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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 the unaccredited lecture series).


2022
October 22: The Limits of Philosophy, Science and Religion
Stephen Law and Chris Oldfield

This course explores the respective limits of science, religion and philosophy.

To what extent can and does science threaten religious belief? Is the supernatural off-limits to science? Are those, like Richard Dawkins, who think science can potentially show that there is no God guilty of scientism – of supposing that science can answer every legitimate question? Are science and religion ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, as Stephen J. Gould claimed, with science focussed on the age of rocks and religion on the rock of ages? Can religious claims be laboratory tested, or empirically falsified? Or is this to misunderstand the nature of religious belief?

We also consider: if science and observation provide our only window on to reality, what room is left for philosophy, exactly? Can philosophical reflection reveal fundamental truths about the universe? If so, how? And if not, then what do philosophers do, exactly? Is philosophy ultimately a huge waste of time, as several prominent scientists suggested?

November 05: Indian Philosophy and Western Understanding: The Oxford Connection
Dr Martin Ovens

From karma and rebirth to nirvana and samsara, we explore key concepts, themes and arguments in classical Indian philosophy. Our initial focus will be the Vedas and Upanishads. Then, after considering attempts to classify various philosophical traditions, we concentrate on key epistemological, metaphysical and axiological teachings of the six 'orthodox' Hindu schools:

  1. Vedanta and Purva Mimamsa
  2. Nyaya and Vaisheshika
  3. Samkhya and Yoga

We continue by exploring 'heterodox' schools, chiefly:

  1. Buddhism - in particular the teachings of Buddha and the trajectory of Buddhist systems
  2. Jainism
  3. Charvaka/Materialism

Finally, we attempt to understand the relationship of Indian thought to Western philosophy. This will lead us to discuss the significance of the contributions of Oxford-based scholars:

  1. Monier Monier-Williams (1819-1899), Boden Professor of Sanskrit, and Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900), Professor of Comparative Philology
  2. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) and Bimal Krishna Matilal (1935-91), both holders of the Spalding Chair of Eastern Religion and Ethics

December 10: Key Themes in the Philosophy of Religion
Dr Roxana Baiasu

Which are the essential properties of God? Is there a compelling argument for, or against, the existence of God? What role do spiritual practices play in connection to religious claims? What is the impact of gender and race on religious beliefs?

This one-day course offers an introduction to these topical issues in the philosophy of religion. It examines some key issues in the Western Philosophy of Religion and, more specifically, philosophical issues concerning the God of classical theism (in which Jews, Christians and Muslims believe)


2023
January 14: Contemporary Humanism: An Introduction
Dr Thiago Alves Pinto and Stephen Law

Contemporary humanism is explained as a view that typically combines:

  1. an emphasis on the role of science and reason
  2. the acceptance of atheism
  3. The view that this is very probably the only life we have. There is no heaven or hell awaiting us
  4. a commitment to the existence and importance of moral value
  5. emphasis on our individual moral autonomy and responsibility
  6. a commitment to political secularism
  7. belief that we can enjoy significant, meaningful lives even if there is no God, and whether or not we happen to be religious

All seven views will be unpacked and religious and other critiques of them will be examined. In particular, we will explore the limits of science and reason and whether science can threaten religious belief, the possibility of leading meaningful lives in the absence of religion, political secularism and the separation of Church and State, how best to raise moral citizens (within a religious framework vs. within a secular framework), and the work of campaigning humanist groups such as Humanists UK and the American Humanist Association.

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 (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.