What is science?

Posted on: April 26th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Everyone knows what science is … or, at least, they think they do.  Try to define it and things get a bit less clear.

The word comes from the Latin ‘scientia’, which just means ‘knowledge’. So, is science knowledge about how nature really is? How can that be true when scientific theories themselves change over time, when the reality they address surely doesn’t?  Is science just a way of thinking about the world to build a body of theories – hypotheses based on observations?  Or is it a process, a way of acquiring facts?  And what makes a scientific fact true?

Considering the importance of science in our lives, we should arguably have a clearer picture about what it is.  So, the Lit & Phil Philosophy Forum is seeking clarification from three major philosophers of science of the 20th century: Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos.

The seminar will be presented by Richard Remelie


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!

Richard Remelie’s focus paper What is Science?  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.


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.

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.

Celebrating thinking differently: a special screening of Young Plato

Posted on: December 13th, 2022 by mlpEditor

To celebrate the Manchester Lit & Phil’s 242nd birthday, we’re putting on a special screening of Young Plato, a film that is all about thinking differently.

About the film:

Young Plato is an observational documentary set in post-conflict Belfast’s Ardoyne, where a marginalized, working-class community has for generations been plagued by poverty, drugs and guns.

This film charts the dream of Headmaster Kevin McArevey and his dedicated, visionary team illustrating how critical thinking and pastoral care can empower and encourage children to see beyond the boundaries and limitations of their own community.

We see how philosophy can encourage them to question the mythologies of war and of violence, and sometimes challenge the narratives their parents, peers and socio-economic group would dictate.

A trailer of Young Plato can be viewed here.

Event schedule:

  • 10am – HOME opens and refreshments are served in the foyer.
  • 1030am – Welcome in the film screening room (Marina’s Cinema)
  • 1040am – Film begins
  • 1230pm – Film ends. Attendees who have purchased a ticket that includes lunch should proceed to the restaurant.

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!

A gathering to discuss one of the oldest questions

Posted on: November 21st, 2022 by mlpEditor

By Liam MacGregor-Hastie

They say that “all energy used for brain metabolism is finally transformed into heat”. If so, this cold November night was no match for the neural activity that took place at the Friend’s Meeting House. 

Here, many budding philosophers gathered to carry on a discussion as old as time itself. One that has spanned over 3,000 years and which has gifted us many of our most cherished intellects. From Anselm to Avicenna, from Descartes to Leibniz, from Spinoza to Hume and onwards. Many great philosophers have found fame in their attempts to answer this question:  

“Does God exist?”

We have long been familiar with the ideas that God could either exist or not exist at all. But life isn’t black or white, the Philosophy Forum attendees know this very well. We gathered to discuss the potential alternatives to this dichotomy.

The previous month’s debate, between Philip Goff and Jack Symes, set the tone for this discussion. At Bridge 5 Mill, Manchester, they unpicked different ways of making sense of God.

Finding a rational explanation for God’s existence is no walk in the park. In doing so, we follow in the footsteps of the Enlightenment thinkers.

Those revolutionary thinkers risked their lives in the name of reason itself. Because of them, many years later, we can enjoy such civil and open-minded discussions as we did at the Forum. Here people from all walks of life, atheist and religious, young and old, gladly had their beliefs challenged. 

Between Theism and Atheism stands a chasm of possibility. Could a solution come from ‘depersonalising’ God? By not thinking about ‘it’ as having a human form, can we begin to make sense of God rationally? Can we think of it as a natural process or as a substance that pervades all things?

The aim is not to reach a conclusion but to question our beliefs. ‘Absolute knowledge’ is the antithesis of Philosophy. As one attendee put it: 

…knowledge can only be relative, not absolute. Wisdom comes from accepting this.

All in attendance left the event in good spirits, a little wiser and a little more agnostic than they walked in. 

For a more detailed understanding of what we discussed, click here to read the Focus Paper ‘Is belief beyond the natural beyond belief?’, written by Christopher Burke.

Our next Philosophy Forum meeting will take place on the 12th of December 2022. We will be discussing Utilitarianism, the belief that we should make decisions based on how much pleasure they will give us. Is ‘happiness’ a valid metric for decision making, especially on a large scale?

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.

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