The Oxford Philosophy group at OUP is teaming up with Blackwell’s Bookshop to celebrate Philosophy in all its diversity in November.
Peter Adamson, Professor of Philosophy at the LMU in Munich and at King's College London, at last year's inaugural festival
By David Edmonds
In the fifth century BC, Socrates used to wander through the market place bugging people. What is beauty? What is love? These questions were impertinent but also deceptive: they seemed to offer simple answers, but, Socrates demonstrated that people knew much less than they thought they did. Athenians gathered to hear what this strange, charismatic and disturbingly ugly man had to say. Socrates is sometimes called the father of western philosophy. He saw himself as a gadfly, shaking us out of our complacency. And, whether they wanted it or not, he brought philosophy to the people.
In November, the Oxford University Press Philosophy Festival is rather hoping the opposite will happen. The people will come to philosophy.Marianne Talbot, Director of Studies in Philosophy at Oxford's Department for Continuing Education, chairing a debate in Blackwell's last year
The Philosophy Festival is, as far as I know, a unique event. There are, of course, many literary festivals. So many, indeed, that an in-demand author could appear at a different one each day of the year. There are also festivals about ideas, in which philosophers are thrown into the mix. But the OUP Philosophy Festival will feature philosophers and philosophers only.
The aim is to make philosophy accessible to people who haven’t studied it, and to allow the public to engage in dialogue with academics. School groups have been invited along, and to encourage budding philosophers of all ages, the Festival has partnered with Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. The director of studies at the OUDCE, Marianne Talbot, will be chairing several sessions.
The overarching aim is to show how relevant philosophy is to many contemporary debates. Marx thought that the point of philosophy is not just to interpret the world, but to change it. That may not be true for some branches of philosophy. But it is surely a central purpose of one sub-category of philosophy – applied ethics.
At the Festival I’ll be launching Philosophers Take On The World (OUP). The book is a collection of essays written by philosophers associated with the Oxford Uehiro Centre of Practical Ethics. For a decade, the Uehiro Centre, has been running a blog, in which philosophers give their take on an event in the news: Philosophers Take On The World is a selection of some of the most thought-provoking of these posts.
Most of the chapters cover topics that, while puzzling, have found no place in text books. Is it ok to hate a rival sports team? Is it ok to be rude to cold callers? Is it ok to serve ice cream made from human milk? Is it ok to block ads on the internet?
In Britain, philosophy does not command the respect and status it does in some other countries. And it’s difficult to be optimistic that this will change any time soon. The growing suspicion of experts – and surely Brexit was one consequence of this absurd trend – makes the climate for academia even less hospitable.
Still, last year 1,000 people turned up at the philosophy festival, and bigger numbers are expected this year. There will be sessions, among others, on warfare, education, the media, the mind and religion. Just as Socrates did two and a half millennia ago, philosophers will challenge our assumptions, and make us reflect that some of the beliefs we take for granted rest on shaky ground.
By so doing, hopefully they won’t be placing themselves at personal risk. Questioning received opinion is often uncomfortable, but in Britain at least, we’ve moved on from Socrates’ time. Socrates was considered so dangerous he was put on trial and died by drinking hemlock. He understood and was willing to take the consequences for being subversive. As he said at his trial, the unexamined life is not worth living.
David Edmonds (@DavidEdmonds100) is a senior research associate at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the editor of Philosophers Take On The World (Oxford University Press). The OUP Philosophy Festival will run from 7th-12th November in Oxford Blackwell’s. All events are free but require advanced booking. Go to http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/stores/oxford-bookshop/events for more information.
Images © Oxford University Images