Friday, November 21 2014

The School of Athens: then and now

Here is Dirk Lindner’s lovely pic of the School of London, take on 20 November on the steps of St Paul’s. The philosophers: 

ARISTOTLE: John Lloyd John is the founder of QI and produced the great TV hits Blackadder, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Spitting Image. 

PLATO: Angie Hobbs Angie is Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield and has written extensively on Plato. She is Honorary Patron of the Philosophy Foundation. 

ST PAUL: Nick Spencer Nick is research Director at Theos, a think tank promoting clear thinking on religion and society and author of Atheists: The Origin of the Species (Bloomsbury). 

PLOTINUS: Mark Vernon teaches philosophy at the Idler Academy and is the author of many books including Plato’s Podcasts. 

CICERO: Patrick Ussher Patrick is a post-graduate student at the University of Exeter working on Stoicism. He runs the Stoicism Today project. He will be teaching as Cicero the Sceptic. 

EUCLID: Alex Bellos Alex is an author and popular mathematician. He is the author of the Sunday Times best-seller, Alex’s Adventures in Wonderland, and is on mission to communicate the joy of numbers. 

DEMOCRITUS: John Mitchinson John is Director of Information at QI and co-founder of crowd-funding publishing platform, Unbound. Democritus was known as the laughing philosopher and first conceived the idea of atoms. 

EPICURUS: Tom Hodgkinson Tom is editor of the Idler and co-founder of the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment. He is the author of the best-sellers How to be Idle and How to be Free. 

ZENO THE STOIC: Jules Evans Jules is author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations. He will teaching ancient Stoicism. Jules is policy director at the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. 

SOCRATES: Peter Worley Peter is CEO of The Philosophy Foundation and author of award winning books on doing philosophy in the classroom. He is President of SOPHIA, the European Foundation for the Advancement of Doing Philosophy with Children.. 

DIOGENES THE CYNIC: Jock Scot Jock is a poet recently diagnosed with cancer. He has chosen not to accept chemotherapy. He was given three months to live six months ago. In earlier life he was a roadie for The Clash and the Pogues. 

PTOLEMY: Danny Wootton Danny is a musician and artist. He teaches music at the Idler Academy through the medium of the ukulele. 

PROTAGORAS: Martin Robinson Martin is a former teacher and author of Trivium 21st C, a book which aims to reintroduce the study of the ancient Trivium – grammar, rhetoric and dialectic – in schools. 

Tuesday, November 11 2014

Announcing new Idler online modern philosophy course

Click here and use the discount code 'ithink01' and for the next 48 hours get £10 off!

WHAT is it to be modern? What ideas and assumptions shape the way we experience ourselves? Why do we take pride in our modern ways, so that being called medieval, for example, is an insult?

Well, if you want one candidate, to be modern is to feel that things can be described by scientific laws that behave in predictable ways. With that insight, comes a powerful, irresistible sense of understanding, mastery, progress. Moreover, everything in the world can be regarded in this rigorous way, human beings included. Think of how our politics is ruled by demography more than ideas; our economics by bar-charts more than human wellbeing; our hopes by income more than service.

It’s a fixation on certainty that was explored by the French philosopher René Descartes. His thought has had a massive impact on the hopes and aspirations of the modern world. He wanted to establish firm foundations for what we can know and he had a rather brilliant idea as to how to do that. He would turn doubt on itself. Doubt everything you can, he says, and see what’s left standing.

In his Meditations, he imagines sitting quite alone, by the fireside in a winter dressing-gown, asking: what can I be sure of? Can he be sure of say the table, the chairs in front of him? No, because the senses are unreliable: sight and sound have sometimes deceived him before, and we shouldn’t trust things which have deceived us even once. He then doubts whether there’s a world at all: the trees and clouds might be a dream, an illusion beamed into my mind by some malicious demon (for which read malign computer, today). Modernity prides itself on being able to question everything, anything.

