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A. C. Grayling

A. C. Grayling

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Anthony Clifford Grayling (born 3 April 1949) is a British philosopher. In 2011 he founded and became the first Master of New College of the Humanities
New College of the Humanities
New College of the Humanities is a proposed new private for-profit undergraduate college in London, England, the creation of which was announced in June 2011 by the philosopher A.C. Grayling, its founder and first master...

, a private undergraduate college in London. Until June 2011, he was Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. It offers many Master's and Bachelor's degree programmes that can be studied either part-time or full-time, though nearly all teaching is...

, where he taught from 1991. He is also a supernumerary
Supernumerary
A Supernumerary is an additional member of an organization. A supernumerary is also a non-regular member of a staff, a member of the staff or an employee who works in a public office who is not part of the manpower complement...

 fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford.

Grayling is the author of around 30 books on philosophy, including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Future of Moral Values (1997), The Meaning of Things
The Meaning of Things
The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life, published in the U.S. as Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age, is a book by A. C. Grayling. First published in 2001, the work offers popular treatments of philosophical reasoning, weaving together ideas from various writers and...

(2001), and The Good Book
The Good Book (book)
The Good Book is a book written by A. C. Grayling. It was published in March 2011 by Walker & Company with the subtitle A Humanist Bible, and in April 2011 by Bloomsbury with the subtitle A Secular Bible....

(2011). He is a Trustee of the London Library
London Library
The London Library is the world's largest independent lending library, and the UK's leading literary institution. It is located in the City of Westminster, London, England, United Kingdom....

, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Royal Society of Literature
The Royal Society of Literature is the "senior literary organisation in Britain". It was founded in 1820 by George IV, in order to "reward literary merit and excite literary talent". The Society's first president was Thomas Burgess, who later became the Bishop of Salisbury...

, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is also a director of and contributor to Prospect Magazine
Prospect (magazine)
Prospect is a monthly British general interest magazine, specialising in politics and current affairs. Frequent topics include British, European, and US politics, social issues, art, literature, cinema, science, the media, history, philosophy, and psychology...

.

His main academic interests lie in epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophical logic. He is also associated in the UK with the new atheism
New Atheism
New Atheism is the name given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises." New atheists argue that recent...

 movement.

Early life and education


Grayling was born and raised in Luanshya
Luanshya
Luanshya is a town in Zambia, in the Copperbelt Province near Ndola. It has a population of 117,579 .Luanshya was founded in the early part of the 20th century after a prospector/explorer, William Collier, shot and killed a Roan Antelope on the banks of the Luanshya River, discovering a copper...

, Zambia
Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

 (then Northern Rhodesia
Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...

) within the British expatriate community, while his father worked for the Standard Chartered Bank
Standard Bank (historic)
The Standard Bank was a British overseas bank, which operated mainly in Africa from 1863 to 1969. It merged with the Chartered Bank in 1969 to form Standard Chartered.-History:...

. He attended several boarding schools there, including Falcon College
Falcon College
Falcon College is a private institution of higher learning for boys aged 12–18 in the southern Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe. It was founded in 1954 near Esigodini , 55 km southeast of Bulawayo on the remains of the Bushtick Mine...

 in Zimbabwe, from which he ran away after being caned. His first exposure to philosophical writing was at the age of twelve, when he found an English translation of the Charmides
Charmides (dialogue)
The Charmides is a dialogue of Plato, in which Socrates engages a handsome and popular boy in a conversation about the meaning of sophrosyne, a Greek word usually translated into English as "temperance", "self-control", or "restraint"...

, one of Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's dialogues, in a local library. At fourteen, he read G. H. Lewes's
George Henry Lewes
George Henry Lewes was an English philosopher and critic of literature and theatre. He became part of the mid-Victorian ferment of ideas which encouraged discussion of Darwinism, positivism, and religious scepticism...

 Biographical History of Philosophy (1846), which confirmed his ambition to study philosophy; he said it "superinduced order on the random reading that had preceded it, and settled my vocation."

Grayling was the third sibling. His older sister Jennifer was murdered in Johannesburg when he was nineteen, something that affected him deeply. She had been born with brain damage, and after brain surgery to alleviate it at the age of 20 had experienced personality problems that led to several inappropriate affairs and a premature marriage. She was found dead in a river shortly after the marriage; she had been stabbed. When her parents went to identify her, her mother—already ill—had a heart attack and died. Grayling said he dealt with his grief by becoming a workaholic.

