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Live Event: Imagined Journeys: Pilgrimage, Diplomacy, and Colonialism in Medieval Europe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 9:22pm in


history, Religion

TORCH Goes Digital! presents a series of weekly live events Big Tent - Live Events!. Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. Join us to discuss Imagined Journeys: Pilgrimage, Diplomacy, and Colonialism in Medieval Europe - Professor Marion Turner (Faculty of English) in Conversation with writer Matthew Kneale.

In this event, Marion and Matthew discuss their recent books – Matthew’s novel, Pilgrims, and Marion’s biography, Chaucer: A European Life – both of which focus on medieval journeys across Europe. They will discuss different aspects of medieval travel – ranging from colonialism in Wales to the expulsion of the Jews from England, from diplomacy and cultural exchange to pilgrimage, both real and imagined. One of the issues underpinning their work, and this conversation, is the question of what it means to be English and what it means to be European – both then and now.


Professor Marion Turner, Tutorial Fellow of Jesus College and Associate Professor of English, University of Oxford

Marion Turner works on late medieval literature and culture, focusing especially on Geoffrey Chaucer. Her most recent book, Chaucer: A European Life (Princeton, 2019) argues for the importance of placing Chaucer in multilingual and international contexts, tracing his journeys across Europe and his immersion in global trade routes and exchanges. It was named as a book of the year 2019 by the Times, the Sunday Times, and the TLS, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2020.

‘An absolute triumph’ A.N. Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

‘A quite exceptional biography,’ Wolfson History Prize judges

Matthew Kneale

Matthew Kneale was born in London in 1960, the son of two writers and the grandson of two others. His father, Nigel Kneale, was a screenwriter for film and television, best known for the ‘Quatermass’ series. Matthew’s mother, Judith Kerr, was the author and illustrator of children’s books including ‘The tiger who came to tea’ and ‘Mog the forgetful cat’ while she has also written three autobiographical novels, beginning with ‘When Hitler stole pink rabbit’.

From his earliest years Matthew was fascinated by different worlds, both contemporary and from the past. After studying at Latymer Upper School, London, he read Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. During his university years he began travelling, seeing diverse cultures at first hand, in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Matthew's books include: Whore Banquets, Inside Rose’s Kingdom, Sweet Thames, English Passengers, Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, When we were Romans and An Atheist’s History of Belief. Matthew's current novel, Pilgrims, explores medieval life, shaped by religious laws as well as personal battles and follows a fascinating cast of characters on a journey from England to Rome.

When not writing Kneale enjoys to travel and has visited some eighty countries and seven continents. He is also fascinated with languages, trying his hand at learning a number, from Italian, Spanish, German and French to Romanian and Amharic Ethiopian. Matthew currently lives in Rome with his wife, Shannon, and their two children, Alexander and Tatiana.

Last Call for White Supremacy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 5:37am in


Politics, Religion

Photo credit: vector_brothers ( Neither a Biden nor a Trump victory on November 3rd is likely to calm America’s political...

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Religious change..

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 10:13pm in

Rishi Sunak is supposed to be a ‘proud Hindu’, but that unfortunately, is not his only religion. We are often now told we have to strike a balance between the economy and controlling the pandemic – it is supposed to be either the economy or health, as though the economy is as much a natural... Read more

On the Epicurean Conception of Gravity, and Newton

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/10/2020 - 10:52pm in

[T]here is a second aspect of Newton’s thought that is relevant: there are numerous instances in which both Newton and his followers reject action at a distance in strong terms. Newton’s apparent rejection of distant action in the correspondence with Bentley has been subject to considerable debate, but Newton makes similar points elsewhere, even in unpublished works that cannot be read as involving a hedging of his bets. For instance, in the unpublished corollaries to propositions 4 through 9 of Book III to the Principia, written in the early 1690s, when Newton thought a second edition of his text might appear, he writes:

For two planets separated from each other by a long empty [vacui] distance do not attract each other by any force of gravity or act on each other in any way except by the mediation of some active principle [movente principio] interceding between them by which the force is transmitted from one to the other.[1]

Unlike the Bentley correspondence, this is a direct expression of Newton’s own understanding of gravity, one that is entirely independent of the questions about Newton’s views of the essence of matter and his attempts to distance himself (perhaps) from what were then called “Epicurean” conceptions of atoms in the void (cf. Henry, 2011). There cannot be a clearer statement of his views: two planets do not act on each other in any way except through some mediating item.--Andrew Janiak (2013) "Three concepts of causation in Newton." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44.3 (2013): 403

As regular readers may recall, I am one of Janiak's targets in context.* And I have to admit that when I first read Janiak's paper I thought his evidence was so strong that I had to concede that after the publication of the Principia, Newton did not return to the position that I attributed to him (here; here) based on my reading of the posthumously published Treatise of the System of the World, an early version of what became book III of the Principia.