In fact, nothing seems certain until Descartes finds one single point of resilience. His one point of certainty is his own existence. ‘Even if I’m deceived I must exist, even if I doubt at least I must exist,’ he concludes. This is the famous, ‘I think, therefore I am.’

His experience of knowledge and certainty are still with us, profoundly shape us. Descartes also boosts the trend for thinking about things by beginning with me, my thoughts, my experience. The ‘I’ becomes sovereign, and a kind of hopeful new god. We separate ourselves from what our forebears would have assumed, the older guidelines, the medieval structures of experience and knowledge. Descartes himself firmly believes in God, but the scenario he presents means that God can be left alone, be forgotten, apparently be disproved.

It’s an exciting experience, a brave new world. We can be ourselves in a way that others before us just couldn’t. The modern imperative is not to know ourselves, but to make something of ourselves. Freedom no longer means taking your place under God, it means making and enjoying open choices. Reason is not so much about finding harmony with the cosmos, as using the human mind to determine what may and may not be the case.

But these liberties – and they do bring us many valuable things – come at a price. Friedrich Nietzsche, the greatest of the modern atheists, understood that. When he has his ‘madman’ announce the death of God, he has the madman also lament: ‘How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?’

This is the modern challenge. It’s the predicament we find ourselves in. It’s as thrilling as it is alarming; as full of potential as disaster. It’s what many sense in our times, whether they worry about ecological meltdown, runaway technologies, biological pandemics, nuclear war. Pondering the implications of modernity has never been more engaging, unsettling, timely.

Tuesday, October 7 2014

Freud the sceptic, Idler Academy talk

Few people take Freud at face value anymore. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But he did us a great service. After Freud, it's much harder to ignore the fact that we are not the commanders of our consciousness. We do things that we wished we hadn't done, and don't do things we wish we had. Even more so when it comes to feelings when, on occasion, we are swept away by rage, envy, hate.

To put it another way, we don't really know ourselves; can rapidly become strangers to ourselves. If you pay enough attention you quickly come to realise that the bit you feel you do know, which Freud called the ego, is only one part of the complex system called the human psyche. Waking thoughts are just the tip of the unconscious iceberg.

In fact, Freud was not the first to realise that there is more to our inner lives than we might or can be aware of. The ancient Hellenistic philosophers known as Epicureans and Stoics realised that there are many situations when we cannot control ourselves. We might will it, but another part of us won't it. They reasoned that we must have feelings we don't feel; desires we don't realise we're slaves to.

But arguably, the ancient philosophy school that Freud followed most closely were the sceptics. In the Greek, sceptic means searcher or enquirer, and they were entirely unlike modern day 'sceptics'. They did not go around debunking other people's beliefs, a strategy that Freud would have instantly realised is defensive since the upshot is that it protects your own beliefs. Rather, the ancient and true sceptics tried to go let go of their consciousness understandings and see what novelties and fears might emerge.

Put it this way. Although you may think you are walking through life with your eyes open, they realised that in truth we may as well have our eyes closed. So they metaphorically shut their eyes and embraced the bumps and blows. They found it was not only therapeutic, leading in time to an unexpected inner tranquility. They found that actually they discovered far more about life in the process because they could tolerate, even welcome, what life threw at them. To use Freudian language, they became far less defensive.

Freud developed another technique called free association. He encouraged his patients to speak out whatever comes into their mind. It sounds easy, but it's hard. In fact, free association - speaking whatever the life of the mind throws at you - is more likely to be the end point and achievement of psychoanalysis rather than it's starting point. It opens up the unconscious and that is often frightening. But also, the search is intriguing and unexpectedly revealing. It can, in time, lead to an entirely new experience of life, one that embraces the darkness of the psyche, and ends at least some of our inner fights, anxieties and struggles.

We'll talk more about Freud at the Idler Academy on Monday 20th October.

