Alain de Botton and John Armstrong will present their unique take on art through a specially-curated Art as Therapy program, in a collaboration between the National Gallery of Victoria and The School of Life Melbourne. The program will be launched with a Secular Sermon by de Botton at the NGV on Wednesday 26 March, coinciding with the permanent opening of The School of Life Melbourne.

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The Philosophers’ Mail – The School of Life news website which recasts popular news stories in a philosophical vein.

Philosopher John Armstrong loves to ask questions about the everyday business of life.

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True beauty pleases the eye and the mind – but can it help us to become better people?

The only popular thought about beauty today, the one that has the widest currency in the world, is the idea that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s a kindly notion. It seeks to make peace between people who have very different tastes. People are delighted by wildly variant things and that’s how it should be, the thinking goes – so don’t get worked up trying to figure out which things are beautiful.

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From Griffith REVIEW Edition 31: Ways of Seeing
© Copyright Griffith University & the author

ONE evening I was getting into the crowded lift at my local tube station in Central London, to go down to the train. As the doors closed a middle-aged gentleman squeezed in. I recognised him as a fairly distinguished professor of history from the University of London School of Advanced Study, where I directed the philosophy program. As we descended he suddenly blurted out to everyone and no one: ‘That’s it; I’ve had it. What they’re doing to our arts faculties is a complete disgrace.’ We looked at our feet as he went on about the government, university administrators and the general ruin of intellectual culture.

I don’t know what made him snap at that moment. But the professor in the lift has for me become a symbol of the view that the humanities are hard done-by and that they are in decline – or at least in an extended period of trouble – through no fault of their own, but because of bad decisions by others.

In less dramatic ways I have heard this analysis restated many times during my years in Australia: the academic humanities are doing a good job; they are fine, serious and important disciplines, staffed by able and sincere people. But governments and university administrators set impossible targets, demand crazy workloads, cut budgets, reducing staff numbers and imposing a stultifying managerial regime, and generally forcing the humanities onto the defensive.

There’s a simple and morally necessary solution, according to this view: increase our funding, then leave us alone.

When I arrived in Australia, in 2001, this analysis seemed to cohere with a political assumption, even a political blindness. In the years during which John Howard was Prime Minister many humanities academics assumed that he was personally responsible for their situation. A Prime Minister is a terrifying adversary, but also cause for submerged optimism. Howard would (eventually) be defeated and – the thinking went – because he was the sole cause of the troubles, the good times would roll again.

There was in the humanities a generalised, and very honest, inability to imagine John Howard as anything other than an aberration, sustained by deceit and media manipulation, rather than as a man who was exceptionally adept at expressing widespread opinions.

Consequently, there was no self-examination: there was no hint that the humanities might themselves have contributed to their troubles, that they may have failed to win sufficient public respect and admiration to carry weight in national life.

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JOHN Armstrong is a rare creature, a university philosopher who thinks far too many humanities academics are talking to the wrong people, each other.

The author of scholarly studies of art, love and beauty, with a PhD from University College, London, politely dismisses the accepted academic wisdom that scholarly specialisation is essential.

And he understands why the British government has decided to stop paying humanities academics at English universities to teach: in future their income will come from the fees students pay to take their courses. No students, no source of salary.

In what looks like the shape of things to come, London Metropolitan University, a new institution with a large enrolment of not especially gifted students, has responded to the government’s increased fees and funding cuts by cutting its courses, from 557 to 160, with many coming from the social sciences and humanities.

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Article by STEPHEN MATCHETT of The Australian


Decent people take comfort in the idea that money is not profoundly connected with happiness.

There are statistics that suggest that as income increases happiness does not rise to an equal degree; and that beyond a modest threshold, money does not make a big difference to one’s happiness.

It’s a likeable thesis: it cheers for the underdog. It spits in the eye of money – and most people have been humiliated or disappointed by money at some time or other; there is a pleasure of revenge.

Deep down we know that it would be too terrible if money could – by itself – cause happiness, with the clean causal power by which, for instance, alcohol makes us drunk.

If money were a sufficient cause of happiness, the world would be truly hellish. If money, gained in whatever way (by undetected fraud, by sheer luck, by being above the law) and spent in whatever way (on tinsel, on securing flattery, on satisfying one’s most irresponsible and transient wishes) reliably produced happiness (the most desirable of all human conditions, the proper objective of our striving), how could one explain such an arrangement? Only a malevolent designer could create such a hideous order of things.

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If we talk of ‘two cultures’ today, it’s not the divide between arts and sciences that we should have in mind.

The crucial issue is the gulf between commerce and higher education – especially between business and the humanities.

I don’t think that much of the rancour that so annoyed English physicist and novelist Charles Percy Snow circa 1960, still exists. There is something really quite touching about his description of a Shakespeare scholar snubbing a physicist after dinner in a Cambridge college. It sounds like a report from another world.

But another version of the two cultures does exist, and it is even more important. The ways in which humanities people think of business and the way some business people think of the humanities puts Snow’s common room bickering in the shade.

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From Website “wired

“Welcome to the first Wired Smart List. We set out to discover the people who are going to make an impact on our future –by asking today’s top achievers who, emerging in their field, they’d most like to have a leisurely lunch or dinner with. So we approached some of the world’s brightest minds — from Melinda Gates to Ai Weiwei — to nominate one fresh, exciting thinker who is influencing them, someone whose ideas or experience they feel are transformative…”

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