Whilst I was down in Melbourne recently I had the pleasure of attending 2 talks with Anthony Grayling a philosopher I’ve been reading for many years now. His bio reads pretty much as you’d expect of a Professor of Philosophy: head of this, editor of that, written this, and contributor to that. What his CV and impressive list of accomplishments don’t tell you is how elegant and eloquent this man is. There’s an air of such wise reasonableness to him that I’m sure even those that disagree with him on any particular issue must feel a little bit embarrassed, unless of course you’re his 9 year old daughter: “Every professor of philosophy needs a nine-year-old daughter. Mine has a habit of saying, ‘Daddy, that is a very silly idea. She is always right.”
In his talks and in his books he expresses complex ideas with great clarity, managing to avoid the communication black hole many philosophers seem willingly inhabit. He brings a rich understanding of history, literature and science to his theorising in perhaps a similar way to the polymath Christopher Hitchens except without the deep reproach and invective that often characterise the latter’s work. Whilst Hitchens is intellectually exciting and a wonderful rollercoaster of fascinating thought, A.C. Grayling is no less exciting but his work comes with a sense of peace. Which makes sense as the focus of his philosophical outreach has been to promote the idea of a considered life. A life of action but with enough time to reflect and learn. Without relationships, reflection and the knowledge born from learning, our actions bring little more than a tally card to existence. As he pointed out in a Guardian article once, an average waking life lasts some 600 months so probably a good idea to take some time to consider what to do with it.
The following video is from an interview with Roger Bingham of the Science Network and is a great place to start. The conversation visits many of the themes contained in his books all of which I would highly recommend. And watch this space because next year we’ll be fortunate enough to have Professor Grayling talking about the book he’ll be releasing next year. Those that can’t make it will have to console themselves with the video which we’ll put online after the talk.