Free articles from Philosophy and Think

From the editors

While some of us have more free time, others are homeschooling or unable to visit libraries, the Royal Institute, with thanks to the Cambridge University Press, is happy to make a lot of our archive freely available.


We asked the editors and their teams (thank you Matthew Hewson) to choose papers from the main areas of philosophy, and it's a star-studded line up -- some really fascinating lesser known pieces too.


If you're enjoying this series, please consider supporting the Institute's work by subscribing.  


For subscription information go here for the journal Philosophy and here for Think: Philosophy for Everyone -- a year's subscription to each is £25 for individuals. 

From Philosophy: Midgley and Dawkins

Mary Midgley, 'Gene Juggling'


Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological. This should not need mentioning, but Richard Dawkins's book The Selfish Gene has succeeded in confusing a number of people about it, including Mr J. L. Mackie. What Mackie welcomes in Dawkins is a new, biological-looking kind of support for philosophic egoism. If this support came from Dawkins's producing important new facts, or good new interpretations of old facts, about animal life, this could be very interesting. Dawkins, however, simply has a weakness for the old game of Brocken-spectre moralizing—the one where the player strikes attitudes on a peak at sunrise, gazes awe-struck at his gigantic shadow on the clouds, and reports his observations as cosmic truths. 

Richard Dawkins, 'In Defence of Selfish Genes'


I have been taken aback by the inexplicable hostility of Mary Midgley's assault. Some colleagues have advised me that such transparent spite is best ignored, but others warn that the venomous tone of her article may

conceal the errors in its content. Indeed, we are in danger of assuming that nobody would dare to be so rude without taking the elementary precaution of being right in what she said. We may even bend over backwards to concede some of her points, simply in order to appear fair-minded when we deplore the way she made them. I deplore bad manners as strongly as

anyone, but more importantly I shall show that Midgley has no good point to make. She seems not to understand biology or the way biologists use


From Think: Swinburne and Blackburn

Richard Swinburne, 'God and Morality'


Suppose that there is a God of the kind affirmed by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. What difference does that make to morality? I shall argue that the existence and  actions of God make no difference to the fact that there are

moral truths, but that they make a great difference to what those moral truths are.

Simon Blackburn, 'Swinburne on Religion and Ethics'


The theory of Professor Swinburne’s paper is more elusive

than might first appear.

Richard Swinburne, 'Reply to Blackburn'


Richard Swinburne's four point response.

From Philosophy: Copleston, Annas and Sorabji

F C Copleston, 'Pantheism in Spinoza and the German Idealists'


In an essay on pantheism Schopenhauer observes that his chief objection against it is that it says nothing, that it simply enriches language with a superfluous synonym of the word “world.” It can hardly be denied that by this remark the great pessimist, who was himself an atheist, scored a real point.


Julia Annas, 'Mill and the Subjection of Women'


When Mill's The Subjection of Women was published in 1869 it was ahead of its time in boldly championing feminism. It failed to inaugurate a respectable intellectual debate. Feminist writers have tended to refer to it with respect but without any serious attempt to come to grips with Mill's actual arguments.

Richard Sorabji, 'Body and Soul in Aristotle'


Interpretations of Aristotle's account of the relation between body and soul have been widely divergent. At one extreme, Thomas Slakey has said that in the De Anima ‘Aristotle tries to explain perception simply as an event in the sense-organs’ .... . . At the opposite extreme, Friedrich Solmsen has said of Aristotle's theory, ‘it is doubtful whether the movement or the actualization occurring when the eye sees or the ear hears has any physical or physiological aspect.’

From Think: Glendinning, Latham and Putnam

Simon Glendinning, 'What is Phenomenology?'


I am surprised that this question is not more often addressed.  Phenomenology was arguably the most influential 'movement in the stream' of philosophical thought on the European Continent during the twentieth century, and the major phenomenological philosophers are also some of the major usual 

suspects of'continental philosophy ... So it is surprising that the question does not occupy us

more than it does.

Sally Latham, 'It's not brains or personality so it must be looks: why women give up on philosophy'


It is common knowledge that not enough women pursue philosophy after graduate level. There have been numerous explanations offered, and advice suggested, but as yet no change. This article by no means gives a complete overview or answer, but is an attempt to throw the focus of the problem onto one area, that of perception. 

Hilary Putnam, 'The Uniqueness of Pragmatism'


This article was first presented as a lecture. In it, Hilary Putnam sets out what he thinks is unique about pragmatism, and also what he believes is valuable in it.

