The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer ‘believes pessimism to be true. When he cites the tragic poets, it is because he believes they were right in describing a world of suffering.’ Photograph: Getty images

Unthinkable: It’s nice if your glass is always half full, but are you deluding yourself?

Protesters from the Occupy Wall Street campaign. ‘One of the things that makes us human,’ says David Wengrow, ‘is that we can make moral choices  between competitive and altruistic kinds of society.’ Photograph:   Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Unthinkable: David Graeber and David Wengrow bring fresh thinking to human history

Online  sessions of the Philosopher’s Hat Club ‘provided a haven for human connection’ during the lockdown, says organiser Lukasz Krzywon. Photograph: Getty images

Unthinkable: Community philosophers aim to overcome the subject’s ‘aristocratic’ image

Iris Murdoch ‘called the fact-value dichotomy into question’. Photograph:  Getty

Unthinkable: A remarkable quartet of philosophers foresaw the risk of rejecting ‘moral facts’

South African archbishop Desmond Tutu ‘used the word ubuntu - a certain African trait of being willing to forgive’.  Photograph: Ginluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

State papers: Padraig O’Malley’s 1997 trust-building trip was dubbed ‘rubbish’ by then taoiseach

The founder of Sinn Féin Arthur Griffith has been ‘squeezed out’ of centenary commemorations: his pragmatism and willingness to put peace-building ahead of ideology meant he was airbrushed from the history of political parties. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

Unthinkable: Are we losing the ability to judge historical figures fairly?

Placards prepared by participants in a New York protest against vaccine mandates. It is ‘not possible to make sense of vaccine hesitancy’ if you don’t try to understand people’s reasoning, says political philosopher Quassim Cassam.   Photograph: EPA/Justin Lane

Unthinkable: Labelling people with unscientific views as stupid or immoral is not very wise

Erwin Schrödinger: “He kept a record of his conquests in personal diaries . . . and explained his predilection for teenage girls on the grounds that their innocence was the ideal match for his natural genius.”  Photograph: Getty

Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who spent 17 years in Ireland, was a serial groomer of girls

French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who described  technology as a pharmakon, something that is both a cure and a poison. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Unthinkable: Philosopher Bernard Stiegler explores how apps alter how you relate to yourself

How good can a God be? Stephen Fry and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz have opposing views. Photograph: PA/Getty

Unthinkable: No of course it doesn't, but it does try to address life’s ultimate questions

While many of us welcome the decline of the church, there is a nagging sense that our connection to fundamental questions about human existence is being severed. Photograph: Getty images

Unthinkable: It’s not clear we have either the language or patience in Ireland for metaphysics

Author John Boyne: ‘Through my experiences, the people who tweet the most . . . go a bit mad’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Unthinkable: New technology may give the impression your mind is no longer your own

Is ‘male thinking’ part of the problem? World leaders pose for a group photo at the Cop26 conference  last week. Photograph: Alberto Pezzali/AFP via Getty Images

Unthinkable: Plus four other questions philosophers are asking as we face a global emergency

The death of Seneca - ‘master writer’ of the Greco-Roman age.  Photograph:  Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Unthinkable: Stoicism is all the rage in Silicon Valley but its roots are often overlooked

Albert Camus said man today would be summed up in just these terms: ‘He fornicated and read the papers.’ Photograph: Loomis Dean/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

Unthinkable: Can you be friends with someone whose politics you oppose?

Francesca Stavrakopoulou: ‘The God of the New Testament is just as violent as the God of the Old Testament’.

Unthinkable: Descriptions of the biblical deity come from ‘men, writing for men’

 Hannah Arendt: Thinking ‘is a profitless enterprise as far as results are concerned’. Photograph: Getty Images

Unthinkable: Philosopher born this day 115 years ago believed that politics should be joyous

Dollymount Beach in Dublin. Ireland may gain from inbound tourism as the Mediterranean becomes uncomfortably hot. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Unthinkable: Philosophers are trying to broaden the debate by asking awkward questions

Participants in public debate tend to jump straight from condemning an argument to condemning its speaker, as though poor reasoning was a sin. Photograph: Akindo/Getty

Unthinkable: Do you need to crush others with your intellect or is sowing doubt victory enough?

