Good Enough Life – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

What did anthropologist Daniel Miller discover about the role community and place plays in making our lives more fulfilling when he spent time living in a small Irish town?

Dr Sheila McCormick interviews Daniel to explore his findings, and encourage us to reflect on the idea of living a ‘good enough’ life. Professor Daniel Miller’s latest book Good Enough Life tackles the age-old question: ‘what is the purpose of life?’.

By turning to the ‘ordinary’ lives of people in a small Irish town, Miller explores the ways the smaller things in life can lead to fulfilment. Professor Daniel Miller, in conversation with Dr Sheila McCormick (University of Salford), discusses the inspiration behind the book and his methods in beginning to measure happiness. Together, McCormick and Miller prompt the audience to reflect on what creates fulfilment in their own lives.

Interview with Professor Daniel Miller

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

Daniel Miller’s book ‘The Good Enough Life’ is an original exploration of what life could and should be, based on his study of the residents of Skerries. We had the chance to ask him some questions ahead of his appearance at the We Invented the Weekend Festival on Sunday 16 June.

 

Q: Does the ‘good life’ as typified by the residents of Skerries represent a transplantable model or framework that might be applied elsewhere? Or must a truly happy community reach an equivalent equilibrium independent of outside influences?

A: In my book I detail the many factors that have come together to explain why people praise their town as the basis of a good life. For example, it is a town large enough that people feel some autonomy and small enough to expect to greet friends when they go out for a walk. I show why it was important that the community was largely created by migrants (blow-ins) rather than its historical population. I examine their deep commitment to family and the community. There is an egalitarian ethos and for the retirees I worked with, a freedom from obligations that may last now for decades. I assume that other places favoured by their residents share some of these traits and lack others. While entirely other factors may be relevant.

In considering outside factors, for Skerries, as an Irish town, this includes a relatively stable government, and a sense that they have benefited considerably from the EU. I also noted a marked desire to differentiate themselves from what they see as the divisive politics of Northern Ireland, as opposed to their highly consensual local politics. So yes, an equivalent place elsewhere is likely to require its own equilibrium of both inside and outside influences.

 

Q: How should we measure success and happiness in a society that often equates these concepts with wealth and consumption? What alternative metrics could be more meaningful?

A: The key point here is that we should not be imposing our criteria for what makes a good life onto another population. My book is not based on my judgment that this was a happy place. I wrote this book because the people of the town went on and on about how much they loved living there and saw it as the source of their happiness. My job was to find out why?

With regard to wealth and consumption, the standard of living in this average Irish town is now slightly higher than the UK and it may be significant that most of the people I worked with were born in poverty and appreciate the benefits of living what they would call a comfortable life. But status in the town today comes almost entirely from public commitments to environmental welfare and sustainability, while conspicuous consumption is scorned.

“For these reasons the key metric is whatever the people themselves use to measure their sense that they are living the good enough life, and then the task is to explain why they favour this measure.”

 

Q: How do different cultures define and pursue a ’good’ life? Are there universal principles, or is it highly context-dependent?

A: I have worked as an anthropologist in places ranging from India and London, to the Caribbean and Ireland. The universal that lies behind my book comes from the observation that many societies have a similar term to our word good. A word that links being a morally upright (good) person to the idea of having an enjoyable (good) time. Linking these two seems to be an ideal, irrespective of whether one does in fact depend on the other.

But both senses of this word, what makes a person moral and what makes life enjoyable, will be highly context dependent. The farmers I lived with in an Indian village would look aghast at the criteria that I found in secular Skerries.

“My discipline of anthropology is committed to reminding people of just how distinct each population remains with regard to such judgments. We need to respect the degree that things we assume are obvious and neutral are actually nothing of the kind.”

 

Q: How does our environment, both natural and built, shape our happiness and quality of life? Are there particular types of environments that are universally beneficial?

A: I have lived in several places where people depended mainly on what they grew as farmers or fished and had very few commodities. Some were mainly content and others mainly miserable. I don’t romanticise the condition of peoples who have limited access to medicine and education, whose economic security depends on the weather and whose lives are generally shorter than ours. In turn I suspect you have been to cities you really would rather not live in and some you find attractive propositions. Clearly living in a city is no guarantee of a good life either.

One thing about the environment is for sure –  if Skerries is a happy place, it’s certainly not because of the weather (!). There are elements of the environment most of us enjoy, such as beautiful landscapes while few find inspiration in an industrial wasteland. But more generally I think it is social and cultural values that have much more influence on happiness and the quality of our lives.

 

Q: How has technology changed the way we form and maintain communities? Can virtual communities offer the same depth of connection as physical ones?

