What is live philosophy?
At the Sophia Club we are focused on philosophy for all, conducted in a lively environment of conversation and performance. We call our approach Live Philosophy.
Live Philosophy is:
Live Philosophy is committed to making philosophy accessible and engaging for all. Events at the Sophia Club are welcoming and affordable, and the conversations grapple with questions that have broad appeal. Live Philosophy is not academic philosophy, but it respects and engages with academic philosophy and, naturally, philosophers are part of the conversation. We are committed to hearing from many different thinkers and artists, and believe that a plurality of views is critical to creating rich and fruitful conversations. Being open to the challenge of different, surprising ideas and being prepared to change one’s mind is intrinsic to the philosophical endeavour. To support this, we welcome diverse voices, prepared to have robust and challenging conversations, in a setting that is courteous and respectful.
Live Philosophy is a shared, sociable activity bringing people together in person. The Sophia Club provides a framework and setting for lively, engaged conversation on topics that matter to a wide audience. At its best, conversation is a skilful performance, a kind of artform, infused with energy and style, and invigorating and pleasurable for the audience. Not only do we see conversation as artful, but we also see the arts themselves as intrinsic to the life of the Sophia Club. Through dance, music, theatre and the visual arts, the audience can connect with the questions that animate Live Philosophy in a complementary mode, which is especially imaginative, expressive and embodied.
Live Philosophy draws on a rich array of well-founded knowledge disciplines and traditions. Our approach is broad and diverse, encompassing science, scholarship and practical expertise. Conversations at the Sophia Club will include the voices of professional philosophers and a range of other experts: cosmologists and psychologists, historians and anthropologists, environmentalists and educators. Philosophy has a stake in all fields of knowledge, and all fields of knowledge have a stake in posing philosophical questions. In particular, Live Philosophy recognises the close relationship between psychology and philosophy. Many of the questions that we think of as ‘philosophical’ – about the meaning of life, the nature of love, the puzzle of self-knowledge and so on – have also become the concern of psychology, and many people approach such questions through a psychological lens. Psychology is a rich vein of knowledge for philosophy; and philosophy, in turn, provides psychology with a wider conceptual and historical context.
Live Philosophy believes that ethics begins with fellow-feeling and our capacity to care for one another and the living planet on which we depend. Conversations at the Sophia Club delve into the many philosophical and cultural responses to the question of how to live an ethical life. We address questions of social justice and how to balance individual freedoms and social responsibility. We are concerned with human suffering and how to alleviate it, both at a personal level and in society more broadly. Care and attentiveness do not stop with the human world but extend into our relationship with other living creatures and the natural world as a whole. Live Philosophy understands that in a cosmopolitan world there will always be differences of values, and to work through these differences requires open conversation. We are committed to enshrining the principle of care in how events are conducted at the Sophia Club. We encourage the robust, even passionate, expression of ideas and values but strongly discourage the impulse to condemn and criticise individuals.
Live Philosophy seeks to be heartfelt and imaginative as well as empirically well informed. In the words of the philosopher Richard Rorty, ‘reason can only follow paths cleared by the imagination’. The kinds of questions addressed at the Sophia Club recognise that our emotional lives and personal experiences are central to who we are. Tackling these questions with only a rational and objective approach is incomplete. Philosophy has traditionally been preoccupied with questions of truth, but Live Philosophy is not seeking definitive and final answers. Rather, it seeks to provide rich and suggestive perspectives that allow for personal interpretation, just as literature and poetry do.
Live Philosophy showcases fresh and creative approaches to the philosophical puzzles of our times. History shows us that human cultures continually adapt to changing circumstances including changes in values, beliefs and philosophical outlooks. And this human story takes place against the backdrop of a constantly evolving natural world, in which processes of change operate at every scale, and at both immediate and longer timescales. Cultural and philosophical change is not just a matter of adaptation to external challenges. Humans are by nature inventors and explorers, seeking to expand the frontiers of their experience and knowledge. Cultural and philosophical invention does not happen in a vacuum: cultural originality includes elements which are reclaimed from the past and brought to new life for the future. So Live Philosophy is interested in the past and in philosophical traditions, bringing the ideas and insights of past thinkers and societies into conversations with the specific needs of our own times.