And also about Jung at the Idler Academy on Monday 27th October. 

Book here!

Friday, September 5 2014

LPC Wisdom event - Rupert Sheldrake on science and spiritual practices

Thursday 25th September, St George's Church, Bloomsbury

Book here!

Rupert Sheldrake writes: "Science has done much to alienate us from our direct, intuitive experience of nature. But now the sciences themselves are transcending the materialist world-view, and recent experimental research points to the reality of our intuitive and mental connections to the world around us."

Rupert Sheldrake will show how the sciences can now illuminate aspects of spiritual practices including pilgrimage, the power of sacred places, rituals, rites of passage, meditation and prayer.

Entry will be five pounds. There will be the opportunity to get a glass of wine before the event, and doors will be open at around 7.00. We will finish at roughly 9.00.

Book here!

This event is part of a series organized by Jules Evans and Mark Vernon, called 'LPC : Wisdom' , exploring the ancient idea of philosophy as the love of wisdom.

Monday, August 11 2014

Southbank summer of love festival

I enjoyed this definition of philia in the festival posters, and was struck by how much agape was around - a rather Christian kind of love… And so am glad to be contributing with a talk on philautia this Saturday too.

Friday, July 18 2014

What kind of love do we need?

In this RSA series on reconceiving spirituality, we have explored what it might mean to 'take spirituality seriously', the role of the body in spiritual experience, what sense we can make of the soul in a scientific age, and the importance of reflecting on our mortality. Join us for the penultimate event in this series, when we examine an experience and ideal that many believe has to be at the heart of any reappraisal of the spiritual: Love.

Tuesday, June 24 2014

Let's talk about death

The RSA had the latest in its public discussions of issues related to spirituality last night, on death. Worth a watch, especially for the disturbance Will Self brings which is entirely appropriate to the subject.

It also struck me how woefully misunderstood traditional religious approaches to death are these days, as if Buddhism is mostly about being happy or Christianity just promises jam tomorrow.

Some of my take-home thoughts are below…

If we saw people dying and dead then perhaps mass entertainment of people dying and dead would seem less enticing. Will Self.

Christianity teaches dissolution and actualization as part of the same process, not unlike Buddhism. Will Self.

There is no such thing as life and death but rather deathlife like spacetime. Will Self.

Deathlife brings the dead back into play, not disappearing them beneath the waves, as secular culture tends too. Will Self.

The present moment is having its moment at the moment. Joanna Cook, thinking about mindfulness.

Thinking about my death moves death from a problem to be solved to a how to live life. You are already naked. Joanna Cook

Wednesday, April 30 2014

Special offer! RETREAT: PHILOSOPHY WEEKEND IN DEVON, 2-4 MAY 2014

There are still a few places left!

Enjoy a weekend of philosophy and food down at the Idler farmhouse on the North Devon coast.



Your hosts will be Idler Academy founders Tom Hodgkinson and Victoria Hull, and your teacher will be philosopher Mark Vernon.



The weekend will start on Friday evening with welcoming cocktails, introductions, bread-baking class and a short talk from Tom before dinner.



On Saturday morning we’ll take classes in Ancient philosophy, where we will learn about the ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, as well as the schools that followed. We’ll be placing great relevance on how their ideas are relevant today and to your own situation. After lunch there will be time for walks and naps. There will be a further class at 4pm on Saturday, followed by cocktails and dinner.



On Sunday morning Tom will give a sermon, followed by a seminar from Mark. After lunch there will the opportunity for another walk, followed by tea.



This is a real treat for mind and body.

Book here and get a discount! (Purchase the retreat as usual, and when the green strip which reads 'Got a coupon?' appears at the top of the page, type in 'Zeno'.

Thursday, April 3 2014

What happened to the soul?

Iain McGilchrist talked to this theme at the RSA on Monday. Very much worth listening too!