But before I was going to throw in the towel, I wanted to check out the wider context of the passage quoted by Janiak. It reads as follows:

The Epicureans making a distinction of the whole of nature into body and void, denied the existence of God, but very absurdly. For two planets separated from each other by a great expanse of void do not mutually attract each other by any force of gravity or act on each other in any way except by the mediation of some active principle that stands between them by means of which force is propagated from one to the other. [According to the opinion of the ancients, this medium was not corporeal since they held that all bodies by their very natures were heavy and that atoms themselves fall through empty space toward the earth by the eternal force of their nature without being pushed by other bodies.] Therefore the ancients who grasped the mystical philosophy as Thales and the Stoics more correctly taught that a certain infinite spirit pervades all space, and contains and vivifies the entire world; and this supreme spirit was their numen; according to the poet cited by the Apostle: In him we live and move and have our being. Hence the omnipresent God is recognized, and by the Jews is called 'place'. To the mystical philosophers, however, Pan was that supreme numen...By this symbol, the philosophers taught that matter is moved in that infinite spirit and by it is driven, not at random, but harmonically, or according to the harmonic proportions as I have just explained.[2]

As McGuire notes (1968: 169), the manuscript probably dates from the mid-1690s when Newton became eager to situate his own work in light of ancient epicureanism. (I have tried to explain why this would be so here.) Here the mediating active principle just is the Stoic world soul, which appears to be an electric spirit of some sort. So, at first glance the wider context seems to support Janiak’s position.

And before I address the position, I have to note a complication. A very natural reading of the General Scholium, which was drafted a decade or two later, of the Principia is that he denies that God is a world soul (Newton 1999: 940; recall last week's discussion.) Rudolf De Smet & Karin Verelst have convincingly argued that here (and in a few other places of the General Scholium) Newton is echoing Lipsius's attack, inspired by Philo, on the old stoic notion  of anima mundi. So, we are by no means required to accept this manuscript as authoritative expression of Newton’s all-things-considered views. But because I have expressed some doubts that Newton really does reject the world soul altogether, this move is not entirely open to me.

However, and more controversially, I now think Janiak was wrong to think that the manuscript offers "a direct expression of Newton’s own understanding of gravity, one that is entirely independent of the questions about Newton’s views of the essence of matter and his attempts to distance himself (perhaps) from what were then called “Epicurean” conceptions of atoms in the void." In fact, now I deny that we are supposed to treat the key sentence – “For two planets separated from each other by a great expanse of void do not mutually attract each other by any force of gravity” – as really expressing Newton’s own position. For, he could be expressing the Epicurean position here. In fact, I think it is a natural reading of Epicurus' physics as expressed in the "Letter to Herodotus" reproduced in Book X of Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers.  

Epicurean gravity is directed down to a privileged place (Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus, section 61). And this is so in infinite worlds (section 45). In a void atoms, which constitute bodies, do not interfere with each other unless they accidently deflect each other from their path (Epicurus, Letter to Herodutus, section 44). So, in Epicurean cosmology, the atoms on a planet move down, barring deflection and the swerve, and planets do not attract each other. So, a natural way to read the Epicureans is that two planets separated from each other by a great expanse of void do not “mutually attract each other by any force of gravity.” The atoms that constitute such planets have a tendency to press toward the center of each planet. But there is no reason to think they attract each other across the void. 