After moving to England in his teens, he spent three years at the University of Sussex
University of Sussex
The University of Sussex is an English public research university situated next to the East Sussex village of Falmer, within the city of Brighton and Hove. The University received its Royal Charter in August 1961....

, but said he believed their intention was to educate generalists, rather than scholars, so in addition to his BA from Sussex, he also completed one in philosophy as a University of London external student. He went on to obtain an MA from Sussex, then attended Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

, where he was taught by P. F. Strawson
P. F. Strawson
Sir Peter Frederick Strawson FBA was an English philosopher. He was the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford from 1968 to 1987. Before that he was appointed as a college lecturer at University College, Oxford in 1947 and became a tutorial fellow the...

 and A. J. Ayer, obtaining his doctorate in 1981 for a thesis on "Epistemological Scepticism and Transcendental Arguments."

Career


He lectured in philosophy at St Anne's College, Oxford, before taking up a post in 1991 at Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. It offers many Master's and Bachelor's degree programmes that can be studied either part-time or full-time, though nearly all teaching is...

, where in 1998 he became reader
Reader (academic rank)
The title of Reader in the United Kingdom and some universities in the Commonwealth nations like Australia and New Zealand denotes an appointment for a senior academic with a distinguished international reputation in research or scholarship...

 in philosophy, and in 2005 professor. He resigned from Birkbeck in June 2011 to found and become the first master of New College of the Humanities
New College of the Humanities
New College of the Humanities is a proposed new private for-profit undergraduate college in London, England, the creation of which was announced in June 2011 by the philosopher A.C. Grayling, its founder and first master...

, a private undergraduate college in London. He is a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford.

Interests


His principal interests in technical philosophy lie at the intersection of theory of knowledge, metaphysics
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, and philosophical logic
Philosophical logic
Philosophical logic is a term introduced by Bertrand Russell to represent his idea that the workings of natural language and thought can only be adequately represented by an artificial language; essentially it was his formalization program for the natural language...

, through which he attempts to define the relationship between mind
Mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

 and world, thereby challenging philosophical scepticism. Grayling uses philosophical logic
Philosophical logic
Philosophical logic is a term introduced by Bertrand Russell to represent his idea that the workings of natural language and thought can only be adequately represented by an artificial language; essentially it was his formalization program for the natural language...

 to counter the arguments of the sceptic in order to try to shed light on the traditional ideas of the realism debate and developing associated views on truth and meaning.

He is also interested in both practical and theoretical questions of human rights and related ethical problems, and has been a contributor to philosophical pedagogy and scholarship through writing and editing.

Public advocacy


For Grayling, work on technical problems of the foregoing kind is only one aspect of philosophy. Another aspect, one which has been at the centre of philosophy's place in history, has more immediate application to daily life: the questions of ethics, which revolve upon what Grayling calls the great Socratic question, 'How should one live?'. In pursuit of what he describes as 'contributing to the conversation society has with itself about possibilities for good lives in good societies' Grayling writes widely on contemporary issues, including war crimes, the legalisation of drugs, euthanasia
Euthanasia
Euthanasia refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering....

, secularism
Secularism
Secularism is the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries...

, and human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

. He has articulated positions on humanist ethics and on the history and nature of concepts of liberty as applied in civic life. In support of his belief that the philosopher should engage in public debate, he brings these philosophical perspectives to issues of the day in his work as a writer and as a commentator on radio and television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

.

Among his contributions to the discussion about religion in contemporary society he argues that there are three separable ,though naturally connected debates: a metaphysical debate about what the universe contains; denying that it contains supernatural agencies of any kind makes him an atheist; a debate about the basis of ethics; taking the world to be a natural realm of natural law requires that humanity thinks for itself about the right and the good, based on our best understanding of human nature and the human condition; this makes him a humanist; a debate about the place of religious movements and organisations in the public domain; as a secularist Grayling argues that these should see themselves as civil society organisations on a par with trades unions and other NGOs, with every right to exist and to have their say, but no greater right than any other self-constituted, self-selected interest group
On this latter point, Grayling's view is that for historical reasons religions have a grossly inflated place in the public domain out of all proportion to the numbers of their adherents or their intrinsic merits, so that their voice and influence is amplified disproportionately: with the result that they can distort such matters as public policy (e.g. on abortion) and science research and education (e.g. stem cells, teaching of evolution). He argues that winning the metaphysical and ethical debates is already abating the problems associated with (c) in more advanced Western societies, even the US. He sees his own major contribution as being the promotion of understanding of humanist ethics deriving from the philosophical tradition.

