I know, I know – exams are coming!

I had a request for extra info on contemporary Utilitarianism and other topics: here are some links to at least start you off (although we do have books in the library):
Intro to Utilitarianism
THIS ONE – may need you to be in the Uni – as it is a journal piece – but maybe not! Try it..
Also, as ever, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is good: Try its piece on Consequentialism
If you need extra materials for the Hinduism course start at:

Good luck – and e-mail if you need any help! Dave


Islam in the Indian Subcontinent Conference

The Department of Humanities at the University of Gloucestershire is pleased to annouce details of a conference:

Thursday 19th April 2007

Islam in the Indian Subcontinent

The Indian Subcontinent is a significant region for Islamic Studies,
having more Muslims than anywhere else in the world. Developments
in Islam in the region usually have a world-wide impact.

FCH Campus, Cheltenham, UK
10.30-11.00 Registration and Coffee, (Foyer, Clegg Building)
11.00 Welcome: Professor Patricia Broadfoot, Vice-Chancellor, University of Gloucestershire

11.05- 11.50 Rt Rev. Kenneth Cragg (Oxford): The Contemporary Significance of the Taj Mahal

11.50-12.35 Dr Mashuq Ibn Ally (Birmingham): Reform and revivalist movements in Pakistan and Bangladesh

12.35–1.35 LUNCH
1.35–2.20 Dr Theodore Gabriel (Gloucestershire): The Islamicisation of Pakistan
2.20–2.30 Short Break

2.30–3.15 Dr Ian Williams (Central England): Ahmad Raza Khan [1856-1921]: Revivalism, Resistance, and Sunni – Shi’a relations in the sub-continent.

3.15–4.00 Dr David Immanuel Singh (Oxford): Centre and Margin – The Van Gujjar Muslim Tribals of Northern India and their relationship to mainstream Islam
4.00 Vote of Thanks: Dr Theodore Gabriel – Followed by Tea.

A sandwich lunch (to include sandwiches, crisps, cookies, fruit and coffee/tea) will be available if ordered when your booking is made. The cost for this is £5.00 and should be sent with your conference fee.

Rt Rev. Kenneth Cragg:
Assistant Bishop of Oxford, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and author who has published prodigiously on the theme of Christian- Muslim relations. Author of The Call of the Minaret, Christ and the Faiths and Muhammad and the Christian among numerous other volumes.

Dr Mashuq Ibn Ally
Formerly Head of Islamic Studies at University of Wales, Lampeter, he is now Head of Equality and Diversity at Birmingham City Council. He is the author of Theology of Islamic Liberation, Religious Experience and Islam;, Law, blasphemy and the multi-faith society, and the section on Islam in Ethical Issues in Six Religions.

Dr Theodore Gabriel
Formerly a Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Gloucestershire he is now Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Humanities at the same institution. He is the author of Christian-Muslim Relations (1996), Hindu and Muslim Inter-Religious Relations in Malaysia (2000), editor of Islam in the Contemporary World (2000) and co-editor of Islam and the West Post – September 11t h (2004)

Dr Ian Williams
Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader of Religious Education at the University of Central England. His recent publications include: An Absent Influence? The Nurcu/Fetullah Gulen Movements in Turkish Islam and their potential influence upon European Islam and global education, and Relics and Reliquaries: Signs and Semiotics in contemporary UK Islam

Dr David Immanuel Singh
Research Tutor in South Asian Studies, Admissions Tutor and MPhil Programme Leader at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. His recent publications include: Sainthood and Revelatory Discourse: An Examination of the Bases for Bayan’s Authority in Mahdawi Islam, and Physical Jihad: Current Perspectives on Islamic ‘Holy War’.

FEES: £16 (£8 for students and the unwaged; £5.00 for students of University of Gloucestershire). Tea/Coffee will be served morning and afternoon.

Telephone: 01242 714570 Fax: 01242 714826

Friendship, Philosophy & January…

[I changed the picture, as the old one was a bit sickly…. – or so some visitors thought…]

January can be a long, cold month for students – preparing for exams, reading books and waiting for the second Semester… In the midst of such thoughts, I have noted a lot in the philsophical journals, etc recently about the value of friendship – and the philosophical aspect of this.
Much of the philosophical reflection on this matter comes from Aristotle’s writing about it in his ethics (see ) – and the notion that true frindship is love of another person in an intrinsic sense – that is, for the sake of that person or who they are, rather than for what they do/can do for you…
I particularly liked (and with an awareness of the fact that many of you will soon be doing the RPE202 Buddhism module!) the account of friendship given in the Mitta Sutta, [Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu]:
“Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”
He gives what is beautiful,
hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful, ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
I wonder where we should place friendship in an ethical framework?
Some may worry that it is a way of ignoring what we should do, and favouring those close to us at the expense of others. Might we not though consider the kind of friendship described here as some kind of paradigmatic relationship that we ought to cultivate in realtion to all our dealings with other people?
Your thoughts on the nature of friendship are very welcome..

