December 12, 2012

In Our Time

BBC Radio 4


Rationality, Optimism and the Good Society

Aristotle's Politics


In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg (1939)

  • Zeno's Paradoxes, 29 September 2016.
  • Rudyard Kipling, 16 October 2014.
  • Bertrand Russell, 6 December 2012.
  • Game Theory, 5 April 2012.
  • George Fox and the Quakers, 10 May 2012.
    Justin Champion: Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas, Royal Holloway, University of London.

    [The lasting influence of Quakerism was] their commitment, first to equality, but also to personal conviction.
    This model we have today — that as individuals, we need to have a set of beliefs, and we need to hold them sincerely, and be prepared to be prepared to defend them — can be traceable to that Quaker conviction in the 1650's that you will put your life on the line.
    You have the possibility to be godly and good, to be optimistic.
    Its a non-sacred principle that, in the end, comes out of that tradition …
    Some of those early Quakers are friends with Spinoza.
    They recognize that there is a rationality in human beings that is optimistic.
    If we use that rationality, and defend it, we will have a good society.

  • Benjamin Franklin, 1 March 2012.

    He disagrees with the Tea Party.
    He even offers to pay back the Tea bill himself … if it will right things with the authorities.

  • Conductors, 23 February 2012.
  • Erasmus, 9 February 2012.
  • The Scientific Method, 26 January 2012.
  • The Continental-Analytic Split, 10 November 2011.
  • David Hume, 6 October 2011.
  • Islamic Law, 5 May 2011.
  • Cogito Ergo Sum, 28 April 2011.
  • The Neutrino, 14 April 2011.
  • Free Will, 10 March 2011.
  • The Age of the Universe, 3 March 2011.
  • Random and Pseudorandom, 13 January 2011.
  • Women and Enlightenment Science, 4 November 2010.
  • Logic, 21 October 2010.
  • Imaginary Numbers, 23 September 2010.
  • Edmund Burke, 3 June 2010.
  • The Cool Universe, 6 May 2010.
  • The Infant Brain, 4 March 2010.
  • Mathematics' Unintended Consequences, 11 February 2010.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, 31 December 2009.
  • Sparta, 19 November 2009.
  • Thoreau and the American Idyll, 15 January 2009.
  • Logical Positivism, 2 July 2009.
  • The Consolation of Philosophy, 1 January 2009.
  • The Physics of Time, 18 December 2008.
  • Aristotle’s Politics, 6 November 2008.
    Angie Hobbs (1961): Associate Professor in Philosophy, University of Warwick.
    Paul Cartledge (1947): A G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge.
    Annabel Brett: Senior Lecturer in History, University of Cambridge.

    Melvyn Bragg (1939):
    He breaks down societies into three types: monarchy, aristocracy and polity.
    And in their corrupt forms, tyranny, anarchy and democracy. …

    Angie Hobbs (1961):
    There are two basic questions you have to ask:
    • Who rules?; and
    • On whose behalf? …
    If you answer those, you get the three correct constitutions of monarchy, aristocracy and polity, where good people rule on the behalf of the state as a whole. …

    Melvyn Bragg (1939):
    He thought the corruption of monarchy into tyranny and aristocracy into oligarchy, was when wealth became more of pursuit in the state than virtue.
    And that was the corrupting factor. …

    Angie Hobbs (1961):
    Wealth must always be seen solely as a means to an end.
    The end is always virtue.
    The ultimate end of the state is enable its citizens to flourish …
    [He argues in the Nicomachean Ethics that] we cannot flourish unless we actualize all our faculties, including our moral and intellectual ones. …

    [Democracy is] the poor people, governing for the benefit of the poor people. …

    Paul Cartledge (1947):
    [The essence] of oligarchy, is wealth.
    [The essence] of democracy, is poverty.
    And the two classes … are at each other's throats. …

    Annabel Brett:
    [The] Ethics tells you what the human good is.
    It's the life of virtue, which is the life in accordance with reason, which is the faculty that distinguishes man from all the other animals and from natural slaves.
    Plato [too] thought the city should be ruled in the light of the idea of the good.
    For Plato … access to knowledge of what the good was, and therefore practice of a good city wasn't available solely down here in this realm where we all operate.
    [In] order to know the good, [one] has to climb out of this cave of the city, up to [the] ideal realm of forms, see them shining in the light of the good, [return] armed with the knowledge of the good, and craft a good city in the likeness.

