The London Lectures: Expanding Horizons

Philosophy in the Anglophone world is in a period of unprecedented change. If the twentieth century was one of increased specialisation and narrowing of concerns, the twenty-first looks like being one of expanding horizons. This year we have asked a diverse range of philosophers from different fields, countries and traditions to offer their suggestions for ways in which this expansion might most fruitfully be pursued. We will hear about philosophers who have been unjustly neglected, questions and problems that have escaped our attention, other traditions and disciplines we can learn from, novel or neglected methods and more.

 

Whether you’re new to philosophy or deeply steeped in it, these stimulating and accessible talks will provide you with fresh insights and ideas.

 

Online, Thursday evenings at 8pm (Except November 25)


 

Autumn 2021

October 28 

Leah Kalmanson (University of North Texas)

How to Change Your Mind: The Contemplative Practices of Philosophy

 

The methods of philosophy may be associated with practices such as rational dialogue, logical analysis, argumentation, and intellectual inquiry. However, many philosophical traditions in Asia, as well as in the ancient Greek world, consider an array of embodied contemplative practices as central to the work of philosophy and as philosophical methods in themselves. Together we will survey a few such practices, including those of the ancient Greeks as well as examples from Jain, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions. Revisiting the contemplative practices of philosophy can help us to rethink the boundaries of the discipline, the nature and scope of scholarly methods, and the role of philosophy in everyday life.

 

 

November 4

Joanna Burch-Brown (University of Bristol)

Philosophy of Green Finance: Can we diversify our way to carbon neutral?

 

What do you get when you cross a hippie eco-philosopher with the International Trade and Forfaiting Association Annual Conference, and add a generous dose of psychedelic Buddhism? 100 bankers balancing Yoyo Fruit Rolls on their heads, of course! In this talk, Dr Burch-Brown takes us on a deep dive into the philosophy of green finance and a step closer to addressing climate change, by way of a lively tale of philosophy going banking. Sean Edwards, Chairman of the International Trade and Forfaiting Association, will be offering a short response before we open up to the audience Q&A. Expect to be surprised.

 

November 11 

Helen de Cruz (Saint Louis University)

Philosophical Storytelling

 

Philosophers enjoy telling stories. Sometimes the stories are very short, but they can be long and detailed as well, for example in the form of utopian narratives by More, Cavendish and others. Why do philosophers invent such stories, and what do they want to accomplish with them? I will argue that existing accounts of thought experiments (notably by John Norton, Daniel Dennett, Tamar Gendler and others) cannot easily explain the range and variety of thought experiments. In my view, philosophical thought experiments are not merely prettily dressed up arguments. Neither are they only mental models or intuition pumps. Rather, thought experiments help us through a variety of tools that fictions employ to get rid of certain biases and preconceptions, and thus to look at a philosophical idea with a fresh perspective. This include evoking certain moods and emotions including wonder, surprise, skepticism, as well as imaginative sympathy. I will argue that these techniques make philosophical fiction useful both for the audience, as well as for the inventor of the story. As illustrative examples, I will discuss Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (a long-form thought experiment) and Mengzi’s child at the well (a short-form thought experiment). 

 

November 25 

Noburu Notomi (University of Tokyo) Lunchtime talk 12:00

Japanese Philosophers on Plato’s Ideas

 

Plato has been one of the most important philosophers in the West and is now read all over the world. He has undergone a lot of research in academia, but I suspect that we modern readers have missed some essential factors in analyzing Plato’s texts and thoughts. In order to correctly understand his central theory of Ideas (transcendent forms) and reconsider the potential of Plato’s philosophy in the modern world, I would like to discuss four Japanese philosophers of the twentieth century: SAKABE Megumi, IZUTSU Toshihiko, INO-UE Tadashi, and TANAKA Michitaro. Through their reaction to Plato’s Ideas, I hope that our Japanese background can shed light on how to read Plato today.

 

December 2 

Nilanjan Das ( University College London)

The First Person in Buddhism

 

In classical South Asia, most philosophers thought that the self (if it exists at all) is what the first-person pronoun “I” stands for. It is something that persists through time, undergoes conscious thoughts and experiences, and exercises control over actions. The Buddhists accepted the “no-self” thesis: they denied that such a self is substantially real. This gave rise to a puzzle for these Buddhists. If there is nothing substantially real that “I” stands for, what are we talking about when we speak of ourselves? In this lecture, I present one Buddhist answer to this question, an answer that emerges from the work of the Abhidharma thinker, Vasubandhu (4th-5th century CE).

 

December 9 

Eileen John (University of Warwick)

Can Aesthetics Be Global? 

