Ideas of A.C. Grayling, by Theme

[British, fl. 1999, St Anne's College, Oxford; Professor at Birkbeck, London. Newspaper column, popularising philosophy.]

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1. Philosophy / C. History of Philosophy / 3. Earlier European Philosophy / c. Later medieval philosophy
Lucretius was rediscovered in 1417
     Full Idea: Lucretius's 'De Rerum Natura' was rediscovered in 1417, after languishing forgotten for six centuries.
     From: A.C. Grayling (What is Good? [2003], Ch.5)
     A reaction: A wonder. Is it the greatest book of the ancient world - because it partially preserves the lost philosophy of great Democritus?
6. Mathematics / C. Sources of Mathematics / 6. Logicism / a. Early logicism
Russell needed three extra axioms to reduce maths to logic: infinity, choice and reducibility
     Full Idea: In order to deduce the theorems of mathematics from purely logical axioms, Russell had to add three new axioms to those of standards logic, which were: the axiom of infinity, the axiom of choice, and the axiom of reducibility.
     From: A.C. Grayling (Russell [1996], Ch.2)
     A reaction: The third one was adopted to avoid his 'barber' paradox, but many thinkers do not accept it. The interesting question is why anyone would 'accept' or 'reject' an axiom.
12. Knowledge Sources / A. A Priori Knowledge / 2. Self-Evidence
Two propositions might seem self-evident, but contradict one another
     Full Idea: Two propositions might contradict each other despite appearing self-evident when considered separately.
     From: A.C. Grayling (Russell [1996], Ch.2)
     A reaction: Russell's proposal (Idea 5416) is important here, that self-evidence comes in degrees. If self-evidence was all-or-nothing, Grayling's point would be a major problem, but it isn't. Bonjour explores the idea more fully (e.g. Idea 3704)
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 4. Other Minds / d. Other minds by analogy
The argument from analogy is not a strong inference, since the other being might be an actor or a robot
     Full Idea: The argument from analogy is a weak one, because it does not logically guarantee the inference I draw to the other's inner states, for he might be dissimulating or acting, or may even be a cleverly contrived robot which feels nothing.
     From: A.C. Grayling (Wittgenstein [1988], Ch.3)
     A reaction: This gives the impression that for an argument to be strong it must logically guarantee its inference. It strikes me that analogy is a good reason for believing in other minds, but that is because I am looking for the best explanation, not logical proof.
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 5. Action Dilemmas / b. Double Effect
It is legitimate to do harm if it is the unintended side-effect of an effort to achieve a good
     Full Idea: The doctrine of double effect says that it is legitimate to do harm if the harm is the unintended side-effect of an effort to achieve a legitimate goal.
     From: A.C. Grayling (Among the Dead Cities [2006], Ch.6)
     A reaction: I think a key principle of morality is our duty to think about possible unnoticed consequences of our actions. To neglect concern for side-effects is wicked. Beyond that, the issue must concern the particulars of the situation.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / e. Honour
In an honour code shame is the supreme punishment, and revenge is a duty
     Full Idea: An honour code is one in which the greatest punishment is shame, and in which revenge is a duty.
     From: A.C. Grayling (What is Good? [2003], Ch.2)
     A reaction: Is this really what Nietzsche wanted to revive? Shame isn't a private matter - it needs solidarity of values in the community, and contempt for dishonour, so that it becomes everyone's worst fear.
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 3. Natural Values / c. Natural rights
Experience, sympathy and history are sensible grounds for laying claim to rights
     Full Idea: Personal experience, social sympathies, and history together licence laying claim to rights …which we see to make good mutual as well as individual sense.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], 6)
     A reaction: There are no such thing as natural rights, but there are clearly natural grounds on which it is very reasonable to base a claim for legal rights. If positive rights are just arbitrary, or expressions of power struggles, that is crazy.
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 1. Social Power
Politics is driven by power cliques
     Full Idea: What drives political history is power cliques.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], Conc)
     A reaction: A simple ideas which strikes me as accurate. Alternative views are that power is universally distributed (Foucault), or that power resides in a social class (Marx). Grayling's idea strikes me as more accurate. Each class has its cliques.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / a. Nature of democracy
It is essential for democracy that voting is free and well informed
     Full Idea: A necessary condition for democracy to be realised is that the act of voting should be free and informed.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], p.25)
     A reaction: The requirement that voters should be well informed has become an increasing modern problem, because the media are owned by the wealthy, and false rumours can spread at lightning speed.