Gay Rights, Faith and the Law

As many of you will have noticed, attempts to block the Sexual Orientation Regulations in the House of Lords have failed.

A number of faith groups had objected to the regulations. The rules mean that people who offer paid services to the public cannot refuse people, or discriminate against them, on the grounds of their sexuality.

To quote the BBC report on this:
Critics say the new rules mean hotels cannot refuse to provide rooms for gay couples, and religious groups would be obliged to rent out halls for “gay wedding” receptions.

Is this – as some have reported – about gay rights vs ‘Christian’ rights? Clearly not all Christians feel this way – but the quote below shows how some feel…

Christian Voice – a pressure group – claims in its press release that:
‘The Government and their ‘gay rights’ friends have no right to impose their morality, or lack of it, on the 99% of the population who are not that way inclined. Christians, members of other faiths and indeed of none cannot be forced to act against their conscience by providing services to those whose activities they find perverted, disgusting or simply against the clear, unequivocal word of God.”

Gay Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell said of faith campaigns against the regulations:
“The Christian fundamentalists who want these exemptions are demanding the right to discriminate against gay people, but they are not campaigning for the right to discriminate against adulterers, unwed mothers, thieves, murderers or rapists. They have a highly selective and overtly homophobic interpretation of Biblical morality.”

Should people be ‘forced’ to offer services to all – or have the right to decline in the manner some seem to wish to?

Is this about rights at all?

Defining Sport


As promised: a longer consideration of the nature of ‘Sport’. This is by my colleague, Dr Emily Ryall, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy over at the Faculty of Sport, Health and Social Care at Oxstalls Campus (University of Gloucestershire).

In the piece below she considers: what is a sport?

Defining Sport

In philosophy we are encouraged to define our concepts with relation to necessary and sufficient conditions. In the case of sport, the Analytical approach has attempted to do this. A fairly accessible definition of sport is given by Coakley:

Sports are institutionalized competitive activities that involve rigorous physical exertion or the use of relatively complex physical skills by participants motivated by personal enjoyment and external rewards. (Coakley, 2001; p.20)

However, a more thorough place to start is with Bernard Suits’ exploration of this issue. In particular, Suits considers, what seems to be, the significant relationship between games and sport. His seminal work, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, spends considerable time dissecting what it is for something to be a game. He concludes that the four essential elements are the goal, rules, means and lusory attitude.

The (Pre-lusory) Goal

Suits dismisses the goals of participating and winning to maintain that the goal of a game is “a specific achievable state of affairs… that can be described before, or independently of, any game of which it may be or become a part.” (1978; p36-37) Examples of this are, gaining three noughts or crosses in a row in the case of noughts and crosses, scoring more goals than your opponent in the case of football or hockey, or completing an approved set of actions to a particular standard in the case of high board diving.

The (Lusory) Means

Game playing is the selection of inefficient means. That is, to make a particular goal harder to achieve than is necessary. It would be easy to win at Monopoly if one had unlimited money and could continue to roll the dice until one achieved the number desired. Likewise, one could achieve the specific state of affairs in golf by walking to the hole and placing the ball in the cup. This aspect of selecting inefficient means is what distinguishes games from work.

The Rules

(Arbitrary) rules (that are the selection of inefficient means) are accepted for the sake of the activity. In this sense then, the rules and ends are inseparable in games as the achievement of the goal is limited by the rules prescribing the means of achieving it. If a player were to have limitless money and roll the dice until they rolled the number they wished they would not be playing the game of Monopoly at all. Conversely, the player that places by hand her ball in the cup is not playing the game of golf.

The Lusory Attitude

This is the attitude held by players that they knowingly accept the rules to allow the game to be played. As Suits says, “in anything but a game the gratuitous introduction of unnecessary obstacles to the achievement of an end is regarded as a decidedly irrational thing to do, whereas in games it appears to be an absolutely essential thing to do.” (1995; p.10)

So what does Suits say about sport? On this he changes position. He first said that sports are a special class of games but with added elements, namely: they must be games of skill, the skill must be physical, they must have a wide following, and achieve a certain level of stability. This would rule out games of chance, such as roulette, and games of mental skill such as poker. However, Suits later changes his claim that all sports are games as it doesn’t account for performance sports, such as gymnastics, which would not be classified as games.