So, if one is antecedently convinced that Newton rejects the possibility of action at a distance, then, indeed taken in isolation --- "for two planets separated from each other by a great expanse of void do not mutually attract each other by any force of gravity or act on each other in any way except by the mediation of some active principle that stands between them by means of which force is propagated from one to the other" -- seems like a smoking gun. But the sentence before it and the sentence after it discuss ancient theories. In fact, the following sentence ("bodies by their very natures were heavy and that atoms themselves fall through empty space toward the earth by the eternal force of their nature without being pushed by other bodies") just conveys the Epicurean position. 

So, a natural reading of the first three sentences of the manuscript is as a description of a debate between Epicurean atheists and ancient (mystical-theist) critics. And I am willing to believe that Newton agreed with the critics that the Epicurean position was absurd. Not just because the Epicureans could be taken to deny God's existence, but also because Newton himself has established that Jupiter and Saturn did influence each other (Principia, Book III, Proposition 18, Theorem 18; Newton 1999: 818)



[1] In the accompanying note Janiak cites it as follows: “unpublished manuscript, University Library Cambridge, Add. MS 3965.6, f.269; quoted in Casini (1984, 38)”

[2] I have consulted Hylarie Kochiras ""Force, matter, and metaphysics in Newton's natural philosophy," 2008: 109 and McGuire (1968: 169).

Newton, Spinozism, and mind/body interaction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 10:40pm in



Every sentient soul, at different times and in different organs of senses and motions, is the same indivisible person. There are parts that are successive in duration and coexistent in space, but neither of these exist in the person of man or in his thinking principle, and much less in the thinking substance of God. Every man, insofar as he is a thing that has senses, is one and the same man throughout his lifetime in each and every organ of his senses. God is one and the same God always and everywhere. He is omnipresent not only virtually but also substantially, for active power [virtus] cannot subsist without substance. In him all things are contained and move, but he does not act on them nor they on him, experiences nothing from the motions of bodies; the bodies feel no resistance from God's omnipresence.---Newton, "General Scholium" Principia, translated by Cohen & Whitman (1999), 941-942

The first three sentences of the quoted paragraph were inserted into the  third (and final) edition of the Principia (while the rest was added to the second edition). They have become subject of intense scholarly scrutiny because of the light they might share on the constraints on any possible explanation of the cause of gravity. So, for example, my good friend Andrew Janiak thinks that in the quoted passage there is a hidden premise that 'a substance cannot act where it is not substantially present' and this reinforces his argument that Newton (always) rejects unmediated action at a distance (Hylarie Kochiras has also argued this; in context my work is one of their targets.) Here I want to bracket that debate (but will return at the very end to it), and reflect a bit on Newton's underlying metaphysics of mind and mind-body interaction.

In context, in the last sentence of the previous paragraph, Newton has just asserted that God is eternal and omnipresent ("will not be never or nowhere," (941)) And in the paragraph following the one just quoted he claims that "the supreme God necessarily exists, and by the same necessity he is always and everywhere." (942; emphasis in original) That is to say, Newton's God is immanent in the universe. Quite a few more remarks in the General Scholium suggest this.

And, in fact, as 'the same necessity' suggests Newton's God's relationship to space and time is very tight (I would say an internal relation). Rather than creating space and time, by an act of will, they exist when he exists in virtue of the same necessity. How to think of Newton's modal metaphysics here is no simple matter (and I have devoted some space to it recall here; here; here). In an early text, De Gravitatione, Newton had tried to characterize this relationship in terms of an emanation doctrine, and there, too, it signals that space and time are not created (or so I argue here).

It's crucial to Newton's general argument that space and time are not nothing or merely ideal or useful conventions. (In De Gravitatione he makes a point of emphasizing this. In the General Scholium it's treated as self-evident.) And it follows from this that there are structural features of the universe (space and time) that are as infinite and eternal as God is. My interest is in trying to characterize one of the relationships between sentience and this spatial-temporal structure.

Now, a few paragraphs before  Newton had explicitly denied, and he added a second denial to the third edition, that God is a world soul (940). But a natural reading of the quoted passage at the top is that God is sentient with a soul. (I return to this below.) And such ensouled sentience makes a person. But unlike say, in Descartes' metaphysics, Newtonian ensouled sentience can be spread out in space and time. Yet, like a Cartesian soul, such a Newtonian ensouled sentience does not, despite existing in space and time, itself have parts or is even divisible.