‘If you look at the AI system Tesla uses for their self-driving cars, it’s pretty much inscrutable even to the people who built it.’ Photograph: Getty

Unthinkable: Governments put their trust in big tech as they lack expertise

Erwin Schrödinger with Mgr Paddy Browne, who was a close friend despite the physicist’s unusual family life

Cultural commute takes in sites associated with his 17-year stay in Ireland

Anil Seth: ‘Things exist. The world is real. It is the way it appears to us in our experience that’s a construction.’

Unthinkable: We don’t know how consciousness works, but some theories are better than others

‘Smell is almost like touching the invisible world.’ Photograph: Getty

Unthinkable: Covid may have given us a fresh appreciation of smell, ‘the Cinderella of the senses’

Brooklyn-based author Oliver Burkeman’s thesis will simultaneously annoy new-age spiritualists and contemporary moral philosophers

Oliver Burkeman thinks we should ease up on ‘to-do lists’ and let go of our urge for control

British prime minister Boris Johnson:  “It is not possible for politicians to make reliable decisions about the present and future without knowing, understanding and telling the truth about the past.” Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK parliament/Getty

Unthinkable: Polybius is not the most feted Greek thinker but he has much to teach us

John Moriarty’s stomping ground: Gleann na gCappel, the Horses’ Glen, in the Mangerton massif, Co Kerry.

Unthinkable: Ireland has a rich philosophical heritage – some more plaques would be nice

Irish philosopher George Berkeley believed ‘participation in social order was really central to being human’.  Image: Hulton Archive

Unthinkable: A new biography of George Berkeley brings out the complexity of his character

England’s coach Gareth Southgate embraces England’s forward Raheem Sterling after the Uefa Euro 2020 final at Wembley stadium in London. Photograph: Paul Ellis/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Feeling gleeful? Schopenhauer wouldn’t approve, but Nietzsche would understand

Ray Griffin  (left) and Tom Boland (right), authors of The Reformation of Welfare: The New Faith of the Labour Market.

Unthinkable: Our religious devotion to work stigmatises those who are less productive

Seeing human life as part of a cosmological grand plan  is not the most far-fetched idea. Photograph: Getty Images

Unthinkable: Men may be more susceptible to imagining there’s an instruction manual to be found

Statue of the 18th-century philosopher David Hume on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh: ‘Hume . . . is probably not much more implicated in the slave trade than many of us are today,’ says his latest biographer Julian Baggini. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Unthinkable: Don’t criticise philosopher David Hume for racism until you look in the mirror

Posters from  last year’s general election campaign. What slogan would Immanuel Kant approve of? Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Unthinkable: Covid-19 has exposed societal injustices. Persuading people to address them remains a challenge

Rob Grant, academic, musician and author of The Philosophy Resistance Squad.

Unthinkable: Philosopher Rob Grant has written a children’s book with a message for adults

TCD academic Dr Roja Fazaeli says when researchers are penalised for highlighting issues it signals ‘there are doctrinal lines of inquiry that are to be crossed at a researcher’s own peril’. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Unthinkable: Commercial interests and social-media outrage are curtailing free speech

John Moriarty: ‘every inch the travelling bard’. Photograph:  Don MacMonagle

Book review: John Moriarty’s musings on life real and imagined skilfully edited by Martin Shaw

Research in behavioural psychology suggests sharing and collaboration are instinctive from an early age. Photograph: Getty

Unthinkable: Evolutionary biology suggests our natural instinct is to be nice

Elke Wiss advises us  as follows:  “Don’t agree or disagree.” Photograph: Elke Verbruggen

Unthinkable: Do we need more books promoting self-mystification? Yes, we do

Actor and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton – a musical celebration of modern restlessness. Photograph: Theo Wargo/Wireimage

Unthinkable: Four great philosophers have life advice that’s still relevant today

What ‘shows itself’ when you consider a cup of coffee, the phenomenologist asks. Photograph: Getty images

Unthinkable: Phenomenology may make your head hurt but it’s trying ‘to teach us to see again’

Fr Sean McDonagh: ‘I am 77 on my next birthday and I ask myself will I end up in some care home where I am being taken up out of bed by a robot each morning?’ Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Unthinkable: Fr Sean McDonagh is increasingly worried about the power of big tech

Suki Finn, philosopher and editor of Women of Ideas: “The metaphysics of pregnancy is of great importance, not only to pregnant metaphysicians, but to all of us, given that we are all the result of a pregnancy.”

