Julian Baggini


British Philosopher and Author, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Philosopher's Magazine

Author Quotes

If people are treated very differently depending on how they appear, that can change how they perceive themselves.

It is important to distinguish between ?mere constructs?, which exist solely as ideas, and real constructions, which we pick up, use and live in.

More worryingly, our willingness to cause terrible harms also seems to be highly situation-dependent.

Paradoxes of the self: beliefs we have about who and what we are which have an equal force yet which contradict one another.

Short shots of wisdom are not shortcuts to wisdom.

The introvert who hates social functions may create an outgoing persona, a pretense that can just be kept up long enough to get through the horrors of a hosting a dinner party.

There are more ways of being a person than meets the I.

We acknowledge that religion comes in many shapes and forms and that therefore any attempt to define what religion ?really? is would be stipulation, not description. Nevertheless, we have a view of what religion should be, in its best form, and these four articles describe features that a religion fit for the contemporary world needs to have. These features are not meant to be exhaustive and nor do they necessarily capture what is most important for any given individual. They are rather a minimal set of features that we can agree on despite our differences, and believe others can agree on too. 1. To be religious is primarily to assent to a set of values, and/or practice a way of life, and/or belong to a community that shares these values and/or practices. Any creeds or factual assertions associated with these things, especially ones that make claims about the nature and origin of the natural universe, are at most secondary and often irrelevant. 2. Religious belief does not, and should not require the belief that any supernatural events have occurred here on Earth, including miracles that bend or break natural laws, the resurrection of the dead, or visits by gods or angelic messengers. 3. Religions are not crypto- or proto-sciences. They should make no claims about the physical nature, origin or structure of the natural universe. That which science can study and explain empirically should be left to science, and if a religion makes a claim that is incompatible with our best science, the scientific claim, not the religious one, should prevail. 4. Religious texts are the creation of the human intellect and imagination. None need be taken as expressing the thoughts of a divine or supernatural mind that exists independently of humanity.

When philosophy goes wrong, it?s like watching people try to nail custard to the wall.

If postmodernism has a unifying theme it is one of fragmentation, which it picked up from modernism and ran with wildly.

It is important to recognize the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only. With its talk of ?spells? and ?delusions?, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist. ?Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence,? says Dawkins, once again implying that reason and evidence are strangers to religion. This is arrogant, and attributes to reason a power it does not have.

Much religious hope is about this world too, not just that God will intervene to cure the sick, but that justice will ultimately prevail, that evil will not be allowed to win, that we might live in communion with the transcendent and in accordance with a divine purpose.

Part of the problem with assessing how religious we are is that it is not clear what "being religious" means. Although it is often said that Britain is not a particularly religious country, it is even less of an overtly irreligious one. Atheists remain in the minority, with the majority being what one BBC survey described as "vaguely spiritual". Part of the problem with assessing how religious we are is that it is not clear what "being religious" means. There is, however, one sense in which being religious is extremely common indeed; so common, in fact, that even many atheists fall under the description. This version of religiosity, however, is often missed, squeezed out between two competing notions of religion as logos or mythos, ideas which Karen Armstrong has been so effective in explaining and disseminating. According to this account, religious truth is often assumed to be fundamentally about certain creeds that are literally true, sacred texts that describe historical facts and values that are absolute. This is religion as logos. The alternative view is that religious truth should be seen as mythos - not myth in the dismissive kind of way, but as a source of insight into reality and how to live. To understand religion in this way requires a certain mental dexterity, since it rejects the attempt to treat religious teachings as "mere metaphors" that need to be translated into non-sacred language as firmly as it does the attempt to see them as literal descriptions of the way the cosmos is. Yet logos and mythos do not exhaust the meanings of religiosity. There is a third sense; one which I believe is more important and more widely held. This is the idea of having a religious attitude. Attitudes are not beliefs at all, literal, analogical or otherwise. They are, however, deeply important to how we live, for they determine our entire orientation to the world around us. Among the primary religious attitudes are those of awe, reverence, gratitude and humility. What each have in common is that they capture a sense that there is something greater than us, which commands us, and which we cannot control. And it is the perceived absence of these attitudes in atheism that lends it the reputation for arrogance. Yet although religion arguably allows for a more natural expression of these attitudes, they are compatible with even the most naturalistic cosmology. A theist, for example, has a clear object for their feeling of gratitude: the creator God. But an atheist can clearly have a sense of their own good fortune and an understanding that any period of prosperity may be impermanent. Likewise, a theist feels awe and reverence for "creation", yet as even the atheist Richard Dawkins has described in his Unweaving the Rainbow, almost identical emotional responses to the natural world can be shared by materialist scientists. As for humility, believing in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity certainly gives you clear cause to be humble. But so can an awareness of the limits of human knowledge, power and benevolence. There are some, such as the philosopher David Cooper, who argue that secular humanism cannot sustain such attitudes. If man is the measure of all things, how can we accept that our own judgments are answerable to something other than ourselves? Yet even for humanists, beliefs have to be answerable to the facts and to the court of human experience, not just the experiences of ourselves and those whose beliefs we share. If atheists can hold such religious attitudes, is it therefore right to describe them as religious? That would be misleading, but the question itself is not important. We don't need to be religious to see that one of the great benefits and attractions of religion has nothing to do with its truth as mythos or logos, but for the attitudes towards the world, life and others it fosters. If that is correct, then believers and non-believers alike would do well to make sure that when they embrace or reject religion, they don't lose sight of what is truly good in it.

So consistency in character is something to be created; it does not arise organically.

The Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley once wrote, ?Philosophers have raised a dust and then complain that they cannot see.?

There is a small but significant percentage of people who always do the right (or wrong) thing, regardless of the changes in situation. Some of these do so purely because they happen to be so disposed, others because they have developed their characters in good or bad ways.

We are all part Someone, part Anyone and part Nobody.

Without mental short cuts, we simply couldn?t get by. There is just too much information to process, and we often have to be quite crude as to how we filter it. But these generalizations are bound to lead us astray.

If the science of humanity has shown anything at all over recent decades it is that human beings are far less autonomous, rational and free than we usually suppose. As a matter of fact, I don?t think any of these challenges defeats what really matters about the humanist view of ourselves. But to argue this would be difficult and I?m not sure I could successfully do so as yet. What?s more, it remains possible that progress in science really will shatter a few atheist shibboleths in time. These are reasons enough to think that by embracing science so closely, atheists are only making it easier for it to stab them in back.

It is often said that we construct our sense of self from our memories, but in some ways we construct our memories from our sense of self.

Nested hierarchies can be visualized as concentric circles, with the smallest circle in the center at the ?bottom? of the hierarchy and the largest, outer circle at the ?top? of it. To say such a hierarchy is nested is simply to say that the top levels incorporate the lower ones. Higher levels are not therefore independent of lower ones. Take away the lowest level and the highest is left with a donut-like hole at its center, and it just can?t function.

Passive character is the set of dispositions we just happen to have as a result of our genes, upbringing and experience, without any particular effort on our own part.

So like a field to be cultivated, like an arrow to be fashioned, like a block of wood to be sculpted, so the person through their actions creates themselves.

The Key is that proverbs and sayings capture certain thoughts in pithy and memorable ways, but we cannot avoid having to work out for ourselves to what situations those thoughts actually apply.

There may be an illusion as to what we really are, but not that we really are.

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British Philosopher and Author, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Philosopher's Magazine