Getting back to moral basics

Posted on: March 23rd, 2023 by mlpMemberAdmin

Studies have shown that children develop an innate sense of fairness and justice from a very young age. But if you look around the world today, you’ll find little evidence that this carries over into adulthood. So, can we really claim to know the difference between right and wrong, to know what is just and what isn’t?

Seemingly not.

Ethics and its social application, political philosophy, have been areas of philosophical study for thousands of years. In the 1970’s, however, the moral philosopher John Rawls came up with a very simple, effective and influential idea for assessing what’s fair. In doing so, he developed a robust theory of justice. After many decades of increasing inequality in our society, could his theories provide us with an ethical antidote?

We will be looking at the age-old concept of justice through the lens of egalitarianism. This philosophical approach attempts to reduce the impact of social inequalities to ensure a fair distribution of resources.

Good to know: We take pride in putting the fun back into serious philosophy through our friendly and respectful discussions involving different levels of experience of philosophy. Collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints is what the Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about.

Please read John Pickersgill’s focus paper Getting Back to Moral Basics before the 30th of May to enrich and guide our discussions. Don’t worry if you find some of it difficult, ethics is a minefield!

We are usually oversubscribed, so if you book but find out later that you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket to free up a place for someone else. Thank you.

The Self – body, mind or illusion?

Posted on: February 15th, 2023 by mlpEditor

The most essential and intimate puzzle of our lives – what is the self? What is our nature? Are we just a body with a brain as its central controller? Can we think about our self in the same way as we think about the rest of the universe? Or is the self a ghostly manifestation of the brain’s workings, a secret ‘soul’ which only we know?

Why do we feel that we are one thing, one person, one self? Perhaps instead are we like an orchestra with many different parts, each coming to the fore at different times … but hopefully in harmony?

Can we ever know our self? Many philosophers, both Eastern and Western, consider the self as an illusion. But are they saying we are not really here?

This month the Forum takes a selfie.

Good to know: We take pride in our friendly and respectful discussion involving different levels of experience of philosophy. This session will be based on a focus paper The Self – body, mind or illusion for reading before the event. Don’t worry if you find some of it difficult … everybody does!

We are usually oversubscribed, so if you book but find out later that you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket to free up a place for someone else. Thank you.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Theatre Group discussion

Posted on: January 30th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Find out more about Tennessee Williams as a playwright, the context in which he was writing and the themes he tackled.

This Lit & Phil member-led discussion will consist of an informal introduction to Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, prior to our visit to see the production at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

A short presentation will be given by Tony Jackson, with additional input from Joanna Lavelle. As well as providing some background to the play and Williams, especially the battles he had with stage and film directors over this particular play, some questions and talking points will be suggested to consider when attending the performance.

The session will be about 45 minutes long and will include opportunities for questions and discussion among the participants.

All are welcome, whether or not you can attend the production at the Royal Exchange.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using Blue Jeans, allowing all users to be seen and to join the discussion. There will also be a post-production on-line discussion on April 25th at 6.30pm via Blue Jeans.

Food and climate change

Posted on: January 24th, 2023 by mlpEditor

About a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food; global emissions average 6 kg CO2e per person per day, ranging from less than 2 kg/day in Africa to 13 kg/day in the US.

Controlling emissions to limit temperature rise cannot be achieved without a very large reduction in food related emissions. This means changes in diets and food production. How might this be done? And what can we do as individuals?

These, and other questions you want to raise, will be considered during this online session.

Our main speakers are Peter Ball (Professor of Operations Management at the University of York) and Beckie Lait (also at the University of York carrying out PhD research with They will respectively explore systems thinking behind UK farming practice (in particular, urban farming) and the carbon footprints of our food choices.

Following their introductions there will be ample time for your questions, suggestions and comments.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using the BlueJeans meetings app, allowing all users to be seen and to join the discussion.

Further reading: Professor Sarah Bridle – who gave an online talk to the Lit & Phil – sets out the problems in her book “Food and Climate Change” – a highly recommended source (and available as a free e-book).

The philosophy of emotions and the elephant in the room: ‘free will’

Posted on: January 10th, 2023 by mlpEditor

What role do emotions play in our lives?  Are they purely subjective and thus beyond the reach of science? Can we control our emotions?  In which case, what is the interplay between emotions and rationality?  And where does ‘free will’ fit into the picture?

Consultant psychiatrist Professor Bob Johnson (a member of the Lit & Phil who has far more letters after his name than in it!) will lead us into this philosophical jungle.  Dare you enter with him?

