Autumn Programme 2018

Wednesday 26th September

Chloe Mullet (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on a question of refinement: towards exposing the means and methods of musical creativity

As a musician and music educator for the past twenty years, I became fascinated with how music I created could be, in one moment, ‘fantastic’ – and ‘absolutely awful’, just a short time later. The PhD I am engaged in takes elements of questions implied by this familiar problem, to explore musical processes, by applying Gibson’s theory of affordances (1977) to a series of reflexive case studies. The research reflects the range of my musical interests, and encompasses solo projects, including collaboration/arrangement for John McGrath with the Immix ensemble, multimedia music and dance with Sarah Black and Gemma Breed, structured improvisation as part of a.P.A.t.T., and arrangement for Liverpool’s New Romantic pop-rock group, China Crisis.

This paper takes a closer look at contrasting examples of my practice, in which possibilities are proliferated, accepted and rejected, to propose/expose the interrelatedness of different forms of agency, that ultimately impact the experienced meaning of the music made.  The findings are framed by a series of broad themes that unify the research, namely ‘person’, ‘project’, ‘people’, ‘place’, ‘tools’, and ‘process’, which enable the application of Gibson’s theory of affordance in a range of time-scales and contexts, for the purposes of comparison.

Part of the ambition of this research is that it benefit others, including creative practitioners, so the feedback of the Society will be of great interest.

Chloë Mullett is a Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at The University of Gloucestershire; her PhD research has been generously supported by Manchester Metropolitan University.

Wednesday 10th October

James Woodard (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Rebooting the Human Race: Philosophy of Religion and Extra-Terrestrial Human Society

At 2018, the time of writing, there is every reason to know with certainty that the colonisation by humans of a planetary body is both a technological feasibility and a human objective. Although for lack of resources and engineering time this project is out of our present reach by some decades, theoretical and practical advances in rocketry and very many other sciences are in place for what can viewed as the next ‘great leap forward’ for Homo Sapiens. The object of the evening’s discussion is to examine the religious, philosophical and ethical implications and impositions upon the people of a future extra-terrestrial colonised earthling society. These people will be obliged to function under the new set of societal demands of hostile environment, small gene pool, lack of resources and the profound ecological considerations of an artificial biosphere. This human progression may be viewed as a fresh start or a ‘re-boot’.

James Woodard was previously theatre Master Carpenter, Lighting Designer, Production Manager and a tutor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His interest in philosophy was sparked by Russell, R.D. Laing and Eratosthenes. James is presently an undergraduate Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Gloucestershire.

Wednesday 24th October

Dr Charlotte Alderwick (University of the West of England) will talk on Why Value Nature?

Unfortunately this talk as had to be cancelled due to the illness of the speaker.

It’s clear that as humans we have a variety of impacts on the world around us – some positive, some negative – and that we have the ability to radically change and even destroy some parts of our environment.  And we generally think that some of the things that we do, or could do, to the natural world are bad; for example if a species is made extinct because of our activities.  But why is this?  Is it bad for us to treat nature in certain ways because it means that the world is a worse place for humans?  Or is there something about nature that means it is valuable in its own right?  In this talk I discuss two different philosophical views of the value of nature, and explore the implications of these views for the ways that we should live and interact with the world around us.

Charlotte Alderwick is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England, Bristol.  Her research applies work in the history of philosophy to contemporary debates, and she is especially interested in human freedom and agency, the concept of nature, and our relationship to the natural world.

Wednesday 7th November

Dr Stephen Law (Royal Institute of Philosophy) will talk on Four Wittgensteinian Defences of Religious Belief and Why They All Fail

Religious belief is criticised from various directions. Many – like Richard Dawkins – believe that much of what the religious believe can be shown to be unjustified or false. In response, some religious believers go ‘Wittgensteinian’ – insisting that the critics have an unsophisticated grasp of and have misunderstood what religious people mean when they say ‘God exists’, ‘Jesus rose from the dead’, and so on. The critics’ criticisms consequently miss their target. I tease out various versions of this style of immunising strategy, looking at examples from Karen Armstrong, John Cottingham, Denys Turner, Giles Fraser, and others. I conclude that none of the versions examined succeed. All fail either because they are implausible as accounts of what the religious believe, and/or because they fail to deliver the required immunity.

