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Nigel Warburton

Consultant Editor and Interviewer, Aeon+Psyche

Nigel is a writer, philosopher and podcaster. He is interviewer for the popular Philosophy Bites podcast. His books include A Little History of Philosophy, The Art Question and Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. Nigel is on Twitter @philosophybites.

Written by Nigel Warburton

Edited by Nigel Warburton

A just and loving gaze | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

A just and loving gaze

Simone Weil: mystic, philosopher, activist. Her ethics demand that we look beyond the personal and find the universal

Deborah Casewell

Lies and honest mistakes | Aeon
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Virtues and vices

Lies and honest mistakes

Our crisis of public knowledge is an ethical crisis. Rewarding ‘truthfulness’ above ‘truth’ is a step towards a solution

Richard V Reeves

On the necessity of obedience | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

On the necessity of obedience

George Berkeley was a visionary immaterialist. And a philosopher whose views on subordination to God legitimised slavery

Tom Jones

Philosophy’s lack of progress | Aeon
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History of ideas

Philosophy’s lack of progress

For centuries, all philosophers seem to have done is question and debate. Why do philosophical problems resist solution?

Chris Daly

Should we censor art? | Aeon
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Art

Should we censor art?

Tearing down sexist paintings or racist monuments raises as many problems as it resolves. There’s a better way to combat hate

Daisy Dixon

Reincarnation now | Aeon
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Philosophy of religion

Reincarnation now

Modern mindfulness strips Buddhism of its spiritual core. We need an ethics of reincarnation for an interconnected world

Avram Alpert

Milton versus the mob | Aeon
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Stories and literature

Milton versus the mob

He spoke truth to power and made heresy a virtue. Lessons on free speech and intellectual combat from John Milton

Nicholas McDowell

Changed by art | Aeon
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Art

Changed by art

Gazing at a painting feels like an almost magical encounter with another mind but what real effects does art have on us?

Ellen Winner

Vive Madame Roland! | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Vive Madame Roland!

She was a French revolutionary and a politician’s wife. But Manon Roland should be remembered for her philosophical writings

Sandrine Bergès

Final thoughts | Aeon
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Meaning and the good life

Final thoughts

Do deathbed regrets give us a special insight into what really matters in life? There are good reasons to be sceptical

Neil Levy



Recent Comments

Why I never want to dress up in black tie again

Nigel Warburton

I’m actually torn on this. I agree with most of what Julian Baggini says in his Opinion piece. But I also believe that just as different idioms in writing suit different occasions, different styles of dress are appropriate in different circumstances and that as social beings we need to be sensitive to the messages we give off by the way we choose to dress. I wouldn’t want to force anyone to comply with a dress code, and have been irritated by invitations which stipulate it; but I do believe it is sometimes useful to know what an organiser of an event is expecting in terms of what people wear - then if I choose not to wear that, it is not as a result of misjudging the occasion, but a delib...

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Rules in space

Nigel Warburton

There are millions of children across the world going to bed hungry each night and without adequate medical care or protection from abuse. That seems to me something that needs urgent attention. Similarly a global response to climate breakdown is something that needs co-ordinated agreement about how best to act, and soon. I suspect the technological difficulties of setting up habitable large population cities on Mars will stump scientists for a good while longer than you do, and the immense travel costs will make your future scenario an unlikely one. It might be interesting to imagine this scenario for the purposes of reviewing our political systems on Earth, though - a kind of sci-fi sta...

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Master of many trades

Nigel Warburton

In some of the sciences, it is unlikely that an individual could easily remain a competent generalist for long. There is simply so much to grasp, so many details, new research to keep abreast of. But in the Humanities and some of the Social Sciences it is still possible to be a Renaissance man or woman and that is a good thing. In my own subject Philosophy, there is a tradition of some of the very best philosophers making contributions to several areas of philosophy. Wittgenstein made contributions to discussions of mind, language and much else besides. Popper was influential in both the philosophy of science and in political philosophy. Nozick worked on epistemology as well as political ...

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Is philosophy therapy, or is it simply a search for truth?

Nigel Warburton

Philosophy is enquiry. That’s the impetus: wonder at the world that leads to speculation, reasoning, debate, always with the view of getting more precise, more accurate, and more interesting viewpoints on reality, or at least discovering that such things are impossible to achieve. Philosophers ask questions and try to answer them. They want to discover how things are, and whether it’s possible to discover how things are. It’s true that in the Ancient World many philosophers set themselves up as gurus and purported to be able to teach their followers how to live better lives. Yet, to take one typical goal, namely to know yourself (or know yourself better): there is no guarantee whatsoever ...

