– written by Annie McCallion

The texts set here, as well as their subsequent questions are intended to serve as a guide for organisers of the group. For each section I have provided set texts; this is in addition to texts which are recommended for the organiser of the group to read – prior to holding the discussion.

To accompany these texts, there are a selection of at least 7 questions provided per session. If each session is set to run for an hour long, it is unlikely that you will be able to make it through all of them; the selection is provided in order to enable to organiser of the group to select those most appropriate questions, relative to how they see the discussion going. As stipulated above, these are intended only as guidelines; I have interpreted the respective texts and directed the questions to areas which I know members of my group prefer to discuss. You are of course at liberty to do the same.

The sequence of texts laid out here, attempts to create a linear chain of progression throughout the 8 sessions. I have linked them together as best I can, attempting to give the most seamless transition to each session.

The texts should be fairly easy to locate, however I have available full PDF versions of all the texts listed; if there is any trouble locating them, please do feel free to get in touch us.

Finally, it may be of interest to you; I have noticed a few things that help to get the most out of all members in attendance.

  • The layout of the room appears to be quite important – circular layouts are always preferable.
  • If possible, learn all names of those in your group – it is remarkable how much this helps with keeping the discussions flowing!
  • One of the best ways to establish an informal, relaxed environment is to take your shoes off and sit crossed legged on your seat … Don’t knock it till you try it.

Hope this is helpful! As stipulated above, please do email me if you have any further queries.

1. Mary Midgley: Welcome & Introduction

 

Questions

  • To what extent is the combative style of Philosophising which Collin McGinn speaks of here reflective of your own experiences of Philosophy?
  • To what extent, if any, do you think that women internalise and interpret this process of philosophising differently?
  • Is Midgley correct to identify that such a combative approach to philosophy is counterproductive to philosophical progress?
  • Does this so called ‘combative’ approach to Philosophy have its place, and if so, where is its place? For example, ought we to suggest that this style of philosophising is in fact only appropriate for postgraduates?
  • To what extent do you think the style of analytic Philosophy would be different today, if there were more women involved in the profession? Both in the history of it as well as currently.
  • ‘All Philosophy is a footnote to Plato’: In light of Midgley’s paper, what insights can we draw from this famous quotation?
  • Is this an accurate description of the state of 21st century Philosophy? If so, to what extent ought we, as philosophers, to be proud of this?
2. Mary Midgley: Darwin & the Selfish Gene

2: Darwin & The Selfish Gene

 

The questions for this session are deliberately designed to provoke discussions surrounding Midgley’s other works, as a method of giving the attendees of the reading group an introduction to her work.

The ‘sentient beings’ question is intended to bring up discussions surrounding Midgley’s work on ‘Animals and why they matter’. Along the same lines, the ‘self’ question is designed to provoke a discussion surrounding Midgley’s work ‘The Self is not an illusion’.

It is therefore advisable that the organiser of the reading group read the following two introductory chapters also:

 

Mary Midgley, Animals and Why They Matter, 1983, University of Georgia Press, Chpt. 1

Mary Midgley, Are You an Illusion?, 2005,  Routledge, Chpt. 1

 

This will enable the organiser of the group to guide the discussion more effectively, as well as provide insight into her other works.

 

Questions

  • Is Midgley correct to identify that such propagation of Darwinism is a result of taking the doctrine out of context?
  • Does the ‘survival of the fittest’ talk have any place at all within the fields of Political Philosophy and Ethics?
  • How do you think such a view of nature has impacted our attitudes towards other sentient beings?
  • To what extent is Darwinism a justification for this?
  • How has this Darwinian-influenced individualism impacted our view of ‘the self’?
  • ‘If scientific hypothesises are always somehow a reflection of the personal-framework through which the scientist is assessing their environment – what ought Darwinism to tell us about the state of Charles Darwin’s society’?
  • To what extent is this so called Darwinian justification present today, within our own society?
  • Is Darwinism a convenient doctrine to lean on when attempting to justify an economic base, which promotes competition and individualism, in the face of every cost?
  • In a letter to Karl Marx, Engels is recorded as writing the following with reference to Darwinism; ‘it is in fact a crude parody of their position, that they should think that this doctrine is somehow supportive of their vision. Paradoxically, all this can be said to demonstrate is how their vision for the future of mankind will reduce us all to cavemen’ Discuss.
3. Iris Murdoch: The Sovereignty of The Good

This session has been designed to follow nicely on from the previous discussion regarding Midgley’s Selfish Gene; the specific passage chosen, eludes often to ‘human nature’. However, it is advisable that the organiser of the group reads the entirety of the short chapter entitled ‘The sovereignty of Good over other concepts’ (Chapter 3), in order to provide wider context to the discussion.