Stephen Law is an English philosopher and was reader in philosophy at worked at Heythrop College, University of London until its closure in June 2018. He also edits the philosophical journal Think, which is sponsored by the Royal Institute of Philosophy and published by the Cambridge University Press. He is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and Commerce, and in 2008 became the provost of the Centre for Inquiry UK.

Wednesday 21st November

Professor Constantine Sandis (University of Hertfordshire) will talk on Understanding Oneself and Others

How can we come to better understand someone? I argue against the popular conception of understanding as a matter of accessing information that is in some sense stored within the mind of the person or other creature in question. In so doing, I reject both empathetic and rationalistic models of how such knowledge is obtained and subsequently applied to explain behaviour. Instead of beginning with such a general theory of ‘mind-reading’, I consider a range of cases pertaining to other species, distant and/or past cultures, one’s own loved ones and, indeed, oneself. I conclude that these collectively demonstrate that while one cannot specify necessary and sufficient conditions for understanding across all such scenarios, the degree to which we gain understanding is positively correlated with that to which we share practices and related behaviour.

Constantine Sandis is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire, Secretary of the British Wittgenstein Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is the author of The Things We Do and Why We Do Them (2012) and Character and Causation: Hume’s Philosophy of Action (2018), and editor or co-editor of numerous books including Hegel on Action (2010), Human Nature (2012), and Cultural Heritage Ethics (2015). He is currently writing a book on the topic of this talk for Yale University Press.

Wednesday 5th December

Professor Nathan Widder (Royal Holloway, University of London) will talk on The Time-Politics Assemblage

Recent political philosophy, and particularly those strands that have been influenced and inspired by French post-structuralist thought, has increasingly explored ontological questions about time and temporality as a way to understand complex processes of political and social change.  This has built upon a previous focus by scholars on questions of difference in relation to identity that often brought with it a deconstruction and seemingly a complete dissolution of the human subject, but through this turn to time many have found a way to build new positive conceptions of what the human self or subject can be.  My paper will explore these issues of time and difference in relation to a politics and a micropolitics of the self.  It will look particularly at the temporality and the sense of an event, and how the self relates to the clash of forceful differences that an event entails.

Nathan Widder is a Professor of Political Theory at Royal Holloway, University of London.  He is author of three books, Genealogies of Difference (2002), Reflections on Time and Politics (2008), and Political Theory after Deleuze (2012), as well as numerous articles exploring thinkers and issues in ancient, medieval, and contemporary philosophy.  He is currently working on an extensive study of the role played by the concept of sense in the work of 20th Century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

All sessions will be held at the Francis Close Campus of the University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, at 7 p.m in room HC203.  £2 students/unwaged £3 waged.




Dr Richard Elliott (Newcastle University) will talk on From Sound Objects to Song Objects: Rethinking Sonic Materiality and Metaphor?

Recent years have witnessed an intense interest in the roles played by objects in the world, with many approaches recognising the vital interdependence of human and non-human actors. My current research aims to establish the importance of music (and sound more broadly) in this new terrain of scholarship by analysing how songs represent objects, how songs themselves become meaningful objects and how songs rely on a wide range of ever-changing objects to assure their survival. Using the connecting thread of materiality, I propose an approach to musical analysis that both connects with recent object-centred scholarship and overcomes existing musicological distinctions between music as thing and music as process.

This paper presents an analysis of the ‘song object’, a concept crucial to my research and which has connections to earlier theories of lyric substance as well as to Pierre Schaeffer’s objet sonore (sound object). What constitutes the song object? What kind of object is it? How do songs themselves comment on their construction, their parts, their physicality? I argue that songs are a particular kind of technology for ordering information and that they deploy particular technologies of object orientation in ways distinct from, but comparable to, those of paintings, sculptures, poems and books. Part of my analysis therefore consists of exploring material descriptors and metaphors connected to song, incorporating the artificial (hooks, bridges, etc.) and the natural (cells, viruses, weather systems). I’m interested in what these terms – and their application to song objects – can tell us about the materiality of sound.

