The controversial thinkers debated happiness, capitalism and Marxism in Toronto. It was billed as a meeting of titans – and that it was not. But it did reveal one telling commonality
The event was billed as “the debate of the century”, “The Rumble in the Realm of the Mind”, and it did have the feel of a heavyweight boxing match: Jordan Peterson, local boy, against the slapdash Slovenian Slavoj Žižek, considering “Happiness: Capitalism vs Marxism” in Toronto.
Peterson, in his opening remarks, noted that scalped tickets were selling at higher prices than the Maple Leafs playoff game happening on the other side of town. He couldn’t believe it. Who could?
The French people’s impulse to share responsibility for the disaster shows individualism is less entrenched than we think
It’s easy to understand the grief that the French people are feeling in the wake of the devastation of Notre Dame. More puzzling is the sense of shame that the Guardian’s Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis highlighted in her report. “On our watch we let it burn,” she quotes an older woman in tears saying.
This sentiment was echoed in Jonathan Miller’s Spectator blog in which he wrote, “There is also a shame to this. How could this have happened? Isn’t France better than this?” Both Chrisafis and Miller have lived in France for years and are reporting from the ground. The shame they have identified seems real.
There are many who instinctively understand when any society goes wrong its members have to share the responsibility
Jeff Smith and Stephen Douglas discuss the controversy surrounding Suella Braverman and antisemitism, and Shelagh Garvey defends the Rotary Club
The Guardian should not refer to “the antisemitic term ‘cultural Marxism’” as if that were a settled fact (Tory in antisemitism row, 27 March). Suella Braverman can explain for herself what she meant by it – the article does not give her exact quote – but “cultural Marxism” was in common use in British and American humanities departments in the 1980s and 1990s, not for anything conspiratorial but merely as a term for a certain approach to what is still called “cultural studies”.
Numerous examples of that usage can be found by searching the phrase on the academic database Jstor. For instance, Ioan Davies’s history of “British cultural Marxism” in the spring 1991 issue of the International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society. The term also appears in this academic context in The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory, published in 2004 by Cambridge University Press. If it has since been seized upon by the alt-right, that is very unfortunate, and any antisemitic use or implication should be condemned. But it already existed long before that as a term for an academic enterprise that was, if anything, often rather abstruse, even boring. Jeff Smith Brno, Czech Republic
Her ambition was harnessed to a kind of patriotism and an ideal of serving society that is much less widely believed in today
In many ways Mary Warnock, whose death was announced on Thursday, represented the best of Britain’s ruling class as it was between the war and the rise of Margaret Thatcher.
The kind of tough-minded, realistic and self-confident liberalism that she embodied was once a quality that foreigners admired in Britain. It was elitist and not particularly democratic: she and her husband rose to the very top of the Oxbridge system, he as vice-chancellor of Oxford University, she as the head of colleges in both universities. When I went to see her in her semi-retirement, in a village on the edge of Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, she was unashamed about collecting her attendance allowance from the House of Lords. She needed the money, she said, and she earned it – she did the work.
Moral philosopher who headed the inquiry into embryo research and surrogate motherhood
The philosopher Mary Warnock, who has died aged 94, is most remembered for chairing the committee of inquiry into human fertilisation that laid down guidelines on embryo research and surrogate motherhood. She was never “a real blood-and-bones philosopher”, she said, or “much good” at the subject, and her books she principally wrote for money.
She recalled her dismay at the insistence by her fellow philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe that there should be at least one philosophical problem that she found agonising. She did not. Brisk, shrewd and energetic in all she did, she considered philosophy useful in analysing the practical issues debated on the numerous committees and commissions she chaired or sat on.
These hard-won and fragile privileges can be too easily taken away from us all
‘The right to have rights.” It’s 70 years since the philosopher Hannah Arendt coined that luminous phrase in an essay in the American socialist journal Modern Review. Two years later, Arendt developed the idea into a chapter in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism.
It’s an idea that has largely been ignored since, though scholars have begun discussing it more in recent years. However, it’s a concept as important today as it was 70 years ago. In talking of “the right to have rights”, Arendt speaks to many contemporary debates, from the migrant crisis to the question of whether terrorist returnees, such as Shamima Begum, should have their citizenship revoked.
Humans, Hannah Arendt pointed out, acquire rights only as part of a political community
Rights become meaningless unless we constantly engage in struggles to defend those rights
My father, Keith Dixon, who has died aged 86, was a professor of philosophy and sociology. His academic career in Britain and Canada was sparked by a youthful engagement with the philosophy of science as he worked his way up from being a laboratory assistant at ICI to becoming an accomplished teacher and writer.
Born in Ilford, Essex, he was the son of Florence (nee Sturgess), who had been a professional singer and in later life became a school administrator, and Frederick Dixon, a manager in a photographic firm.
Shame on those scientists who are unwilling to embrace the importance of philosophers
Last week it was revealed that Edinburgh University’s David Purdie had discovered a letter from Albert Einstein in which the great scientist notes the importance of 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume in developing his theory of special relativity.
Without having reading Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, Einstein wrote: “I cannot say that the solution would have come.”
Forcing universities to compete with each other is a bad idea. What we need is a Teaching Happiness Framework
In The Methods of Ethics, a book read only by philosophers with an overdeveloped sense of duty, the late Victorian utilitarian moralist Henry Sidgwick argued that other philosophers of his day were wrong to believe that human beings act only for the sake of their own happiness or pleasure. There is a second spring of human action, he argues: the pursuit of excellence. A poet, a philosopher, or a sportsperson working obsessively may hope to be happy, but, more likely, what matters to them most is what they can achieve.
Sidgwick’s work faded from fashion soon after his death in 1900. At Cambridge University, where he had been professor, he became a symbol of times past. The young Bertrand Russell and his fellows referred to him as Old Sidg. But his fortunes revived in the 1980s, and he is being read by undergraduates again. I don’t know if the current generation of university regulators ever studied him, but, if so, they have only remembered half of what he taught. We have the Research Excellence Framework, and the Teaching Excellence Framework. Where is the Research Happiness Framework, or the Teaching Happiness Framework?