Over the last several months I’ve carried on writing articles for a public forum: Beyond Belief, a spin-off site of Aish.com and which is hosted on Substack here.
It’s been, I have to say, a great experience, and to give you a flavour of why, let me quote the mission statement of Beyond Belief:
“Beyond Belief is a forum for people of integrity and goodwill to ponder life’s biggest mysteries, to ask probing and uncomfortable questions, and to be open to novel answers—as counterintuitive as they might seem”.
It’s this openness to ideas that makes it such a brilliant blog to write for. I’ve been able to tackle some of the big existential questions, such as how to find meaning in life and what our place in the universe is, in a way that’s snappy and hopefully engaging. The mission statement continues:
“We are a collective of thinkers who have come to the realization that much of modern science and philosophy is deeply in the thrall of materialist thinking at the moment. We are concerned that this worldview has a negative impact on human thriving […]. But there is good news—very good. We are beginning to hear the stirrings of a new renaissance. There is a growing chorus of credentialed minds who are forging a new path—one that challenges the dominant physicalist paradigm and that confers credible permission to once again take notions of the transcendent seriously.”
Again, the great thing about Beyond Belief‘s approach is that it’s non-dogmatic. I certainly think the dominant physicalist paradigm is mistaken, and has deleterious consequences, at the same time as I have reservations about appealing to the transcendent (a lot depends on what’s meant by this term, of course). My own worldview, insofar as I’ve developed one, is largely neo-Aristotelian, ontologically following Hans Jonas whilst socio-politically following Alasdair MacIntyre. But even so, I’ve been encouraged contribute to the collective endeavour of Beyond Belief, and I’m grateful for this.
Moreover, the style in which I get to write is much more enjoyable than that which I practised as an academic philosopher. Certainly, I could have developed a different one as an academic, but the incentives discourage it. Indeed, I probably drifted into a different voice the more I wrote academically – something that came home to me when an article I wrote three years ago was at last published this week, here.
Reading my own work back from Spring 2020 was a strange experience. At the time, during the early days of the pandemic, I was still scrabbling around lecturing, writing articles, finishing my book, writing postdoc proposals and job applications – all this while trying to be a half-decent father and husband and hold down a part-time non-academic job.
Perhaps the complete overload led to the way in which I wrote the article, or perhaps it was a bleed-through from writing job and postdoc applications at the same time. Either way, reading the proofs back felt like receiving a bizarre missive from someone I used to know but have lost contact with. It’s not that I disagree with anything I say in the article, just that the stilted tone seems alien to me now.
In any case – if you’re interested in phenomenology and bioethics, please do give it a read. And if you’re keen to read something more lively, please check out my ongoing work for Beyond Belief here.
2 thoughts on “New work, academic and public”
It’s good to see you’ve found a new outlet to develop your ideas and explore the various philosophical issues that are important to you. I’ve read a few of your blog posts (the one on McCarthy and the one on robot rights), and they are great. Writing free of the constraints of academia clearly suits you.
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Very kind, thank you Michael – I’m glad you enjoyed those pieces. I’m finding that writing short articles for a public audience is a nice way to explore what really matters in an open-minded and exploratory kind of way. I think if one can manage to do the latter within academia (as you do) then it might be the best of both worlds. But doing things this way suits me, at least at this stage in my life. Hopefully the book will represent a long-form version of this kind of writing, but it’s slow going. Sleep deprivation from my daughter is playing havoc with my plans!