Galen Strawson

Galen Strawson’s Things That Bother Me will be published this month.

Poem: ‘After Flaubert’

Galen Strawson, 8 March 2018

à mon pote Jules

merde en croûte, merde en daube, merde du pays, merde d’antan.

merde de province, pâté de merde, folie de merde (merde boulangère).

merde Chantilly, merde de Paris, merde anglaise, putain de merde.

merde longue durée, merde d’occasion, merde maison, merdorama!

merde d’Auvergne, merde de Brest, merde de souche, merde...

Is R2-D2 a person?

Galen Strawson, 18 June 2015

What does it take​ for a person in 2015 to be the same person as she was in 1995 and will be in 2035? This is the question of personal identity, a question about persistence through time, or ‘diachronic’ identity. It seems enough at first to say that the person is the same in 2015 as in 1995 and in 2035 just so long as she is the same living human animal, the same biological...

Real Naturalism

Galen Strawson, 26 September 2013

I’m a naturalist, an out-and-out naturalist, a philosophical or metaphysical naturalist, a naturalist about concrete reality. I don’t think anything supernatural or otherwise non-natural exists.

You can’t classify anything as supernatural or non-natural until you have a substantive conception of the natural in relation to which something can be classified as non-natural. I...

Religion is a sin: Immortality!

Galen Strawson, 2 June 2011

Saving God and Surviving Death: Mark Johnston has gone for the double, and I’m tempted to think he has succeeded, on his own terms, many of which seem about as good as terms get in this strange part of the park. I don’t, however, agree with his reasons or share his motive for attempting to explain how we can survive death, and I doubt the necessity of some of the matériel in his admittedly fabulous argumentative armamentarium. I’ll be jiggered if I survive death on Johnston’s terms; I don’t know whether he holds out much hope for himself. And his success won’t please anyone who believes in anything supernatural. Any conception of God as essentially a supernatural being is idolatry in Johnston’s book. All regular adherents of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – are therefore idolaters. And they go further: they want a ‘personal’ God, a ‘Cosmic Intervener who might confer special worldly advantages on his favourites’. They should be ashamed of themselves, at least if they’ve had any education; they’re moral babies.

Syzygy: Brain Chic

Galen Strawson, 25 March 2010

Six is a ‘perfect number’ – it’s the sum of its divisors, 3, 2 and 1 – and it’s favoured for that reason by Azarya Sheiner, a six-year-old mathematical genius who is the central attractor, but not the protagonist, of Rebecca Goldstein’s new novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. Twenty-eight is the next perfect number (divisors 14, 7, 4, 2, 1),...

The Sense of the Self

Galen Strawson, 18 April 1996

Human beings in different cultures are much more alike, psychologically speaking, than most anthropologists and sociologists suppose. There’s a great deal of substance to the idea of a common humanity – of profound emotional and cognitive similarities that transcend differences in cultural experience. It’s also true that human beings are very varied, psychologically, but the deepest psychological differences are those that can be found within a given culture. The cultural relativism of Emile Durkheim and others, elegantly renewed by Clifford Geertz and orthodox in large parts of the academic community is based on a serious underestimation of the genetic determinants of human nature, and a false view of mental development.’

Don’t tread on me

Galen Strawson, 6 October 1994

Is it true that humiliation, shame and embarrassment are ‘the central emotions of everyday social existence’? It is not obviously false. To say that these emotions are central is not to say that they are the most often felt; their centrality may lie in the strength of our desire to avoid them. William Miller’s suggestion has a creeping plausibility – in the playground, among teenagers, among mid-life colleagues, in the retirement home. It has a serious claim to express a human universal, valid for all societies, with origins in the deep past of the species, and echoes in the social hierarchies of non-human primates. There is no doubt about the importance in human life of the negative emotions that are specially (although not unbreakably) connected to awareness of how the self appears to others. The problem starts early: one-year-olds have a startling capacity for self-consciousness; their grasp of what it is to lose face or feel foolish is striking for seeming, but not being, precocious.’

What’s so good about Reid?

Galen Strawson, 22 February 1990

According to the ‘analytic’ tradition, modern philosophy begins with Descartes (b. 1596), Spinoza (b. 1632), Locke (b. 1632), Leibniz (b. 1646), Berkeley (b. 1685), Hume (b. 1711) and Kant (b. 1724). This is the canonical list of great philosophers, and it is not very likely to change. But there are two others whose claims for inclusion are regularly pressed: Nicholas Malebranche (b. 1638), to be inserted between Leibniz and Locke; and Thomas Reid (1710-96), best inserted between Hume and Kant rather than between Berkeley and Hume, on the grounds that his major works are a response to Hume, who was his junior by exactly one year.