Some Twitter highlights I made, if you want a quick digest:

Soul has a meaning because of instances in language when mind or heart or brain won't do. It's something bigger or deeper.

We don't have words for certain spiritual or soulful music. We need a word that's hard to define or we miss it.

Soul is more process than thing. Hence imagery of fire or spark. A latent function that needs nurturing. And suffering too?

Soul is resonant area. A disposition towards life. A way of knowing knowledge itself.

To understand soul need to put ourselves in the disposition to understand it. It won't just show up.

Shouldn't try to enoble soul by splitting from body. Instincts make substance of the soul. See soul in the eyes. So soul is not dualistic notion. The body is the best image of the soul, Wittgenstein remarked

Spirituality is often about not knowing because if you know too much, you miss it. Like time or beauty in that.

Soul is not going way of god of the gaps. Will always need appropriate modes of thought for different objects of thought

Soul is not ghost in the machine. Body is not machine. Plus soul & body may be aspects of one. Duality not same as dualism

McGilchrist on afterlife: perhaps we are like waves in water, or a part that's part of a whole. Our cognition is too small.

How to approach soul? Through depth, sublime, love, experience, the oblique, awareness of the ground of being.

Finally, for those engaged in 'Iain McGilchrist' studies, the talk was of note to me too because Iain quoted Platonic sources positively and without qualification (unlike in The Master and His Emissary, where to put it too crudely Plato is one of the 'bad guys'.) Afterwards, Iain did say he's changed his mind on Plato...

Friday, March 7 2014

The three kinds of love, or four

Investigating the three kinds of love in a talk given last summer at How The Light Gets In festival...

Friday, January 24 2014

Ancient philosophy at The Idler Academy- new terms starts Monday!

Philosophy in 12 Key Steps starts next week - a few places left!

Wednesday, December 18 2013

Stoicism for today?

Saturday, November 2 2013

ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY DAY COURSE, SUNDAY 3 NOVEMBER

A day course in ancient philosophy with Mark Vernon.



Spend your Sunday at The Idler Academy learning about Socrates, Plato and the ancient schools. Price includes tea & coffee, lunch, afternoon cake and warming winter gin punch.



This is a lively, day crash course in philosophy, exploring the essentials you need to know about the ancient figures from Pythagoras to Plato, examining the origins of the western tradition in ancient Greece. The day will comprise of talks from Mark and group discussions, and there will be time for you to discuss any of your burning philosophical questions.



The day is divided in two. During the morning we will learn about the birth of Western thought, focussing particularly on the big hitters: Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Then we come to Socrates, arguably the most influential philosopher in history, alongside his disciples who are giants in their own rights, Plato and Aristotle. A number of schools of philosophy flourished then too, and during the Roman and early Christian period, notably the Stoics and Epicureans, and in the second half of the day we will examine the ways of life they advocated in the quest for insight and tranquility.



Order of the day



11:00 – 11:15 Arrival, tea & coffee and Introductions 11:15 – 12:00 The Pre-Socratics and the birth of western thought 12:00 – 1:00 Socrates, Plato and Aristotle 1:00 – 1:45 Lunch and open symposium 1:45 – 3:00 Stoics and Epicureans 3:00 – 3:30 Tea and cake 3:30 – 4:30 Cynics, Sceptics and what happened next 4:30 – 5:00 Conclusions, winter punch.

Sunday, October 13 2013

Owen Barfield's Evolution of Consciousness

Tuesday, June 25 2013

Philosophy in 12 Key Steps with Mark Vernon

New at The Idler Academy!



Monday 23rd September – Monday 9th December 2013

‘I never spent Sunday afternoons looking forward to Monday until I joined this course!’



A twelve week crash course in philosophy, ancient and modern, western and eastern, examining key thinkers and key texts.

‘Mark is a great teacher who helps to bring clarity to some potentially very intimidating subjects.’



New to this course: - Read three key texts! - Explore Eastern philosophy! - Shine a light on the so-called dark ages!



