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Showing posts from September, 2007

Are upper middle class kids innately smarter and more talented than other children?

Earlier, I made a case for banning private schools (see "ban private schools" link to the left), and also responded to various objections that you raised. My case for banning was really on two fronts: A practical case - we're wasting enormous amounts of native talent - and perhaps even missing out on that cure for cancer - because second-raters are, in effect, being bought a place at the front of the high-status jobs queue. A moral case - it is unjust that the children of a small minority should so dramatically dominate the high status professions because their parents bought them a "superior" private education. For by buying their own children a leg up in this way, they dramatically restrict the life chances and opportunities available to other, innately more gifted and talented individuals. However, my objection did, in both cases, rest on an assumption - that the children of those 7 percent who dominate the high status professions do not, in fact, ha

Ban private schools

Perhaps its time to revisit the debate on banning private schools . To get things started, here' s an article by Will Hutton in yesterdays Observer. Hutton cites new research by the Sutton Trust revealing a third of all admission to Oxbridge came from 100 schools, all but two of which are private. In particular, the top private schools did massively better than their exam results should predict. This social stratification is now hardening. Of course, Hutton is not recommending banning private schools. But I am... if you want to know why scroll down banning private schools .

Review: Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton

This review was published in The Mail on Sunday, back in 2000. (Was I too harsh?) Broken heart? Take some Schopenhauer. Frustrated? Try a little Seneca. Money-worries? Epicurus can help. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Alain De Botton takes a novel approach to popularizing philosophy, explaining how six different philosophers can help us in six of life’s darker moments. Consolations is tied to a new six-part Channel 4 TV series Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, also written by De Botton. Given the hype and the link to a TV series, the book is likely to be a best seller. But how good an introduction to philosophy is it? It does sound like a great idea. The market for self-help books is booming. And popularizing philosophy has become sexy, especially since the success of Sophie’s World. So why not mix the two together in one winning formula? But can Seneca and Epicurus really help us with our woes? The trouble is, dispensing practical advice on life’s problems is not what philoso

Five Private Language Arguments (International Journal of Philosophical Studies 12, no. 2 (2004))

My paper Five Private Language Arguments is available here . Comments welcome. It provides a fairly clear explanation of five different private language arguments that philosophers have supposed Wittgenstein offers in PI 258. I intended it to function as a good introduction to the whole private language argument topic. If I ever get round to writing a book on the Philosophical Investigations , it will form part of that book. Incidentally, the clearest intro to the Investigations is still Marie's McGinn's (though I don't agree with McGinn on e.g. the private language argument - see my paper). I have just ordered Block's How to Read Wittgenstein - will let you know what I think.

Galileo and the Inquisition

Here's a little essay I am working on for this blog. It's in progress, not finished... you may have suggestions as to how it might be improved. See previous post for context. Some Catholics insist that Galileo was condemned, not for his scientific views, but his theological views. Here for example, is Patrick Madrid: Galileo confused revealed truths with scientific discoveries by saying that in the Bible "are found propositions which, when taken literally, are false; that Holy Writ out of regard for the incapacity of the people, expresses itself inexactly, even when treating of solemn dogmas; that in questions concerning natural things, philosophical [i.e., scientific] should avail more than sacred." Hence, we see that it was Galileo's perceived attack on theology (which is the unique domain of the Magisterium and not of scientists) that elicited the alarmed response from the Church. Thomas Lessl takes

Letter to Danielian

I just received a letter, forwarded by The Guardian, from a Dr Danielian, who takes me to task for maintaining in letter (go here and scroll down) to The Guardian that, contrary to what another letter had suggested, Galileo and Bruno were hauled before the Inquisition for their scientific views. Here's my response. I'll add to it in the next post, as exactly how some Catholics try to justify the view that the Church was not concerned with Bruno's and Galileo's scientific views is worth unpacking... Dear Dr Danielan I just received your letter to The Guardian . Thanks for taking the time to respond to my letter. I can’t say I agree with you, though. The issue I addressed, remember, was whether Galileo and Bruno were hauled before the Inquisition for their scientific views, or merely their theological views. I rejected the claim that it was only their theological views that were of concern to the religious authorities. I pointed out that, as even Koestler says, Ga

Event: The Resurrection of Religion

I will be appearing at the Institute of Ideas' "Battle of Ideas" festival on Sat 27th Oct at 3.30 - 5.00pm, at Upper Gilbenkian Theatre, the RCA. The theme is: "THE RESURRECTION OF RELIGION?" Speakers are: Frank Furedi (professor of sociology, Univ. of Kent) Ruth Gledhill (religion correspondent, The Times) Stephen Law Chair: Dolan Cummings More info here .

Systems of Measurement

Here is a copy of my 2005 paper Systems of Measurement . I remain quite pleased with this one, and especially with the smedlium case analogy. It's a bit long, though. Any comments gratefully received. By the way, if anyone wants a better-formatted version, get in touch (some formatting is lost in this version, which can make it tricky to follow in places)

Pascal's Wager

PASCAL’S WAGER [taken from my forthcoming book for Quercus, Greatest Philosophers , out next month (and which, in my opinion, is a bargain at under £6 for a 200+ page, larger format, illustrated book. In fact I'm not sure it isn't too cheap.)] According to Pascal, there are no rational grounds available to settle whether the Christian faith is true or false. Reason cannot settle the matter one way or the other. So should we believe, or not? Pascal suggests we approach this question as if it involved placing a bet. We have two options: we can believe, or we can fail to believe. What do we stand to win or lose in each case? Well, if I believe, and there is a God, then I win big. My reward will be eternal happiness. But what if there is no God? Then obviously I won’t receive that fantastic reward. But still, my loss is not so very great. Little more than those Sunday mornings I had to spend in church. If, on the other hand, I fail to believe in God, and God exists, I lose

Two embarrassing moments

Back from Australia, with jet lag. So posts will now resume as normal... I went to Australia 4 years ago on book tour and returned with bad jet lag, but had to speak at the Edinburgh book festival nevertheless. Being completely out of it I left my clothes behind in the hotel. Embarrassingly, I also failed to show up for a poetry reading thing for Amnesty where I was supposed to read a poem for a particular prisoner of conscience (whose name I can't even remember - which makes it even worse). Polly Toynbee, whom I admire, was also reading one, so I suppose she now has me down as the bloke who couldn't be bothered to show up for his Amnesty prisoner.... One of my less impressive performances. Incidentally, at Cheltenham Festival about the same time I was collared to talk at short notice about The Philosophy Gym on camera for something called "Meet the author". Unfortunately, I kept referring to it as "The Philosophy Files" (my other book). So I am now pr

Transcript of interview for ABC -PM program

British philosopher questions religious schools teaching styles PM - Wednesday, 22 August , 2007 18:34:00 Reporter: Barney Porter MARK COLVIN: The visit of a British philosopher this week has given a fresh airing to the debate about how values are taught in our schools. Stephen Law is a senior lecturer in Philosophy at the University of London. He's given a lecture at the University of Sydney based on his book, The War for Children's Minds. Dr Law makes a distinction between liberal schools, which encourage independent critical thought, and those described as authoritarian, which expect the children to accept without question whatever they're taught. And Dr Law says he's particularly concerned about the style of education used by religious schools, and its impact on growing minds. Dr Stephen Law spoke to Barney Porter. STEPHEN LAW: Up until the 1960s, most religious schools were, of course, pretty authoritarian. I've got a colleague who went to a Catholi