Dr Richard Elliott is Senior Lecturer in Music at Newcastle University (UK). His current research focuses on issues of time, age and space in popular music as well as the relationship between music and materiality. He is the author of the books Fado and the Place of Longing (2010), Nina Simone (2013), The Late Voice (2015) and The Sound of Nonsense (2018), as well as articles exploring consciousness, memory, nostalgia, place and space, affect, technology and the relationship between popular music and literature.


Jessica Munns and Penny Richards will talk on Staging History: William Shakespeare, John Banks and Henry VIII: Sex, Gender and Spectacle.

This paper will discuss two plays, roughly sixty years apart, that dramatise the marriage of  Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in very different ways. We shall suggest that what can be seen in the different ways the “story” is staged is an epistemological shift with regard to the idea of what constitutes history, as well as a reconfiguration of gender that in itself rewrites history in what is, of course, an endless process of revision and erasure in the work of memory and forgetting.

Jessica Munns and Penny Richards have written and edited many books together, as well as currently editing the journal Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research. They have both given papers to the Gloucestershire Philosophical Society before.



Dr Martin Wood (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Jalaram Kathā: Exceeding the Capacity of Modern Historiography

Over a period of three evenings in January this year some fifteen hundred devotees of the Gujarati Hindu saint Jalaram Bapa gathered in a community function hall in north west London to partake in a katha or re-telling of the narrative of the life of saint and his wife Virbai Ma.

The key episodes in the narrative that underpin the traditions ethical and philosophical position such as the saint’s his previous lives and the miracles that he performed were narrated by the community’s priest and re-enacted throughout by a number of devotees. Furthermore, whilst the event focused solely upon the above themes at the same time a highly venerated and ritually installed copy of the Ramayana was placed in the centre of the stage which had to all intents and purposes been transformed in to a shrine.

This paper hopes to unpack the role of the katha in the community and the importance of the telling and retelling of the Jalaram narrative and consider the role of the Ramayana in its material form during the katha ritual. I also hope to illustrate how the performance of Katha opens the way for a much deeper religious experience as allows for the reality of transcendent presence and exceeds what we in the west might consider the capacity of modern historiography.



Dr Erin Peters (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Trauma and the English Civil War

‘The Great Civil War of 1642-46 was arguably the most traumatic experience that the English, Welsh and Cornish people had ever had…In many ways the nation never recovered from it’ (Ronald Hutton, 2004). While the actual scars left by this momentous conflict in British history have been subject to intensive scholarly investigation, my talk will investigate the public expressions of the traumatic effect of the Wars and will explore how the trauma caused by the violence and rupture of the Civil Wars eventually found expression in popular print sources. What my analysis of these sources will demonstrate is that commentators on the mid-seventeenth century conflict did acknowledged the presence of war trauma and that they showed an awareness of the therapeutic results of attempting to narrate cultural and individual trauma. I will demonstrate that alongside the official and authorised interpretation of disability as a physical impairment, a popular understanding of the disabling and disfiguring nature of psychological damage developed.

Erin Peters is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Gloucestershire, with specialist interests in seventeenth-century Britain. Combining historical research with an interdisciplinary background in Memory Studies, Erin studies early modern print culture, the history of trauma and nostalgia, and early modern forms of memory and post-conflict cultures. Recently, she is the author of Commemoration and Oblivion in Restoration Print Culture, 1658-1667 (Palgrave, 2017), and ‘“The deep staines these Wars will leave behind”: psychological wounds and curative methods in the English Civil War’ (Manchester UP, 2018).  Currently, Erin is co-editing a collection of essays entitled Early Modern Trauma (forthcoming, Nebraska UP, 2019).


John Ricketts (Gloucestershire Humanists) will talk on Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now

In what might be thought of as an extension of his “The Better Angels of Our Nature” he goes on from the question  “Are we less violent than we were?” to the broader “Is the world a better place than it was?”