1. Monday 23rd September 2013

Before Socrates: the birth of Western thought

We will consider the thought of individuals from Thales, sometimes called the father of philosophy, to the big hitters Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides, who argued over whether everything is in a state of flux or is, ultimately, one. The surviving texts of these philosophers are fragmentary but we can build up a fascinating picture of their extraordinary take on the world, ideas that have echoed across the centuries to our own day.



2. Monday 30th September 2013

Plato and Aristotle: the disciples of Socrates

Socrates is arguably the most influential figure in western philosophy. The richest picture of him comes to us via Plato, from the notion that the unexamined life is not worth living, to that knowing that he knows little or nothing. What are his great insights? Why is he so important? Plato taught Aristotle with whom we ask further questions. How to be happy? What does it mean to have a friend? How should we organise society so as to flourish?




3. Monday 7th October 2013

Stoicism and Epicureanism: ancient philosophy’s success stories

The Stoics offered probably the most successful practical philosophy of life right up to the Christian period. Notions about ‘going with the flow’ and challenging one’s emotions can be traced back to Stoic ideas. Second most successful was Epicureanism, a kind of hedonism though one that severely critiques our consumer way of life. The trick, they thought, is to enjoy small pleasures rather than become addicted to ever bigger, unsustainable highs and kicks.



4. Monday 14th October 2013

Immanuel Kant, politics and the Enlightenment

After Descartes two different attitudes towards the world took root. Empiricism claimed that only the senses could be trusted as a source of knowledge. Idealism argued that our mental construction of the world must come first. Kant is the towering figure of the Enlightenment, attempting to outline the limits of human knowledge. His essays, What Is Enlightenment?, answers with the clarion call to dare to know for yourself. Though he was also a conservative figure, arguing that society must decide on truth, as well as seeking to synthesis empirical and idealist assumptions.



5. Monday 21st October 2013

Karl Popper and the philosophy of science

Modern science is indisputably one of humankind’s most powerful inventions, but just what it discovers and how it works is widely contested. Popper is a crucial figure in this debate, with his measure of falsifiability. He also wrote very well about history and Darwinism. We will also consider Thomas Kuhn, and the notion of paradigm shifts, and other contemporary interpretations. This evening will help you to get a grip on what science can and can’t address, equipping you for living in a scientific age.



6. Monday 28th October 2013

Friedrich Nietzsche and philosophies of the self

In this session, we cast an eye towards what is known as continental philosophy, which is generally as interested in questions of how to live alongside those of analytic philosophy’s how can we know. Some regard Nietzsche as the most important philosopher of the last century or so. A psychologist and poet too, he never fails to provoke. Foucault provides another stimulating way into this different world. A disciple of Nietzsche, theorist of the self and sexuality, his ideas have also percolated very widely.



7. Monday 4th November 2013

Eastern philosophy today: Indian idealism and Buddhism

Recent philosophy in the West has been dominated by various forms of scientific materialism, which is perhaps why the ancient systems of India are of growing interesting. They offer an idealist conceptions of things, the notion that mind is the fundamental way in which we relate to the cosmos. Buddhist thought represents another development of this approach, a practical philosophy that seeks to address the problem of suffering and discontent, simultaneously raising key questions about the nature of the self and how to live.



8. Monday 11th November 2013

Eastern philosophy today: Confucianism and Taoism

The great philosophical systems of China used to be curiosities for a few students of the Far East. Today, their impact can be felt on lives in the West, partly as a result of globalisation, partly as a result of growing interest in non-Christian spirituality. We will examine the basics of Confucianism and Taoism, have a brief look at some of the key texts, and origins. There will be time to discuss their relevance today.