As with many populations, people in Skerries tend to be very negative if you ask them about social media and smartphones in general. But the same people can be quite positive when I discuss particular apps, or how Facebook has become a community platform. Older people suffer greatly from a digital divide if they feel unable to use these technologies but may then enjoy a reconnection with their youth if they do subsequently master them.

What we need right now are not quick judgments suggesting these technologies are good or bad, but long-term scholarly observations of the hundreds of ways these technologies impact our lives.

That’s why I lived in Skerries for 16 months before thinking that I had any understanding of this question.  Dividing the world into the physical and the virtual doesn’t work either. Hardly anyone lives just online or without any online. It a constant blending of the two.

Our team has written thousands of pages based on our observations around the world. You can read about the results of this research through our free books, such as The Global Smartphone, or How The World Changed Social Media. The point is that discussion of this question needs to be evidence led.

 

Thank you to Daniel for taking the time to answer our questions. Daniel was interviewed by Isabella Parkes on behalf of Manchester Lit & Phil.

Professor Daniel Miller will be interviewed by Dr Sheila McCormick from the University of Salford as part of the We Think Big talks at the We Invented the Weekend festival, on Sunday 16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

The sad truth about truth

Posted on: April 15th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Truth is a hot topic because it has never been as threatened as it is now.

We are living in the deeply unsettling floating world of the information revolution.  Like all major cultural upheavals, it brings wonders and benefits, but it also brings danger.  The tools and opportunities for disinformation are everywhere to see.  Ideas such as ‘post-truth’, ‘deep fake’ and ‘alternative facts’ point to the perils of mass dissemblance.

So now is the perfect time to consider what we actually mean by truth … such an innocent and simple concept … until, that is, you try to grasp it!  It is then we become aware just how slippery truth is.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? You’d better believe it!  Are you kidding?  Welcome to the branch of philosophy called epistemology.

 

The seminar will be presented by John Pickersgill

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper for reading in advance of the session, can be downloaded here.

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.

From Earth to Earth via Heaven? A history of human hubris

Posted on: December 4th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Ancient humans seemed to see themselves as deeply embedded in nature and this was reflected later in widespread Paganism.  But humanity subsequently lost its humility.  In their human origin myths, monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) granted a divine spark to our lowly formation from dust, supposedly giving us ‘dominion’ over the rest of creation.

Our exalted status carried over into the early Renaissance. But the growth of modern science, especially medicine, while reinforcing that control over nature, also demanded a much more down-to-Earth physical view of ourselves.  Darwin’s demonstration of our true genealogical origins decidedly pulled us off our spiritual pedestal.

Professor Çiğdem Balim takes us through this historical arc of human hubris from Earth via Heaven and back down to Earth again.  How do we see ourselves today?  Are we just animals crawling over the Earth?  Or are we still special in some way?

 

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper, written by Çiğdem and for reading in advance of the session, can be downloaded here.

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.

Phenomenology and Female Philosophers

Posted on: November 8th, 2023 by mlpEditor

In the prestigious 1000-page Oxford Companion to Philosophy, of all the pantheon of the greats listed in its chronological table of philosophy, the number who are female is … one!  Is this because women just can’t do philosophy as well as men?  Or is it the normal misogyny of cultural historiography, of which the history of Philosophy is alas no exception?

Sue Johnson aims to correct that gross imbalance in this March session of the Lit & Phil’s Philosophy Forum.

As a philosophy student in the 1960s, Sue despaired of the sole focus on the unworldly, arguably fussy linguistic analysis which so dominated philosophy in the Anglophone world of the 20th century.  But later she discovered Phenomenology, that wonderful philosophical tradition about ‘being in the world’ with all its messy contradictions.

That revelation subsequently enriched all her work in education research, prison reform, therapy and latterly in her intriguing book, The Prison Psychiatrist’s Wife, imbued as it is by deep philosophical questions rooted in the nature of experience.

 

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper written by Sue and for reading in advance of the session, can be downloaded here.

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 Darkness at the Heart of the Enlightenment: Kant’s Racism

Posted on: October 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

We like to think of the Enlightenment as a glorious period where ideas were driven by rationality and evidence.  But, of course, it’s not as easy as that.

The history of human ideas is blemished with personal and cultural beliefs we find repulsive today.  Immanuel Kant, arguably the greatest 18th century European philosopher and source of so many ideas in modern philosophy, neuroscience and psychology, was sadly no exception.

In this January session of the Lit & Phil’s Philosophy Forum, Dr Keekok Lee – philosopher, author and Honorary Research Professor/Fellow at the University of Manchester – will guide us through the ethical minefield of how we can maturely face up to the past by looking at Kant’s racism.

