Who am I? How do I know what I know – or whether things are really as they seem? How should I live? Now is the chance to find out, in the space of a weekend. Some of the answers, by some of the greatest thinkers: Plato’s Cave, Descartes’ cogito, Kant’s imperatives, Freud’s libido, Sartre’s waiter. These riddles and many more will be solved, as well as the key ideas – illuminating, plausible, suggestive, absurd – that have shaped Western civilisation between 600 BC and 2013. This is not philosophy made simple but philosophy made understandable – a chance to find out why it matters and how it can be fun.


Over the weekend you will get a chronological overview of some of the most important figures in Western philosophy, and follow the trajectory from Plato’s notion that the only real things are dimly remembered perfect archeypes, to Descartes’ claim that the knowing self is the only certainty, to Schopenhauer dismissing consciousness as a thin crust over the molten Will that we all ultimately are, to contemporary philosophers who battle over how far the mind might just be neural processes. You will be guided by Jane O’Grady (City University, London School of Philosophy).


Day One


1) The dawn of philosophy Socrates, Plato and Aristotle:

Three 50-minute sessions starting at 10.00, with a 10 minute break after the first and a 20 minute break after the second. (10.00 -10.50, 11.00 – 11.50, 12.10. – 1.00)


Socratic dialogue and death. The perfect eternal Forms; psyche to soul. Plato’s ideal Republic of philosopher-kings and noble lies. Aristotle: how to live the good life; what is happiness? A glance at the Stoics and medievals.


Lunch 1.00 – 2.30.


2)  Towards Enlightenment

Four sessions starting at 2.30pm, with a 10 minute break after the first two, and a 30 minute break after the third.


Descartes’ mind-body split, the ‘I’ as starting-point. Locke, liberalism, the veil of perception, and the remembered self. Berkeley – an immaterial world and God in the quad.



Day Two


3)  From Enlightenment to Romanticism

Three 50-minute sessions starting at 10.00., with a 10 minute break after the first and a 20 minute break after the second. (10.00 -10.50, 11.00 – 11.50, 12.10. – 1.00)


Hume demolishes reason, the world, the self, causation and God. His twangling strings of sympathy versus Kant’s Categorical Imperative and appeal to consistency: what would it be like if everyone did that?


Rousseau’s noble savage. Romanticism: the limitations of reason, yearning for the wilderness, storm and stress


Schopenhauer – endless blind striving, rationalising our ignobility, sex as ‘the public secret that must never be mentioned distinctly but is always and everywhere understood to be the main thing’.


Lunch 1.00 – 2.30.


4)  Into the present

Four sessions starting at 2.30pm.


Nietzsche on living dangerously, compassion as the come-back of the underdog, the death of God and the questionable value of truth.


Freud – the ego is not master in its own house. Civilisation and its discontents


20th century angst — Sartre: the nothingness of self, self-creation, nausea, and the obnoxious Other. Wittgenstein: meaning is use, language as games, beetles in boxes.  Self and mind seem to be vanishing — but what is it like to be a bat?