As an aside, my own view is that Newton is a substance monist. For Newton, a substance is a directed source of activity, that is an agent.* (Janiak and I agree about this. But we differ on the monism.) And that the only truly active agent in his metaphysics is God. I grant that Newton uses the plural 'substances' (942) in order to deny, in Lockean fashion, that we have knowledge of their essences (and even less of God's essence). But when he uses 'substances' he means it in the more innocent sense of a 'material entity' not an 'agent.' 

Now, an obvious way to make sense of the contours of Newton's position on ensouled sentience in the General Scholium is that he thinks sentience is a kind of emergent property of matter immanent in nature. And so Newton articulates a kind of property dualism.+ This works well for what he says about human persons. 

In fact, Newton returns to the question of ensouled sentience in his fascinating closing paragraph of the General Scholium:

A few things could now be added concerning a certain very subtle spirit pervading gross bodies and lying hidden in them; by its force and actions, the particles of bodies attract one another at very small distances and cohere when they become contiguous; and electrical [i.e., electrified] bodies act at greater distances, repelling as well as attracting neighboring corpuscles; and light is emitted, reflected, refracted, inflected, and heats bodies; and all sensation is excited, and the limbs of animals move at command of the will, namely, by the vibrations of this spirit being propagated through the solid fibers of the nerves from the external organs of the senses to the brain and from the brain into the muscles. But these things cannot be explained in a few words; furthermore, there is not a sufficient number of experiments to determine and demonstrate accurately the laws governing the actions of this spirit. (943-944)

As Dempsey has argued, building on I.B. Cohen's interpretation of some draft manuscripts while Newton was developing a response to Leibniz (published in 1715 Account), Newton explicitly refers to experiments done by Hauksbee. Here it looks like Newton is sketching how sentience itself is ground in a powerful, "very subtle spirit" that pervades bodies. In particular, the presence of this spirit helps explain the exciting of sensation in beings like us. Now ''spirit" is a fluid (we use it in that sense when we describe liquor as 'spirits'). And for Newton a kind of (subtle) matter. So, this fits with the emergentism I attribute to Newton. (To be sure, I agree with Stein (2002) and Dempsey that Newton viewed this as a research program because we simply know to little about the nature of mind--so my claim is not meant to be doctrinaire, although Newton is an adamant critic of some positions he rejects.)

In particular, Dempsey calls attention to a passage, "if this spirit may receive impressions from light and convey them into the sensiorium & there act upon that substance which sees & thinks, that substance may mutually act upon this spirit for causing animal motions’" (quoted by Cohen in Newton 1999: 282) I agree with Dempsey that Newton thinks this spirit is a key element in mental causation. But the most natural reading of the passage is, I think, that this subtle spirit is a mechanism by which mental causation takes place. It is not obvious that this spirit also helps constitute or ground the substance which sees and thinks.

Interestingly, Dempsey argues it is likely that Newton is "not here endorsing the independent existence of the mind, but rather is distinguishing it from the organs of sense and the brain. What is more, one straightforward explanation of the natural interaction of this spirit and the mind is precisely that the mind and the spirit with which it interacts are quite similar in nature." (Dempsey 2006: 438) And this fits very nicely with my own emergentist reading. But as I note this very monistic interpretation of Newton's metaphysics of mind is rather speculative.

In fact, I often read Newton in Spinozistic fashion in which God is the one and only substance. (This is, in fact, Clarke's position in 1704, which is what made him a juicy target for Leibniz.) And the universal quantifier in the first sentence of the quoted paragraph, seems to suggest that what Newton says about human minds must fit also God's mind: "Every sentient soul, at different times and in different organs of senses and motions, is the same indivisible person." And if this 'every' includes God, this suggest that God is not just immanent nature, but also material (e.g., "motions").

But I have always hesitated about this because in the General Scholium Newton rejects, as I noted above, the idea of God as a world soul and he writes shortly hereafter that God "totally lacks any body and corporeal shape" (942). So, I think it is not obvious that God's sentience is an emergent property of matter. For (a) God's sentience cannot be grounded in such matter, and (b) in various places, Newton seems to suggest that conceptually and temporally God precedes matter. (In the General Scholium that is not explicit, but it is a kind of implication of his claims about the designed nature of the visible universe.)  And so if this is right God's sentience and personhood is not ensouled. But something altogether mysterious.

