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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

Great books are still great | Aeon
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Stories and literature

Great books are still great

Read with love, rather than critical distance, the classics can provide tools to subvert oppressive hierarchies

Roosevelt Montás

Stoics as activists | Aeon
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Ethics

Stoics as activists

You might think of it as a philosophy for turning away from the world, but ancient Stoics took a stand against tyranny

Massimo Pigliucci

Trolls be gone | Aeon
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Information and communication

Trolls be gone

Anonymous users generate most toxic abuse and conspiracy theories online. The right to be anonymous should be curtailed

Stephen Kinsella

The beautiful experiment | Aeon
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Philosophy of science

The beautiful experiment

Science has become extraordinarily technocratic and complex. Is the simple and decisive experiment still a worthy ideal?

Milena Ivanova

Being in a building | Aeon
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Architecture

Being in a building

One of the great buildings of the Renaissance reminds us that buildings are made to be explored, smelled and even tasted

David Karmon

George Sand’s boots | Aeon
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Gender and identity

George Sand’s boots

How the rebellious novelist left behind her provincial self to learn about life, charging around Paris dressed as a man

Belinda Jack

We are all frail | Aeon
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Bioethics

We are all frail

We should be able to acknowledge that disabilities can cause pain and suffering without disabled people feeling dehumanised

Tom Shakespeare

Learn from machine learning | Aeon
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Future of technology

Learn from machine learning

The world is a black box full of extreme specificity: it might be predictable but that doesn’t mean it is understandable

David Weinberger

Defend the deep | Aeon
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Oceans and water

Defend the deep

Instead of letting waves of exploitation sweep through the deep ocean, we could choose to protect this vast living realm

Helen Scales

Acoustic naturalism | Aeon
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Architecture

Acoustic naturalism

Our movies and offices are engineered to sound natural based on what rang false in the theatres of 18th-century Paris

Joseph L Clarke

When hope is a hindrance | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

When hope is a hindrance

For Hannah Arendt, hope is a dangerous barrier to courageous action. In dark times, the miracle that saves the world is to act

Samantha Rose Hill

Germany’s Wollstonecraft | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Germany’s Wollstonecraft

Brilliant and fierce, the philosopher and educator Amalia Holst demonstrated how the German Enlightenment failed women

Andrew Cooper



Recent Comments

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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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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End intellectual property

Nigel Warburton

I’m not sure that the rhetoric of using the term ‘Intellectual Property’ is the main problem in relation to copyright of writing. It seems obvious to me that the 70-year postmortem copyright arrangements that we have in Europe (the result of homogenisation with German copyright law) are a bad compromise. This is far too long. Ten to twenty years from publication date would be better. But there were practical reasons why a shorter copyright period could not be negotiated. There have been a number of attempts to dismantle copyright, by Lawrence Lessig and others, but it is generally something that benefits both the publishing industy and writers (both from primary licensing, and then, also ...

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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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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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One more time

Nigel Warburton

What makes music so important is it’s direct route into our emotions. It evokes and mirrors our emotions. As Lydia Goehr points out in the Aeon Interviews video, music is performed in a context, and the presence of the performer, their appearance, their interactions with other musicians and audience can all be part of our ‘musical’ experience - these things are often ignored. Also, what we know affects what we hear. But the universal importance of music for human beings is very likely based on the way we are tuned to tonal and rhthmic subtleties of the human voice.

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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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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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Reach out, listen, be patient. Good arguments can stop extremism

Nigel Warburton

It’s great to be reminded of such stories of hope. It is easy to adopt the more sceptical line that most people are unaffected by good arguments that threaten their core beliefs, and that to believe otherwise is wishful thinking. I’m very tempted by the sceptical position myself, but acknowledge that complete scepticism is probably unwarranted. Bringing people together in an arena that facilitates civil disagreement is key to understanding those who disagree with you, and from there to begin to appreciate the force of their arguments (assuming they have arguments).

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Why does contemporary art make for wildly popular blockbusters?

Nigel Warburton

It would be interesting to know to what extent this is an American phenomeon. Vermeer, Leonardo, and Rembrandt, are all capable of pulling huge crowds in the UK. Could it, perhaps, involve a degree of chauvinism in that the most viewed artists in the US are American? I suspect an Edward Hopper , a Rothko, or yet another Andy Warhol show would, like a Jeff Koons retrospective, draw the punters in the US.

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The long revolution

Nigel Warburton

Isn’t the issue here partly education? Unless citizens are good critical thinkers, well-informed, reasonably numerate, and able to resist rhetoric to some degree they won’t be in a position to make good judgments on a wide range of issues, and probably won’t have a great deal of time to remedy the situation. Plato’s worries about the passengers voting on how to steer a ship in a storm still hold: better to get an expert on the case, or at least someone who is competent. So, if the question is asking about the weak link in any proposed direct democracy, then yes, it is likely to be the citizens who are the weak link rather than, for example the voting technology, which I’m sure Go...

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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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