Live Philosophy enjoys ranging across the whole panorama of life. After all, philosophy has always been the domain of inquiry with the freedom to ask the big questions and look at life in the round. At the Sophia Club, we provide a forum where experts are encouraged to venture beyond their field and engage with others from different disciplines. In this setting, thinkers and artists can freely explore significant relationships and surprising connections: between the individual and the cosmos; the citizen and the state; science and poetry. Approaching life in the round is not just an intellectual exercise, but something that people feel, imagine and create in their own selves. A panoramic approach to philosophy therefore takes an interest in how individuals explore and express this horizon, including through ritual and transcendent experiences.
Live Philosophy believes in the possibility of a better future and seeks to counterbalance the dominant pessimism of 20th-century intellectual life. This pessimism is a response to the sense of disenchantment felt by many thinkers and artists as they witnessed grand schemes become oppressive ideologies. Live Philosophy is not interested in totalising visions of progress but in how particular aspects of life can be improved. Through the harnessing of knowledge and the imagination, specific projects and endeavours can be energised and achieved. Conversations at the Sophia Club explore arenas of possible change and potential paths forward. Hope allows us to acknowledge the messiness, complexity and contingency of human experience, while holding onto a belief in a progressive future.
Our five fields of inquiry
The Sophia Club’s ‘five fields of inquiry’ seek to create a rich and panoramic framework for selecting themes for Sophia Club events.
There are good reasons to be wary of world views. Strongly held beliefs in religion and politics have a troubled history, whether in the form of violent ideologies or repressive religious dogma. Yet we can’t live without deep-seated assumptions about how the world works and what matters to us. Beliefs and values shape and energise social change, help us navigate life’s complexities, and can imbue life with a sense of purpose. They can also, in the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘hold us captive’. How can we distinguish good beliefs from bad ones? How do we know whether we are being oppressed or liberated by what we believe? At the Sophia Club, we will delve beneath the surface of current controversies and explore the underlying ideas that shape our beliefs and values.
What are the origins of the Universe? Where does life come from? How do humans relate to the rest of nature? Every culture asks and answers these questions: telling stories, creating myths, devising theories. In contemporary times, scientific cosmology, evolutionary theory and world history have transformed our sense of who we are and how humans fit into a grander narrative. For some, this new universe is a bleak place in which human aspirations are insignificant. For others, these accounts are a source of inspiration. In a convergence with many traditional cosmologies, science calls on us to recognise the interdependence of humans and the rest of the natural world. At the Sophia Club, we will bring together experts and artists to explore how life and culture have evolved over time, and why the grandeur and mystery of these stories matter to us as individuals and as a species.
The riddle of human nature is endlessly fascinating. There have been countless attempts to come up with an overarching explanation of what it means to be human. Are we eternal souls, clad in transient material bodies? Or genetically programmed robots, driven by competitive impulses? Or perhaps the defining feature of the human being is that we have no essential ‘nature’ and are constantly creating and recreating ourselves. These changing pictures make a difference. They influence ethical and social debate and shape our approach to relationships, education and political life. The Sophia Club is interested in presenting a broad sweep of perspectives on what it means to be human, from neuroscience to philosophy, fiction to history, psychology to theatre. The more wideranging our understanding of human nature is, the richer our ideals of human flourishing can become.
What is a just society? How do we go about caring for one another as friends and as citizens? Are utopian dreams still inspiring? Globalisation, economic uncertainty and climate change demand new political visions. Tensions between personal freedom and social justice require constant negotiation. We need to talk about progressive social change while recognising human diversity and difference. Humanitarian crises ask us to extend our concerns beyond the borders of the nation state. How can our affinity with nature inform new ways of living in the world, with an ethic of stewardship? Can a radical look at work, play and family life open up new possibilities for living better? The Sophia Club will offer fresh perspectives on what we owe one another, how we can trust one another, and our hopes for a better future together.
What is the relationship between philosophy and art? And why does it matter? Both art and philosophy are concerned with making sense of the world; the artist is, in the words of the artist Grayson Perry, ‘a pilgrim on the road to meaning’. Both, after their own fashion, express and critique beliefs and values. When we talk here about art, we mean this in the broadest sense: the visual arts certainly, but also architecture, theatre, literature, dance, music, fashion and design. Philosophy and art are in constant conversation in culture. At times, philosophy breaks ground, and art follows. At times, art is the radical partner, challenging philosophy to respond to a new vision. Many people ‘do’ their personal philosophy via encounters with the arts: whether that’s watching a film, or reading a novel, or listening to music. Art allows people to probe, understand and reflect upon their values and beliefs. For the Sophia Club, art is not just an object of philosophical inquiry but a partner in it.