Between 1999 and 2002 Grayling wrote a weekly column in The Guardian called "The Last Word", in which he turned his attention to a different topic every week. In these columns, which also formed the basis of a series of books for a general readership, commencing with The Meaning of Things
The Meaning of Things
The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life, published in the U.S. as Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age, is a book by A. C. Grayling. First published in 2001, the work offers popular treatments of philosophical reasoning, weaving together ideas from various writers and...

in 2001, Grayling made the basics of philosophy available to the layman. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian's "Comment is free" group blog, and writes columns for Prospect magazine, The Dubliner, New Scientist, and the Barnes and Noble book review. He is accredited to the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, is a patron of the British Humanist Association, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, and is Patron of the British Armed Forces Humanist Association. He is involved with several educational and literacy charities. He is a Trustee of the London Library, has been a board member of the Society of Authors, and in 2003 was a Booker Prize judge.

Grayling's book on the allied strategic air offensive in World War II, Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime? (2006) was well-received as a contribution to the debate on the ethics of war. His books on civil liberties and Enlightenment values have been politically influential, being read in (among other places) 10 Downing Street.

In September 2010, Grayling was one of 55 public figures who sent a letter to The Guardian expressing their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

's state visit to the UK.

Positions held

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • Fellow of the World Economic Forum
    World Economic Forum
    The World Economic Forum is a Swiss non-profit foundation, based in Cologny, Geneva, best known for its annual meeting in Davos, a mountain resort in Graubünden, in the eastern Alps region of Switzerland....

     (2000–2004)
  • Member of the editorial boards of Reason in Practice and Prospect
    Prospect (magazine)
    Prospect is a monthly British general interest magazine, specialising in politics and current affairs. Frequent topics include British, European, and US politics, social issues, art, literature, cinema, science, the media, history, philosophy, and psychology...

  • British Academy
    British Academy
    The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national body for the humanities and the social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.It receives an annual...

     visitor to the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
    Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
    The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences , established in 1977, is the premier and highest academic research organization in the fields of philosophy and social sciences as well as a national center for comprehensive studies in the People's Republic of China. It was described by Foreign Policy...

     (1986)
  • Director of the Sino-British Summer School in Philosophy in Beijing (1988, 1993)
  • Jan Hus Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
    Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
    The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic was established in 1992 by the Czech National Council as the Czech successor of the former Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The Academy is the leading non-university public research institution in the Czech Republic...

     (1994 and 1996)
  • Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (1998)
  • Honorary Secretary of the Aristotelian Society
    Aristotelian Society
    The Aristotelian Society for the Systematic Study of Philosophy was founded at a meeting on 19 April 1880, at 17 Bloomsbury Square which resolved "to constitute a society of about twenty and to include ladies; the society to meet fortnightly, on Mondays at 8 o'clock, at the rooms of the Spelling...

     (1993–2001)
  • Gifford Lecturer at the University of Glasgow
    University of Glasgow
    The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

     (2005)
  • Past chairman of June Fourth, a human rights group concerned with China
    China
    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

  • Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society
    National Secular Society
    The National Secular Society is a British campaigning organisation that promotes secularism and the separation of church and state. It holds that no-one should gain advantage or disadvantage because of their religion or lack of religion. It was founded by Charles Bradlaugh in 1866...

  • Patron of the British Armed Forces Humanist Association UK Armed Forces Humanist Association (UKAFHA)
  • Representative to the UN Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union
    International Humanist and Ethical Union
    The International Humanist and Ethical Union is an umbrella organisation embracing humanist, atheist, rationalist, secular, skeptic, freethought and Ethical Culture organisations worldwide. Founded in Amsterdam in 1952, the IHEU is a democratic union of more than 100 member organizations in 40...