As to whether darts is a sport, to a certain degree it fulfils both Suits’ and Coakley’s criteria. It is a game of skill to throw a dart at a target; it undoubtedly has a large following and has achieved a level of stability. The most problematic criteria seems to be the one requiring the skill to be physical. One could argue that it is physically demanding to be standing for long periods of time throwing darts at a board but this is not the same kind of physical skill that is involved in playing rugby or even in archery. Even if we focus upon Coakley’s requirement that it is necessary to be at least a relatively complex physical skill, though perhaps not rigorous, we might be able to argue that there are other activities that fulfil this criteria but that which we would not want to call a sport. The games of ‘snap’ or ‘scissors, paper, stone’ for instance, are probably more physically demanding than darts and fulfil the other criteria, yet we would probably not want to label these as sports. For this reason, it seems that the analytical approach is useful but inadequate as there may be some instances which fulfil the necessary and sufficient conditions but which we would not want to label as sport, and others that don’t fulfil these conditions that we do want to call sport.

The other approach that is taken towards a definition of sport is one that specifies that sport can only be defined in context. Any definition is grounded in society, culture and history and is dependent on who is being asked and to what instance is being referred. One might argue that an unequivocal example of sport is football and point to an officiated match played according to FIFA rules. However, would a five-a-side friendly in a local sports hall still be the same sport, or even an impromptu kick around in the park that consisted of three players using their jumpers as goal posts? If the rules of this kick around were changed to such an extent that players could only score if they volleyed the ball in, or headed the ball in, or had made six consecutive passes would it be football at all? In such an instance, we might argue that they are not playing the sport of football at all nor even the game of football but simply another game that resembles the sport of football. It is perhaps here that we can turn to Wittgenstein. First, his notion of family resemblance acknowledges the fact that we are able to trace common links between various instances of things we would call sport though there may not be any resemblance between one particular instance and another. Second and ultimately, that which we call sport and that which we dismiss as a game or other activity, is dependent on agreement in language. This, in itself, he calls a ‘language-game’ (…or is it a sport?!).


Coakley, J. (2001). Sport in Society: issues and controversies. New York: McGraw Hill.

Suits, B. (1978). The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. London: University of Toronto Press.

Suits, B. (1995). ‘The elements of sport’ in Morgan, W. P. & Meier, K. V. (eds.) Philosophic Inquiry in Sport, Leeds: Human Kinetics, pp.8-15.

Wittgenstein, L. (1968). Philosophical Investigations. (Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe) Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Dr Emily Ryall
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy
Faculty of Sport, Health & Social Care
University of Gloucestershire, UK

Sports, ethics and fairness

Further to recent darts entries, I have been thinking about whether engagement in sport is something that can foster ethical virtues.

It has the rules, and ethics borrows phrases from the world of sports all the time – such as’playing with a straight bat’ (a bit archaic I know), level-playing field, fair play, and others [see for a piece in the Journal of Sports History about Plato’s use of Sporting Analogies in the Lesser Hippias)].

Then I came across this quote from George Orwell:

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”

Oh dear – should we let kids really do PE at school at all?

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society

Hi – the Gloucestershire Philosophical Society programme for the coming months is below – or see their website for details:

The Phil Soc also now have their own blog at: – which is new, but will be coming slowly to life over the next few weeks/months…

Jan. 17th. Dr. John Hughes, Uni. of Gloucs. “Between Literature and Philosophy: The Work of Stanley Cavell”.
The talk will explore some key themes in Stanley Cavell’s work on the inter-relationships between philosophy and literature.

Jan. 31st. Exmouth Arms. 10.30 a.m. Discussion: “Greed”.
Greed is another multi-purpose cliche word (selfishness, short-termism, etc.) of our times, seriously in need of analysis and unpacking. GPS will turn the beam on this socio-economic hydra and report the outcome.

Feb. 14th. Victor Suchar, Bath Philosophy Group. “H-G. Gadamer’s ‘Truth and Method’.
The talk looks at the significance of this seminal work in the sphere of hermeneutics. It explores the philosopher’s study of language, textual meaning and the concept of tradition.

Feb. 28th. Neal Richards, GPS. “Wittgenstein’s Lion: Language and Gender”.
The talk considers the significance of Wittgenstein’s philosophy as applied to our understanding of issues in gender and language.

March 21st. Dr. Alison Scott-Baumann, Uni. of Gloucs. “Foucault and Nietzsche”. Avatar or ape, genius or conman?
How can we understand Foucault’s relationship with Nietzsche’s work?

Other than the meeting in the Exmouth on January 31 all of the above will be held in room HC203 Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham between 7.30 and 9.30 p.m.