Unthinkable: Famous philosophers are being reappraised in light of their prejudices

‘We evolved to signal our moral credentials to other people.’ Photograph: Getty images

Unthinkable: Morality has got humans this far, but do we need to outgrow it?

Clinical psychologist and author Frank Tallis believes there are some practical therapy tools people could learn from a young age

Unthinkable: We can all learn from psychotherapy, perhaps the best place to start is school

Wouter Kusters, author of A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking

Unthinkable: Psychosis gave Dutch linguist Wouter Kusters an insight into mental illness

Algorithmic selection has created a new and unaccountable type of expert: a piece of code that may not even be understood by its programmers. Photograph: Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

Unthinkable: Is our faith in algorithms creating the basis for a counter-Enlightenment?

 Lipika Pelham: “A queer person assumed to be straight or a light-skinned bi-racial person assumed to be white  will go along with his mislabelling, to gain social freedom . . . while internalising a deep sense of indignity and self-loathing.”

Unthinkable: Tolü Makay can sing Saw Doctors. A rich playboy should not perform Amanda Gorman

‘Think about our Western lifeworld and how visible people would have been if they wore masks in public two years ago.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Unthinkable: Phenomenologists are trying to make us see the current crisis in a new light

A tourist bus passes the unfinished basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. ‘I think we need to build the ecological cathedrals of the future, not the old-fashioned medieval kind,’ says writer Roman Krznaric. Photograph: Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Unthinkable: Acorn brain worries about pensions. Marshmallow brain thinks short-term

‘I think recognizing the wider role luck plays in society is very important,’ says TCD political scientist Peter Stone. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP Creative/Getty

Unthinkable: We can no longer plead ignorance of the inner workings of our State exams

‘It’s sobering to consider that in a parallel history the world might have looked more like a planet of the apes.’ File image: Sebastian Willnow/AFP/Getty

Unthinkable: Speciesism, which puts humans above nature, may be the last acceptable prejudice

The best way of teaching philosophy is to present children ‘with a stimulus or a question’ rather than a history lesson, says Worley. Photograph: Jens Buettner/AP

Unthinkable: A ‘questioning mindset’ is needed rather than an attitude of ‘anything goes’

Participants at an anti-lockdown protest in Dublin last August. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Unthinkable: Lack of access to democratic processes can fuel distrust, says Dr Katherine Furman

Richard Kearney: ‘I think the problem of touch has been a real issue in Irish culture.’

Unthinkable: Philosopher Richard Kearney argues that sight began displacing other senses even before the pandemic

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has been railing against state-led ‘health terror’ and ‘techno-medical despotism’. Photograph: European Graduate School

Unthinkable: Philosopher Giorgio Agamben carries the flame for anti-capitalism through the crisis

Wollstonecraft, painted by John Opie, was disgusted at how intelligent “society” women were groomed for submission under marriage. Photograph: The Print Collector/Getty Images

Unthinkable: Mary Wollstonecraft’s time in Ireland seemed to influence her world view

An air guitarist, or is it a philosopher? Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Unthinkable: Philosophers are being lured to ‘a dead end’, says historian of ideas Stephen Gaukroger

‘Why in the world is the president of the United States using Twitter at all  – a platform that depends on quick and mindless impressions?’ asks philosopher Steven Nadler. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Unthinkable: Spinoza tells us that if you want to be free then get your mind in order

Angels walk to a nativity play in Glenties, Co Donegal. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Unthinkable: ‘Infantilising’ nativity story does Jesus no favours, says philosopher Julian Baggini

Reinhold Niebuhr said ‘man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary’. Photograph: Bachrach/Getty Images

Unthinkable: Reinhold Niebuhr, Obama’s favourite philosopher, has an important message for today

Political theorist and author Hannah Arendt pictured in  1949. Photograph: Fred Stein Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Unthinkable: Calling something evil is not a licence to shut down debate

People don’t have to be ‘going on the lash’ to celebrate Christmas meaningfully, the Taoiseach says. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

Unthinkable: Perhaps existentialism can help us navigate the Taoiseach’s suggestion

Abeba Birhane: ‘You do find a lot of people adhering to this illusion of objectivity – this illusion that they are doing science from “the view from nowhere”.’

