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Seminar: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience

NB Please ignore the notice that this series only runs until October (and please note that the November date is 27 November, not 26 November). It will go on after that, but when I changed the text to give better directions, the Meetup site split the series in two.

At each seminar, we discuss a short philosophical text, or tackle a philosophical question. This month's text is taken from Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (which also goes under the title, Resistance to Civil Government). The text is available here:

We want to keep these events reasonably small, so that we can keep the discussion focused, and so that everyone can participate. Please book your place by using the RSVP button. If you book and then find that you cannot make it, please cancel your booking, so that someone else can take your place.

The venue is the main ground floor foyer of the National Theatre on the South Bank. We will try to be as near to the downstream end as we can (the end furthest from Waterloo Bridge). If you are in doubt, come into the foyer, find the Lyttleton cloakroom, stand just in front of it, facing the cloakroom counter, and look in the alcove of half a dozen tables to your left. We will try to be there, but if it is occupied, we will have to move up towards the area in front of the Long Bar.

We will normally start at 7.45 pm, but when the main theatre's play starts at 8, we will start at 8.15, so that the foyer is clear for us. Please check each event, to confirm the time.

This seminar will be conducted by Richard Baron.

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  • Steve F.

    Very interesting meeting on a very interesting text. Thoreau's position alas (it is appealing) remains over simplistic. An example from Greek drama illustrates this - Antigone was right, Creon was not wrong - The law said a traitor must not be buried, another law that the dead must be honoured and buried. Each sister's conscience led them to a different decision. Creon, the tyrant who never wanted to be king had to hold together a fractured and damaged city - his conscience said he could not neglect this duty nor allow the law to be flouted. What would Thoreau have done? This is not to deny that people who have followed their conscience and flouted the law have not, sometimes, done great good as a result. A lot of the early anti slavery campaigners were so motivated. Gandhi liberated India.... Draft dodgers helped change public attitudes on the Vietnam war. It can also go wrong for who is to say your conscience is right (or that it is not just expedience)

    August 29, 2013

    • Richard B.

      Steve, I like your "Antigone was right, Creon was not wrong". It relates to my suggestion, at the discussion, that we should shift from asking "Should someone take action to right an apparent - and perhaps real - wrong?" to "Should we condemn someone who did not act?". The category of "not wrong" suggests that even when there are only two options for action/inaction, the law of excluded middle does not apply to the evaluation of an agent's choice: there are more options than right and wrong.

      1 · August 29, 2013

    • Steve F.

      Richard, I think there is no cut and dried answer to this - Circumstances and distance (physical and emotional) comes into it. If you can act without undue risk of harm to yourself and you are in a possibly unique position to act then I believe that some opprobrium is due if you don't. If you are just one among many who could act then very much less so. Thoreau's views tend to be polarised - he did not do grey areas.

      August 29, 2013

  • Beatrice

    I'm very sorry to cancel last minute, I've had a boiler emergency at home which needs to be attended to!! I hope you have an interesting evening and hope to make it next time. Thanks, Beatrice

    August 28, 2013

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