<![CDATA[curiouser.org.uk - Blog]]>Thu, 17 Aug 2023 06:45:06 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[Word play with Wittgenstein]]>Thu, 29 Jul 2021 12:59:32 GMThttp://curiouser.org.uk/blog/how-much-of-the-mess-we-make-of-our-lives-is-down-to-poor-communication-we-probably-already-know-the-answer-to-this-question-and-much-ink-has-been-spilled-in-the-giving-of-self-help-advice-about-how-to-do-better-in-this-regard-perhaps-wittgensteinsHow much of the mess we make of our lives is down to poor communication? We probably already know the answer to this question and much ink has been spilled in the giving of self-help advice about how to do better in this regard. Perhaps Wittgenstein’s greatest contribution is in helping us to use words better, as well as interpreting the language of others in its proper context more successfully. More often than we realize, we talk at cross purposes and are thinking of quite different things when using even those words that we may imagine are relatively uncomplicated, like ‘fairness’ and ‘love’. Having the wisdom to not assume that you are actually understanding someone else, or being understood by them, would certainly save most of us a lot of upset, time and probably even money (even though deconstructing conversations is not always such a joyful thing). An added awareness that language is a kind of contextual game, with its own rules and conventions, also enables us to understand more deeply that people often do not mean what they actually say and invites us to get better at seeing what’s really going on, beneath the surface meaning of the words we sometimes choose to hide behind.  ]]><![CDATA[My facts and your facts?]]>Wed, 28 Oct 2020 11:20:44 GMThttp://curiouser.org.uk/blog/my-facts-and-your-factsAs the 2020 U.S. election looms ever closer, it’s hard, even for an optimist, not to feel some sense of despair at the apparent absence of any real political discourse in the respective campaigns. Without getting directly involved in the mud-slinging, I wonder whether the abandonment of agreed notions of truth, underpinning a traditional interest in winning the policy arguments is largely to blame? If electoral success is now more about manipulating the majority by subtle and targeted social media techniques, rather than rational persuasion, then the very legitimacy of the modern democracy may reasonably be called into question. In one of our recent ‘Curiouser’ discussions on Aristotle, I was reminded of John F. Kennedy’s pithy summary of happiness: ‘The full use of your powers, along lines of excellence, in a life affording scope.’ Apart from highlighting how far political standards have fallen in recent times, I think this rich quote is a challenge to all thinking people to reform democracy by prioritising the development of the full use of our human powers, with a particular emphasis on critical thinking. For if we and our children are not able to construct a rational argument and examine its strengths and weaknesses, we are surely doomed to be at the mercy of whatever political wind happens to be blowing at any given moment. In his excellent essay, ‘Philosophy-Why?’, G.K. Chesterton defined Philosophy as ‘thought that has been thought out. We have no alternative, except being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out.’ It’s interesting to speculate as to why the study of Critical Thinking is such a peripheral part of many educational systems, but whatever the reason for this, democracy is always the loser if an electorate cannot see the absurdity of statements such as ‘my facts and your facts’. In reason, we should trust.

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<![CDATA[Save Our Schools...from the politicians!]]>Sat, 29 Aug 2020 08:13:40 GMThttp://curiouser.org.uk/blog/august-29th-2020As English schoolchildren prepare to return to their classrooms after a very long time away, there has rightly been much discussion about how best this should be managed, with the question of face-masks dominating much recent debate. Beyond these important practical concerns however, we should not lose sight about what schools are actually for. “Learning and education”, I hear you cry! Of course, but to what end? This year’s ‘results’ chaos touched on one reasonable anxiety about what education should be about, namely, ‘getting on’ in life, so that the long-term economic prospects of our young people are not greatly damaged by the Covid pandemic. If this is the only point of a school however, then I suggest we have seriously lost our way as a culture and society. For a distinguishing trait of our species is not only a sense of wonder at the world, and our place in it (all parents of young children know this!), but the intuition that we cannot fully be human without even attempting to engage with the biggest questions of life, relating to our meaning, purpose and identity. The very good news is that there’s plenty of evidence linking good philosophical education in schools (explore the ‘Philosophy for Children’ P4C movement, if you don’t believe me) with improved engagement and attainment in all the other subjects too. It’s almost like treating young people as thinking agents (as opposed to passive receivers of information) is a magical key to unlocking their academic, but also human, potential. There are schools out there that know this and are doing their best within a system that is led by people who do not really understand children or education. However, if you worry that your child is disengaged with learning, at school or home, then please do get in touch, either with us, or some of the other excellent P4C providers that are mentioned on our Links page. As an experienced classroom teacher, I’ve never been more excited at returning to help my students find their inner philosopher and hope that, out of the current messy educational situation, a wiser vision will emerge.
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<![CDATA[Barbecue sausages, not free speech]]>Wed, 22 Jul 2020 12:06:33 GMThttp://curiouser.org.uk/blog/barbecue-sausages-not-free-speechIt's been really fun to be able to have a few socially distant gatherings in our garden recently. The sausages, wine and company have all been excellent, but on at least one occasion I've been reminded about how our society needs community philosophy to help us have better conversations. In one discussion, the subject of free-speech cropped up and the recent open letter to US magazine Harper's, signed by 153 bestselling authors (from across the cultural and political spectrum) including Margaret Atwood and Malcolm Gladwell. The letter defended the need for "robust and even caustic" debate and lamented the recent trend of 'cancel culture' against those who are deemed to have uttered unacceptable views. JK Rowling's now infamous tweets were mentioned and the tone became noticeably tense. One group of friends condemned her as transphobic and the signatories of the letter as obviously representing the privileged status quo with vested interests to protect. Others kept quiet, perhaps in agreement, though, perhaps more likely, to prevent a pleasant evening descending into hostility. A slightly awkward moment was followed by a shift to a less controversial, but also significantly less interesting and important subject.
​Until we can learn to disagree with more civility, and with a greater focus on a humble pursuit of the truth (as opposed to demonstrating the superiority of one 'tribe' over another), we risk being condemned, not only to discussing merely what's growing in our gardens, but, even more worryingly, to live in a society where disagreement with popular norms becomes a dangerous and so unspeakable act.]]>
<![CDATA[Covid-19 and contingency]]>Wed, 15 Apr 2020 12:06:18 GMThttp://curiouser.org.uk/blog/the-silver-liningLockdown is a little weird and unsettling for most of us, unless, of course, you are already a hermit.  One article I read recently spoke of a collective sense of grief for our former lives lost, yet many have also pointed to some positive social consequences of Covid-life. I even found myself (self-consciously) doing hopscotch in response to some playful street art on my daily walk recently... Though we have largely lost touch with the word, a greater sense of the contingency of life is something we may have also been feeling, without knowing it, these days. What I mean is a greater awareness that life is fragile and that, ultimately, we have limited control over our own existence. This can be a scary realization yet it also tends to stir within us a renewed interest in those questions that relate to this precarious condition, that is, thoughts about the deeper purpose and meaning of the lives we are living. Blaise Pascal famously said that "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone", meaning, perhaps, that the busy-ness and distractions of normal life, largely prevents us from thinking carefully about these 'first things'. Social media may still distract us from achieving the improved philosophic state that Pascal envisaged, yet, for all of the real horror of this time, there have also arisen new opportunities to settle and ponder on the unchanging questions of life, which may, in time, also lead to greater clarity about who we are, where we're going and what is really of value to us.]]>