  • Vice-president, British Humanist Association
    British Humanist Association
    The British Humanist Association is an organisation of the United Kingdom which promotes Humanism and represents "people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs." The BHA is committed to secularism, human rights, democracy, egalitarianism and mutual respect...

    . In June 2011, it was announced that he had decided not to take up the position of President of the BHA.
  • Member of the C1 World Dialogue
    C1 World Dialogue
    C1 World Dialogue is an initiative, whose mission is to “support and promote, propagate and preserve, peace harmony and friendship between the Western and Islamic Worlds”. The initiative has its origins in the Council of One Hundred Leaders West-Islamic Dialogue originally launched by the World...

     group on relations between Islam and the West

Publications


  • An Introduction to Philosophical Logic (1982). ISBN 0-389-20299-1
  • The Refutation of Scepticism (1985). ISBN 0-7156-1922-5
  • Berkeley: The Central Arguments (1986). ISBN 0-7156-2065-7
  • Wittgenstein (1988). ISBN 0-19-287676-7
  • with Susan Whitfield
    Susan Whitfield
    Susan Whitfield is an English historian and librarian who works at the British Library in London, England. She obtained a PhD in historiography from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and now specialises in the social and intellectual history of the Tang Dynasty, and the history...

    . China: A Literary Companion (1994). ISBN 0-7195-5353-9
  • (ed). Philosophy: A Guide Through the Subject (1995). ISBN 0-19-875156-7
  • Russell (1996). ISBN 0-19-287683-X
  • The Future of Moral Values (1997), ISBN 0-297-81973-9
  • Philosophy 2: Further Through the Subject (1998). ISBN 0-19-875179-6, ed.
  • The Quarrel of the Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt (2000). ISBN 0-297-64322-3
  • The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life (2001). ISBN 0-297-60758-8
  • published in the U.S. as Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age.
  • The Reason of Things: Living with Philosophy (2002). ISBN 0-297-82935-1
  • published in the U.S. as Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life Without God.
  • What Is Good?: The Search for the Best Way to Live (2003). ISBN 0-297-84132-7
  • The Mystery of Things (2004). ISBN 0-297-64559-5
  • The Art of Always Being Right (2004). ISBN 1-903933-61-7 [Edited T. Bailey Saunders' translation of Schopenhauer
    Arthur Schopenhauer
    Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...

    's essay The Art of Being Right
    The Art of Being Right
    The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument is an acidulous and sarcastic treatise written by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in sarcastic deadpan. In it, Schopenhauer examines a total of thirty-eight methods of showing up one's opponent in a debate...

    ]
  • Descartes: The Life of René Descartes and Its Place in His Times (2005). ISBN 0-7432-3147-3
  • The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century (2005). ISBN 0-297-84819-4
  • The Form of Things: Essays on Life, Ideas and Liberty in the 21st Century (2006). ISBN 0-297-85167-5
  • with Andrew Pyle and Naomi Goulder (eds). The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy (2006), ISBN 1-84371-141-9
  • Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime? (2006). ISBN 0-7475-7671-8
  • with Mick Gordon. On Religion (2007).
  • Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness (2007). ISBN 978-1-84002-728-0
  • Truth, Meaning and Realism: Essays in the Philosophy of Thought (2007). ISBN 978-0-8264-9748-2
  • Towards The Light (2007). ISBN 978-0-8027-1636-1
    • published in the U.S. as Towards the Light of Liberty.
  • The Choice of Hercules (2007).
  • Scepticism and the Possibility of Knowledge (2008).
  • Ideas That Matter: A Personal Guide for the 21st Century (2009). ISBN 978-0-297-85676-4
  • Liberty in the Age of Terror : A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values (2009).
  • To Set Prometheus Free: Essays on Religion, Reason and Humanity (2009). ISBN 978-1-84002-962-8
  • Thinking of Answers: Questions in the Philosophy of Everyday Life (2010). ISBN 978-1-4088-0598-5
  • The Good Book
    The Good Book (book)
    The Good Book is a book written by A. C. Grayling. It was published in March 2011 by Walker & Company with the subtitle A Humanist Bible, and in April 2011 by Bloomsbury with the subtitle A Secular Bible....

    (2011). ISBN 9780802717375


Further reading