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Philsoc Away Day, Sunday 23rd July 2017

on

UNIVERSALS

On Sunday 23rd July 2017 we held our sixth AwayDay at Pigotts. 26 of us gathered at Pigotts, including the four Philsoc members who gave excellent talks on the subject of Universals. The programme and details of the speakers, appear below, with transcripts of their talks or notes linked from titles of their talks

Pigotts is a historic and wonderfully rural location in the Bucks countryside near High Wycombe, a place to escape all urban distractions and enjoy philosophy. The format is not unlike Members' Days held in Rewley House, but cosier and more bucolic! The day, as always, included a slap-up lunch provided by members – or their wives! Pretty good value for 2017's all-in price of £15


09.30 – 10.00 Arrival and coffee/tea
10.00 – 10.12 Nick Wheeler-Robinson on Pigotts
10.12 – 10.20 Frank Brierley Chairman's introduction
10.20 – 11.20 Bob Stone Universals – how Plato started the whole thing off
11.20 – 11.40 Coffee/tea break
11.40 – 12.40 Neil Webb Did Wittgenstein solve the problem of universals?
12.40 – 14.15 LUNCH
14.15 – 15.15 Bob Clarke Universals – a conceptualist approach
15.15 – 15.35 Coffee/tea break
15.35 – 16.35 Peter Gibson Universals – humanity's greatest creation
16.35 – 17.15 Panel Q&A/general discussion
17.15 END

The theme of Universals is a central topic in philosophy since at least the time of Plato's Ideas or Forms. Plato's Forms reappeared almost unaltered as Bertrand Russell's universals in the latter's extremely readable and inexpensive The Problems of Philosophy (1912). Universals also masquerade as 'properties', 'types', 'kinds', 'attributes', 'qualities', 'features', etc. The precise relationship between such universal qualities, properties etc and the particulars to which they are attributed or in which they inhere continues to exercise philosophers to this day. What universal quality does any particular game have – say tennis, patience, ring-a-ring o' roses or blind man's bluff – that enables us to recognise it as a Game at all? Is it an internal essence, or some transcendent ideal to which they all approximate, or a human concept of gameness; or are they only 'games' because we have decided to call them call them that?

Each speaker had a one hour slot in which to give his talk of 30-35 minutes and then answer questions. The speakers along with synopses of their talks are as follows. Clicking on a talk's title takes you to a transcript of the whole talk.

Bob Stone is a classicist, who specialised in Greek philosophy at university, where he developed a taste for the whole range of philosophical thinking. Since retiring from full-time classics teaching eight years ago, he has attacked philosophy with a vengeance, doing more than twenty OUDCE online, weekly and summer-school courses, not to mention countless Rewley House weekends. His hobbies are cricket, arguing about philosophy, writing talks and Review articles, and editing other people's.
Universals – how Plato started the whole thing off
I shall attempt to show how Plato's idea of universals, which started from Socrates's attempt to find single definitions for moral concepts that cover many instances, developed into the classic theory of disembodied 'Forms'. This development owes something to the notion of ideal figures in Plato's favourite subject, geometry, and something to his reaction against 'relativists', such as Protagoras, who believed that moral and aesthetic concepts are mere inventions of the human mind rather than having any objective, knowable reality.

Neil Webb, originally from Brighton, currently lives in Scotland where he has made his home since 1987. He studied philosophy at the University of East Anglia back in the early 1980s and works in the field of financial services regulation. Neil has only dabbled with philosophy since graduating, but does hope to undertake a Masters in the subject when he retires.
Did Wittgenstein solve the problem of universals?
In 1961 Renford Bambrough presented a paper entitled "Universals and Family Resemblances" in which he boldly claimed that Wittgenstein had solved the problem of universals. Neil looks at why Bambrough was so convinced and discusses whether we should join him in that conclusion.

Bob Clarke studied physics at Bristol University and has since pursued a career in science and engineering. He co-ordinated Workers Educational Association (WEA) philosophy courses in south-west London for over thirty years, which led him to take degrees in the History of Ideas at Kingston University and at Birkbeck College, London.
Universals – A Conceptualist Approach
Conceptualist approaches to universals regard them, first and foremost, as human concepts. Specifically, they are concepts that are predicated of many different subjects. The talk will explore how this approach fares in relation to three spheres of engagement with our world: the Supernatural (via medieval religious and Platonic commitments), the Natural World (where, arguably, universals could have 'real' phenomenal existence) and the Public Sphere, where we invent universals and where, arguably, some of them become 'real'. The talk will also explain how the philosophies of Aristotle, William of Ockham and Immanuel Kant lead to a conceptualist stance on universals.

Peter Gibson is the Secretary of the Philosophical Society. He taught philosophy to sixth formers for many years. In 2014 he completed a PhD at Birkbeck. He runs a website (philosophyideas.com), and is trying to write a book which bridges the gap between introductory philosophy and the more advanced stuff. He remains naively convinced that philosophy is easier than it looks.
Universals – Humanity's Greatest Creation
How we view universals seems to be dictated by our prior metaphysical framework, which either does or does not tolerate exotic abstract entities. This talk will be intolerant. It places universals within a physicalist framework, by outlining a proposal about how the human mind has created the wonders of universals. The talk will be a venture in philosophical psychology, and will also indicate a defence of approaching metaphysics by the unorthodox route of psychology. If the approach is right, we should end up with a clearer understanding, as well as a better explanation, of universals.

Frank Brierley
Organiser