creeping annexation in the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

There will be an opportunity to discuss the current situation in Israel/Palestine with Tony Crowe who first became involved in the Middle East, when as vicar of St Johns Clapham, he visited Jordan with a Labour Party Delegation in 1970. More...

Tuesday 16 November 2010 — Philosophy of History

Brian Turner is a retired history teacher and will be leading our discussion when we consider some of the classic questions about history. 'History' can mean the past in itself, what actually happened, or our knowledge of what actually happened. What is the relationship between these two? Can we have reliable and objective knowledge about the past? What is nature of historical explanation? How is different from scientific explanation? Are there such things as impersonal historical laws or is historical change simply driven by outstanding individuals? Or is all history "bunk" as Henry Ford is reputed to have said? More...

Tues 19 Oct 2010 — Scientific Horizons – Reith Lectures

In October we will be discussing the 2010 Reith lecturers given by Martin Rees back in June. Rees is a techno-optimist by his own admission, affirmative even when asking us to contemplate imminent catastrophes of population growth, water shortage and bio-terror. He really does believe that science can solve the major global problems. He argues that scientists should engage with the public more, so that we can understand the policy implications of science better and he believes that pure research and science education must continue to be funded even in these days of cutbacks. You can listen to the radio programs on-line and download the transcripts on the topic page. More...

Tues 21 Sept 2010 — Aphorisms can change your life!

Aphorisms are the oldest way of expressing philosophical and religious ideas. They have the virtue of being brief, concrete and personal but they are not systematic. You could say that they incorporate a 'pre-theoretical' method of recording knowledge. Hippocrates, the founder of classical Greek medicine, wrote all his medical knowledge in aphorisms as he had no underlying theoretical structure to his ideas. In our 'post-modern' age with its suspicion and rejection of big theories like Marxism and dogmatic religion, could not the aphoristic form be the most appropriate way of expressing our philosophy of life? This session will be a multi-media presentation with the opportunity of discovering, and taking home, an aphorism that speaks to you personally.

Tuesday 17 August 2010 — Ethical clinic

The Stoa continues to meet through the Summer and even though it's the holiday period we normally still get a good turn out. We will be repeating the session we held last year when members are invited to bring along an ethical problem which we will discuss and attempt to answer. In previous years members have come up with some very imaginative (and sometimes hilarious) questions.

Tuesday 20 July 2010 — Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish philosopher and mystic who, like Anne Frank, wrote diaries during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam between 1941 and 1943 and who later died in Auschwitz. Dr Philip Knight will be introducing us to a philosophy that was formed and lived out under terrible suffering and which demonstrates how a hopeful and meaningful life can be lived under extreme conditions

Tuesday 15 June 2010 — Problems of Christian Belief

With the rise in volume of the New Atheists like Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchen criticism of religious belief is in the news. However, even amongst atheists there is disagreement about how a sound critique of religious belief should be conducted. At this meeting we will be looking at a number of the key objections that atheists often bring against Christian belief and consider ripostes that can be presented. This kind of discussion is what theologians call "apologetics". We hope that one or more of more of the local clergy will be able to come along and participate in our enquiry. More...

Tuesday 18 May 2010 — Belief and Knowledge

Chris Cherry from the University of Kent Philosophy Dept will be leading a discussion on the distinction between belief and knowledge (one that is often confused in ordinary conversation). As far back as Plato many philosophers have defined knowledge as "justified, true belief". In other words knowledge is a species of belief, not just something of which we are subjectively very certain. We will also be considering how, if at all, we can justify our claim to "know" anything at all".

Tuesday 20 April 2010 — Whatever happened to Marxism?

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 it has become received wisdom that communism of the Marxist variety is dead. However, there are still committed Marxist around who continue to argue for the validity of Marx's analysis of capitalism. Sean Sayers from the University of Kent philosophy dept has written and taught extensively on Marxism and will be talking this month on the title "Marxism and the crisis of capitalism" – a very apt title in view of the financial crisis of 2007.

Tuesday 16 March 2010 — Diversity

At its simplest 'diversity' just refers to the fact that modern western society consist of a much more varied population than in the past (an assertion you might feel is open to challenge). But it also carries some ideological overtones as well. 'Respect for diversity', or positively valuing difference, and enshrining this in law and even requiring 'diversity training' in organisations are all prescriptions. Is respect for diversity good for society or does it lead to cultural ghettoisation? More...

Tuesday 16 February 2010 — Existentialism

Existentialism is one of those movements that gets philosophy a bad name as it often seems obscure and pretentious with its jargon of being, angst, esse and nothingness. However, in essence it's quite simple. Existentialism emphasises the inescapable freedom of human beings in the concreteness of life as actually lived and the complete absence of any ultimate grounds for the choices we make. Human nature is not a blueprint we are born to conform to but something we create in the very process of living. More...

