Thinkers and theories


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Aldous Huxley in 1958. Photo by Philippe Halsman/Magnum

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Philosophy of religion
Perennial philosophy

Aldous Huxley argued that all religions in the world were underpinned by universal beliefs and experiences. Was he right?

Jules Evans

A cemetery in Bristol, England, seen from a hot air balloon flight in August 2009. Photo by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

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Death
This mortal coil

The fear of death drives many evils, from addiction to prejudice and war. Can it also be harnessed as a force for good?

Jeff Greenberg

Samuelson explained economic theory to the postwar American public. Photo by retrofile/Getty

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Economics
The people’s economist

Paul Samuelson’s mathematical brilliance changed economics, but it was his popular touch that made him a household name

Roger Backhouse

Colourised photographs taken using the schlieren technique depict for the first time the shockwaves of two supersonic jets, typically heard on the ground as the sonic boom. Photo courtesy NASA

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Thinkers and theories
Before, now, and next

Pastness, presentness and futurity seem to be real features of the world, but are they? On McTaggart’s philosophy of time

Emily Thomas

At the Extinction Rebellion protest in London, 9 October 2019. Photo by Crispin Hughes/Panos Pictures

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The environment
Habermas and climate action

Jürgen Habermas offers a framework for action on climate change – justice and deliberation are as important as the science

Emilie Prattico

The historical Buddha, preaching on Vulture Peak. Japanese, Nara period, 8th century. Courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Religion
Who was the Buddha?

When we strip away the myths, such as his princely youth in a palace, a surprising picture of this enigmatic sage emerges

Alexander Wynne

Isaiah Berlin in 1985. Photo by Gemma Levine/Getty Images

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Thinkers and theories
Philosopher of the human

One can only imagine how much nobler and more decent the world might be if it took more notice of Isaiah Berlin

Johnny Lyons

John Berger at home in Quincy in the Haute-Savoie, France, in 2008. Photo by Franck Courtes/Agence VU

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Art
Ways of living

John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ exploded a discipline. But his greatest legacy might be a quieter project of re-enchantment

Joshua Sperling

Detail from Ore into Iron (1953) by Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965). Gift of William H and Saundra B Lane and Henry H and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Thinkers and theories
Pragmatism endures

Pragmatism was not eclipsed after Dewey: it has been a constant and dominant force in philosophy for nearly 100 years

Cheryl Misak & Robert B Talisse

‘To be happy ... we need to be engaged with external things and with other people.’ A migrant child receives her food at a refugee shelter in a former hotel in Berlin, Germany, 9 June 2016. Photo by Stefanie Loos/Reuters

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Thinkers and theories
How to be an Epicurean

A philosophy that values innocent pleasure, human warmth and the rewards of creative endeavour. What’s not to like?

Catherine Wilson

Wittgenstein’s restored hut at Skjolden, Norway. All photos courtesy Jon Bolstad and © Wittgenstein Initiative except where noted

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Thinkers and theories
Secular pilgrimage

Visiting Wittgenstein’s home evokes the philosopher’s serious, ascetic mind (no doubt he would disapprove its restoration)

Julian Baggini

In the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem, Talmudic scholars haggle over various interpretations of Talmudic scholarship, 1957. Photo by Bert Glinn/Magnum

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Thinkers and theories
The Bible’s first critic

Centuries before Spinoza, there was Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, a Jewish freethinker for whom the Bible was too irrational for faith

Pieter van der Horst

A nurse and patient at Lyon’s Croix-Rousse hospital, March 2017. Photo by Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty

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Wellbeing
A sage on the ward

Good nurses are attuned to the lived experience of patients. Can the theory of phenomenology add more to their practice?

Dan Zahavi

United States, 1965. Photo by Wayne Miller/Magnum

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Teaching and learning
The value of shame

Immanuel Kant held that moral education is hydraulic: shame squashes down our vices, making space for virtue to rise up

Louise Chapman

Glisten, glint, glimmer and glow. Photo by Albert Ceolan/DEA/Getty

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Philosophy of language
The way words mean

Words stand for things in the world, and they stand apart from it. Perhaps meaning is more sunken into words than we realise?

Alexander Stern