Some ideas for festive reading, viewing and listening…

From staff in the Department of Philosophy

We asked our lecturers what they would recommend for budding philosophers to get stuck into over Christmas, and here’s what they came up with:

Graeme Forbes, Lecturer, says:
One of the best books I’ve read in the last year is I would recommend Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Lies that Bind, based on his Reith Lectures. Appiah argues that the way we think about features of identities are often based on mistakes, but that these mistakes are having significant consequences for how we run our societies.

The US Sitcom The Good Place is available on Netflix in its entirety, and the first two series have been broadcast on Channel 4. It’s a comedy about exploring what a good life is, and was made with a number of philosophers as consultants.

Todd MeiTodd Mei, Senior Lecturer, and Head of Department, recommends two books:
The Courage To Be by Paul Tilich (Yale University Press, 1952).
This is a great book that deals with the themes of courage and anxiety in the history of philosophy and how certain philosophers conceptualise and respond to existential problems. It provides an accessible way into different eras of philosophy by examining topics of great practical importance. Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was a Protestant theologian who used quite a bit of Martin Heidegger’s (1889-1976) philosophy to rethink basic questions about existence and religion. His non-literal, non-historical approach to Christianity was really an eye-opener for me and enabled me to see how narratives are not as straightforward as they seem and that they require a method of interpretation akin to the development of practical reasoning.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (Melville House, 2012). If you want to understand how such a foundational concept (i.e. debt) has become taken for granted, and therefore problematic, this book is for you. It will get you to question how our economy works as well as see how the complex world history plays into everyday practices of valuing and exchanging. What stood out to me right away was the way Graeber challenges the idea that barter societies were the most original and basic forms of economies. At the very least, you will get a good idea of how economic value derives from normative relations revolving around trust and how attempts to remove these relations often make things more complicated, if not worse. And, to boot, you will be introduced to a lot of non-Western histories and cultures!

Lauren Ware, Lecturer, says:
I would recommend the podcast The Lockdown, hosted by Oonagh Ryder and Sam Swann. The podcast is all about prisons and the ethics of Britain’s criminal justice system, with engaging and compelling discussions and interviews on a host of philosophical topics including gender and racial discrimination in punishment, guilt and rehabilitation, surveillance, consent, and abolition. The podcast also has a feature called “argument ammo” which philosophers may find interesting!

Michael Wilde, Lecturer, says:
I’d recommend a recent book by Timothy Williamson, Doing Philosophy. It is a fun and accessible introduction to how philosophy works and what it can achieve, complete with loads of examples. Good news for anyone wanting to explain the point of studying philosophy to sceptical family and friends over the dinner table at Christmas. Also, for a taster of all that’s to come studying philosophy at university, a gentle and fun introduction to various philosophical problems is given in the Crash Course in Philosophy on YouTube.

Simon Kirchin, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, says:
If you are into podcasts then one of the best around is Philosophy Bites. It is extensive, so here is the arrangement by theme. If you want to find out about any topic, such as obligations to the needy, paradoxes, time, God and belief, free will, inequality….or just want to know what philosophy is, listen to this.

I also recommend Think by Simon Blackburn, and The Pig that Wants to be Eaten, and How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy, both by Julian Baggini. These are three very readable and engaging introductions to the study of philosophy. Julian is a honorary research fellow of the department!

One final recommendation is In Our Time, which has been going for about 20 years now. Every episode sees Melvyn Bragg and three guests discuss a topic of interest. The topics range from matters of science and maths, to history and English, from the ancient worlds to the solar system. And, of course, there is plenty of philosophy.

And in case you haven’t had enough of politics by now, Edward Kanterian, Reader, recommends:
Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon. This is a short and very engaging novel about the political system of communism – not as we would like it to be, but as it actually existed. Koestler was a British-Hungarian journalist, philosopher, writer and also a sort of spy. He initially fell in love with the communist idea of equality, and joined the Communist Party in 1931. But after coming to know the party from inside and travellling through the Soviet Union, he grew disillusioned with communism, indeed became its outspoken opponent. Darkness at Noon tells the gripping story of a communist who falls prey to the murderous machinations of the political system he himself has helped establish. The novel is ranked as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Other books by Koestler warmly recommended are The Invisible Writing, Scum of the Earth, Dialogue with Death, and The God that Failed. They deal with the false promises of totalitarian ideologies left and right, and help us better understand and appreciate the liberal-democratic society in which we live, imperfect as it is.

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