Tuesday 19 January 2010 — What is religion for?

This year we will be looking at the phenomenon of religion twice. In our January meeting we will be considering the ten functions that religion fulfils in society and in the individual life of the believer. Then in our June meeting we are hoping to get one or more of the local clergy to come along to discuss "Objections to Christian Belief". This will be an attempt to look at the various popular objections to belief and possible ripostes. More...

Tuesday 15 December 2009 — Animals: Friends and Food

This month we will be looking at our relationship with animals. We exploit them as pets, food and as workers, so what are our ethical responsibilities towards them and should they be granted rights under human law? More...

Tuesday 17 November 2009 — Thought Experiments

Thought Experiments are short stories philosophers and scientists tell to dramatise and clarify a specific problem. We will be looking at a few this month, focusing mainly on the notion of identity. More...

Tuesday 20 October 2009 — Trust

Confucius told his disciple Tsze-kung that three things are needed for good government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler can't hold on to all three, he should give up the weapons first and the food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: "without trust we cannot stand" More...

Tuesday 15 September 2009 — Immortality and the Soul

Dan Cardinal will be helping us look at the various arguments that Plato put forward supporting the idea of survival after death. We will be going back to basics by starting with his ideas as detailed in the 'Phaedo'. This will be a purely theoretical discussion so you can leave your Ouija boards at home! More...

Tuesday 18 August 2009 — A New Citizenship

This year's Reith lectures on BBC radio were given by Prof Michael Sandel of Harvard University. His general topic was 'A New Citizenship' and the first in the series was about the moral limits of markets. "There are some things money can't buy", he says, "and other things that money can buy but shouldn't". We will be discussing this, his first topic. You can listen to him on-line or download transcripts of his talks. More...

Tuesday 21 July 2009 — Ethical Advice Surgery

A slight change in the programme. We will be doing the ethical surgery this month instead of August. Bring your ethical dilemmas along to the Stoa and we will try to solve them for you. More...

Tuesday 16 June 2009 — Evolution

2009 is Darwin year so it seems only right that we give the great man some time in our schedule. We will not only be thinking about the evidence for evolution but also asking why Intelligent Design seems so attractive to some people and how Darwinism has been applied to social and political philosophy. More...

Tuesday 19 May 2009 — Memory

We will be discussing the nature of memory and some of the conundrums associated with it – like why it is we remember some things and forget others and why, as we get older, time seems to speed up and that while we remember vividly what we did when we were 16 we can't recall what we had for dinner yesterday. Don't forget to come. More...

Tuesday 21 April 2009 — Irrationality

We will be discussing some of the topics dealt with in the book Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland (Pinter and Marchtin, 2007). This is more about the psychology or irrational behaviour than logic and critical thinking. More...

Tuesday 17 March 2009 — A policy for the 21st Century

This is a chance for members of the Stoa to get involved in national affairs! The Compass Organisation, a Labour-aligned think-tank is running a competition to find a policy for the 21st century. Members of the public have been asked to submit their own suggestions and Compass have published all those that have been submitted so far. We will be looking at those policies already submitted to see if we like any of them and also coming up with our own for consideration. More...

Tuesday 17 February 2009 — Embarrassment, Shame and Guilt

Mark Twain said that human beings are the only creatures that blush – or have the need to! What are the characteristics of embarrassment? What do we get embarrassed about and why? Do the RBC managers feel embarrassed or are they immune – as most of us suspect? More...

Tuesday 20 January 2009 — Minds

How do we know other people have minds with inner lives like us? After all, we have no evidence. As far as we know they might be zombies with no inner life at all. This is the topic we will be discussing at our January meeting. Other questions that arise are: do animals have minds? could a computer ever develop a mind and do we really know our own minds as intimately as we like to think? How is self-deception possible if we have clear knowledge of our own minds? More...

Tuesday 16 December 2008 — Monarchy

In the 1950's Malcolm Muggeridge wrote a couple of articles on the Royal Family which seem pretty tame by today's standards but there was a vicious public backlash against him. Muggeridge complained that the Royals had become a soap opera. Subsequent developments seem to have proved him prophetic. So do we still need a Monarchy and could we envisage a state that operated just as effectively without one? More...

Tuesday 18 November 2008 — Privacy

We will be considering, among other things, whether celebrities can reasonably claim a right to privacy (think: Max Mosely) and whether the increase in data kept on us by the State (and Google) threaten our freedoms. More...

