Are sexist, racist, homophobic or other forms of widespread prejudice always a matter of conscious beliefs? In the UK, ever since the trial of the men suspected of killing Stephen Lawrence, the idea of ‘institutional racism’ has been part of public discourse. The idea that racism – the systematic disadvantaging of people based on the colour of their skin or other markers – could be ‘written in’ to institutional practices and rules was hard for some to accept. There is also a substantial body of psychological research, however, to suggest that systematic biases of one kind or another – sexist, racist, homophobic, ‘fattist’ – can exist at the level of preconscious beliefs.
The topic of implicit bias was the subject of last night’s Cardiff Philosophy Café, with a discussion led by Dr Jonathan Webber (Philosophy, Cardiff University). Implicit bias, in Jon’s view, is a topic on which psychological research sheds interesting light, without necessarily allowing us to fully understand all its implications. To do this, a little philosophy is needed, which for Jon means the thought of key figures associated with French Existentialism, namely Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon.
English: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at Balzac Memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Experiments show that someone’s behaviour can manifest racist or sexist attitudes that they don’t agree with. This is a hot topic right now. How does it happen? What can be done about it? We will consider the contributions that two existentialist philosophers, Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon, can make to understanding this ‘implicit bias’. Their thoughts will help us to see that these experiments may only be picking up one feature of a broader problem.
Join Dr Jonathan Webber (Philosophy, Cardiff University) to discuss the contemporary significance of existentialism on Tuesday 21 June, from 8.00pm at The Gate.
In the meantime, watch Jon talk about central themes from his new book on existentialism for the 21st century.
Elements of genetic engineering (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here in the UK, it’s now 13 years since the GM Nation debate created a highly charged atmosphere around the use of genetic modification in food crops. Since then, the prospect of climate change coupled with its likely effect on food insecurity in many regions of the global South has placed questions about the social acceptability of GM crops in a new context. On Tuesday 17 May, Dr Hilary Rogers (Cardiff University, Biological Sciences) and Karolina Rucinska (Cardiff University, Geography and Planning) surveyed the current state of play in relation to GM crops, and the persistent ethical questions that surround them.
Elements of genetic engineering (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here in the UK, it’s now 13 years since the GM Nation debate created a highly charged atmosphere around the use of genetic modification in food crops. Since then, the prospect of climate change coupled with its likely effect on food insecurity in many regions of the global South has placed questions about the social acceptability of GM crops in a new context. In this Café, Dr Hilary Rogers (Cardiff University, Biological Sciences) and Karolina Rucinska (Cardiff University, Geography and Planning) introduce a discussion on the issues that now circulate around GM. What is the current thinking on the benefits and risks that GM crops may hold for industrialised countries, on the one hand, and for agricultural developing countries on the other? Has GM technology changed the way we think about agriculture and the causes of hunger? What are the ethical issues surrounding consumer choice?
Join us to explore these and other questions at The Gate on Tuesday 17 May from 8.00pm.
In the meantime, here’s an opinion piece on why the issues on which public debates on GM crops often focus are the wrong issues. Are public discussions of GM often just repetitions of opposing myths?
Here’s US TV host Jimmy Kimmel getting some vox pops:
And here’s Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark’s take…
You can also take our poll, below. Do you think GM crops might have a role to play in the future of agriculture? It’d be great if you could comment on why you voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (or maybe why you’re not sure one way or the other) using either the blog comments box below, or if you’re on Facebook, you can use the FB comments function.
What is love? A question that we have all asked and will no doubt ask again – and a pre-occupation of Western and Eastern Philosophy fo rmillennia.
One of the difficulties with understanding what love means is that it seems to mean lots of different things. Humans experience attraction to and intimacy with others in various shapes and forms. Aristotle recognised this, distinguishing between agape (unconditional love, associated with the highest form of spiritual belonging) from eros (romantic and serial love) and also from philia (close friendship or ‘brotherly love’). These ideas might seem old hat, but these concepts – together with other types of love defined by Plato – can help us to better understand the nature of love and how we express it towards ourselves and family, towards other ‘significant others’, and contribute to our communities. How do the ways in which we understandromantic, family and unconditional love in the contemporary world relate to these philosophical definitions and qualities?