From Philosophy: Lucas, Lewis and Hacker on mind

J R Lucas, 'Minds, Machines and Gödel


Gödei's Theorem seems to me to prove that Mechanism is false, that is, that minds cannot be explained as machines. So also has it seemed to many other people: almost every mathematical logician I have put the matter to has confessed to similar thoughts, but has felt reluctant to commit himself definitely until he could see the whole argument set out, with all objections fully stated and properly met. This I attempt to do.

David Lewis, 'Lucas against Mechanism'


J. R. Lucas argues in “Minds, Machines, and Gödel”, that his potential output of truths of arithmetic cannot be duplicated by any Turing machine, and a fortiori cannot be duplicated by any machine. Given any Turing machine that generates a sequence of truths of arithmetic, Lucas can produce as true some sentence of arithmetic that the machine will never generate. Therefore Lucas is no machine.

P M S Hacker, 'Is There Anything it is Like to be a Bat?'


The concept of consciousness has been the source of much confusion over the past two decades. Current orthodoxy in ‘consciousness studies’ has it that the key to understanding the concept of consciousness is to grasp the idea of qualia. But the appearance of mystery here is the product of conceptual confusion. There is nothing to ‘the qualitative character of experience’ beyond the individual character of a specific experience and how the subject felt in undergoing it, and here there are no mysteries beyond empirical ignorance and conceptual mystification.

From Think: Boden, Steward and Stout on mind and freedom

Margaret Boden, 'Creativity in a Nutshell'


Creativity and computers: what could these possibly have to do with one another? 'Nothing!,' many people would say. Creativity is a marvel of the human mind. But computers, with all due apologies to Mario, Sonic, and friends, are basically just tin-cans. It follows — doesn't it? — that the two are related only by utter incompatibility.

Helen Steward, 'Are They Playing Our Tune'


I think of myself as in large part free to do what I want. For example, I can now freely choose to raise my arm, or not to, as the fancy takes me. But perhaps this impression of freedom and control is misleading. In this article Helen Steward explains how the findings of science seems to suggest that we ultimately have no control at all over how our lives go.

Rowland Stout, 'Behaviourism'


Behaviourists take the view that mental states are essentially behavioural: to be in pain, for example, is just to behave, or be disposed to behave, in certain ways (to writhe and go ‘Ow!’, and so on). Behavourism, if true, would neatly explain how mind and body are related. Minds are not queer, ethereal entities that exist in addition to our physical bodies, and that are hidden behind our behaviour. Rather, to have a mind just is to be disposed to behave in certain ways, and that is something even a physical object can be. Nowadays behaviourism, as a philosophy of mind, is philosophically out of fashion. But here, Rowland Stout explains why he still believes it may be true.

From Philosophy: Parfit, Lowe and Ryle on metaphysics

Derek Parfit, 'We are not human beings


We can start with some science fiction. Here on Earth, I enter the Teletransporter. When I press some button, a machine destroys my body, while recording the exact states of all my cells. This information is sent by radio to Mars, where another machine makes, out of organic materials, a perfect copy of my body. The person who wakes up on Mars seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed the button, and is in every other way just like me.

E J Lowe, 'Causal closure principles and emergentism'  


Causal closure arguments against interactionist dualism are currently popular amongst physicalists. Such an argument appeals to some principles of the causal closure of the physical, together with certain other premises, to conclude that at least some mental events are identical with physical events. However, it is crucial to the success of any such argument that the physical causal closure principle to which it appeals is neither too strong nor too weak by certain standards. In this paper, it is argued that various forms of naturalistic dualism, of an emergentist character, are consistent with the strongest physical causal closure principles that can plausibly be advocated.

Gilbert Ryle, 'Meaning and Necessity


PROFESSOR CARNAP in his new book proffers a method for analysing and describing the meanings of expressions and, more briefly, discusses the theory of logical modalities, the concepts, that is, of logical necessity and  possibility.


His meaning-analysis is in the main intended as an improvement upon certain doctrines and practices of Frege. His account of the modal concepts of logic is in the main intended as an improvement upon certain doctrines of C. I. Lewis. Views of Quine, Russell, Tarski, Church and others are also discussed.

From Think: Fine, Law and Hyman on being, truth and beauty

Kit Fine, 'Mathematics: Discovery or Invention?


Mathematics has been the most successful and is the most mature of the sciences ...  What we require is proof; and, in practice, there is very little disagreement over whether or not we have it. The other sciences, by contrast, tend to get mired in controversy over the significance of this or that experimental finding or over whether one theory is to be preferred to another.

Stephen Law, 'Is It All Relative?'