 

Questions

  • ‘The scene remains disparate and complex beyond the hopes of any system, yet at the same time the concept of Good stretches through the whole of it and gives it the only kind of shadowy unachieved unity it can possess’. What do you understand Murdoch to mean by this?
  • What ought this to tell us about the manner in which Moral Philosophy is conducted?
  • To what extent do you think Murdoch’s work here is a reaction to the commonplace misapplication of Wittgenstein’s work during the 1960’s?
  • Murdoch speaks a lot of the ‘insuperable’ barriers to Goodness in this passage: In light of our previous discussion on Midgley, what can we take from this?
  • Are these barriers a part of, as Murdoch appears to be depicting, our human nature?
  • Is the ‘humility’ an antidote to this?
  • Do you agree that the primacy Murdoch gives to humility is warranted, when compared to concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘courage’?
  • Is humility the hardest of all Virtues to attain? If so, why?
  • To what extent are all virtues unified by the concept of the good?
  • As Karl Popper and A.J Ayer turn in their graves – I gleefully ask, what do you think we are hoping to gain, as philosophers, from these kinds of discussions?
4. Iris Murdoch: Letters to Philippa Foot

Currently in the process of gaining access to these transcriptions, in talks with Dr. Rowe and Dr. White –  regarding the Iris Murdoch Archive. If these transcriptions are not available by the time session 4 is set to occur, please move on to session 5.

I will keep you all updated on the whereabouts of these transcripts. There are over 300 letters collected and Achieved, you can search for them here: http://fass.kingston.ac.uk/research/iris-murdoch/collections/

A breakdown of date, who Murdoch was writing to and a brief description of the letters is provided. Please utilise the Achieves and Special Collections tool – instructions on how to use it are provided on the page linked above.

A brief look at the descriptions for the letters written from Murdoch to Foot is useful for the organiser to read; this provides some nice biographical knowledge to share with the group, as well as a good grounding for the transition from Murdoch to Foot.

If these transcripts are available/accessible – they will be emailed to the coordinators of the groups, and we can have a discussion about what to set as questions.

5. Philippa Foot: Approval & Disapproval

This passage also leads on nicely from the groundwork laid by Midgley’s ‘The Solitary Self’ and the ‘Self’ as a barrier talk, present in Murdoch’s the sovereignty of the good. Here Foot depicts moral approval as essentially social; this is the aspect of the work which the questions centre around. Members of the reading group are asked to consider what we can draw from Midgley’s work – in order to enable us to reflect better on the nature of moral approval; similarly, they are asked to consider whether or not there are any lessons, from this paper, which may be applicable to Murdoch’s work.

 

Questions

  • Why, in your opinion, do you believe that we are so tempted to suggest that moral approval consists in something more than simply social consensus derived from a need for cohesion?
  • To what extent, if any, can we say that introspection has its place in moral philosophy?
  • In the spirit of this paper, is it not more justifiable to suggest that hypothesising about the nature of morality, is best in some sense better left to fields such as anthropology?
  • What connections, if any, are there to be found between Foot’s essentially social depiction of morality, and Midgley’s rejection of the ‘selfish gene’?
  • To what extent can we attribute, both what Foot appears to see as misguided introspection, and what Midgley depicts as a misuse of Darwinism – to the same underlying cause?
  • In what sense, if any, can moral approval be seen to fit into a recognition of ‘the good’ as Murdoch puts it?
  • To what extent, if any, does there appear to be a disagreement in the works of Murdoch and Foot here?
  • ‘It is an important fact about morality that we are able to bring pressure to bear against those who reject it’. What do you understand Foot to be implying here?
  • To what extent, if any, are the ‘common good’ and the ‘liberty of the individual’ two ‘separate goods’? Are they in conflict with one another at any point?
  • Are the notions of ‘approval’ and ‘disapproval’ all that distinct from what we call ‘morality’? Why?
6. Philippa Foot: Free Will & Determinism

The reading for this session has deliberately been kept short, in order to coincide with a summative essay season here; as mentioned above however, organisers of the group are at liberty to set as much or as little of the paper as they would like. The section chosen, suffices for the discussion questions listed below, which have been deliberately designed not to rely too heavily on the intricacies of the text. But nevertheless explore Foot’s central issues.