Idris the Ingénu

Galen Strawson, 21 January 1988

According to the traditions of the Prophet reported by Al Bukhari, Muhammad once declared that those who would be most severely punished on the Day of Judgement were the ‘portrayers’ (al musawwirun), the painters or sculptors. No doubt he was principally concerned to condemn the evil of idolatry, like Moses before him and many after him. But Islamic religious art has ever since avoided all representation of living creatures, and above all of people. Fashioning the human form is strictly God’s business, and popular belief in the power and maleficence of images has remained strong in many Islamic cultures.


The Coo Situation

4 March 2021

I was very touched by Michael Hofmann’s poem ‘H.H., 95’ (LRB, 4 March). It was full of familiarities that I find somewhat alarming. It may be, though, that his wood pigeons (‘The gaspy whistle of wood pigeons’ wings/and their little-brained Roo-coo-coo/anaesthetises another summer’) are in fact, and in spite of their wings, collared doves, more delicate creatures,...
A number of people have expressed puzzlement about the title of my poem ‘After Flaubert’ (LRB, 8 March). I shouldn’t have omitted the epigraph, a deeply characteristic comment from Flaubert’s letters (which are, arguably, his greatest achievement): ‘De quelque côté qu’on pose les pieds on marche sur la merde’ (to Louise Colet, Saturday, midnight,...

Easy Peasy

17 June 2015

According to Peter Green’s Homer, quoted by Colin Burrow, Achilles’ spear ‘stuck in the ground, after breaking through both layers of [Aeneas’] sheltering shield’ (LRB, 18 June). I take it that the spear is also stuck in the shield, and that no great textual difficulty is created by the fact that Poseidon later pulls it out. Certainly Aeneas is no longer holding the shield....


18 April 1996

Abridgment of my piece on ‘The Sense of the Self’ (LRB, 18 April) produced an error. The sentence ‘The ordinary notion of what a subject of experience is seems pretty clear: it is being one and being self-conscious’ is multiply false. For one thing, self-consciousness is not a necessary condition of being a subject of experience: anything that can feel pain is a subject of experience....

Seeing my etchings

12 July 1990

Like Barbara Everett, (Letters, 13 September), I think Craig Raine is wrong to claim that the Rembrandt etching traditionally known as Joseph Telling His Dreams (Bartsch 37) is really Christ Disputing with the Doctors. My reason is this. The central figure is addressing himself principally to two people: an old man and a young, round-cheeked woman who has a book open on her knees (which I take to be...
In my piece about Thomas Reid (LRB, 22 February), I wrote that Descartes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume all ‘hold, with much terminological variation, that there is a fundamental sense in which all we ever “immediately" or “directly" perceive are mental items.’ Désirée Park finds this well-known view ‘singularly unconvincing’ in her first letter (Letters,...
In his review of Jonathan Glover’s and Alan Donagan’s books, David Pears claims that ‘if … the philosophical analysis of human agency has altered our view of our place in the world as human agents, it has never done so alone, but always aided by some factual hypothesis. This is very clear in cases of diminished responsibility and it ought to be equally clear in the limiting...

The I in Me: I and Me

Thomas Nagel, 5 November 2009

What are you, really? To the rest of the world you appear as a particular human being, a publicly observable organism with a complex biological and social history and a name. But to yourself,...

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Headaches have themselves

Jerry Fodor, 24 May 2007

Consciousness is all the rage just now. It boasts new journals of its very own, from which learned articles overflow. Neuropsychologists snap its picture (in colour) with fMRI machines, and probe...

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Hilary Putnam, 8 February 1996

Every so often one encounters a book with which one disagrees, wholly or in large part, but which one regards as a genuine contribution to philosophy precisely because it sets out views with...

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Colin McGinn, 23 November 1989

Philosophical reputations come and go – they surge and gutter – according largely to the prevailing intellectual climate, and are only tenuously tied to the actual merits of the views...

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Is that you, James?

Thomas Nagel, 1 October 1987

Your nervous system is as complex a physical object as there is in the universe, so far as we know: 12 billion cells, each of them a complex structure with up to sixty thousand synaptic points of...

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