Category Archives: Philosophy

Rebecca Solnit on Hope.

In a crisis, it is easy to despair. ‘Don’t mourn, organise!’ is a good mantra in such situations. Mourning has its place, but our response should be neither blind despair nor blind hope. We need to understand the objective reality … Continue reading

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In praise of lightness – Calvino’s Leggerezza.

The Italian writer, Italo Calvino, was invited to give the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University in 1985 but died before he was able to deliver them. Luckily, we have the text of 5 of these 6 planned lectures … Continue reading

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Knowledge-rich and skills-rich

We can learn a lot from the telly. Skills competitions like ‘Bake Off’ and ‘Strictly’ and quiz shows like ‘University Challenge’ and ‘Mastermind’ are among the most popular programmes on TV. These shows fall into two main camps, reflecting a … Continue reading

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Edgar Morin on ‘Thinking Global’.

How do we understand the difference between the behaviour of an individual and that of a society, between a small group of like-minded people and a political movement or between the ecosystem of a few acres and that of a … Continue reading

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Theodore Zeldin on ‘what is worth knowing?’

What is worth knowing? It’s a good question, given how much there is to know and the impossibility of knowing more than a tiny fraction of the total. Theodore Zeldin’s latest collection of essays, ‘The hidden pleasures of life’ (Quercus, 2015) … Continue reading

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What is Social Capital?

The Economy of Ideas #5 What is social capital? “Connections among individuals; social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” Robert Putnam (b. 1941) Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001) The American … Continue reading

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Capital as metaphor

The economy of ideas #4 We talk about social capital, cultural capital, creative capital, even ‘emotional capital’. It seems that capital can stand in for almost every human capacity. Why is this? Given its role as a real currency, it’s … Continue reading

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The global economy of care.

The economy of ideas #3. Is there a limit to how much we can care about others? Is it natural that we should care more about those who are closest to us? Is it in our nature to ‘look after … Continue reading

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Primo Levi on work and education

In his wonderful La chiave a stella (The Wrench) published in 1978, Primo Levi shares with us an exchange of stories told by Faussone, the itinerant Piedmontese rigger, and a narrator who, like Levi himself, is an industrial chemist at the point … Continue reading

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Thinking students and student research.

In his excellent book Think Again (2012), John Taylor makes a strong case for putting philosophy at the centre of our teaching in order to develop students’ ability to think. As he says in his introduction: “Education should be all about … Continue reading

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The social origins of human thinking.

What is thinking? Where does human thought come from? How did it evolve? These are important questions for us if we want to understand what makes humans different from other living things and to make the most of our abilities both as … Continue reading

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Reducing culture to memes

The economy of ideas #2 Human culture is such a complex and fluid assemblage of shared knowledge, ideas, beliefs, attitudes, perspectives and practices. How can we even begin to analyse and usefully study it? One way is to break it down into … Continue reading

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The marketplace of ideas

The economy of ideas #1 Can the application of market thinking to any aspect of learning be a good thing? If we support the idea of a universal, comprehensive education system free of markets, selection and hierarchies surely we have … Continue reading

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Gulliver’s levels

Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, first published in 1726, mocks the travel journals of its day with their increasingly fantastical adventures. It is also brilliant social satire, mercilessly tearing through contemporary conventions and pretentions.   It can also be read as a thought … Continue reading

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Roberto Unger on school as the ‘voice of the future’

In his excellent book ‘The Left Alternative’ the Brazilian philosopher and politician Roberto Unger proposes a new way for progressives to think about the future and start creating the good society. Unger suggests we should not give up on the central promise … Continue reading

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