9. Monday 18th November 2013

Medieval philosophy today: Plotinus and Thomas Aquinas

Although, the medieval period is known as the dark ages, it produced some of the greatest philosophers of all time. Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy was a best-selling for centuries, teaching that a right mind and heart can withstand all the pains of fate. And then came Thomas Aquinas, a monk in the new hippy order of Dominicans, whose interpretation of Aristotle is marked by genuine genius. His insights on the good life, on human psychology and on God, are still important today.



10. Monday 25th November 2013

Going deeper with a key text: Plato’s Symposium

It is said that sometime in 416BC, a group of notable Athenians, not least Socrates, sat down to discuss love. That’s Plato’s conceit, in his Symposium – one of those texts that you will recognise has influenced the way you think about love and beauty, truth and the highest vision to which mortals can aspire. It is a text to which you can return time and time again and always discover sometime new. We will do so in this reading-group style symposium.



'11. Monday 2nd December 2013''

Going deeper with a key text: Descartes’ Meditations

Descartes personal and highly readable reflection on what it is to be human stands on the threshold of a new way of being in the world, now called being modern. It turns doubt on itself to see what can be known for certain, and controversially concludes, ‘I think therefore I am’. Descartes is widely held responsible for mind/body dualism. In this symposium we will look his book, which he regarded as a spiritual reflection, and at what it means to live in his shadow.



12. Monday 9th December 2013

Going deeper with a key text: William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience

Delivered as lectures, this set of reflections on religious experience have not really been beaten in the one hundred years since their publication. James – the brother of the novelist Henry – is a brilliant writer: witty, insightful, arresting and scholarly in equal measure. He writes in the period before philosophy became separate from theology and psychology, even more so from spirituality, a change that would have astonished the ancient philosophers. His book offers a way back to integrating these key domains of human interest and concern.



‘It is much better to be talk philosophy than to read it.’

Sign up for all 12 weeks – £300 (2 weeks free), 6 weeks £150 (1 week free) or individual evenings – £30 an evening.

Tuesday, June 18 2013

FORAGING AND PHILOSOPHY WEEKEND, EXMOOR, 28-30 JUNE

Feed your mind and body on the Idler Academy’s Foraging and Philosophy weekend.



Your hosts will be Tom Hodgkinson and Victoria Hull, and the weekend takes place at their Exmoor farmhouse.



Over the course of the weekend, you will learn how to forage on beach, moor, hedgerow and woodland with expert Lucia Stuart. You will learn how to identify and also how to prepare and cook wild plants, seaweeds, shellfish and flowers.



During the weekend we will also discuss philosophy and learn about the Epicureans with author Dr Mark Vernon.



We will feast, sing and reflect on the big question: how to live. We will teach you how to bake bread. You will eat well and think well. There will also be the opportunity to sleep a lot.

As well as foraged ingredients, you will sample local Devon cheeses, meats and preserves. And beer.



The house is situated on the spectacular cliffs on the north coast of Devon, close to Woody Bay (pictured).

£325 includes VAT and all talks, cookery lessons, foraging trips, information sheets, exercise book, pencil, two dinners, two lunches, coffee, tea, cakes, signed copy of Tom Hodgkinson’s Brave Old World and a welcoming cocktail.

Friday, April 12 2013

Night of Love with Mark Vernon: 23 April - The Idler Academy

Busting romance, reclaiming narcissism and the three things you need to know about love: a symposium.



Tuesday 23rd April, 7.00pm, at the Idler Academy, London



Falling in love is widely celebrated as the pinnacle of the experiences life can offer. This is one of the most pernicious and dangerous myths of our time. In fact, the best kind of love is… Well, is what? Join celebrated Mark Vernon for a symposium, with wine, on love.



In truth, contends Dr Vernon, there are different kinds of love that we learn about in different phases of our lives. Life tends to go well when we have good access to these different ways of loving. In this evening of talk and conversation, we will explore the different loves, what can go wrong with them, and how it can go well.



