On the 9th of October, the Williams Project was visited by another great speaker. This time, it was Ray Monk – professor of philosophy at the University of Southampton, acclaimed writer and expert in analytical philosophy of the 20th Century. He gave a lecture on Ludwig Wittgenstein – his life, works and why he is relevant up to this day.
Even though the philosophical aspect was prominent, the lecture was also a biography of Wittgenstein. Prof. Monk described his family and his time growing up in Vienna. Then he focused on Ludwig’s school years and his inspirations. The story of Wittgenstein was very engaging and it was easier to look at his ideas through his biography. You could really feel that Prof. Monk is an experienced biographer and lecturer. Later on, he introduced us to some philosophical problems while talking about the philosophical part of Wittgenstein’s life. For example, he mentioned Russell’s paradox, which still doesn’t have a clear solution. The lecture finished with a Q&A section, although it was possible to ask several other questions to Prof. Monk during dinner. I, among others, found the lecture very interesting. It was a comprehensive, yet comprehensible introduction to Wittgenstein and a great encouragement for further reading.
On Tuesday 22nd January Amia visited us from All Souls College Oxford, where she’s studying for a D.Phil. on issues in epistemology, ethics and meta-philosophy. She spoke to two full WP meetings about whether moral truths actually exist – whether there is an objective right or wrong (the Realist position), or whether right and wrong is ultimately a matter of what we humans believe (Anti-realism); is moral opinion the same kind of thing as an opinion on whether celery tastes nice, or is it more than that?
Using question-and-answer, and audience votes, she skilfully exposed the inconsistencies in our thinking: Realists have the luxury of being able to condemn unequivocally outrages like the Holocaust, but, unless they are religious, have problems explaining where they get their universal moral truths from; anti-Realists sit happy in a materialist, Darwinian universe, but aren’t able fully to condemn horrible crimes like the recent rape on a bus in Delhi. We concluded that most of us are inconsistent: in moments of reflection we tend to think we are Anti-realists, but when we live our lives and read the paper we seem to be Realists. She patiently explained that this presents us with a problem.
The conversation continued over food, and back at Sandon Lodge with a small group of philosophical VIth formers.