Julian Baggini


British Philosopher and Author, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Philosopher's Magazine

Author Quotes

We are bodies of thought. It is thought ? which includes emotions and perceptions, not just rational processes ? that makes us who we are, but these thoughts are always embodied.

You can?t tell whether or not a disposition is passive or active in any given case just from knowing what it is.

If there is no single moral authority. . . we have to in some sense ?create? values for ourselves. . . that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are... moral claims are judgments it is always possible to someone to disagree with... without saying something that is factually false... you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error.

It is only because of historical accident that atheism is not widely recognized as a world-view in its own right. This world view is essentially a very general form of naturalism, in which there are not two kinds of stuff, the natural and the supernatural, but one. The forces that govern this substance are also natural ones and there is no ultimate purpose or agency behind them. Human life is biological, and thus does not survive beyond biological death. Such a worldview needs defending, and a special name, only because for various reasons, it is not the one that most humans have adopted. But the view itself is true whether or not there are people who disagree with it. In a totally atheist world, we may stop noticing that it is a view at all, in the same way that most people do not notice that they believe objects exist whether we perceive them or not. But it would still be a view. So in my book, I tried to articulate the grounds for this view with as little reference to the religious alternative as possible. The new atheism, however, is characterized by its attacks on religion. ?There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds,? wrote Richard Dawkins, quite typically, quoting approvingly Stephen Weinberg, who said, ?for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.? Hitchens goes so far as to explicitly say that ?I am not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist.? This antitheism is for me a backwards step. It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water. Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity. A second feature of atheism is that it is committed to the appropriate use of reason and evidence. In order to occupy this intellectual high ground, it is important to recognise the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only. With its talk of ?spells? and ?delusions?, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist.

No matter how jumbled my brain is in some ways, unity of agency only requires a reasonably stable set of intentions, and the ability to carry them through.

People almost invariably believe that there is such an essence, a core of self that holds steady through life. This is sometimes called the ?pearl? view. The problem is that no one seems to be quite sure where to locate this precious gem.

So when you are very angry you do not have access to the same memories that you have when you are feeling very benign and relaxed.?

The limitations of the ?ethical? are perhaps most obvious to the modern mind. The life of eternity is just an illusion, for we are all-too mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures. To believe we belong there is to live in denial of our animality. So the world has increasingly embraced the ?aesthetic?. But this fails to satisfy us, too. If the moment is all we have, then all we can do is pursue pleasurable moments, ones that dissolve as swiftly as they appear, leaving us always running on empty, grasping at fleeting experiences that pass. The materialistic world offers innumerable opportunities for instant gratification without enduring satisfaction and so life becomes a series of diversions. No wonder there is still so much vague spiritual yearning in the West: people long for the ethical but cannot see beyond the aesthetic.

These are moments when we abrogate our sense of self, when we are no longer self-conscious, we?re just conscious.? This is what psychologists call depersonalization.

We are critical of religion when necessary. Our willingness to accept what is good in religion is balanced by an equally honest commitment to be critical of it when necessary. We object when religion invokes mystery to avoid difficult questions or to obfuscate when clarity is needed. We do not like the way in which ?people of faith? tend to huddle together in an unprincipled coalition of self-interest, even when that means liberals getting into bed with homophobes and misogynists.

You cannot explain the unity of experience by simply positing an inner, unified experiencer.

If we start to think about the different facets of ourselves as different people, we actually make each self or persona less than a full person. To be a whole person is precisely to have depth and more than one side.

It is situation, not character, which often makes the biggest difference to what we do.

No matter what their adult personality is, many people revert to childhood versions of themselves when they gather together as family.

People romanticize death and ageing in order to put it out of their minds and get on with their miserably short lives.? Aubrey de Grey, biomedical gerontologist

Something only seems to be missing because you?re expecting much more.

The problem with the postmodern conception of the self is that the fragmentation it sees is more of a theoretical necessity than an empirical reality.

These grand narratives are all false, because they impose a unified, singular structure on a world which has no fixed essence. In their place we need a multiplicity of narratives, ones which capture the different, contradictory perspectives that people in different times and places have of the world.

We are indeed less unified, coherent, consistent and enduring than we usually suppose, but we are still real and individual.

You fully understand who a person is not by observing them in only one kind of situation, but by knowing how they are in a variety of situations.

If what we are is not just given, we therefore have to choose what we become, and such choices have an ethical dimension, for we can choose to become faithful or faithless, honest or deceitful, generous or mean.

It usually really matters to someone if there is a disconnect between how they see themselves and how others see them.

Not all that is precious impresses at first sight: more people have got rich mining coal than diamonds, and oil moves more machinery than gold.

PERSON is not a biological category, but a functional one.

Sometimes we believe we have successfully imagined something when we have in fact done no such thing.

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British Philosopher and Author, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Philosopher's Magazine