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Why are British universities, unlike those in the United States, South Africa and other countries, so marginal when it comes to giving advice on public policy? Although it is clearly in the national interest that academics should share their expertise with the public, their policy advice does not attract the government funding that universities need.

So begins Geraldine Van Bueren, here, for The Independent.  The point is a good one, and is something that has been on my mind. We might hope that a healthy middle ground could be fostered between the partisan bickering that we are so used to in politics (no one is surprised by George Osborne’s response to the budget – we have a he’s-bound-to-say-that attitude) and the often difficult to grasp and and subtle views of academics, rife with provisos, caveats, and footnotes.

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Upon the whole, I am inclined to think that the far greater part, if not all, of those difficulties which have hitherto amused philosophers, and blocked up the way to knowledge, are entirely owing to ourselves -that we first have raised a dust and then complain that we cannot see.

George Berkeley, The Principles of Human Knowledge (Introduction, 3)

I’ve been ‘blogslapped’ by AFMIP – a fellow blogger whose blogname used to be Tim, which is a little easier to pronounce than AFMIP, but less fun.

Anyway, it’s a meme, apparently, all the rage, apparently. I like the literary twist to this one and I like AFMIP, so I’ll join in. I have to reach for the nearest book, go to page 123, then copy out sentences six, seven and eight.

I’m at my desk in university, so the nearest book is a philosophy book, I’m afraid, but it does seem fitting given AFMIP’s flattering mis-description of me.

In general, it seems to me preferable to take the notion of being in an informational state with such-and-such a content as a primitive notion for philosophy, rather then attempt to characterize it in terms of belief. In the first place, such a characterization could not be simple, because of a fundamental (almost defining) property of the states in the informational system, which I shall call their ‘belief-independance’: the subject’s being in an informational state is independent of whether or not he believes that the state is veridical. It is a well known fact about perceptual illusions that it will continue to appear to as though, say, one line is longer than the other (in the Muller-Lyer illusion) even though we are quite sure that it is not.

That’s Gareth Even waxing philosophical about the relationship between information, belief, and truth, in his book ‘The Varieties of Reference’.

I think this is maybe you’re supposed to use novels and other more readily understandable texts.

Now, tradition has it, I tag some bloggers to follow suit. I nominate:

Matt Wilson

and

The Manchizzle Yankunian

Obviously you don’t have to, it’s not a ‘join in or you suck’ thing.

“This is the simplest phone call to the world. Because you know that I cannot make a phone call to Kibaki from here, I cannot make a phone call from here to President Bush, or Gordon Brown.
But if I throw my stone you will come here from Britain to interview me. And Bush will know and Bush will intervene. Gordon Brown will intervene, and he’ll say ‘no'”

Samson Ocheng, OMD Leader, Kibera

Being interviewed by Newsnight’s Paul Mason, out in Kenya. Paul asks them ‘Why do you fight?’ and they answer plainly and with a considered passion.

These words struck me as both enlightening and desperate. As I grapple to understand a conflict so far away, though in a country in which my wife’s parents will soon be living, I am thankful for the insights offered by interviews such as these.

“Philosophers are good at arguing, analysing, interpreting and preaching; but about reality they tend to know even less than ordinary mortals.”

– Hans-Johann Glock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Zürich

Philosophy, Vol. 77, 2002 (p.236)

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