Unthinkable: Algorithms embed prejudice with ‘no accountability’, says Abeba Birhane

Mind the mind: According to panpsychists, consciousness is not exclusive to humans;  it’s in  rocks, carrots, molecules and anywhere else you can mention. Photograph: Getty Images

Unthinkable: A speculative hypothesis about the nature of consciousness has academics riled up

Ludwig Wittgenstein was the ‘philosophical hero’ of the Vienna Circle and laid the foundations of analytic philosophy, the dominant Anglo-American school of thought of the past century. Photogragh: Hulton Archive

Unthinkable: A short book, the Tractatus has had a big impact, says author David Edmonds

Stoic standard-bearer Marcus Aurelius used to go to a quiet place at daybreak to meditate upon the stars and rising sun. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Unthinkable: Stoicism is primarily about throwing off the chains of irrational thought

James Suzman: ‘My solution is to say, look, recognise we are incredibly adaptable species... We have got to experiment.’

Unthinkable: It was good enough for your ancestors, says anthropologist James Suzman

The US president may have lots followers but ‘you get diminishing returns’ on his tweets, philosopher and author Ian Olasov remarks. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Unthinkable: Philosopher Ian Olasov believes we should focus on things of ‘practical significance’

Zena Hitz has particular concerns about the quality of teaching, an issue that goes beyond the coronavirus crisis. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty

Unthinkable: Academia has its priorities backwards, says author Zena Hitz

A view of St Peter’s Square and Basilica at the Vatican. Photograph: AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti

Unthinkable: Author Charles Freeman believes we shouldn’t forget the sectarian legacy of Christian churches

Anti-racism campaigners taking part in a rally last year outside Google  headquarters on Barrow Street in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Unthinkable: Rival political philosophers can bring perspective to our current debates

Illustrations from The Philosopher Queens:  Diotima, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Warnock and Anita L Allen. Images: Emmy Smith/The Philosopher Queens

Unthinkable: The Philosopher Queens originated from ‘a disheartening trip to the local bookshop’

Members of the Khomani San community strike traditional poses in the Southern Kalahari desert in South Africa. Non-western societies put greater emphasis on familial relationships and inherited social roles rather than personal achievement. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Unthinkable: ‘Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic’ mindset is relatively new to society

US president Donald Trump pictured playing golf this summer. Men ‘feel entitled to far more by way of leisure’, says philosopher and author Kate Manne. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Unthinkable: Kate Manne’s study of gender inequality makes uncomfortable reading but has a hopeful message

Michael Sandel. “I think there is a hopeful possibility that we can use this moment, this glimpse of who really is an essential worker, to revalue work and the rewards of work.” Photograph: Harvard University

Philosopher Michael Sandel wants to eradicate elitism, starting with education

Slavoj Žižek: He’s been called the Elvis of cultural theory and the Borat of philosophy. Photograph: Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images

The Slovenian philosopher divides opinion over his often-contradictory viewpoints

Philosopher Mary Midgley, as illustrated for the Notes from a Biscuit Tin project

Unthinkable: Research project and poetry prize explore overlap between perceived rival disciplines

The word according to Father Ted. ‘Humour is a large part of Irish life  so a truly Irish church should be conversant with such humour and able to laugh at itself,’ says Christian pastor Fraser Hosford.