Many claim that we are wrong to condemn cultures with moral codes different from our own: their moralities are no less valid. Similarly, some claim that while astrology and Feng Shui might be ‘false’ from a Western, scientific viewpoint, they are ‘true’ when viewed from alternative, New Age points of view. What's ‘true’ and what's ‘false’ ultimately depend on where one is standing.

Is this sort of relativism about truth tenable?

John Hyman, 'Is Beauty in the Eye of The Beholder?'


In this article, John Hyman argues that beauty does not consist in mathematical perfection; that Hume was mistaken in claiming that beauty exists only in the mind; that we can discover what is really beautiful by learning to give reasons for our preferences; and that some things in the world are beautiful—probably many more than we imagine.

From Philosophy: Anscombe, MacIntyre, North, Diamond, and Singer on moral philosophy

G EM Anscombe, 'Modern Moral Philosophy'


I will begin by stating three theses which I present in this paper. The first is that it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology ... 


Alasdair MacIntyre, 'Social Structures and their Threats to Moral Agency


To refuse to find one's place within the hierarchies of approved roles, or to have been refused a place, because judged unfit for any such role, was to be classified as socially deviant and irresponsible...


Cora Diamond, 'Eating Meat and Eating People


This paper is a response to a certain sort of argument defending the rights of animals. Part I is a brief explanation of the background and of the sort of argument I want to reject; Part II is an attempt to characterize those arguments: they contain fundamental confusions about moral relations between people and people and between people and animals. And Part III is an indication of what I think can still be said on—as it were–the animals' side.

Peter Singer, 'Utility and the Survival Lottery


Peter Singer's take on John Harris' famous thought experiment about an organ donation lottery, with its implications for our views on whether or not there's a moral difference between killing and letting die.

Joanna North, 'Wrongdoing and Forgiveness


The value of forgiveness lies in the fact that it essentially requires a recognition of the wrongdoer's responsibility for his action, and that forgiveness typically involves an effort on the part of the one wronged: a conscious attempt to improve oneself in relation to the wrongdoer.

From Think: Korsgaard, Harrison and Tanner, Warnock, Scanlon, and Wolff on moral and political philosophy

Christine Korsgaard, 'Personhood, Animals, and The Law'


The idea that all the entities in the world may be, for legal and moral purposes, divided into the two categories of ‘persons’ and ‘things’ comes down to us from the tradition of Roman law. In the law, a ‘person’ is essentially the subject of rights and obligations, while a thing may be owned as property. In ethics, a person is an object of respect, to be valued for her own sake, and never to be used as a mere means to an end, while a thing has only a derivative value, and may be used as a means to some person's ends. This bifurcation is unfortunate because it seems to leave us with no alternative but to categorize everything as either a person or a thing. Yet some of the entities that give rise to the most vexing ethical problems are exactly the ones that do not seem to fit comfortably into either category. For various, different, kinds of reasons, it seems inappropriate to categorize a fetus, a non-human animal, the environment, or an object of great beauty, as a person, but neither does it seem right to say of such things that they are to be valued only as means.

Gerald Harrison and Julia Tanner, 'Better Not To Have Children'


Most people take it for granted that it's morally permissible to have children. They may raise questions about the number of children it's responsible to have or whether it's permissible to reproduce when there's a strong risk of serious disability. But in general, having children is considered a good thing to do, something that's morally permissible in most cases (perhaps even obligatory). In this article we provide a number of reasons for thinking that it is both wrong and unwise to procreate.

Mary Warnock, 'Genetic Engineering and What Is Natural'


Some argue that genetic engineering and other scientific practices are morally wrong because they are ‘unnatural’. Prince Charles took this line in his 2000 Reith Lecture. But as Mary Warnock here points out, attempts to justify the moral condemnation of a practice on the grounds that it is ‘contrary to nature’ are notoriously difficult to sustain.

Tim Scanlon, 'Responsibility and the Value of Choice'

Imagine that you are struggling to finish a project, with the deadline fast approaching. Nearly done, you are about to print out what you have finished when a dialog box appears on your computer screen telling you that you must download and install an update for some piece of software. Frustrated, you try to make it go away, but it keeps reappearing. So you relent and click on ‘Install’, and your screen is filled with small print listing ‘Terms and Conditions’. You do not have time to scroll through the whole thing. So you click ‘Agree’. The installation begins, and you are relieved that it takes only a few minutes. Soon you are back at work and have finished your project.



Jonathan Wolff, 'Are We Good Enough For Democracy?


Is democracy a good thing? Most of us think so. And yet, as Jonathan Wolff here explains, Plato thought democracy was a very bad idea. If you favour democracy (and I'm guessing you do), then your challenge is to explain what, if anything, is wrong with Plato's argument. So can you?