You don’t need any prior knowledge of Kant’s work. The theme of this Forum is about how we deal with uncomfortable facts about our cultural past.

So, can we judge Kant and his work by present day standards?  Or can we separate the wheat from the chaff, ignoring the awkward bits?  Or must we reject all of it?

The Western world morally struggles with aspects of its history and the controversial legacy of it today.  It needs much discussion!  Here is your opportunity to take part in that.

 

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper by Keekok (available here) should be read before the Forum to enrich and guide our discussions. You’ll get a lot more out of attending if you read the paper beforehand. Also, for this session, there is a subsidiary focus paper containing summaries and questions for our discussions. This second paper can be used as a short introduction for pre-reading, and/or a summary for post-reading.

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.

Free will – reality or illusion?

Posted on: October 2nd, 2023 by mlpEditor

Are we free to make our own decisions or is everything in life pre-determined for us?

Can we exercise our free will to make choices or are our choices subconsciously limited by our genes, environment and culture?

The question of whether we have free will has challenged philosophers across the ages but recent developments in neuroscience have added additional aspects to the debate.

Each of us can choose how we answer this fundamental question … or can we?

 

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper Free will – reality or illusion should be read before the Forum to enrich and guide our discussions. You’ll get a lot more about of the discussions if you read the paper beforehand.

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.

Conscious Realism

Posted on: August 23rd, 2023 by mlpEditor

Look around you and you become conscious of different objects occupying space as time passes.  That’s the way the world is.  Or is it?  Once you start interrogating that intuition it begins to get decidedly shaky.

All you actually know about is your own consciousness of the world – not the world itself as it is when you stop observing it.  You just assume it consists of independent physical stuff.  But some philosophers don’t!

Psychists believe that reality is only consciousness.  One such is Donald Hoffman, a world-renowned professor of cognitive studies.  Wacky?  Maybe.  But remember that consciousness is all you ever know…

This is the second Forum of a double bill on metaphysics, presented by Christopher Burke.  The first session in October, Seeing is believing…but believing what?, deals with Hoffman’s related theories about perception.  But these will be covered quickly in this particular Forum so the topic of Conscious Realism can be considered independently.

 

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper Conscious Realism should be read before the Forum to enrich and guide our discussions. You’ll get a lot more about of the discussions if you read the paper beforehand.

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.

Seeing is believing…but believing what? Reality: virtual vs veridical

Posted on: August 23rd, 2023 by mlpEditor

What is reality? Is it exactly how it looks, sounds and feels to us?  In other words, is our perception veridical?  Perhaps.  But there are compelling reasons for thinking otherwise.

Perceiving the world is not like taking holiday pics.  So if our perception doesn’t tell us the way reality ‘really’ is, what does it tell us?  Many neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers think perception is virtual: it gives us only the representations of reality we need for survival.

At this Forum, presented by Christopher Burke, we will explore a version of this theory proposed by Donald Hoffman, a world-renowned professor of cognitive studies.  Welcome to the world of fitness-payoffs and interfaces!

This is the first Forum of a double bill on metaphysics.  The second session, Conscious Realism, follows on from this one and takes place on Thursday 2nd November. It deals with Hoffman’s view of what the reality behind our perceptions actually is.  His startling conclusion is that it is not physical but just pure consciousness!   Each topic can be considered independently, but they enhance one another.

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

The focus paper Seeing is believing should be read before the Forum to enrich and guide our discussions. You’ll get a lot more about of the discussions if you read the paper beforehand.

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.

I’m an absurdity – get me out of here! Absurdism and Albert Camus

Posted on: July 5th, 2023 by mlpEditor

What is the meaning of existence? The famous French-Algerian author and philosopher Albert Camus (1913-60) believed that life had no meaning. His philosophical view was called existentialist absurdism. And who has not at some point thought that life is absurd?

We each span a few decades between two oblivions on a speck of a planet in an inconceivably vast purposeless cosmos.  The omnipotent God who once granted purpose to human life is now gone from most Western people’s beliefs.  And we each get thrown into this situation … no-one asked to be born.

Is this not all an absurdity with no ultimate meaning? Albert Camus bravely faced up to this head on. Yes – existence was ultimately meaningless.  But despite this, can we still gain any meaning in our lives? Is there a possibility of hope? Let’s explore that together.

 

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.  The Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is all about collectively exploring interesting and exciting ideas from different viewpoints … not winning arguments!

Bobby Mears’ focus paper I’m an absurdity – get me out of here!  should be read before the Forum to enrich and guide our discussions.

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.

 

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