SH17 - Inquiry, Science, Democracy: The Philosophy of Susan Stebbing

“If I were teaching ethics in a university I should make my students close all their textbooks and read and discuss Professor Stebbing's new book.” C. D Broad, “Review of Ideals and Illusions”, 1941.

L. Susan Stebbing (1885-1943) was a member of the first generation of analytic philosophers after Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein. She was the first woman to be a professor of philosophy in the UK. She played a prominent role in setting the direction of analytic philosophy. Recent interest in her work has revealed the extent to which she anticipated subsequent developments in philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy. This course will cover several interrelated aspects of Stebbing’s philosophy and their relationship to more recent philosophy.

Inquiry: We will cover Stebbing's accounts of

--clear and logical thinking,

--the obstacles to clear thinking such as biases and reliance on concentrated media sources with their own interests, and

--how these obstacles can be overcome.

Science: We will cover Stebbing's views of:

--the nature ofscientific inquiry and its relationship to ordinary thinking,

--how scientists communicate their views to the general public, and

--the problems that arise when scientists attempt to draw conclusions about philosophical disputes, such as disputes about free will and determinism.

Democracy: We will cover Stebbing's account of democracy, as the principle that all human beings should be free and happy. We will investigate Stebbing's accounts of:

--the commitments of and motivations for democracy,

--why purported advocates of democracy often fall short of this ideal (for example, by owning slaves or by not recognizing the rights of women), and

--why doctrines that repudiated the ideal of democracy (such as Fascism) attracted many adherents in the 1930s.

Susan Stebbing
Course lecturer:
Dr Bryan Pickel
Semester:  2
Lecture hour & venue:  see Honours timetable

Preliminary reading: 

Readings will include selections of these representative works by Stebbing:

Teaching resources for this course will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.