Tuesday 21 October 2008 — Karl Popper

Karl Popper was one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century and one of the last to have created a "system". His work embraced both philosophy of science and social theory. He and Wittgenstein met only once, in 1946 at Cambridge, and it is claimed that Wittgenstein waved a poker at Popper in a threatening way (although there are fascinatingly alternative accounts of the incident!). Philosophers were tough in those days! More...

Tuesday 23 September 2008 — Wittgenstein

We have had meetings on all sorts of philosophical topics since we began but none so far on any specific philosopher. In September and October, therefore, we are going to look at two contrasting philosophers of the 20th century. Ben Basing, from the London group of the Philosophy Society of England will be coming down to visit us and give us his take on Wittgenstein and then in October we will be looking at Karl Popper. Please note that this is a slight deviation from our normal 3rd Tuesday of the month. We return to the normal pattern next month. More...

Tuesday 19 August 2008 — Ethical Clinic

Following the success of last year's session discussing practical ethical questions we are going to do it again this year – but with a difference. Please bring along your own ethical dilemmas and the group will see if it can collectively come up with an answer. More...

Tuesday 15 July 2008 — Human Rights

What are human rights and where do they come from? Are they a natural part of us, like our hair and fingernails, or are the only rights we have those created by law? Patti Whaley will introduce the topic and help us investigate whether it makes any sense to talk about natural rights. More...

Tuesday 17 June 2008 — Death!

It has been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Well – we had taxes last month and in April we had old age – so it seems only fitting that we round off our set of depressing topics with the big one – DEATH. We will focus on three questions (1) How should we define death? – not so obvious as it might first seem; (2) Is there such as thing as Natural Death? (3) Is death a misfortune? You might think so but the Stoic Epictetus argued in wasn't. More...

Tuesday 20 May 2008 — The Credit Crunch

Anne Belsey will be navigating us through the intricacies of the 'The Credit Crunch'. More...

Tuesday 15 April 2008 — Ageing, Old Age and Ageism

I hope this topic is not just a function of the average age of our members! More...

Tuesday 18 March 2008 — Utopia

Why have people spent so much time speculating on the best society to live in? And is the notion of a perfect society really coherent – or even desirable? More...

Tuesday 19 February 2008 — Right and Left

The meeting on Tuesday was to have been about Utopia but we have had to put it back to March now. I thought, therefore, that a relevant topic, given the proximity of the Faversham Town Council Elections (May 2008), might be the issue of the difference between Right and Left in contemporary politics. Perhaps if we find an answer to this question we might be on our way to answering next month's question: how to achieve Utopia. More...

Tuesday 15 January 2008 — Technology

To the Victorians their technology was seen as the dawn of a new age which was succinctly symbolised in the Great Exhibition of 1851. However, in the 20th century that belief in inevitable and upward progress became jaded. It began to seem that you could never have utopia without dystopia – that progress was always a trade-off against unavoidable ills of other kinds. As we turned into the new century fresh voices of technological optimism have been raised again as a result of the incredibly rapid advances in IT. Is this optimism justified? Others argue that technology has the potential to destroy our humanity and that it should be rejected. But is not technology a part of our nature as human beings and therefore essential to our humanity? More...

Tuesday 18 December 2007 — Evil

This is not a very seasonal topic – perhaps it would have been better to have had it on Halloween! However, it's a perennial one. Is evil a metaphysical force or is human evil always explicable in terms of ordinary human psychology? If so, what does that tell us about ourselves? The notion of evil comes out of a religious context but can it still have a meaning for those who have given up religious belief? We generally have no trouble with the idea of moral saints – really good people – but can you have thoroughgoing moral monsters too? Consider the Mooor's murderers, Brady and Hindley. Were they essentially different from us normal folk, and if so, how should we deal with such people in a civilised society? More...

Tuesday 20 November 2007 — Tolerance

Without some degree of tolerance in society our lives would be literally "intolerable". But what are the limits of tolerance? If we fail to tolerate expressions of racial and sectarian intolerance are we being inconsistent? Is it right sometimes to be simply indifferent to certain practices and attitudes? More...

Tuesday 16 October 2007 — Britishness and Multiculturalism

Gordon Brown recently spoke in favour of a common culture in Britain. He wants us all to embrace a national identity of "Britishness" that is inclusive and tolerant. But what is it to be British? If you don't pass the "cricket test" have you failed to be patriotic? And what is the difference between nationalism and patriotism? More...