It turns out that there are three modes of loving. First, there is self-love, narcissism, which is required so that we can be comfortable in our own skin. Then there is the love of another that, when it is returned, nurtures us in trusting and loving others. And thirdly, there is love of life itself, which allows us to be open to all that life throws at us, firing our passions, creativity and courage.



Along the way, we’ll think about questions such as how many friends might one have, why love is not possible in a happy world, and whether love is really evolution’s way of blinding us to the difficulties of raising young.

Book online here!

Friday, February 22 2013

Modern Philosophy at The Idler Academy

Do, please, consider signing up for the Modern Philosophy course at The Idler Academy, beginning next Monday, 25th February. There are still places. I'd be delighted to see you there.

‘Mark is a great teacher who helps to bring clarity to some potentially very intimidating subjects.’

‘It is much better to be talk philosophy than to read it.’




‘I never spent Sunday afternoons looking forward to Monday until I joined this course!’

We consider first Thomas Aquinas, who was probably the greatest interpreter of Aristotle ever and one of the most brilliant philosophers of the medieval period though often forgotten today.

The following Monday we turn to Descartes, who was a modern sceptic though in some ways quite unlike the ancient sceptics, a difference that some feel has led modern philosophy up a dangerous cul-de-sac.

We then come to the empiricist and idealist traditions, associated with towering figures like Hume and Kant, that in some ways bring the differences between the Epicureans and the Stoics into the modern world.

Then we spend a couple of weeks looking at the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science - twin themes that were major components of ancient thought, though of course have also changed dramatically in the modern world.

Saturday, February 2 2013

A New Consciousness and the Vita Contemplativa, this weekend

A couple of things coming up that may be of interest:

Sunday 3rd February, 6.05am & online. BBC Radio 4, Something Understood - Towards a New Consciousness, with Mark Tully, also interviewing myself, the programme having been prompted by this piece.

Sunday 3rd February, 1pm. Idle Sundays at Selfridges - Aristotle, Epicurus and the Vita Contemplativa, with one Dr Mark Vernon.

Wednesday, January 30 2013

Love All That Matters - a QnA

Love: All That Matters is finding its way into the shops and amazon. The following QnA might be useful in saying a little more about it...

Does the book have a key idea? Yes. There are different kinds of love that we learn about in different phases of our lives. Life tends to go well when we have good access to these different ways of loving. So the book explores how we learn about the different loves, what can go wrong, and what can go well.

What are the different kinds of love? Recent developmental psychology suggests that there are three basic modes in which we love. There is self-love, which is required so that we can be comfortable in our own skin. There is the love of another that, when it is returned, nurtures us in trusting and loving others. And there is love of life itself, which allows us to be open to all that life throws at us, firing our passions, creativity and courage.

Why did you write this book now? In the 1950s, the psychologist Erich Fromm wrote a brilliant short book on love, The Art of Loving. Many of its insights still stand, but it does read as dated now, particularly about the relationships between men and women, and also about homosexuality. Also, Fromm wrote before modern developmental psychology. So I felt it was a good moment to update, in a way, Fromm's The Art of Loving.

Are these new ideas? They are, in the sense that developmental psychology has progressed in recent years. But it fascinates me how they link with ancient ideas too, remembered in myths and philosophy. So the book looks at a number of ancient myths, some well known like that of Narcissus; others almost forgotten, like the story of Eros and Anteros, which I think has many things to tell us about the struggles people find when they are in a couple

Is romance the highest form of love? No. I really think that the adulation of romantic love is a danger. The belief that there is one other person out there who will perfect your life is a powerful fantasy, hard to resist even by those who don't believe it. Romance is fine, but it must lead us to love life itself, with another, but not perpetually gazing into our beloved's eyes.

Is there a highest form of love? We need to be fluent in the various kinds of love. That said, I think that the love of life itself, manifest in creativity and friendship, is the richest flowering of human love. This is being able to stand in love. I talk about divine love too, the perception which may come that although we are thrown into life, life is underpinned by love. This sense is what religious people call God.

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