Our friendly and respectful discussion will be based on a focus paper – The Philosophy of Emotions – written by Bob, and for reading before the event.

Good to know: If you book but find out later that you cannot attend, please cancel your ticket to free up a place for someone else.  Thank you.

Have you got time?

Posted on: December 1st, 2022 by mlpEditor

Tempus fugit (time flies).  And a new year seems an appropriate time to think about time.  But have you got time?  If you are reading this, then the answer is probably ’yes’.  But have you got time, meaning have you understood it?  Then the answer is probably ‘no’.  Time has been a persistent philosophical conundrum for a very long time (!).  Perplexing, paradoxical and problematic … but a concept we couldn’t manage without.

Our friendly and respectful discussion will focus upon seven possible explorations of time covering the aesthetic, scientific, historical, literary and semiotic.  Is time the only reason everything doesn’t happen at once, as Albert Einstein quipped?  Is it merely a comparison of spatial changes or is it an independent aspect of existence?  What is the relationship between subjective time and chronological time as measured by clocks?

Recommended for background reading are two articles from ‘Philosophy Now’ magazine:

‘Time & Change’ by Raymond Tallis

‘Calling Time’ by Anthony Proctor

Good to know: These two articles are included in the focus material, which will be shared with event registrants.

“Time’s wingèd chariot [is] hurrying near” … so book a place now. It will be time well spent!

Utilitarianism: Can maximal happiness in society be the basis of ethics?

Posted on: November 17th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Utilitarianism is the theory that morality need only be understood in terms of its utility to society. So, what is morality? Is it, as Utilitarianism implies, adaptable to the moods of time? Or is there an impersonal ethical anchor governing us all?

In this friendly and inclusive forum, we will examine Utilitarianism through a short introduction by Pierre Waugh, followed by discussions in small groups.

Utilitarianism seems intuitive in explaining why morality should exist in the first place: bringing about the happiness and fulfilment of the greatest number of people in a world that requires coexistence with others. If we call happiness good and unhappiness bad, then our very social language ascribes the same qualities to morality as it does to feeling. So why not maximise the good?

But can the aggregation of people’s personal happiness be a sufficient reason to govern all our decisions? Or is it more complex than that when different people’s interests conflict with one another? As with any theory, the nature of what it represents must be questioned.

Good to know: All you need to attend this relaxed discussion group is an enquiring mind.  We accommodate different levels of philosophical experience. You may find it useful to watch this 15 minute video published on the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s website beforehand.

Is belief ‘beyond the natural’ beyond belief?

Posted on: October 25th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Why do humans tend to reach for something ‘beyond the natural’ for insight or comfort? Is it justified?

This group discussion will continue to explore the ideas debated by Philip Goff and Jack Symes in our event Between God and Atheism (18th October).

Richard Dawkins made the point that every theist is an atheist of one sort or another. Even devout believers deny the existence of gods other than their own. But gods come in many forms. From the capricious personalities of Greek and Roman mythology and Abrahamic traditions to the god-soaked ‘atheism’ of Spinoza.

However, the supernatural need not be god-like. Some traditions, particularly in Eastern thought, have a less individualistic ‘spiritual’ conception of the transcendental, including pantheism. These days, Western intelligentsia normally contend that the natural is sufficient and other beliefs are unjustified. So why do humans continue to look for something (not necessarily a god) beyond the natural for either intellectual or emotional reasons.

We will explore whether there is a dichotomy between theism and atheism or intermediate stages of belief.

Is there such a thing as physicalism?

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Physicalism is the theory that all phenomena are fundamentally physical in origin.

It argues that anything, from thoughts and feelings to the Aurora Borealis, has a natural and physical explanation whether we as humans understand it yet or not.

During this meeting of the Lit & Phil’s Philosophy Forum, we will explore this theory and its implications, in an accessible and friendly way. Attendees will then be encouraged to investigate and share their thoughts with the group.

Reducing your carbon footprint – air and ground source heat pumps

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

How can air and ground source heat pumps reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?

This online seminar will begin with an interview of Florence Collier by Lit & Phil member Dr Brian Tyler. The discussion will aim to describe types of heat pumps, their availability, installation and implementation, costs and general aspects of use in the UK.

David Heaton, an experienced mechanical engineer, will then talk about his experience of living with an air source heat pump.

In the second half of the meeting, the speakers will form a panel to answer questions from attendees. So come prepared with your questions to get the most out of this seminar.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using the BlueJeans meetings app, allowing all users to be seen and join the discussion.