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The neurofix

Nigel Warburton

I find the knowledge that I will die comforting. I don’t want to live for ever or even over 100 (even that would probably be too long), cluttering up the world for the next generation. I don’t have any hope for a life after death, and, as Sartre pointed out long ago, once you’re dead, everything you leave behind becomes ‘prey for the Other’, so any afterlife as a series of (unreliable) memories, books, podcasts, ideas, or other traces won’t be ‘my’ afterlife, but whatever others make of it. Epicurus got it right: when I am here, death is not; when death is here, I am not - or as Wittgenstein glossed it: ‘Death is not an event in life’. It’s the end of possible conscious life, and so in an...

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What primary school children can teach academic philosophers

Nigel Warburton

The philosopher Hubert Dreyfus put forward 7 stages that we go through in the move from being a novice to achieving mastery of a subject in his book On the Internet (the title of the book has meant that this interesting framework for understanding learning is less well-known than it should be). This framework suggests a model that could be used for teaching philosophy, though empirical research would be needed to back up what are essentially hunches about how the different skills are best taught. I’ve summarised the key features in this blogpost.

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Night school

Nigel Warburton

The simple answer to this question is that education doesn’t have a single purpose. If you are learning to drive a car, communicate effectively in a foreign language, or rewire your house there is in each case a practical end and a simple measure of whether you have achieved that. The point in each of these specific examples of education is to acquire an adequate level of proficiency to function.

But what is the general point of education? That’s not straightforward at all. If we focus ons the point of school education, it still isn’t easy to answer. Yet there is a cluster of aims that I believe schooling should have. These include achieving basic literacy, numeracy, and critical t...

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How to be angry

Nigel Warburton
The philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote an interesting essay about (against) anger for Aeon.co https://aeon.co/essays/there-s-no-emotion-we-ought-to-think-harder-about-than-anger. Following Aristotle, she identified ‘payback’ as a key conceptual element of anger, and one of its more poisonous aspects. This aspect worth thinking about. Nussbaum’s desire that anger be considered a useless emotion (probably heavily influenced by Seneca’s De Ira) is, for me, idealistic and not realistic, particulalry in political contexts. I prefer the app...
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Like a prayer

Nigel Warburton

The way this question is phrased implies that secular people can benefit from prayer. But it is not at all obvious that they can, whether as targets of religious people’s prayers, or as non-believers going through the motions of praying. So the wording of the question is question-begging.

As someone who was occasionally forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer at school, though an atheist, I am aware of how meaningless, and irritating that practice can be. Blaise Pascal in his Pensée addressed the question of how someone who really wanted to believe in God for pragmatic reasons (following the gambler’s strategy of avoiding eternal damnation and being i...

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Myths about red hair are rooted in fear of difference

Nigel Warburton

I asked this question partly because I have been disturbed by the acceptance of casual anti-redhead comments made by comedians and others in the UK, comments which were they focusing on racial features of a minority ethnic group would be deemed beyond the pale. Drawing attention to red hair and the associated fair skin in a pejorative way is not far from some sorts of racism which can similarly target a group on the basis of appearance - in Britain it might have its historical roots in anti-Irish feeling. It worries me that some children may be bullied as a result of such comments. I’m also not clear why if racism is intolerable, such auburnophobia isn’t damned by the same reasoning.

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Midnight at the oasis

Nigel Warburton

Perversely, although I can find calm listening to J.S. Bach or Scarlatti, on a daily basis I’m most likely to find it when I’m sitting thinking or writing in a noisy café. I lose myself in a daydream or immerse myself in whatever I’m reading or trying to write - then time goes very swiftly. I feel the same when I’m walking through London streets - I sometimes deliberately take the long way round. Very occasionally I find unexpected calm looking at a painting or photograph in a gallery, particulary in hte Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London; but unlike in the café I find other people’s conversations and shuffling usually breaks the spell.

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Books are dangerous

Nigel Warburton

As a philosopher there are many books that have changed my way of thinking. Early on reading Colin Wilson’s The Outsider and Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance got me excited about ideas. Sartre’s’ existentialist writing was liberating (though now seems far too optimistic about human freedom). Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics and Jonathan Glover’s Causing Death and Saving Lives both opened my eyes to ways in which philosophy could be rigorous and yet still address important questions that affect how we live. Both are clear and direct writers and have been an influence on me in that way too. John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty has been ...

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