#203 Philosophy & Age of Enlightenment – Dr. Alan Tapper

This week I enjoyed another great deep conversation into philosophy with Dr. Alan Tapper.

Alan has lectured philosophy at Curtin University, informed policy and has also been instrumental in leading philosophy being taught in schools.

This is another great journey into philosophy, starting during the Age of Enlightenment and Rationality working to present day, discussing the how this period influences our modern day and illuminating many elements we may take for granted.

This is a great and deep conversation that will educate you while taking you on a journey.

Read Full Transcript

Bryn Edwards 

This week I enjoyed another great deep conversation with Dr. Alan tapper, who’s a philosopher. He has lectured at Curtin uni. He has informed policy and has also been rather instrumental in getting philosophy taught in two schools. This is another great deep journey through philosophy, really starting during the Age of Enlightenment when we first started to become more rational and then coming out of that, so there’s a bit of philosophy history in there as well. This is a really great and deep conversation that goes into lots of great places. So enjoy Alan.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Hello, and welcome back to web rail. I’m your host Edwards Today, I have the great pleasure of welcoming Dr. Alan tapper. Alan, welcome to the show.

 

Alan Tapper 

Thank you, Bryn.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So, you teach philosophy at Curtin University?

 

Alan Tapper 

No, no.

 

Bryn Edwards 

All right. Wrong straight out of the bat.

 

Alan Tapper 

To start with, I’m retired.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yes.

 

Alan Tapper 

But although I’m still associated with diversity, I’m my work at Curtin University was in Public Policy Research. Yes. Which is not philosophy. Yeah. Okay. So my career in philosophy, I had a career in philosophy. My second question, tell me about your career. Okay. So I had a career in philosophy, which was, originated at the University of Western Australia, where I studied history and philosophy. And then I taught there for two or three years, and then I moved to Edith Cowan University when they set up a philosophy programme in 1993. And that lasted till 2006. And they called in into the philosophy programme, even though it was going very well. And so I had to start again, I suppose. And luckily, I was able to transfer to Curtin University where I did work in a philosophy and ethics centre with my colleague, Stephen Miller. And then when my work with Stephen ended, I was luckily transferred to the john Curtin Institute of Public Policy. So I’ve had two careers, you can say, well, possibly three. One is standard philosophy teaching. The other one is, the second one is research and public policy. And the third one, which is my kind of most, I still think my most basic interest is in the history of ideas. And especially in the 18th century, and especially in the British 18 century. So I think of that as like my interest in the enlightenment. So I’ve got the three things. And originally I started off to become a scholar, historian, teaching and researching the 18th century in argument. What drew you to that? Doesn’t mean I can, but as it turned out, there was just no way of getting a job. So by the end of my PhD, I was extremely well qualified for nothing. For for a non existing career. Yes. So then I had to I guess I was unusual in the sense that philosophy was something I had to do in order to have a career, right. And there were there were a few there were a few openings, but I managed to get one at UW I for a while. And then one it couldn’t I sorry, I did have county University when we needed county University became a university. They said, what were the couple of things we have to have, and one of them is philosophy. Right. And so I got the job, the first job, and I was the last person to leave I guess. Right. But it was a good it was good one last. Yeah. So yeah. My, I guess I could say I have three basic sorts of interests. And the the Enlightenment is probably my first interest. I wrote my PhD on Joseph Priestley, who probably his name that people would know. But probably best known for as a as a as one of the great chemists. And a discoverer of oxygen. Though, within the framework in which he was working, he didn’t call it oxygen, it was called oxygen by his contemporary lavoisier. Anyway, I’m not, I don’t claim to be a historian of science, but I was able to write a PhD on press these other interests, and he was a man of many, many interests. So that’s, I’ve continued writing and thinking about the enlightenment and priestly, and I think in in the sense of the way in which we live in the Enlightenment world, still, yes. And what I mean by that is that science is still central to our life, the great technological and industrial and economic transformation that took place in the 18th century that came from the enlightenment. So I’ve still, I still, I think we still live in the Enlightenment world, even though we rebel against it in various ways.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So what, what is it that illuminates you around this about about the Enlightenment period?