For both questions the answer is “YES”

The strength of Pinker’s argument is that he backs up generalisations with facts (lots of them).

John will aim to present a random, maybe eccentric, selection from Pinker’s studies.

John Ricketts started his professional career (teaching biology in state secondary schools) in the early 1960s. This was also a time when he moved away from his C of E roots, and began to explore what a godless life might be like. For the past couple of decades he has been actively involved with Gloucestershire Humanists.

All sessions will be held at the Francis Close Campus of the University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, at 7 p.m in room HC202AandB.



William Large (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Is the Universe Moral?

I would like to discuss whether the moral indifference of the universe to the existence of human species undermines ethics per se. Freud, in the Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis, talks of there being 3 blows to humanity’s pride: we are not at the centre of universe; humans are no different from other animals; we do not even control our conscious lives. But if our lives are essentially meaningless, what would be the point of being ethical, since it makes no difference to the universe whether we are or not? I would like to contrast this nihilism, if that is what it is, with Kant’s concept of the ‘highest Good’. For Kant, if we cannot conceive of the universe as moral from an ethical perspective, then we would fall into moral despair? Are we still convinced by Kant’s argument, and if not, have we fallen into despair?


Paul Bridges (Gloucestershire Philosophical Society) will talk on Democracy: Is it under Threat? Did we ever have it?

In blacker, more pessimistic moods it would be easy to conclude that democracy in many parts of the West is more fragile than it has been for over 70 years.  The murder of Jo Cox, ’fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, the Daily Mail’s ‘Enemies of the People’ headline, the undermining of ‘experts’, Trump’s sacking of James Comey, plus the resurgence of ‘strongman’ leaders such as Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Duterte and Xi may be signalling a reversal of the worldwide trend towards liberalisation and democracy.  But do these events really indicate a threat to democracy?  Or did we ever really have democracy in the first place?  In this participative discussion we will explore what constitutes a healthy, functioning democracy.  Then perhaps we can start to answer the question posed and more importantly figure out what, if anything, we can do about it.



Alan Ford (Gloucestershire Philosophical Society) will talk on Tales of Despair and Integrity: Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky et al.?

A description of some key features of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death will provide parameters for our exploration of the nature of despair: its universality, (as Kierkegaard sees it) its relation to self-deception, its lower and higher forms. Examples from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (perhaps others) will provide flesh and blood examples of despair and integrity in action. I hope to show how the structure of despair follows that of those fundamental binaries, subject/object, mind/body, freedom/necessity, freedom/determinism etc. We shall find how these make thought possible and hence despair and self-deception. It will be shown how these binaries should relate, and that they are not, as is often assumed, necessarily unrelated oppositions. This might then cast light on the nature of personal integrity.



Tom Bradshaw (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Sports Journalism and Moral Philosophy – Why the Sports Media needs to think more.

Sports journalism has been disparagingly referred to as the “toy department” of the newsroom, with reporters often characterised as being too close to the teams and individuals they are covering, but Tom will consider the increasing importance of high-calibre sports journalism that is informed by a strong ethical awareness. The types of practical reasoning used by sports journalists during the course of their professional practice will be explored. A distinction between a duty-based Kantian approach to sports newsgathering and a more professionally pragmatic, consequentialist approach will be explored. Issues of self-censorship in sports journalism – and journalism more generally – will also be discussed. Tom will bring his 17 years of experience as an award-winning journalist to bear in the course of his analysis.



Peter Osborn (Gloucestershire Philosophical Society) will talk on The Tyranny of Religion

Globally and historically, mankind has had an urgent and persistent need to believe and worship God or Gods. Wherever and whenever you look this need is prevalent. However, in parallel with this need is a more sinister one: the need to dominate, bully and coerce. When these needs combine, a potent force emerges: organised religion! In Greco-Roman times polytheism was accepted and, in general, tolerated. However, when the Emperor Constantine came to power, monotheism in the form of Christianity became the only religion allowed. From then on the persecution, by Christians, of other beliefs began. My talk traces the history of this tyranny, and its consequences.


All sessions will be held at the Francis Close Campus of the University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, at 7 p.m in room HC202AandB.