Unthinkable: Some ridicule may help the Irish church to recover, says pastor Fraser Hosford

Philosopher Édouard Glissant defended one’s right ‘to be opaque’, or to lack transparency and avoid  categorisation by oppressors. Photograph: Jean-Marc Zaorski/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Unthinkable: Racist views must be confronted honestly, says philosopher Aislinn O’Donnell

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald. Voters for her party  are ‘entitled to a fair hearing. But no one is entitled to fractional legislative victories’, says political scientist Arthur Isak Applbaum. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Unthinkable: A government’s character is more important than its composition, author Arthur Applbaum says

Volunteer Greg Kelly loads food parcels for delivery within the community back in April. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Acts of neighbourliness, solidarity and self-sacrifice portray people to be mainly good

Now in their third year, the Irish Young Philosopher Awards took place online due to the pandemic, focusing specifically on moral themes relating to Covid-19

Unthinkable: Philosophy's future is in safe hands judging by the Young Philosopher Awards

George Berkeley. Aside from supporting slavery, ‘in his later political work, he is pretty grim on the Irish peasantry too’, says TCD researcher Clare Moriarty. Image: Hulton Archive

Unthinkable: Ireland’s most celebrated philosopher was ‘also extremely morally fallible’

A grounding in mathematics was necessary to join Plato’s Academy.

Unthinkable: Plato need not intimidate – if you’ve got a good philosophical facilitator

The notion of Gaia, or ‘Mother Earth’, taking steps  to preserve nature’s  equilibrium,  is not so fanciful, says Greek scholar  John Dillon. Photograph: Getty Images

Unthinkable: Is nature’s mother god sending us a message with Covid-19?

‘There’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult,’ US Democratic Party politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said.

Unthinkable: Conceivable Future is fostering a personal but ‘deeply political’ debate

 Rutger Bregman: ‘Most people, deep down, are pretty decent’. Photograph: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty

Human beings’ friendliness and humility help us survive – but also make us dangerous

Anti-child propaganda: the film adaptation of William Golding's Lord of the Flies

On one island the shipwrecked behaved well. On the other they ate their shipmate

Existentialist philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre enjoy the freedom of the beach in Rio in 1960. Photograph: STF/AFP/Getty

Unthinkable: Sartre and Schopenhauer make the list but Peig Sayers deserves inclusion too

‘The wonder even of small, local and daily life – a blackbird’s song, a friend’s greeting, a hot meal – these things can be an antidote to despair,’ says environmentalist and author Patrick Curry. Photograph: Getty Images

Unthinkable: Tech companies feed us glamour that ‘provokes false enchantment’, says environmentalist Patrick Curry

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and party TD David Cullinane. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Unthinkable: The ‘masculine’ character of Irish republicanism still influences today, says philosopher Dianna Taylor

A man walking past graffiti in London. There has been a spate of attacks on the 5G network linked to erroneous claims that it is responsible for the spread of coronavirus.  Photograph: EPA/Neill Hall

Unthinkable: A study suggests social exclusion or loss of power may be a factor

The late John Rawls, who was influenced by Kant in designing a philosophy of justice based on fairness. Photograph: Reuters/Jane Reed/Harvard University News Office

Unthinkable: The pandemic is exposing long-tolerated inequalities

Albert Camus in Paris, 1957. Photograph: Loomis Dean/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

Unthinkable: People – even atheists – tend to think things happen ‘for a reason’

Cognitive scientist Bruce Hood: “Non-essential goals seem increasingly hollow” against the backdrop of Covid-19. Photograph: United Agents

Unthinkable: The crisis may make us less consumerist, says psychologist Bruce Hood

Prof Emily Thomas: ‘There’s a long history of arguing that armchair travel is better than real-world travel.’

Unthinkable: The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for armchair tourism, says philosopher Emily Thomas

Socrates found that his philosophical way of life ‘gave him courage’, says Prof Paul O’Grady. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Unthinkable: Philosophers might not be on the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic but they have a role to play

The soul: If it’s not in here then where is it? Photograph: Getty Images

Unthinkable: The idea of a soul helps us to understand ‘what it is to be human’, says philosopher John Cottingham

Prof José Van Dijck of Utrecht University: ‘There is hardly any public space, or ‘public good’ sense, in the internet system’.

Mimicking online ethos is self-defeating for mainstream media, says ‘trust expert’ José Van Dijck

More articles