Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Fib That The Tories Are Now Economically Left

uk politics, politics, election, Conservative Party, Tory

The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, “cui bono?” (“To whose benefit?”)’ Cicero

In my opinion one of the best lenses through which to try to understand political party policy – including Tory policy – is the cui bono test. I wrote about this before here. Political rhetoric is one thing. But if you want to understand what the real agenda is, try asking ‘cui bono?’

It is hard, if not impossible, to find any economic or economy-impacting policy of the Tory Party that does not have the consequence that it benefits the very wealthy (top 1%) and big business. These are the same people who also contribute very significantly to Tory Party coffers, of course.

So consider the recent suggestion that Theresa May is now left leaning economically because she has recently said she rejects ‘the cult of selfish individualism’ and accepts that untrammelled free markets don’t necessarily deliver. That May is now economically left-leaning is a line that’s now even being repeated and endorsed by folk at The Guardian. The BBC says that May is now ‘targeting mainstream Britain‘...

Continues here at Conatus News.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eulogy for my Dad, Bill Law


I thought I'd say something about my Dad's legacy and his influence on me.

He was a huge influence on me, not because he pushed me in any particular direction, but because he encouraged me to expand my horizons and find my own direction.

Even when I took some spectacularly wrong turns in life - and I really did - both my Mum and Dad were nothing but supportive and encouraging.

Dad could be difficult. But he was also warm, witty, and genuine. Dad was interested in other people - in how their lives went. He loved reading biographies. But above all Dad was interested in the potential of young people - in how their lives could go.

The potential of the young always fascinated Dad, and he devoted his life to bringing it out.

Dad had great intellectual honesty and integrity. He was willing to follow where he believed reason led, rather than use reason to try to justify going to some destination he'd already settled on.

Perhaps the most spectacular illustration of this involves religion.

Dad started out his adult life as a very religious man - he went to Bible College intending to be a religious minister - but he actually thought his way out of religious belief. Here we are at a humanist funeral, at his request.

Friday, May 12, 2017

I am speaking at Conference on Religion and Atheism - at Heythrop 14 June




09.30 Arrivals/Coffee

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A 'cumulative case' for the existence of God? No.

Many Theists (believers in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God)  try to make a 'cumulative case' for the existence of their God. However, what they call a 'cumulative case' is often misleadingly described as such.

A cumulative case can be a powerful thing. You often find cumulative cases in a court of law. Suppose Jones is accused of murdering Smith. The prosecution might offer a whole string of arguments for Jones guilt: Jones' lack of an alibi, Jones' opportunity, Jones' clear motive, fibres from Jones' clothing otherwise inexplicably found at the crime scene, an eyewitness of Jones committing the murder, Jones' admission of the crime to a cell mate, and so on.

The real strength of such a cumulative case is this: while any one component argument or piece of evidence for Jones' guilt might turn out to be no good, what remains can still be more than sufficient to convict him. Even if the defence can show, for example, that Jones' admission to his cellmate was faked, the other evidence in combination might still be more than enough to put Jones behind bars.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Why do religious believers and non-believers see one another as irrational?

Why do religious believers and non-believers see one another as irrational?
Stephen Law

How reasonable is it for the religious to believe the central tenets of their respective religions? According to many atheists: not very. Atheists usually suppose it is in each case unreasonable for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahá'ís, Quakers, Mormons, Scientologists, and so on to believe what they do.

The religious person usually takes a different view of at least their own religious belief. They suppose science and reason do not significantly undermine, and may indeed support, the core tenets of their own faith. The same is true of non-religious theists. They consider their brand of theism is reasonably, or at least not unreasonably, held even if no particular religion is. Indeed, many consider atheism unreasonable.

Even when participants in discussions between atheists on the one hand and defenders of some variety of religious or theistic belief on the other include intelligent, philosophically sophisticated and well-informed people striving to think carefully and objectively, they still often arrive at strikingly different conclusions regarding the reasonableness of their respective beliefs. Consider this hypothetical discussion between Peter and Ada, which I take to represent fairly standard views on either side.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I present BELIEVING BULLSHIT at Oxford Literary festival Fri 31st march at 12.00 Tickets available here.
Image result for believing bullshit

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

So you think I'm like Alain de Botton?

Alain de Botton.jpg 

It was just suggested to me that I am 'similar to Alain de Botton' on philosophy. I do hope not. Not that ADB's not a lovely chap - he is (we've met: he's likeable and charming) - but I disagree with him pretty fundamentally about the value of philosophy.

I was reminded of this review I wrote of Alain De Botton's book The Consolations of Philosophy.

 Review: Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton

This review was published in The Mail on Sunday, back in 2000. (Was I too harsh?)

Broken heart? Take some Schopenhauer. Frustrated? Try a little Seneca. Money-worries? Epicurus can help. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Alain De Botton takes a novel approach to popularizing philosophy, explaining how six different philosophers can help us in six of life’s darker moments. Consolations is tied to a new six-part Channel 4 TV series Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, also written by De Botton. Given the hype and the link to a TV series, the book is likely to be a best seller. But how good an introduction to philosophy is it?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pressing Your Buttons - chpt from my book Believing Bullshit 


One way in which we can shape the beliefs of others is by rational persuasion. Suppose, for example, that I want someone to believe that Buckingham Palace is in London (which it is). I could provide them with a great deal of evidence to support that belief. I could also just take them to London so they can see with their own eyes that that’s where Buckingham Palace is located.

But what if these kinds of method aren’t available? Suppose I have little or no evidence to support the belief I nevertheless want people to accept. Suppose I can’t just show them that it’s true. How else might I get them to believe?

I might try to dupe them, of course. I could produce fraudulent evidence and bogus arguments. But what if I suspect this won’t be enough? What if I think my deceit is likely to be detected? Another option is to drop even the pretence of rational persuasion and to adopt what I call Pressing your Buttons.

Belief-shaping mechanisms

All sorts of causal mechanisms can be used to shape belief. For example, our beliefs are shaped by social and psychological mechanisms such as peer pressure and a desire to conform. Finding ourselves believing something of which our community disapproves is a deeply uncomfortable experience, an experience that may lead us unconsciously to tailor what we believe so that we remain in step with them. We’re far more susceptible to such social pressures than we like to believe (as several famous psychological studies have shown[i]).

Sunday, January 15, 2017



(This is a prepublication draft - it's forthcoming in Univ. Chicago Press volume Science Unlimited (eds. Pigliucci and Boudry).

The term 'scientism' is applied to a variety of positions about science. One is the view that the only legitimate questions about reality are those answerable by science. Another is that, to the extent that anything can be known about reality, science alone is capable of providing that knowledge. Critics of religious, New Age, spiritualist, and other, popular forms of divine or supernatural belief are often accused of scientism by their proponents. The accusation typically involves the thought that critics have crossed a line or boundary demarcating those topics or subjects that are the proper province of science, and those that are beyond its capacity to adjudicate. The accused are often found guilty of hubris, of an arrogant failure to recognize that there are 'more things in heaven and Earth' than are dreamt of in their science, of supposing science is best placed to answer questions that, in reality, can only be answered by employing other disciplines, forms of inquiry, or 'ways of knowing'. Within discussion of religious, spiritual, New Age, and popular divine or supernatural beliefs, this boundary marking the 'limits of science' almost always plays an immunizing role: to explain why science constitutes no threat to such beliefs. 'You scientists', say the believers, 'may come this far, but no further.'