In keeping with the trend of the reading group (individual and collective) thus far, this paper focuses on the individual; the contention between free will and determinism are explored. Foot argues that the versions of compatibilist reconciliations which she presents throughout the paper, do not suffice as solutions to the free will problem. The abstract taken focuses on Ayer’s and Hume’s accounts. As always, it is advisable the organiser of the group read the whole text, if they do decide to go with the abstract selected.

 

Questions

  • Define Cause.
  • To what extent, if any, can one argue that insufficient information can lead to ‘accidentally’ choosing to do something?
  • What account of Free Will does Foot appear to be expounding here?
  • What are the real world applications of Foot’s rejection of Ayer’s account of free will?
  • In terms of the judiciary system – it is fair to say that there is a direct correlation between our attitudes towards free will and our attitudes towards state legislated punishment?
  • If we support Ayer’s account – no free will without determinism – what does this do to our idea of justice?
  • Is free will a product of other virtues? For example, wisdom or humility?
  • To what extent is the notion of ‘freedom’ a confusing ideal onto itself?
  • Do you think that it would make the world a better place to adopt Ayer’s account of Free Will?
  • How convincing was Foot’s rejection of Ayer’s account?
  • To what extent is our concept of ‘free will’ determined by social consensus?
  • Does this inhibit our talk of ‘free will’?
  • If there is a ‘selfish gene’ are we then all absolved from our selfish actions?
7. Anscombe & The First Person

This session takes a small passage from Anscombe’s essay and aims to cover it in depth; the full reading will be provided for all members of the group – but they are asked to pay particular attention to the one paragraph listed above. The questions set for this session centre around, Descartes philosophical legacy and the ‘real-world’ applications of Anscombe’s work here.

This follows nicely on from the discussion set previously on freewill; the questions set here also aim to tie together all set readings throughout the sessions, as this will be the second to last session for the group.

 

Questions

  • How convinced are you that there is such a distinction between self-consciousness and consciousness?
  • Is the ‘self’ an illusion? If so, in what sense?
  • What is Descartes most prominent philosophical legacy, and where is this most apparent?
  • Anscombe a dedicated student and friend of Wittgenstein’s, has credited him for being so influential; to what extent is this rejection of the ‘self’ a Wittgensteinian notion?
  • What are the implications for this kind of first-person talk with regards to issues such as gender dysphoria, and issues of identity generally speaking?
  • Can you think of any other ways in which this kind of first-person talk leads us astray?
  • How do you think our view of the ‘self’ impacts our perception of what constitutes free will?
  • To what extent, if any, do you believe that this ‘illusionary subject’ impacts our sense of individualism?
  • In what sense can ‘I’ be said to possess any virtues? If we make this distinction between self-consciousness and consciousness?
  • Are there any implications, negative or positive, for this grammatical illusion and rates of mental illness?
8. ‘The Old Man’ and some biographical tales of these remarkable women

The reading for this session has deliberately been kept short, in order to coincide with a summative essay season here; as mentioned above however, organisers of the group are at liberty to set as much or as little of the paper as they would like. The section chosen, suffices for the discussion questions listed below, which have been deliberately designed not to rely too heavily on the intricacies of the text. But nevertheless explore Foot’s central issues.

In keeping with the trend of the reading group (individual and collective) thus far, this paper focuses on the individual; the contention between free will and determinism are explored. Foot argues that the versions of compatibilist reconciliations which she presents throughout the paper, do not suffice as solutions to the free will problem. The abstract taken focuses on Ayer’s and Hume’s accounts. As always, it is advisable the organiser of the group read the whole text, if they do decide to go with the abstract selected.

 

Questions

  • Define Cause.
  • To what extent, if any, can one argue that insufficient information can lead to ‘accidentally’ choosing to do something?
  • What account of Free Will does Foot appear to be expounding here?
  • What are the real world applications of Foot’s rejection of Ayer’s account of free will?
  • In terms of the judiciary system – it is fair to say that there is a direct correlation between our attitudes towards free will and our attitudes towards state legislated punishment?
  • If we support Ayer’s account – no free will without determinism – what does this do to our idea of justice?
  • Is free will a product of other virtues? For example, wisdom or humility?
  • To what extent is the notion of ‘freedom’ a confusing ideal onto itself?
  • Do you think that it would make the world a better place to adopt Ayer’s account of Free Will?
  • How convincing was Foot’s rejection of Ayer’s account?
  • To what extent is our concept of ‘free will’ determined by social consensus?
  • Does this inhibit our talk of ‘free will’?
  • If there is a ‘selfish gene’ are we then all absolved from our selfish actions?