The passage in which I take him to reject God as the world soul reads as follows:

But, in looking again  He rules all things, not as the world soul but as the lord of all. And because of his dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator. [Newton adds a note: 'that is, universal ruler.'] For "god" is a relative word and has reference to servants, and godhood is the lordship of God, not over his own body fas is supposed by those for whom God is the world soul, but over servants. (940)

Drawing on early work by Dobbs, Rudolf De Smet & Karin Verelst have convincingly argued that here (and in a few other places of the General Scholium) Newton is echoing Lipsius's attack, inspired by Philo, on the old stoic notion  of anima mundi. The effect of this Lipsian reading is that God remains immanent to nature, but is not ground in body. 

In re-reading the passage, it is not obvious to me anymore that Newton rejects conceiving God as the world soul as such. Rather, he is rejecting analyzing God's rule in terms of the world soul because it does not capture the hierarchical nature of God's dominion.

So, it is possible that Newton thinks God's sentience in the pervasive more subtle (electric) fluid/spirit. Even so, given that Newton is explicit that God "totally lacks any body and corporeal shape" (942). it seems unlikely that we're supposed to read Newton as claiming that God's sentience is ground in, and emergent of a, subtle electric (etc.) spirit.++ So, I don't think it is correct to treat God's sentience in terms of emergent properties (in the way, say, Spinoza's parallelism encourages).**  Even though Newton and Spinoza agree that thought is a something like an attribute of substance.

So, where does this leave us? First, rather than seeing Newton as relying on a principle of local action, he is articulating an account of the relationship between sentience and body. For human sentience this is ground in a kind of emergent quality of body, especially a subtle fluid. Second, God is immanent in nature, and features of his existence can be derived from the study of nature. Ordinarily,** bodies are not hindered by his presence, and "he does not act on them nor they on him." In so far as God does interact with the bodies and spirits in nature this is fundamentally mysterious, as mysterious as his substance. In fact, in a passage that echoes a skeptical trope in Locke, Newton really stresses the fact that we really have no epistemic access, not even analogical, to God's sentience.

he is all eye, all ear, all brain, all arm, all force of sensing, of understanding, and of acting, but in a way not at all human, in a way not at all corporeal, in a way utterly unknown to us. As a blind man has no idea of colors, so we have no idea of the ways in which the most wise God senses and understands all things. (942)

Third, rather than positing a principle of local action, Newton is developing an account of sentience that may be illuminated by experiments on electricity. But leaves us without any resources to make claims about God's agency.




*I use 'directed' to distinguish it from natural principles that are active, but have no self-directed teleological orientation in their activity.

+In a very paper, Geoff Gorham argues that an De Gravitatione all minds are "absolutely incorporeal and indivisible substances." And so that Newton is a kind of substance dualist (just not a Cartesian one). See my alternative here. Crucially, mind is necessary for, and co-extensive with, activities in the body and, simultaneously, body is intrinsically perceptible by minds. 

++Interestingly, this spirit may be the same spirit that Newton mentions at the end of the Principia proper (recall), where he discusses the role of comets in the cosmic economy, and which is a kind of life-giving source: "most subtle and most excellent part of our air, and which is required for the life of all things" (926). Cesare Pastorino has written very helpfully on this here.

**A famous passage in the queries to the Optics suggests to many that Newton thought God could intervene in restoring the planetary motions.

QAnon as a Byproduct of a Broken America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/09/2020 - 9:00pm in

Photo credit: Brandon Stivers / Shutterstock.com_____ QAnon is a conspiracy theory alleging that the current president of the United States,...

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Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.


It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.

Philosophy Canceled at Southwest Baptist University

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 11:43pm in

Is the administration at Southwest Baptist University (SBU) scared of philosophy?

SBU president Eric A. Turner and the school’s Board of Trustees have decided to end the philosophy program there, which was housed in the university’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry. This means eliminating all philosophy courses and refusing to renew the contract of their sole philosophy professor: Zach Manis, a tenured faculty member who has been with the institution for 16 years, and who will be leaving at the end of this one.

The university has not declared financial exigency.

