Democracy Discussion at Derby Quad – 21 October 2015 1830-2000

Always a hot topic, the next philosophical discussion at Derby Quad will focus on the concept of democracy. We’ll be considering what makes a democratic society, what the value of democracy is, and whether the society we live in can be considered truly democratic.

We’ll be welcoming back Joe Saunders as the guest speaker. Joe last joined us back in March 2014 for the discussion on free will. Since then Joe has become Dr Joe and has secured a position at the University of Leeds, so congratulations to him and good luck!

Last time he gave a passionate defence of free will from a Kantian perspective, while I invoked findings from cognitive science to argue against it. We liked the adversarial structure as it really helped to bring out the arguments and give the audience a feel for the shape of the debate, so we’ll be adopting a similar style for the next discussion. We’ll also be trialling a new format, which we hope will increase audience engagement. Rather than the speakers talking for 50 minutes or so before starting the discussion, we’ll be chopping the speakers’ contribution into three and interspersing it with audience discussion. You don’t have to join in, you can sit there and listen if you prefer, but if you do have something you want to say don’t be shy, the atmosphere has always been friendly and welcoming.

As always the aim of these discussions is not to push a particular point of view, but to make to audience question their assumptions, assess the various arguments, and form their own opinions. This is what philosophy is all about.

The discussions are always free of charge, which is important to me, but you need to reserve a place as they are limited. You can do this by visiting the event page on the QUAD website and either booking them through their or calling the number on the page.

Every event so far has been oversubscribed, so if you do book tickets but end up not being able to go please let QUAD know so that someone else can book.

I’m looking forward to an excellent discussion.

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Philosophical discussion – Photography as Art – 1 April 2015

The next philosophical discussion ‘Photography as Art’ is scheduled for 1 April and will be held at Derby QUAD at 1830-2000

The Format international photography festival is coming to Derby from 13 March to 12 April so what better opportunity to have a debate about the philosophy of photography and art. Al Baker of the University of Sheffield will be the guest speaker and he has some interesting and challenging ideas about photography as a form of art. Here’s the blurb:

A philosophical exploration of the nature of photography and the artistic uses that photography can be put to.

Expect a lively and thought provoking discussion on what kinds of photographs can count as what kinds of art, how philosophers have posed and answered challenges concerning the artistic limits of photography, and why the theme of this year’s FORMAT festival – evidence – might be an important source of insight on these questions

As usual the speakers will take about 50 minutes and the remaining 40 minutes or so will involve an audience discussion of the issues raised. All are welcome and free to contribute to the discussion as much or as little as they want. I’m hoping that they’ll be plenty of people in the audience with views on the matter so we can have a great exchange of ideas.

As always the event is totally free but due to limited places you’ll need to reserve your place through QUAD here

If you have any questions please feel to email me at the email on the poster below.

GR Poster

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Philosophy at Quad – Belief

It’s supernatural season at Quad from 20 September and to fit in with this we have a philosophical discussion planned for 8 October 2014 from 1830-2000 on the topic of belief.


Here’s a link to the event on the Quad website:


When it comes to the supernatural I am a complete sceptic, but I wanted to avoid an adversarial, sceptic vs believer debate. Quite simply because I find them boring. Both sides tend to be entrenched in their positions and the same arguments we’ve all heard before are rehearsed over and over. I obviously have my own opinions, and I strongly believe that they are correct, but being a liberal kind of chap unless someone explicitly shows an interest in debating the matter with me I’ll generally leave it well alone. Unless, of course, those beliefs are harmful in some way.



So, rather than debate the merits of the beliefs themselves, I think it’s more interesting to recognise the fact that human belief in the supernatural is a common across both time and culture and to examine that phenomenon. Is there something about the human mind that predisposes us to believe? If so, what is it and what are its origins? If we are predisposed to believe, what does this mean for our concept of ourselves as objective assessors of evidence?


To help us tackle these questions we have some first class speakers lined up in the shape of psychologists Malcolm Schofield and Dr Ian Baker. Both are based at the University of Derby and are active researchers in just this area. I have already discussed the evening with them quite a bit and, as you would expect, both are very knowledgeable and passionate about their subject.


As usual the evening will consist of about 45-60 minutes of presentations from the speakers, with Ian and Malcolm tackling the heart of the issue and me exploring some of the philosophical implications of their ideas. After that, we’ll open it to the audience to see what you have to say.


At the last philosophical evening when we discussed equality with guest Katharine Jenkins we had some really fantastic contributions from the audience and the debate was lively and well informed. But after the event several people approached me to say that they had really wanted to say something but they were too scared – please don’t be! The discussion can only be enriched by different perspectives on the issues and everyone’s point of view will be listened to respectfully.


