magazine reporter 6news hound a round-up from the world of philosophy, including straw poll and mediawatch
11Stamp tribute remembering our talented cartoonist
12word of mouse are bloggers the free voice of society or should they just blog off?
13Plato’s Athens a tour of the philosophical sights of the Greek capital
17out & about Tim LeBon is feeling very sleepy, but rest assured, you won’t be
18cable guys the TV show that’s more Zeno than Leno thoughts 20what is philosophy? Simon Blackburn tackles the question that puts philosophers on the spot
22sci-phiistimeup for the commonsense idea of time?
23becoming a Muslim Muhammad Legenhausen on an unusual philosophical journey
25provocationsdoweneedto posit the existence of intelligent creatures?
issue 27 • 3rd quarter 2004
contents forum 28death becomes us Mikel Burley provides a historical overview of philosophy and death
30death survey we analyse the results of an exclusive survey into attitudes towards death
34how weird Jeff Malpas on the strangeness of death, and of life
37no, not me... Robert Solomon on the extent and nature of the denial of death
39risking it all Simon Eassom on why people put their lives on the line for sport
41defining death Ken Kipnis on the surprisingly difficult question of when we actually die
43how they died Joseph Chandler relates several notable philosophical deaths – and one near miss discussion 45open debate Ellen Ruth Klein replies to your comments on her piece about teacher-student sex
49Ronald Dworkin the leading legal philosopher discusses what judges should do the lowdown 51the directory listings for UK and US philosophy organisations
52snapshotsthelowdown on Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Georges Canguilhem
54theory of knowledge the second in the series on understanding epistemology
56conceptual carvery on what is necessary and sufficient review 57The President of Good and Evil by Peter Singer
58Bad Thoughts by Jamie Whyte
59After Theory by Terry Eagleton
60The Creative Mind by Margaret Boden
61Introduction to German Philosophy by Andrew Bowie last words 62Bertrand’s break fun and games
66the skeptic bad science in Washington DC
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The Philosophers' Magazine/3rd quarter 2004 Is there any phrase more likely to provoke a punch in the face than “Cheer up – it might never happen”? Obviously there are a few. “Would you like to make a donation to the Donald Rumsfeld Appreciation Society?” is one; “I’m not as stupid as you look” another. But calls to cheeriness have their own special way of grating. For one thing, what this particular phrase ignores is that it has probably already happened, which is why you are so miserable in the first place. And even if it hasn’t, the fact that something may not happen is little consolation if it almost certainly will. When it comes to death, you can strike out the “almost”. If you are to be ungloomy about your eventual demise, it should not be because you kid yourself that it won’t eventually come to pass.
In this issue we stare death in the face to see how philosophy can or cannot affect the way we see it. As part of our forum, we are publishing the results of a fascinating survey carried out by our website, TPM Online (www.philosophers .co.uk). As you’ll see, it shows some perhaps surprising things about the extent to which philosophising informs our attitudes to death.
It is interesting to think about what people’s preconceptions might be about the relationship between philosophy and death. I’ve certainly met people who seem to think philosophy must be a miserable enterprise. The assumption seems to be that philosophy is a kind of pessimistic existentialist dissection of the dark, meaningless core of being. Best not to think too much if you want to enjoy life.
However, plenty of others hold a very different stereotype: that of the Stoic, calm in the face of apparent disaster because of his or her ability to remain, well, “philosophical” about things. Wisdom is not consonant with flying into a blind panic at the thought of the grave.
I think I know which of these two archetypes is closer to the truth. But more important perhaps is the thought that there is no reason why we should demand or expect philosophy to lead us more in one direction than the other. Philosophy’s job is to get closer to the truth about death, or if you don’t like to talk about the truth, at least to provide greater clarity, or deepen our understanding. We cannot prescribe in advance, however, whether or not this process will lead us to conclusions that make us more or less cheerful, accepting or anxious. We can hope that philosophy will help calm our minds, but we cannot guarantee it will.
That’s why I was a little annoyed recently when a Sunday newspaper printed a short, inaccurate story that claimed I ran “philosophy therapy” workshops. TPM remains a broad church, but speaking personally, I have serious reservations about the idea propounded by some of our congregation that philosophy is a therapeutic practice. If we make feeling better about ourselves the aim of philosophy, then we must make the pursuit of truth subordinate to it. And that, surely, is deeply anti-philosophical.
The obvious rejoinder – that there is no conflict between the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of inner calm – strikes me as unpersuasive. I can accept that the truth will more often than not help us to cope better with the world, but the idea that it must always do so is surely wishful thinking. And just as long as the two are not necessarily linked, the person who makes the easing of our minds her main goal has ceased to be primarily a philosopher and has become a therapist instead. The only kind of genuinely philosophical therapy treats confusion, not unhappiness.
So I cannot guarantee that our forum on death will make you better able to face it more calmly. It may prove to be more of an agitation than a balm. Remember that religion, not philosophy, is the opium of the people.
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Contributors Simon Blackburn, Keith Burgess-Jackson, Mikel Burley, Joseph Chandler, Jonathan Derbyshire, Simon Eassom, Nicholas Fearn, Peter S Fosl, Douglas Groothuis, Wendy Grossman, Mathew Iredale, Sue Johnson, Ken Kipnis, Ellen Ruth Klein, Michael LaBossiere, Tim LeBon, Muhammad Legenhausen, Stephen Lewis, Jeff Malpas, Mark Paterson, Duncan Pritchard, Robert Solomon, Alison Stone.
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© 2004, The Philosophers’ Magazine and contributors ISSN 1354-814X
All views expressed in The Philosophers’ Magazine represent those of the authors of each article and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or publishers.
The Philosophers' Magazine/3rd quarter 2004