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OUDCE Philosophy Weekends at Rewley House

Future Events Programme

Phlsoc members are entitled to a 10% discount on weekend courses listed below
(not applicable to weekday lecture series).

February 25: The Limits of Free Speech: Offence, Hate Speech and No Platforming
Dr Doug Bamford and Kenan Malik

This day school explores the many complicated and sometimes emotive issues surrounding free speech. Almost everyone believes that there should be some restrictions on free speech. But where exactly should we draw the line?

There is increasing pressure across social media to silence certain voices. Is this unjustified censorship, or reasonable restrictions to protect vulnerable groups and individuals? Are universities and other institutions justified in ‘no-platforming’ certain speakers, and if so, when? Does causing deep offence to religious people justify placing legal limits on what can be said about their beliefs? Are accusations of, for example, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and transphobia being weaponised in order to shut down important debates? If someone feels that they are a victim of prejudice, does that guarantee that they are? Under what circumstances is someone guilty of ‘hate speech’, and what legal or other restrictions should be placed on such speech?

We will be unpacking and examining the philosophical and political arguments on either side.

March 11: The Puzzle of Personal Identity: What Makes Me the Same Person over Time
Dr David Edmonds and Prof Paul Snowdon

Suppose I invite you to enter a teletransporter for an exciting adventure in space travel. In this teletransporter a copy will be made of every cell in your body. Whilst your brain and body are destroyed on Earth, a new being, a facsimile, will appear almost instantly on Planet Zog. No need for a tedious journey in a space craft. The recreated person on Planet Zog will look indistinguishable from you, it will have all your memories?

But will it be you?

‘Personal Identity’ is one of the most puzzling areas in philosophy. Many philosophers have grappled with it, from John Locke in the 17th Century to Derek Parfit in the 20th.

To test our intuitions about personal identity, philosophers have come up with weird and wonderful thought experiments. Locke asked us to imagine that a prince and a cobbler swapped souls, so that the memories of the prince were in the body of the cobbler and vice-versa. Parfit asked us to imagine what would happen if a brain was split in two, with the two hemispheres being implanted in two separate bodies.

There’s much at stake; the issue matters. Your position on Personal Identity may affect how you regard the past – should a person be punished for an act that was committed a decade earlier? It may affect how you view the future – should you bother to put money into a pension scheme or splurge everything so as to have fun today? How you view Personal Identity might even affect your attitude to death.

May 06: UFOs to Psychics: Thinking about Weird Things
Prof Chris French, Ms Deborah Hyde and Dr Stephen Law

An exploration of a range of ‘weird’ beliefs and experiences, from alien abduction and angels to conspiracy theories and miraculous cures.

What psychological mechanisms are involved in generating such beliefs? Is the scientific community justifiably skeptical about such beliefs, or are scientists for the most part just closed-minded naysayers? Doesn’t the fact that so many people report such experiences give them at least some credibility? How should we assess the evidence when it comes to belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and so on? What even counts as good evidence?

One session, led by Deborah Hyde, anthropologist and former editor of The Skeptic magazine, will focus in particular on poltergeist activity (perhaps listen to The Battersea Poltergeist on BBC Sounds for more information).

The other sessions approach weird beliefs from the perspective of psychology (Prof. Chris French) and philosophy and critical thinking (Dr Stephen Law), and provide both numerous illustrations and principles for assessing them.

June 17: Do We Have Freewill?
Prof Helen Steward

It seems we are physical organisms entirely in the grip of the laws of nature, so that someone sufficiently knowledgeable of how things stand before our birth could, in principle, predict with complete accuracy everything we will ever say. But then, in what sense, if any, can we still be ‘free’? Surely we are no more free than a falling rock, or a planet circling the sun, for what we say and do is determined by the very same laws. Those who argue that freewill is actually compatible with the truth of determinism often argue that freewill sceptics have misunderstood what ‘free action’ really means. But is that true?

After setting out the prominent versions of the main positions on freewill – libertarianism, compatibilism and freewill scepticism – and outlining the main arguments, we will then explore in more detail issues in the metaphysics of freewill, focusing particularly on the research of Prof. Helen Steward and her book A Metaphysics for Freedom. The day also considers whether animals can be said to possess freewill.