As always it’s free but you need to book your place through QUAD, you can do so through the link above. If you have any questions you can contact me through here or via Twitter.


See you there!

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Equality discussion at Quad – June 18

The free will discussion at Quad that took place at the end of March was a fantastic evening with around 45 people attending and making very insightful and informed contributions to the debate. Guest speaker Joe Saunders started us off by introducing the concept of freedom and talked a little about his philosophical idol Immanuel Kant. After Joe’s introduction I reviewed some recent psychological studies which showed that our decisions and actions aren’t as free as we think they are, and argued that in light of this we might have to rethink our conception of ourselves as free agents. Joe then replied, arguing persuasively in favour of freedom. After the talks, the discussion opened up to the audience who had some interesting comments to make on a variety of related topics. Thanks to all that attended and contributed. And special thanks to Joe Saunders who was a fine speaker and advocate of freedom. I hope to get Joe back in the future to contribute to future discussions.


The next discussion will take place on 18 June (1830-2000) where we will examine the concept of ‘equality’. What different types of equality are there? And which, if any, should we aim to achieve? I’m very happy to have secured Katharine Jenkins from the University of Sheffield as guest speaker. Katharine is an excellent philosopher with an original and compelling contribution to make on this topic, so I am very excited about hearing her speak. The format will be the same as usual, with Katharine and I spending about 45 minutes to an hour introducing the topic and identifying the main areas of debate before we open it up to the audience for general discussion.

It’s football season at Quad, so I will try to illustrate some of my philosophical points using some examples from the world of football. This shouldn’t be too hard, as the massive wage differential between top and bottom, and the recent furore over sexist comments made by the chief executive of the Premier League show that most types of inequalities that exist in society also exist within in the world of football. If you aren’t into football don’t worry, I won’t labour the point.

The aim of the evening is to get you thinking critically and challenging your own assumptions about equality. You can come along just to listen, or you can make a contribution to the debate. Either way, I hope it’s going to be a fun evening that will get you thinking.

Places are free but limited, click on the link to the Quad website below to book your place.

If you have any questions, type them into the Twitter thing to the right of the page, or email me at “garfordmoore” followed by “” don’t type the quote marks or the “followed by” bit obviously, I write it like that to avoid spam bots.

Anyway, hope to see you there!

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Mental Understanding Abilities

The aim of my research is to describe the cognitive mechanism/mechanisms that underlie what I call ‘Mental Understanding Abilities’.  In this post I’ll clarify what I mean by this.

The average human has a quite sophisticated understanding of the mind. This understanding confers a range of useful abilities that we use every day in social interactions with strangers, colleagues, partners and family members. Consider the following scene:

 Hans frowns hard and rubs his belly. A smile crosses his lips; he approaches the fridge and opens it, poking his head inside. The fridge is empty. Hans slams the fridge door and the frown returns to his face.

We could explain this behaviour by saying that Hans desired food and that he believed there was food in the fridge. When he looked inside the fridge he gained the knowledge that there was no food in there. The former frown was due to hunger, the latter due to disappointment and the slamming of the door was due to anger. We are not limited to explanation however; suppose we observed a frowning Hans rubbing his belly and that we knew that Hans believed that there was a large bratwurst in the fridge. Using this information we would be able to predict that Hans would search in the fridge for the bratwurst. If we knew further that earlier in the day – unbeknownst to Hans – Sylvie had eaten the bratwurst, we would have also been able to predict Hans’ bitter disappointment and anger.

Mental explanation or prediction isn’t always so clear cut, as when Franz sits in his armchair, agonising over the reason why Bridgette hasn’t called after their date last night. “Did I talk too much?” He wonders “Does she not find me attractive? Did I bore her with my constant talk about concrete brutalist architecture?” Franz is unaware that the real reason Bridgette hasn’t called is that she left her phone in the taxi. She actually had a lovely time and would love to do it again sometime.

Note that in the explanation and prediction of Hans’ behaviour we attribute various mental states to him: desire, hunger, disappointment, belief and anger. These states are not themselves directly observable – we can’t see them – but we are able to infer them from Hans’ behaviour. While Hans is very easy to read, Bridgette is less so. Franz has to infer Bridgette’s mental states on the very slender evidence of her not calling him. The mental states that we attribute to people seem to be caused by the sensory information they receive from the environment and/or by other mental states that they previously possessed. These attributed mental states can go on to cause other mental states to occur, or to cause the behaviour that we observe.

