Changing How the World Thinks

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Editorial: Catching Sight of Ourselves

Is the self stable enough that it can be known?

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Who are you really? A cluster of thinkers gather to debate the self in this issue of IAI News: a philosopher, an art critic, a sociologist, a humanitarian campaigner, and one of the UK’s leading intelligence experts.

Far flung destinations are often home to those seeking to ‘find themselves’, encouraged perhaps by Socrates’ maxim for an ethical life: ‘know thyself’. But do any of us ever arrive? Is the self real and stable enough that it can really be known? Or can we never catch sight of ourselves in the mirror?

The first critical question is whether the self even exists. Going head to head on the issue are philosopher Christopher Hamilton and actress and humanitarian campaigner Adjoah Andoh. Andoh maintains that the self is indeed real and stable, while Hamilton sees it as an irrational relic of the Enlightenment.

But what determines who we are now? Three thinkers examine the impacts of modern phenomenon on the self. Sociologist Eileen Barker reveals the truth behind 21st century cults; art critic Julian Spalding describes respect for individuality as "belittling"; and David Omand – a former director of GCHQ – gives the inside verdict on the world of spies and government surveillance.

Meanwhile, mathematician turned philosopher Nancy Cartwright questions the very laws of nature. From the particles of fundamental physics to marshes, mountains, and rain forests, we are all supposed to live in a world governed by eternal, all-encompassing laws. But, asks Cartwright, might eternal natural laws be nothing but human hubris?

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