Revisit some of the best articles of 2009 over the holiday fortnight, hand-picked by the editor. We’ll be back with regular updates from 4 January.
2009 was a vintage year for interviews. The ethicist Peter Singer defended his demanding call for many and more of us to give much more our money to charity. “Most people can give 50% of their income away. I wouldn’t say they can’t, it’s predictable that most of them won’t, but I think in the sense that ‘ought implies can’, they can.”
We also talked to the political philosopher Michael Sandel, who argued that substantive moral views, including religious ones, need to be aired more openly in the civic sphere. To take one example, “I don’t really think we can resolve the same-sex marriage question without coming to grips with questions about what is the moral purpose of marriage, what forms of union are worthy of affirmation and recognition and honour by society, and that takes us into questions of the good life, into what Rawls calls comprehensive moral views.”
French philosopher du jour Alain Badiou outlined his vision of a rejuvenated philosophy, on the back of a major sell-out conference on communism in London. “I think it is a little different today. There is a new generation, there are young philosophers who are interested in a new figure of philosophy: neither purely academic speciality nor purely ideological propaganda for the world as it is. I think it also explains that the interest in philosophy is also a political one.”
We also featured a spirited defence of analytic philosophy – often criticised for being arid, technical and irrelevant – by its foremost practitioner, Timothy Williamson. “A lot of the work that I do is at the logical end of the subject where there’s no more danger of emptiness than there is in mathematics. There are some people who think mathematics is empty, but I think that’s a somewhat ridiculous view. But I think even at the much less formal end of the subject, it’s really neurotic in many cases to worry about whether what people are saying is just completely empty. It’s as meaningful as any other theoretical discourse. Of course, it’s true that it’s easier to stray into bullshit in formal philosophy than it is in natural science, and so I think one does have to be monitoring oneself and others to make sure that one isn’t descending into bullshit. It’s an occupational hazard but it’s hopelessly exaggerated to think that means that it might turn out that philosophy is by its nature always empty.”
Our series of interviews with people from other disciplines and professions who have been influenced by philosophy continued with, among others, the novelist and musician Charlotte Greig and the MP Tony Wright. The interviews with Michael Frayn and Ziauddin Sardar, published in the print edition in 2009, will be posted to the site next year.
We’ve also featured some excellent essays over the last year. Highlights include Chris Bertram on why Rousseau still matters today, Jonathan Webber’s lament over the remake of the film Alfie, Richard Reeves on Mill and autonomy, John Skorupski on freedom of thought and speech, Jo Ellen Jacobs on the other author of On Liberty, John Cottingham on the good life, and Chris French exploding the myths around subliminal perception.
Arguably our most important feature was Brooke Lewis’s report on the low numbers of women in British and American professional philosophy. Other highlights include Ophelia Benson on the growth of the philosophy of humour and an encounter with the director of a “walkie talkie” film about leading contemporary philosophers.
If you’re after something a little shorter, our regular columnists have been on cracking form and I’ve linked from here to my favourite from each in 2009. Ophelia Benson writes on the philosophy blogs in Threads, Jean Kazez discusses the arts in Imagine That, Mathew Iredale covers new developments in science in philosophy in Sci-Phi, Luciano Floridi surfs the web in Word of Mouse, while Wendy Grossman continues the column that has featured since our very first issue, The Skeptic. You might also download one of our podcasts that you may have missed first time round.
Finally, if you haven’t yet seen them, check out our books of the year and quotes of the year features. And if you are looking for a last-minute present or a New Year’s resolution, support the magazine that has made this all possible with a print or digital subscription.
Best wishes for 2010.
Julian Baggini, editor