This causal understanding of the mind doesn’t just allow us to passively explain and predict behaviour; we can actively get involved in influencing others’ mental states. We can manipulate others’ mental states by controlling their perceptual input, if Hans did not want Sylvie to know about the bratwurst in the fridge maybe he should have hidden it in one of the draws. In hindsight, maybe he should have. We can mislead people into believing things that aren’t true, to desire things that aren’t in their interests. But it’s not all so Machiavellian; we can manipulate others mental states by anticipating their desires and fulfilling them or by making them believe something that makes them feel better.

These are just some examples of our mental understanding abilities, I’m sure you can now think of more. We use these abilities and the understanding on which they are based so often, and so effortlessly, that we take them for granted. But the full range of abilities doesn’t seem to be shared by some people with autism, younger children or our closest primate cousins. So what is it that underlies these abilities? My approach to answering this question is to explore the relevant literature from various scientific disciplines, primarily psychology and neuroscience, to see which theoretical model of cognitive architecture best fits the data. Currently I lean towards a cluster of dissociable cognitive mechanisms rather than a single mechanism, but there is much work to do and I try to keep an open mind.

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Free Will at Quad – Wednesday 26th March

The next philosophical discussion at QUAD will take place on the 26th March at 1830 – 2000. The topic I have chosen is that of Free will and moral responsibility, something the audience can get really engaged with. Free will is a classic philosophical problem and while the traditional arguments will be examined, I will bring the debate into the 21st century with an exploration of recent scientific discoveries and real life case studies.

To book your free place visit the QUAD website here:

Here is the blurb about the night:

Get Real Philosophical Discussions: Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Do we have free will or are the decisions we make pre-determined by factors beyond our control? If we could not have acted otherwise, can we be held morally responsible for our actions? Many recent discoveries in cognitive science seem to challenge traditional notions of free will and responsibility. Within courtrooms “my brain made me do it” is becoming an increasingly common defence. Philosopher Andrew Garford Moore and guest speaker Joe Saunders will examine these issues in two presentations, followed by a general audience discussion.

The discussion will be informal, will not assume any prior philosophical knowledge and is open to all. Audience participation is very much encouraged but not essential. This is a great opportunity to think and talk about the problems of philosophy in the wonderful setting of QUAD’s gallery space.

I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope to see you there!

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Get Real returns for 2014

The first Get Real philosophical discussion of 2014 will take place on Wednesday 8th January. Get Real is a philosophical discussion group that meets Wednesdays 12 – 1 in the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby. The group was first formed in September 2007 and has met each week during academic term times ever since. At the beginning of each session, a random philosophical question is pulled from a tin and the group as a whole decides whether to discuss that question, or whether another one should be chosen. Any attendee is welcome to add a question to the tin to be debated at a future meeting.

The discussions are free and open to all. A broad range of viewpoints are always represented and the group as a whole promotes no particular philosophical outlook or school of thought. Discussions can see Existentialists debate with Pragmatists the issue of free will or Atheists discussing the merits of equality with Christians. All levels of experience and ability are also represented and welcomed, regular attendees range from undergraduate students to emeritus professors.

Food is available courtesy of the Multi Faith Centre fair trade lunch, which is a wonderful spread that can be accessed in return for a small donation. If you are interested simply come along on the day or feel free to contact me for further information.

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Philosophy at QUAD

I was recently involved in organising the Get Real Philosophical Discussion at QUAD arts centre in Derby on the 13th November 2013.

The aim of the discussion was to get as many people as possible, from as broad a section of the Derby community as possible, thinking philosophically and engaging with each other in philosophical discussion. I hoped the discussion would have the twin benefits of increasing interest in philosophy amongst Derbians and also bringing together people with differing opinions in a forum where ideas can be debated in an informal and friendly way.

Derby has a rich history of philosophical debate – Erasmus Darwin founded the Derby Philosophical Society here in the 18th century, one of many such salons at the time. That spirit was very much evident at the event, as over 30 philosophy enthusiasts attended to discuss the concept of truth in the wonderful setting of Quad’s gallery space. Two presentations set the tone for the debate, the first by myself on the Pragmatist view of truth and the second by Sean Broome looking at truth from a Semiotic viewpoint. After the presentations there was a general audience discussion on the issues raised and more. Questions such as ‘does science involve faith?’, ‘Is truth a democracy?’ and ‘what is the basis of moral truth claims?’ were discussed. Despite the size of the group, I think that everyone that wanted to got the chance to contribute, and I hope that everyone enjoyed themselves.

I will be back at QUAD in February or March to discuss how new scientific insights into the mind affect our ideas of free will and moral responsibility. Keep an eye on this blog for further information or follow me Twitter @garfordmoore

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