 

Philosophical aesthetics is to some extent beholden to what I will call personal aesthetics. By personal aesthetics, I mean the phenomena of individual aesthetic sensitivity: how each of us discerns and responds to elements of experience. I take that sensitivity to be finely woven into feeling to some degree at home in the world. What pleases me, what patterns do I pick up on, and what reassures me that I have my experiential bearings? There is something extremely local, and in a certain sense unreflective, about personal aesthetics – it is hard to notice one’s own historically and culturally specific aesthetic formation. Philosophical aesthetics, meanwhile, aspires to understand aesthetic life in a more reflective and general way. Aesthetic theories in the Western tradition, like most philosophical theories, do not set out to have only local application, as they try to articulate generally relevant and illuminating theoretical concepts and values. But if they in fact work best in accounting for the relatively local aesthetic formations of aesthetic theorists – say, in identifying what counts as beautiful or in taking ‘beauty’ to be a core aesthetic concept – what is the appropriate response? Can and should philosophical aesthetics have global significance? Can aesthetic theories find fruitful general application while also respecting the locality and variability of aesthetic sensitivity? What kinds of theoretical ambition and humility are called for in philosophical aesthetics? 

 

Winter 2022

January 27 Owen Flanagan (Duke University)

The Ethics of Anger and Shame and Lessons from Other Cultures

 

We live in an age of anger and shameless disregard for what is true and good. What can we learn from other cultures about better ways to do anger and shame? How can we develop better norms for being angry at the right things, in the right way, at the right times?  How can we inculcate norms for proper shame at callous disregard for what is true and good?  Attention to how other cultures do anger and shame provides tools for moral imagination.

 

February 3 María del Rosario Acosta López (University of California, Riverside)

Grammars of Listening: or on the Difficulty of Rendering Trauma Audible

 

What would it mean to do justice to testimonies of traumatic experience? That is, how can experiences which do not fit the customary scripts of sense-making be heard? Whereas processes of official memorialization or legal redress often demand that victims and survivors convey their experiences through familiar modes of narration, in my project on “grammars of listening” I want to ask how it might be possible to hear these experiences on their own terms and what are the challenges that we encounter when trying to do so. What I ultimately want to argue is that doing justice to trauma requires a profound philosophical questioning of the conditions that allow us to listen to testimony, and a true reckoning of the responsibility that we bear as listeners.   

 

February 10  Tamara Albertini (University of Hawai'i)

Mutual Guardianship and Hospitality: A Moral Obligation

 

While Heidegger and Derrida both contributed groundbreaking reflections on hospitality (and “hostipitality”), they failed to recognize that the host-guest relationship can only succeed if it is correlated with the notion of mutual guardianship. The lecture will describe historic guardian civilizations and then turn to Ricoeur’s linguistic hospitality as a possible blueprint for future cultural hospitality. However, the latter scenario will have no need for a third party,  i.e., a “translator” who mediates between host and guest. The challenge consists of designing a host-guest relationship in which both parties become each other’s translators - and guardians.

 

February 17  Amy Olberding (University of Oklahoma)

Community Practices and Getting Good at Bad Emotion

 

Early Confucian philosophy is remarkable in its attention to everyday social interactions and their power to steer our emotional lives. The Confucians argued that engineering our social practices to favour expressions of important values can help instil important moral emotions: Teaching a child to say “thank you” can school her in feeling gratitude, for example. Their work on the social dimensions of our moral-emotional lives is enormously promising for thinking through our own context and struggles. I am particularly interested in how our public rhetoric and practices may steer us away from some emotions it can be important to have, especially negative emotions. Some of our emotions are bad – unpleasant to experience, reflective of dissatisfactions or even heartbreak – but nonetheless quite important to express and, more basically, to feel. Grief is like this, for example. So, too, is disappointment. In this talk, I want most of all to explore how our current social practices may fail to support expressions of disappointment and thus suppress our ability to feel it well. There are, I argue, losses to our moral lives where we are socially encouraged to emotions such as anger, outrage, or cynical resignation but must struggle to find a place for disappointment.

 

February 24  Chike Jeffers (Dalhousie University)

What Counts as a Collective Gift? Culture and Value in Du Bois’ The Gift of Black Folk 

 

In his famous 1897 essay, "The Conservation of Races," Du Bois advocates that African Americans hold on to their distinctiveness as members of the black race because this enables them to participate in a cosmopolitan process of cultural exchange in which different races collectively advance human civilization by means of different contributions. Philosophers like Kwame Anthony Appiah and Tommie Shelby have criticized the position that Du Bois expresses in that essay as a problematic form of racial essentialism. I will investigate in this lecture how Du Bois' 1924 book The Gift of Black Folk escapes or fails to escape that criticism. It is easy to worry that the diversity characterizing what Du Bois is willing to treat as a black contribution to the development of America in this book pushes us from the problem of essentialism to the other extreme: a lack of any conceptual constraints whatsoever on what can count as a black gift. I will argue that recognizing the cultivation of historical memory as a form of cultural activity is key to understanding the concept's unity. 