Tuesday 18 September 2007 — Money

It's funny stuff – money. It only exists because we all agree that it exists but without it you can literally die. How does it work and what does it mean to us? Are credit and debt good or bad for us as individuals and the economy? We all agree that poverty is a bad thing but why can't we end it? Is it really conceivable we can end global poverty by 2012? More...

Tuesday 21 August 2007 — The Future

The future does not exist. Well – not yet anyway. So how does something non-existent, like the future, affect the meaning of our lives? And what do owe to future generations of human beings who do not exist? More...

Tuesday 17 July 2007 — Moral Dilemmas & Being Good

We will be thinking through some tricky ethical dilemmas in this session. Discussion will be based on some realistic problems in ethics. Like the Windmill Theatre during the war our motto is "We Never Close". We continue meeting through the summer even if only a few turn up. More...

Tuesday 19 June 2007 — Religion – Good and Bad

Richard Dawkins has asserted in this best-seller, The God Delusion, that ALL religion is bad – the root of all evil in fact. Is this true? Can we distinguish between good and bad religion? More...

Tuesday 15 May 2007 — The Ethics of War

Is the attempt to connect ethics and war a self-contradiction and, for instance, can the invasion of Iraq be justified? More...

Tuesday 17 April 2007 — Feminism

Is Feminism a spent force now that women have achieved equality in the workplace? Virginia Burton, a member of the Fawcett Society, will be leading our discussion. More...

Tuesday 20 March 2007 — Education

What is education for and are our schools and colleges really providing it? Our discussion will be led by Lisa McNulty, a PhD student currently studying at the University of Kent. More...

Tuesday 20 February 2007 — The Paranormal

Is there more between Heaven and Earth than dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio? Or are psychical phenomena just the result of fraud and self-delusion? More...

Tuesday 16 January 2007 — Punishment

What good does punishing criminals do and how can we justify punishment? This discussion will be led by Andrew Birkin, who has been working with offenders for many years, both in the Probation service and Kent Social Services. More...

Tuesday 21 December 2006 — Christmas Philosophical Social

...or Philosophical Christmas Social? ...and discussion of "Enchantment" with special reference to the famous 19th century letter to a US newspaper "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". (Email for details).

Thursday 16 November 2006 — Animals and Us

Our relationship with animals, how we think about them, how we communicate with them, how we use and exploit them and the ethics of killing them. More...

Thursday 19 October 2006 — Messing About with Nature

This session was originally to have been about cloning but we have widened it out to cover all those forms of technology by which we human beings interfere with and "adjust" nature: cloning, AID, genetic engineering, xeno-transplants (ie, transplants from animals) etc. There is a high YUK factor here. But just because we feel discomfort or disgust over something, does that justify our banning it? Is there an ethical dimension here? Is it simply wrong to tamper with nature? Is it a matter of safety? Should we avoid tampering with delicate biological systems because we cannot know what the long-term consequences will be? Or are we just being Luddite? Is all this fear and loathing just the normal response we have to all new technologies? Richard Norman from the University of Kent has written and spoken extensively on this issue and will lead our discussion. More...

Thursday 28 September 2006 — Knowledge, Truth & Literature

Literature is largely fiction and therefore untrue, so in what sense can we learn from it? Does it teach us anything about human life that we cannot learn from the social sciences? This discussion will be led by Brian Godden from Canterbury. (PLEASE NOTE - This is a change from our normal 3rd Thursday). More...

Thursday 17 August 2006 — Happiness!

This is a change from the previously publicised topic. Bit of a contrast to July's topic! More...

Thursday 20 July 2006 — Euthanasia

This is currently a hot topic since the recent defeat of Lord Joffe's bill. The main conflict seems to be between those who feel that personal autonomy should take priority and those who believe the social consequences are of overriding concern. RIGHTS vs CONSEQUENTIALISM! Come and cast your vote. Philip Knight from Canterbury will be leading the discussion. More...

Thursday 15 June 2006 — Artificial Intelligence

Science Fiction is full of dire warnings about what happens when the machines get out of our control but is it really feasible that one day computers will be able to think? A lot depends on your definition of thinking. Some philosophers believe that there is something about the way computers are constructed that renders it impossible that they would ever become conscious. Others say "Well -- we are meat machines and we think so why shouldn't metal and silicone machines develop thinking!". After this you may never look at your laptop the same way again! More...

Thursday 18 May 2006 — Freewill and Determinism

Are we really responsible for our actions? If we gave up the idea that we are free, what would be the social consequences? More...

Thursday 29 April 2006 — Forgiveness

What is the good of forgiveness? Can you forgive unconditionally without an apology from the perpetrator? Is forgiveness an obligation? Is it right to withhold forgiveness in certain circumstances? Are some crimes unforgivable? More...

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