PHILOSOPHERS I’D LIKE TO HAVE A DRINK WITH

Here in Bristol (the UK version, though I know there are Bristols in many other countries) we have a wonderful institution called the Bristol Festival of Ideas. It was founded, I think, by a great fellow called Andrew Kelly. (may his tribe increase)

The festival’s web address is www.ideasfestival.co.uk and you might have spotted that there is nothing about Bristol in that URL, so it is conveniently shorter than it might otherwise have been. When I first noticed that, I assumed that either we had the first such festival (being of a pioneering spirit, as this city usually is) or that the aforementioned Mr Kelly had been quicker off the mark than other organisers when it came to allocating domain names. So I Googled (as you do) the phrase “ideas festival”. I found that there is virtually no comparable festival anywhere else in the UK, except Cambridge. We’d be happy, I think, to be considered on a par with that city when it comes to ideas.

To be fair, I did that web search a couple of years ago; I can’t be bothered to do it again, in case we have by now lots of imitators.

Our festival has hundreds of informative and (generally) entertaining talks annually, by a fantastic variety of speakers, including but not restricted to scientists, historians, novelists, politicians … and philosophers. Wait a minute, I hear you cry. Entertaining talk by a philosopher? That’s surely an oxymoron?

Well, I have pleasure in informing you, dear reader, that it’s not an oxymoron when the speaker is Prof A C Grayling (Anthony to his chums), whom I had the pleasure of hearing last Friday evening, not for the first time, courtesy of the Festival of Ideas. Grayling was talking largely about the history behind the “making” (his word) of his new secular bible entitled “The Good Book”. I used the word “history” advisedly, by the way, because he reckoned the process of gestation lasted about 30 years.

Space does not permit me even to summarise the content of his talk, so I’ll restrict myself to one of his throwaway lines. He mentioned that he sometimes tells his students about the conversation overheard between two women on a Glasgow bus: “My dear, you must be philosophical about it; don’t give it another thought.”

(… or was it a Bristol bus? Discuss.)

As for the title of this post: I do very occasionally like to read some philosophy (or at least philosophy-lite) because I feel I ought to, but I couldn’t ever have imagined having a drink with a philosopher. However, having heard Prof Grayling and the self-deprecating way he talks about his profession and his work, I’d now go further. He’s high on my list of fantasy dinner guests.