Join coach Lana Morris and Reiki practitioner Steve Carroll to explore the meaning of love on Tuesday March 22, from 8.00pm at the Gate.
In the meantime, why not watch this video and take our poll below?
"Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), unnaturally stretched." Size: 4.9 x 5.5 in² (12.4 x 13.9 cm²) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Does ‘being human’ rest on a particular set of capacities we possess but animals do not? And if it does, do this capacities somehow make us better – more valuable? – than non-human animals? These questions and others were discussed at last night’s CPC, led by Dr Chris Groves. The possession of language, the capacity to use formal systems of thought (reason in a broad sense, including mathematics and scientific methods), but also the ability to feel sympathy and compassion, are just some examples of the capabilities that have been put forward as part of the defining essence of human beings.
Faroe stamp 430 The First Human Beings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Traditions of Western and Eastern philosophy have long puzzled over the question of what makes human beings different from other living beings. Religious doctrines offer up concepts of the soul and capacities for moral choice as distinguishing features. Rationality, the capacity to choose one’s ends, language, social complexity, the ability to make art from poetry to music, the ability to grieve – philosophers have offered all of these and more as evidence of a qualitative difference between the kinds of beings that humans are, and all other living things. But scientific research on the one hand, and technological advances on the other, have undermined these kinds of distinctions. Elephants that appear to mourn their dead; gorillas that learn sign language and paint; birds that create sculptures; complex social structures among primates, cetaceans and other creatures; artificial intelligences from Deep Blue to Siri.
Our understanding of our place in the world has changed significantly over the last couple of centuries. So can we be confident any more about what makes us distinctively human?
Join Dr Chris Groves from Cardiff University to debate these issues next Tuesday, 19 January 2016, at the Gate from 8pm.
This Cafe introduces a new programme of events for this year, looking at a range of topics: genetically modified food and food security, existentialism, love, mindfulness with/without Buddhism, empathy, equality, assisted dying, art and urban regeneration, and authenticity. Sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date!
Ahead of this month’s topic, why not take a look at this TED talk from zeFrank…
…this film from Yann-Arthus Bertrand….
…and respond to our poll below. Are there really significant differences between humans and animals? Which of these viewpoints is closest to your own? You can add comments below explaining your choice.
View from Martin Heidegger's mountain hut over Todtnau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What is the relationship between philosophy and poetry? Philosophers have often taken inspiration for their analytic work from poetic language – as in the case of Martin Heidegger ‘s appreciation for Georg Trakl or Friedrich Hölderlin. Poets have sometimes returned the favour, as in the case of Coleridge’s reading of Friedrich Schelling. Sometimes, poets have mocked philosophers for their pretentions to absolute knowledge, from Aristophanes to William Carlos Williams. Rarer are efforts by philosophers to write poetry, and rarer still attempts to philosophize through the medium of poetry. last night, Prof. Christopher Norris from the Philosophy Department at Cardiff University presented and discussed examples of his own efforts to explore philosophical themes through poetic writing. The title of the session comes from a project on which has been working for around five years, producing individual poems that deal with the work of specific modern philosophers.
Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many philosophers have also written about poetry. Some philosophers have also been poets. Next week at Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, we’re lucky to have joining us Prof. Christopher Norris (Philosophy, Cardiff University) to give us some examples of how the two can be melded. In this year’s Christmas Cafe, Prof. Norris offers us a series of villanelles which take off from the ideas of various theorists and philosophers (Descartes, Leibniz, Heidegger, Lacan, Althusser, Derrida, Deleuze, Badiou, Agamben) and then move out to address larger matters of life and love.
As usual, we’re in the Cafe bar at The Gate from 8.00 pm, on Tuesday 15 December. Hope to see you there!