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Stephen Mumford

Stephen Mumford

Dean of Faculty of Arts,

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Posts by Stephen Mumford

Fare Well

Back in April there was a Twitter hashtag where you had to complete the sentence #Iamaphilosopherbecause. My contribution was “science cannot tell me what is a number, what is good, what is knowledge or what is causation. And I’ve kids to feed”. With that light-hearted ending, I was pretty surprised how much anger the tweet …


This week I had cause to look again at Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, a book from which I used to teach but had not read for around 20 years. Wanting to lay hands on a copy in the middle of town, I went along to the book shop in the near certain knowledge that …

Immersion and Self-Consciousness

Schopenhauer claimed that the function of art was to release the individual from their constant restless striving. We have selfish desires that we look to satisfy, desires which seem beyond our control and not always admirable. But in aesthetic contemplation we can lose our sense of self if we become immersed in the object and …

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Football is for Losers

The day before my first birthday, England won the World Cup. England’s greatest footballing triumph passed me by. I grew up never seeing them as a World Cup team as they failed to qualify for the ’74 and ’78 finals. In 1982, I finally saw England kick their first ball in the tournament: and what …

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The Seventies

If obliged to live my whole life perpetually in a single decade, I hope it would be the 1970s. Some think of it, with all its excesses, as the decade that taste forgot. But it was a time of extremes and never boring. Starting more or less with the first manned moon landing, there was …

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The Art of Conversation

I’ve always had a funny relationship with conversation. I often want to be left alone, to get on with work, read, do the things I like to do, quietly in solitude, and a conversation stops me. Sometimes you can feel trapped in a conversation, finding it dull or uncomfortable, inane and a waste of time, …

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If Just One Thing is Not Socially Constructed

What is Objective Truth anyway? What is Reality? Anyone who has defended a remotely realist philosophy will no doubt have faced a familiar challenge: it’s all a social construction. Take money. That couldn’t exist without a society giving it meaning, imbuing it with value. And God is surely socially constructed rather than a real being …

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The Pain and Pleasure of Learning

There is a rather simplistic thought that every single action you perform, you do because it brings you pleasure. Even when you give to charity, the claim goes, it is purely because it gives you a personal thrill. No act is genuinely altruistic; all are ultimately selfish. It’s a simple, reductionist thesis of psychological egoism …

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While in some ways there is a commonality that holds us together as a species – all of us wanting love, freedom and personal growth – we also exhibit a great diversity. There is no denying this. As well as the very apparent differences in race, sex and culture, we are diverse in our politics, …

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Books for Prisoners

In 1981 I saw the TV premier of A Sense of Freedom, a film about violent convict Jimmy Boyle. Serving a life sentence for murder, the Glasgow gangster faced down one attempt after another by the prison authorities to crush his spirit. Perhaps they thought they could beat the bad out of him. But it …

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