 

March 10 Lewis Gordon (University of Connecticut)

Decolonising Philosophy

 

This talk will examine what it means for philosophy to be ‘colonised’ and the challenges involved in ‘decolonising’ it in philosophical and political terms. 

 

March 17 Roger Ames (University of Hawaiʻi)

“Zoetology:” A New Name for an Old Way of Thinking

 

The classical Greeks give us a concept of substance that guarantees a permanent and unchanging subject as the substratum for the human experience. This “sub-stance” necessarily persists through change. This substratum or essence includes its purpose for being, and is defining of the “what-it-means-to-be-a-thing-of-this-kind” of any particular thing in setting a closed, exclusive boundary and the strict identity necessary for it to be this, and not that. 

In the Yijing or Book of Changes we find a vocabulary that makes explicit cosmological assumptions that are a stark alternative to this substance ontology, and provides the interpretive context for the Confucian canons by locating them within a holistic, organic, and ecological worldview. To provide a meaningful contrast with this fundamental assumption of on or “being” we might borrow the Greek notion of zoe or “life” and create the neologism “zoe-tology” as “the art of living.” This cosmology begins from “living” (sheng 生) itself as the motive force behind change, and gives us a world of boundless “becomings:” not “things” that are, but “events” that are happening, a contrast between an ontological conception of human “beings” and a process conception of what I will call human “becomings.” 

 

March 24 Jonardon Ganeri (University of Toronto)

Fernando Pessoa: The Poet as Philosopher

 

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) lived what was in many ways an astonishingly modern, transcultural and translingual life.  He was born in Lisbon, the point of departure for Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India as commemorated by Pessoa’s forebear,  the poet Luís de Camões. He grew up in Anglophone Durban, acquiring a life-long love for English poetry and language.  Returning to Lisbon, from where he would never again leave, he set himself the goal to travel throughout an infinitude of inner landscapes, to be an explorer of inner worlds. He published very little, but left behind a famous trunk containing a treasure-trove of scraps, on which were written some of the greatest literary works of the 20th century, mainly in Portuguese but also substantially in English and French.  He is now acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, and he has emerged over the last decade as a forgotten voice in 20th century modernism, taking his rightful place alongside C. P. Cavafy, Franz Kafka, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Jorge Luis Borges.Pessoa was also a serious student of philosophy and himself a very creative philosopher, yet his genius as a philosopher has as yet hardly been recognized at all. 



Past Lecture Series

Although lectures in London have been arranged since the Institute was founded, it was in 1967 that the first series was published. In the forward to first volume, The Human Agent, the editor, Godfrey Vesey, writes, "On Friday evenings in the winter months London members of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and their friends meet in a small hall in Bloomsbury -- 14 Gordon Square, London W.C. 1 -- to listen to, and discuss, lectures by foremost British, and visiting, philosophers .... In response to requests by members of the Institute living too far form London to attend the lectures (the Institute has a world-wide membership) arrangements have been made for ... them to be published in a yearly volume."

 

Here's is a list of all the published London Lectures Series.

 

2020 A Philosophers' Manifesto

2019 How Do We Know? The Social Dimension of Knowledge

2018 A Centenary Celebration: Anscombe, Foot, Midgley and Murdoch

2017 Passions and the Emotions

2016 Metaphysics

2015 Philosophy of Action

2014 History of Philosophy

2013 Mind, Self, and Persons

2012 Philosophical Traditions

2011 Philosophy and Sport

2010 The Arts

2009 The Environment

2008 Religion

2007 Conceptions of Philosophy

2006 Epistemology

2005 Philosophy of Science

2004 Philosophy, Biology and Life

2003 Agency and Action

2002 Modern Moral Philosophy

2001 Minds and Persons

2000 Logic, Thought and Language

1999 Philosophy at the New Millennium

1998 Philosophy, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful

1997 German Philosophy Since Kant

1996 Current Issues in Philosophy of Mind

1995 Verstehen and Humane Understanding

1994 Karl Popper: Philosophy and Problems

1993 Philosophy, Psychology and Psychiatry

1992 Ethics

1991 The Impulse to Philosophise

1990 The A. J. Ayer Memorial Lectures

1989 Wittgenstein Centenary Lectures

1988 The Philosophy in Christianity

1987 Recurrent Philosophical Themes

1986 Contemporary French Philosophy

1985 Philosophers Ancient and Modern

1984 American Philosophy

1983 Philosophy and Practice

1982 Objectivity and Cultural Divergence

1981 Philosophy and Literature

1980 Of Liberty

1979 Marx and Marxisms

1978 Idealism -- Past and Present

1977 Philosophers of the Enlightenment

1976 Human Values

1975 Communication and Understanding

1974 Impressions of Empiricism

1973 Nature and Conduct

1972 Understanding Wittgenstein

1971 Philosophy and the Arts 

1970 Reason and Reality

1969 The Proper Study

1968 Knowledge and Necessity

1967 Talk of God

1966 The Human Agent