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What to do with the Redundant Churches After the Demise of Religion?

Some weeks ago I attended a lecture by Daniel Dennett at the Oxford Union on religion. As expected, it was a lively presentation that predicted the demise of religion. However, one matter that started me thinking was how Dennett concluded his lecture: he ended by pondering what we might do with all the redundant places of worship once his prophecy was fulfilled. His suggestion was that they might satisfy a secular purpose, as places where the community might come together to address the novel challenges of the modern world. I started me thinking as I wondered whether a belief in religion might be better than atheism for attaining this, or any other, goal. Some, such as Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind (2012)) have suggested that religion is a particularly effective force for bringing people together.Read More »What to do with the Redundant Churches After the Demise of Religion?

“The Best Interests of the Family”: Parents v Baby?

There is much that is good to be said about Dominic Wilkinson’s new book Death or Disability? The ‘Carmentis Machine’ and decision-­making for critically ill children. My favourite part of the book is how Dominic confronts head on the issue of the best interests of the family in relation to care, and withdrawal of medical treatment,… Read More »“The Best Interests of the Family”: Parents v Baby?

Fifty shades: should BDSM become part of general sexual education?

“BDSM [Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism] might be mainstream now, but it has a new PR problem. I blame Christian Grey.” writes ‘sexual submissive’ Sophie Morgan in an article in the Guardian.

I started reading E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey but didn’t get very far. It’s very badly written (guess that’s no longer a secret) and, well, I found it incredibly boring (Pride and Prejudice is more exciting, I think). In any case, the book is just a starting point for something I began thinking about after a recent conversation with a friend who is part of the ‘BDSM  community’.

The legal status of BDSM varies from country to country. In the UK, it is illegal if it results in any injury which is more than “transient or trifling”. Possessing extreme pornography is a criminal offence, which, for obvious reasons, may be problematic for those who are into SM. Moreover, those who engage in any kind of BDSM are not legally protected against discrimination on the basis of their sexual preferences (for example, they can be, and have been, fired for that reason).

I haven’t studied the issue in depth, but it seems to me that BDSM should be legal, the main reason being that it concerns a consensual sexual act by adults that doesn’t cause harm to third parties. (There’s an interesting paper by Nafsika Athanassoulis arguing why SM can be considered a consensual sexual act). But I was thinking about a further question. Should we put more effort into breaking the BDSM taboo? For example, in countries where BDSM is legal, should it be part of general sexual education?

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Nine to five philosophers

Owen Barfield was lunching in C.S. Lewis’s rooms. Lewis, who was then a philosophy tutor, referred to  philosophy as ‘a subject’. ‘”It wasn’t a subject to Plato”, said Barfield, “It was a way.”’1 It would be dangerous for a modern professional philosopher to say that her philosophy was her ‘way’. I can well imagine the… Read More »Nine to five philosophers

Ad usum Delphini: should we Bowdlerize children’s books?

The Ture Sventon books are a series of Swedish children’s detective stories written by Åke Holmberg 1948-1973. They are locally well-known and appreciated, but henceforth Ture Sventon i Paris (1953) will likely not be republished. The reason is that the publisher Rabén & Sjögren wanted to remove the word “neger” in the book, and the Swedish Writers’ Union (who owns the copyright to the books) refused this change, since it would change the character of the book. They acknowledged that it was a word with a racist resonance but also a part of cultural history, and hence it could not be removed or replaced with “colored” or “black”. They suggested adding an explanatory introduction instead. The publisher choose not to reissue the book.

In English-speaking countries another recent controversy is about the new edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaces use of the word “nigger” with “slave” and “injun” to “Indian”. Again, literature experts complains that this fundamentally changes the novel (which after all is an anti-racist book) and might have deeply upset the author, yet others think that this will allow it to be read more in schools or public. Are we seeing examples of well-intentioned acts of “cultural vandalism and obscurantism that constricts rather than expands the life of the mind”, or just attempts to reduce impediments for the public to read the works?

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Are some temperaments “better” than others?

by Alexandre Erler

Jerome Kagan’s latest book, The Temperamental Thread, is – as usual with Kagan – a fascinating read. It draws on the three decades of research done by Kagan on the topic of human temperament. In a famous series of studies, Kagan examined the way infants reacted to unfamiliar or unexpected events. He found that about 20 per cent of these infants were unusually responsive to such events, exhibiting vigorous motor activity and frequent crying. He calls these infants “high reactives”, and found after following their evolution during their subsequent years that they were biased to become timid, subdued toddlers and shy adolescents who become uneasy when they cannot predict or control the future. About 20 per cent of these high reactives proved unable to cope with their temperament and were subsequently diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, depression, or both. By contrast, another other group of infants showed a high threshold of excitability to the same events. Kagan calls them “low reactives”. They tended to become outgoing, relatively fearless children and relaxed adolescents who like risk and challenge [3]. In the wake of Kagan’s earlier work The Long Shadow of Temperament, The Temperamental Thread paints a rich and detailed picture of the differences between these two psychological types.


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Science and Morality

Roger Crisp writes… In his new book The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris claims that science 'reveals' values to us. Kwame Anthony Appiah is one of the many who have pointed out that Harris makes the common mistake of seeking to derive an 'ought' from a series of mere 'is' statements, a mistake pointed out by David… Read More »Science and Morality

On Knowing (or Not)

Judy is an intelligent, articulate woman with a great sense of humor. She is also completely paralyzed on her left side. Trouble is, she doesn’t know she is. On the contrary, she knows that she isn’t.

What’s going on? Self-deception? Denial? Puzzling examples like this are scattered throughout a recent series in the NY Times, which explores what it means to know, not know, know what you don’t know and not know what you know. Follow? Me neither.

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