Democracies should require a supermajority for major questions
     Full Idea: A threshhold or supermajority bar (such as 60%) is the appropriate way to deal with highly consequential questions.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], p.23)
     A reaction: This seems to be a very conservative view, because rejection of a major change is a decision in favour of the status quo. Would this rule apply equally to abolishing capital punishment and to reintroducing it?
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / d. Representative democracy
A cap on time of service would restrict party control and career ambitions
     Full Idea: A method by which legislators can be rendered independent of both party control and career ambitions is a cap on the amount of time they can serve as legislators.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], 4)
     A reaction: The time of service must allow for learning the job, and then using the wisdom of experience. Presumably some career ambitions are needed if we are to have leaders. Not all party discipline is bad; great achievements are hard without it.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / e. Democratic minorities
Majority decisions are only acceptable if the minority interests are not vital
     Full Idea: A majority being in favour of some course of action is the acceptable means of reaching decisions when no vital interest of a minority is endangered.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], 1)
     A reaction: This is generally accepted in extreme cases, such as the majority voting to exterminate the minority. The difficulty is to decide what is a 'vital' interest, and to get the majority to care about it.
25. Social Practice / B. Equalities / 1. Grounds of equality
Liberty and equality cannot be reconciled
     Full Idea: Liberty and equality appear to be irresolvable contradictions.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], 2)
     A reaction: [He particularly cites Isaiah Berlin for this view] Hm. The liberty of one is the liberty of all. I don't think I would feel that my liberty was unreasonably infringed if I lived in a society of imposed equality. The greedy hate equality the most.
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 1. Basis of justice
The very concept of democracy entails a need for justice
     Full Idea: The concept of democracy - embodying the principles of participation and equal concern - entails that social justice is a mandatory aim.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], 2)
     A reaction: The idea that democracy entails participation in any direct way is what the right wing reject. Sustained participation would presumably entail various sorts of justice.
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 2. The Law / a. Legal system
There should be separate legislative, executive and judicial institutions
     Full Idea: The obvious solution is where the legislative, executive and judicial powers are exercised by different institutions, distinguished by function. The executive is answerable to the legislative, and the judicial is controlled by neither.
     From: A.C. Grayling (The Good State [2020], 3)
     A reaction: Separation by institution, rather than merely by separate individuals exercising the powers. I agree (with Popper etc) that institutions are the way to secure long-term success and justice. Grayling says the judiciary must not paralyse government.
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 1. War / a. Just wars
War must also have a good chance of success, and be waged with moderation
     Full Idea: To Aquinas's three conditions for war (Idea 7291) modern theorists have added two others: that to be just a war must have a reasonable chance of success, and that the means used to conduct it must be proportional to the ends sought.
     From: A.C. Grayling (Among the Dead Cities [2006], Ch.6)
     A reaction: These two principles strike me as being much more civilized and humane than Aquinas's original contribution, suggesting that in our theoretical thinking we might be making some progress.
25. Social Practice / F. Life Issues / 4. Suicide
If suicide is lawful, but assisting suicide is unlawful, powerless people are denied their rights
     Full Idea: An anomaly created by England's 1961 Suicide Act is that it is lawful to take one's own life, but unlawful to help anyone else to do it. This means anyone unable to commit suicide without help is denied one of their fundamental rights.
     From: A.C. Grayling (What is Good? [2003], Ch.8)
     A reaction: There is a difference, not really captured either by law or by reason, between tolerating an activity, and encouraging and helping it. I think the test question is "this activity is legal, but would you want your child to do it?"
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 1. Religious Commitment / a. Religious Belief
Religion gives answers, comforts, creates social order, and panders to superstition
     Full Idea: The four standard explanations given for religion are that it provides answer, that it gives comfort, that it makes for social order, and that it rests on mere superstition.
     From: A.C. Grayling (What is Good? [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: All four of these could be correct, though the first and fourth would be incompatible if religion gives correct answers. Why religion begins might be not the same as the reason why it continues.
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 2. Immortality / a. Immortality
To make an afterlife appealing, this life has to be denigrated
     Full Idea: It is remarkable how much the life of this world has to be denigrated to make the promise of happiness after death appealing.
     From: A.C. Grayling (What is Good? [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: This seems to be true of most religions, but it could be otherwise. Surely you want such a wonderful life to continue after death? But then you would not be obliged to do anything difficult to achieve immortality. Power comes into it...
In Greek mythology only heroes can go to heaven
     Full Idea: In Greek mythology only a hero like Hercules could hope to go to heaven (by becoming a god himself).
     From: A.C. Grayling (What is Good? [2003], Ch.4)
     A reaction: This illustrates Nietsche's 'inversion of morality' most clearly, because Christianity says that the person most likely to go to heaven is the humblest person.