    Whereas, Aristotle felt there was no way of climbing out of this cave of the city to find out what the good is.
    We find out what the good is collectively, here and now, as part of a collective moral enterprise that we undertake with our fellow citizens.
    So it's always a situation specific …

    Melvyn Bragg (1939):
    … and pragmatic, compared to Plato. …

    Angie Hobbs (1961):
    For Plato, the ideal for the polis is to be as much one as possible, so it's unity.
    Whereas Aristotle says unity destroys the polis.
    The polis is not about unity, its about diversity in community.
    And this is precisely what constitutions are supposed to do.
    To accommodate plurality and diversity in a constructive way …

    Were there a supremely virtuous individual ever to come along, or a virtuous group of individuals, then you could have a monarchy or an aristocracy which would be above the law …
    [But] in the very likely absence of such a supremely virtuous individual or group then we will need to go for polity.
    And the way he wants the polity to work in practice … is by bringing in the middle class as much as possible. …
    You're going have a more stable society, which is going to get more general acceptance if you have a middle class, again, not too rich or too poor, he wants laws that limit excesses of wealth and poverty.
    He wants there to be state controlled education so everybody is educated for citizenship, and people share practices and values. …
    He thinks they'll be more rational and … less prone to faction, perhaps optimistically. …

    Paul Cartledge (1947):
    [The ancient Greeks had] a notion of what the human, [social, and political] good were, and they weren't afraid to enforce it through their laws. …
    [They thought] that individuals were secondary, that … the community was more important. …
    One of Aristotle's criticisms of extreme democracy [was that] people do what they want, they live as they like …

  • Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, 9 October 2008.
  • Materialism, 24 April 2008.
  • The Translation Movement, 2 October 2008.
  • The Multiverse, 21 February 2008.
  • The Fibonacci Sequence, 29 November 2007.
  • Guilt, 1 November 2007.
  • Gravitational Waves, 17 May 2007.
  • Popper, 8 February 2007.
  • The Speed of Light, 30 November 2006.
  • Altruism, 23 November 2006.
  • Anarchism, 7 June 2006.
  • Mill, 18 May 2006.
    Janet Richards (1944): Reader in Bioethics, University College, London.

    Mill was in favor of capital punishment. …
    The utilitarian idea of punishment is that you shouldn't … just in itself because all suffering is bad.
    So the only justification you have for punishment preventing worse kinds of harm.
    Mill [believed] that penal servitude for life [was] worse than being killed.
    On the other hand, people were more afraid of being killed …
    So you [both caused less harm and] deterred people more effectively with capital punishment …

  • Artificial Intelligence, 8 December 2005.
  • Hobbes, 1 December 2005.
    David Wootton: Professor of History, University of York.

    The standard situation in which you can see people in the state of nature is to see one state dealing with another state.
    [If] you read Thucydides, what you see is vicious power politics in action; and that becomes, for Hobbes, a model for what the state of nature is. …

    What matters is that should be a supreme authority whose word is law …
    In principle that could be a democracy.
    The problem with democracies is that they're very bad at reaching decisions …
    [So] Hobbes prefers to have one person in charge. …

    Hobbes [assumed that] people are selfish.
    [That] they are only interested in improving their own situation in the world.
    [That] this brings them into conflict with other people who are also trying to improve their [situations.]
    And that [this] conflict has no natural limit.
    [Therefore,] you must assume that everybody is murderous in their intentions towards everybody else.

    He assumes that we're driven by the pursuit of pleasure, and by the attempt to avoid pain.
    And in that sense we are machines, and we respond entirely automatically and appetitively to the prospect of increasing pleasure or avoiding pain.

  • The Graviton, 24 November 2005.
  • Marx, 14 July 2005.
  • Rhetoric, 14 October 2004.
  • The Art of War, 12 June 2003.
  • The Examined Life, 9 May 2002.
  • The Physics of Reality, 2 May 2002.
  • Happiness, 24 January 2002.
  • Democracy, 18 October 2001.
  • Money, 1 March 2001.
  • Humanism, 8 February 2001.
  • Nihilism, 16 November 2000.
  • Human Origins, 27 April 2000.
  • Economic Rights, 27 January 2000.
  • Climate Change, 6 January 2000.
    John Houghton: Co-Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
    George Monbiot (1963): Visiting Professor, Department of Philosophy, Bristol University.
  • Just War, 3 June 1999.
  • Cultural Rights in the 20th Century, 10 December 1998.

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