The decisions appear to be tied to increasingly strict religious oversight of the school by the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), with which it is affiliated. A couple of years ago there was a case of what might be called “doctrinal espionage” at the school: apparently a professor of religion, Clint Bass, had for years been gathering “intelligence” on his colleagues’ supposed deviations from his own view of correct Baptist doctrine, which he then reported to the MBC in an attempt to get them fired. He himself was then fired by SBU, and this appears to have initiated further controversy over how the university should be run.

There’s commentary on all of this by Professor Manis, who was one of the targeted professors, here. He frames it as part of a dispute over the purpose of a Christian liberal arts education. On one side is the view that such an education should consist in “indoctrination”:

On the indoctrination model, a Christian education is one in which professors stand before a class, and present to the students a set of views (no doubt, the professor’s own theological opinions on matters great and small) as indisputable facts that the students shall accept, on the professor’s authority, and repeat back to him/her on an exam, perhaps as proof of the student’s fidelity to doctrinal purity as the professor understands it. 

On the other side is that such an education is about “equipping students to think for themselves about deep questions of enduring significance for their lives, including (especially) their faith”:

There is a great deal of lip-service paid to “critical thinking” these days, but the reality of actually trying to foster it in students requires that students be exposed to a wide variety of topics, ideas, controversies, and opposing views. It is not fostered by “teaching” students in the manner discussed above—the method of indoctrination. It is fostered by introducing students to questions, contemporary debates, philosophical and theological problems, etc. and helping them to appreciate what the issues are and why people may reasonably disagree about them. It goes on to consider arguments on both sides of an issue (in some cases, many sides), as well as counterarguments and critiques of each side. And it culminates in equipping students with a method by which they may evaluate these competing arguments for themselves, and to arrive at conclusions in a way that is careful, reasoned, well-informed, and capable of being rigorously defended, all while still appreciating the merits of an opposing viewpoint. This is not relativism, or subjectivism, or postmodernism, or any of the other boogeymen that haunt the imaginations of Christian fundamentalists. This is, quite simply, what it is to engage in critical thinking, and what it is to equip students to do the same.

The following passage foreshadows recent events:

My classes have always been, and will always be, for as long as I have the distinct privilege of being a professor at SBU, a safe place for students to explore ideas, and in particular ideas about important matters pertaining to the Christian faith. My classes will never be used as a platform for indoctrination—regardless of anyone’s preference or demands to the contrary. 

Earlier this month, the university announced it will be requiring all professors in its Redford College of Theology to affirm three new creedal statements if they wish to keep their jobs.

[Note: The original version of this post reported that Dr. Manis has been fired; he was not. Rather, the university is not renewing his contract.]

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Philosophy Professor Fired After Posting Song on YouTube

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 12:06am in

James Spiegel, a professor of philosophy at Taylor University, a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana, was fired from his position after posting a video to YouTube of him performing one of his songs, “Little Hitler,” sharing it on Facebook, and refusing to take it down when asked to do so by the college administration.

Spiegel had been a professor at the college for 27 years. According to Taylor University student paper The Echo, he was fired on August 24th. Reporter Sam Jones writes:

Spiegel said the reason for his termination was connected to the song “Little Hitler,” a song written by Spiegel, and performed by the professor on more than one occasion on the campus of Taylor University. On Aug. 17, Spiegel uploaded a link to the song on his personal Facebook page. 

On Aug. 19, morning, Spiegel received an email from Provost Hammond, who ordered that Spiegel take down the video.

On Aug. 20, morning, Spiegel met with Hammond and Jones to discuss the issue further. Later that evening, Spiegel informed Hammond and Jones that the video would not be taken down. 

On Aug. 24, morning, Spiegel’s employment was terminated. 

Between Aug. 20 and Aug. 24, there was no additional communication between Spiegel and Taylor administration. 

“Yes, their decision was based on my refusal to remove a video of my song “Little Hitler” from my personal YouTube channel after the University received a harassment complaint about it,” Spiegel wrote. 

The song is about inner evil thoughts people have, with lyrics like:

We’re appalled at injustice and oppression
and every atrocity that makes the nightly news
but just give it a thought:
If you knew you’d never get caught
you’d be thieving and raping and murdering, too.

