Key Research Interests

Philosophy of language, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Philosophy of Literature and Film, Philosophy of Psychology, Eco-philosophy.

Research Interests

Wittgenstein runs throughout my interests and my work. I write and publish exegesis, but principally I apply Wittgenstein’s thought, resolutely interpreted, to diverse subject-matters. A picture of this can be garnered from my books, ‘Applying Wittgenstein’, ‘A Wittgensteinian way with paradoxes’, and ‘Wittgenstein among the sciences’. In the latter, I interpret Kuhn and Winch after Wittgenstein, and think accordingly the status of various science and ‘science’ disciplines.

My controversial book ‘There is no such thing as social science’ appeared in 2008. ‘Wittgenstein among the sciences’ was the sequel: it took in everything from ‘cognitive science’ through economics to linguistics. As regards philosophy of literature and film, I am particularly interested by ‘deranged narratives’; my interest in the philosophy of literature and film intersects with my interest in the philosophy of psychopathology. I am motivated by a desire to understand the roots of philosophical discontent and delusion.

This brings together my interest in Buddhism (particularly Zen), in psychopathology and in ‘the psychopathology of philosophical delusion or illusion’, and in propaganda and the framing of language and of political ideologies. I want to know from whence in our biology, our psychology, our language and our culture philosophical problems come. Wittgenstein has typically been badly misunderstood as saying that these problems come only from our language.

This is a superficial and more or less positivist error or illusion. But there is a profound difficulty in getting clear on the origin of these problems: because this aim can seem to imply the absurd ambition of exiting entirely and permanently from such problems, in order to see how they have clouded our vision.

By contrast, I am interested in exploring the ways (e.g. through desire, fear, and political ideology – thus see especially my ongoing work on ‘The Lord of the Rings’) in which such problems most deeply ensnare us; and how (e.g. through meditation, honesty with oneself, a ‘therapeutic’ engagement with one’s problems, and a sane society) one/we can most effectively learn from them and change through and beyond them.

I believe that philosophers cannot abdicate the challenge of thinking about how we ought to live, and thinking against the grain of the times to change those times. Now more than ever.

 

Research Projects

1) Wittgenstein, resolutely interpreted and applied - I regard Wittgenstein (and the ‘Wittgenstein Research Group’ at UEA) as the heart of my open-ended research project into philosophy, thought and life. I aim in the next year to complete a book joint-authored with Phil Hutchinson, laying out what it really means to think of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations as a radically therapeutic work (after the fashion of ‘the New Wittgenstein’ and Gordon Baker) or, as we now prefer to put it, a ‘liberatory’ and ‘ethical’ work.

2) An ecological alternative to the political philosophy of liberalism -My other key research project for the years ahead is to challenge, chiefly on grounds of the call upon us made by future generations (and by non-humans), the dominant ideology of our times: individualist materialism … and its legitimating ideology in the academy: political liberalism. I have published a series of papers in which Rawls’s liberalism is put severely to the test by the climate crisis which we are inhabiting, and also by its evisceration of the possibility of a response to that crisis taking seriously the claims of spirituality and religion.

I believe that a true egalitarianism and a sense of the sacred is incompatibly with the political philosophy of liberalism. I also believe that ecology requires precaution, and so I am working on several papers jointly with Nassim Taleb, on the Precautionary Principle. (This project brings together somewhat the philosophical with the other side of my life: my active involvement in the Green House thinktank, and indeed in ‘Green politics’.)

 

At UEA I am involved in the Wittgenstein Workshop and organize the annual Philosophy Public Lectures and take part in the ‘Philosophers at the Cinema’ series that we put on in Norwich’s art cinema, Cinema City.

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