Public Philosopher Citizens of Nowhere from The BBC Series

Public Philosopher Citizens of Nowhere from The BBC Series

Listen to the 40-minute podcast with Michael Sandel, “Public Philosopher – Citizens of Nowhere?”, from the BBC series

The Public Philosopher and reflect on the role of philosophy

in our personal and public life today, e.g. in politics, in our social life, when we try to build a career, grow a family, or run a business etc. Write a comment on this, using at least one example to illustrate how you think that philosophy can help you make better decisions, behave better etc.


This is the required reading for this week – an extract from Kafka’s “The Trial”.

The Trial By Josef Kafka


Please read carefully and answer the following question: “What is the meaning of the fable about the doorkeeper?” Try to justify your answer with reasons and examples.

Then, try to use the techniques detailed in these slides, to build a more complex argument on the question about the meaning of the Doorkeeper fable in Kafka, which we have approached in our Discussion Board. Over the next few weeks, you should develop this into an elaborate essay – which will be your first assignment in this module (due to be submitted in week 6).


Hi all,

and welcome to week 3 in our Philosophy module. Having practiced our critical thinking skills last week, it is now time to approach our first philosophical topic – which is, Morality and the good life. We’ll spend two weeks debating this: one, looking at ancient views on the topic; the second – considering modern ones.

This week, we start with the former – namely, Aristotle. He talks about happiness understood as fulfilment, and the role of virtues in that, e.g. courage, honour etc. What do you think, do you agree with Aristotle that a sense of personal achievement is intricately linked with morality, so indirectly with helping others?

Please make sure to read the extract from Aristotle – which you can find in Part VIII (text 2) of Cottingham’s book, Western Philosophy. (See the Welcome page for a cover of the book). A copy of the extract is below.

  • After you read the extract from Aristotle (Part VIII, text 2 in Cottingham’s book), answer the following question:
  • What is the role of virtues, in achieving a ‘good life’, or happiness?


Hi all,

here is a brief exercise, aimed to help you practice one of the critical thinking techniques that we learnt last week – namely, using (or identifying) intermediary conclusions in an argument.

Is there an intermediate conclusion in this argument? If so, what job does it do?

“There is a gap in our future electricity supply, so the Royal Society is to consider the existing and potential sources of energy at our disposal. Some people are taking the view that only nuclear energy can fill the gap; but we know the drawbacks of this source of energy, and cost is one of the more significant. The government is already subsidizing the industry, and is finding out that the setting up and decommissioning costs are greater than we had been led to think.

There are alternative routes that we could take, but they will involve radical thinking. First of all, we might ask ourselves whether the National Grid is the best way of transmitting power throughout the country. Wind turbines might not be beautiful, but they compare favourably with the pylons that carry powerlines across some of our finest landscapes. Secondly, we should take energy conservation seriously: we could all use electricity more efficiently; insulation of buildings could be undertaken more comprehensively; and waste heat from industrial processes could be harnessed for domestic use.

The Royal Society has a host of possibilities to look into, not the least of them the generation of energy at the local level by photoelectrical cell technology. Almost any solution to the problem of the energy gap is going to be better than the nuclear option.”


(Adapted from a letter to The Scotsman, May 2005)

Please refer to exercise that asks you to identify an intermediary conclusion in the given text. Write your answer here.


After you read the two extracts for this week – from Kant and Mill (texts 5 and 6 respectively, in Part VIII of Cottingham’s book), answer the following question: Which of the 2 types of reasoning do you prefer and why – the non-consequentialist, principle-based Kantian ethics of duty, or Mill’s utilitarianism? Make sure to justify your answer.


This week, we’re embarking on a new philosophical pursuit – to address the topic of meaning in general, and meaning of life, in particular. We’ll spend two weeks debating this, with some help from

– a Latin philosopher (Seneca) and the school of thought he represents (Stoicism);

– a religious philosopher (St Augustine); and

– two modern French philosophers (Pascal and Camus).


We’re also going to practice some of the critical thinking skills we learnt in previous weeks; and use them to debate an ethical dilemma inspired by Enron (the worst accounting scandal in the last two decades).

1. The first topic for discussion this week is whether or not life has a meaning. What do you think? If you believe in the meaning of life, try to explain what is the basis of it, where does that meaning come from. If you do not, then why are we here and why do we keep on living?

read the 2 required texts from Part XII of the Western Philosophy handbook:

– Seneca – text 2

– St Augustine – text 3

here is a PDF version of the two texts – however, please note that some pages are upside down, so you might want to print them in order to read them.

2.How did Seneca die?

Do some research in order to find out how Seneca died, and reflect on the following question: considering his philosophical views, and the way his life ended, do you think he was prepared to die? Write your answer below, in 100-150 words.



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