Here’s the video:

Spiegel appears to be an outspoken religious conservative who, according to Religion News Service, “wrote a petition opposing plans to bring Starbucks to campus because of its ‘stands on the sanctity of life and human sexuality’ and signed onto another supporting Vice President Mike Pence’s invitation to speak last year at graduation… [and] was one of the authors of an anonymous conservative newsletter that popped up on campus with complaints that the school had become too liberal.” You can read about that newsletter here.

The university administration denies that Spiegel’s termination was about politics or restricting academic freedom. According to The Echo, university leaders in an email wrote, “Taylor is not a political enterprise, nor was this an effort to silence disagreements with the University and/or its leadership… There is no mandate or effort to remove people based on politics or ideology, nor is there a desire to ‘cancel’ the opinions of others.” Apart from a vague reference to restoring “damaged relationships,” though, they have not offered any alternative explanation.

(via Tim Hsiao)

The post Philosophy Professor Fired After Posting Song on YouTube appeared first on Daily Nous.

Archaeologists Discover Bronze Agent Musical Instrument Made of Human Bone

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 2:32am in

This is an interesting piece of archaeological news from Tuesday’s edition of the I for 1 September 2020. The article ‘Bronze Age people turned human thigh bone into musical instrument’ by Nina Massey reported that archaeologists from Bristol University had discovered the instrument buried with other fragments of bone and tusk and axes buried as grave goods with a man near Stonehenge. The article reads

Researchers have uncovered evidence of a Bronze Age tradition that saw human remains retained and curated as relics over several generations.

The findings indicate a tangible way of honouring and remembering individuals some 4,500 years ago, experts say.

Led by the University of Bristol and published in the journal Antiquity, the study used radio-carbon dating and CT scanning.

Lead author Dr Thomas Booth said: “Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age. However, they treated and and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today.

“After radiocarbon dating Bronze Age human remains alongside other material buried with them, we found many had been buried a significant time after the person had died, suggesting a tradition of retaining and curating human remains.”

He added: “People seem to have curated the remains of people who had lived within living or cultural memory, and who likely played an important role in their life or their communities, or with whom they had a well-defined relationship, whether that was direct family, a tradesperson, a friend or even an enemy.

In one example from Wiltshire, a human thigh bone, crafted into a musical instrument was included as grave goods with the burial of a man found near Stonehenge.

The carved and polished artefact was found with other items including axes, a bone plate and a tusk. Radio-carbon dating of the thigh bone suggests it belonged to someone this person had known.

Professor Joanna Bruck, principal investigator on the project, and visiting professor at the University of Bristol’s department of anthropology and archaeology, said: “Although fragments of human bone were included as grave goods, they were also kept in the homes of the living, buried under house floors and even placed on display.”

Dr Booth said: “This study really highlights the strangeness and perhaps the unknowable nature of the distant past from a present-day perspective.”

He is also quoted as saying, “Bronze Age people did not view human remains with the sense of horror or disgust that we might feel today.”

This is the first time I’ve read about human remains being turned into a musical instruments in ancient Britain, but I’m not surprised. There are many cultures all over the world that preserve the skulls of dead ancestors and enemies. They included the Mandan and other tribes in the US, some indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea and the ancient Celts. There’s a carving from an ancient Celtic temple from southern Gaul of a monster, whose two front claws rest on severed heads. Around the statue are depressions carved into its base, possibly to hold the real thing. Nigel Barley in one of his books on death around the world notes that in the traditional culture of one of the Pacific peoples, the skeletons of dead relatives are handled and taken apart, so that their descendants can carry bits of it about of them as an act of respect and remembrance.

And there are also cultures that turn human remains into musical instruments. There’s the Chod ceremony in Tibetan Buddhism, in which the priests wear aprons made out of human skin and play drums made of human skulls and, I believe, flutes from bone. Something similar may well have been done here with this instrument.

The Stonehenge connection is interesting and possibly relevant. One of the theories about the standing stones is that they were originally put up as monuments to the ancestors in a process involving secondary burial. This followed the suggestion of a Madagascan archaeologist, who said that they reminded him of the practice among his people. There the remains are interred for a period after death while they decay. After a certain time, they’re taken out, prepared and then re-buried in another set of ceremonies during which a stone or a wooden pole is set up as a monument. It may well be that this instrument was created as part of such a burial rite.