 

Alan Tapper 

It’s, well, if you take Priestley as an example, it was a and this is true of practically all the great figures in that period. And they didn’t have they weren’t specialists. Yeah, didn’t have specialised interests, they weren’t focused on just one field. Practically all of them had multiple interests, right? And, yes, and then there’s a sense that there’s two things I think you could say, in addition to maybe three. One is that the Enlightenment was in the first place, that was a challenge to religious superstition. So it was kind of tough minded in that way. A second was that it was like the discovery of the universe. And the central figure was Newton. And what Newton did, astonished everybody, everybody sent in the post Newtonian period, think of him as the figure, who unified our understanding of the physical world. So that’s, and the understanding world was very different from what it had been in previous centuries. Third thing I think about the Enlightenment, and this is less familiar, is that it tried to create an understanding of human beings as social beings. Right? And this is not what people generally think, I think, Ottoman as individualistic, yes. And kind of like, the isolated, rational individual working things out for themselves. Yeah, it wasn’t really like that at all. In the very first thing, that the, one of the main impulses behind the Enlightenment was that the 16th and 17th centuries had been periods of warfare. Yeah, between Protestant and Catholic primarily, but, but even it, even within subdivisions of, of the, of that big division, and it was a pretty terrible period. So the reaction against that was to say, let’s rebuild our idea of human nature, right? Let’s rethink all this and get an understanding of human beings as social and sociable. And these and so the, one of the first things that happened in the Enlightenment, we’ll take two examples. One was the invention of the stock exchange, where people could mix Voltaire said that people could mix regardless of their religious beliefs. Yeah. And it engage in exchange and, and commerce and trade. But the other thing that was invented in the early in life was the coffee shop. Right? Yeah. coffee shops find a huge part in the 18th century. They were and they were are in many ways an alternative to the pub or to the aristocratic sell on.

 

Bryn Edwards 

They were places where anyone could meet. You could go and read the newspaper, because at that time we had light at these salons which were like people’s front rooms. Yeah. come together and you’d have someone. Female,

 

Alan Tapper 

led by women. Yeah. And especially in France. Yeah. So there’s a bit of a difference between France and Britain. In Britain, the Enlightenment, the enlightened thinkers met in coffee shops, or clubs. Whereas in France, they met because it was more aristocratic. They met in silence. And so there was a much more of an emphasis on performance. Ran, you had to look your best you had to speak your best. It wasn’t quite normative. It was very performative. Yeah. Yes. And that’s what race in particular rebelled against. Like a kind of false sociability. Yeah. But Scotland and England. And not just London, but the central the Midlands, were centres of enlightenment, alright. Science, and Priestley was part of that Midlands group. He was from Yorkshire. And the group that they, that he belonged to was called the lunar society. Right? They met on the night of the full moon, so that they could go back to their own cities, without fear of highwomen. Right. Charles Darwin’s grandfather was a key figure in that and what the inventor of the steam engine, Bolden created the first great factory were parts that were members of the lunar society. So that’s the, that’s the thing, that’s the world that I found, find fascinating. Particularly then they can where they can mix and talk and swap ideas and think through experiments.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Here, particularly this idea of building a level of

 

Alan Tapper 

sociability are things making it like a normal practice to, to talk things through together. And not just specialised fields. But that was a huge crossover of

 

Bryn Edwards 

so then you can explore not just a topic in depth, but then the connection between others, right. So you can start to see that and similarities and they can. That’s right. Yeah,

 

Alan Tapper 

that’s where that’s the kind of the philosophical level. What are the overriding general understandings lying behind what we’re doing?

 

Bryn Edwards 

So how, how has elements and features of that period of time? What would we look? What would we see and feel today? That started then?

 

Alan Tapper 

Well, I think it’s true that we don’t live in that same world. Because Because we are more specialised, I was gonna say, yeah, we are more specialised, and that’s true in the academic world. But it’s true in, in, in, in any in any professional business, or, or trade. People get better at doing specific This is what Adam Smith said, is this, isn’t it? This is an enlightenment idea, the division of labour, the development of specialisation, that is arisen. It is it was it was discovered, as it were by Smith, as one way in which modern economies will progress. And Smith was right in saying that it has a downside, namely that you become better and better and less and less. And then you don’t have the potential for meeting and talking. That the Enlightenment in a narrows section of society in the 18th century, invented, I think, yes. Nevertheless, we still live in the same world. We live in a world where technology is you know all around us, yet. We embrace it and behind Out lies, masses and masses who signs?

 

Bryn Edwards 

Certainly when you were talking about? Yeah. And people having a lot of different interests. That was the first thing that as I was listening to you came up for me, because I find, well, plain to see that we value experts, an expert opinion, somebody who’s come into a very narrow field. But I’m still struggling to work out what the term is for an expert that can see patterns across because experts seems to me that Yeah, deeper level. Yeah. Well,

 

Alan Tapper 

there is there is that question. I have that question myself. So philosophy is the most general subjects. When the first philosophy later I went to the professor of the time, so when Grove, who became my supervisor, later on, he said that philosophy is the most general subject. But philosophy, it’s both stronger than ever before. Yeah. And weaker than ever before. How do you explain that? So it’s weaker in the sense that its presence in the university is very small, right. And it’s not universally valued. So it used to be more valid in in the academic world? Yeah, it’s kind of like the highest. When you say this

 

Bryn Edwards 

used to be how well our back 50 years old.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. But nowadays, most students will go through university and perhaps never even hear of philosophy. Or they might, they might have an introduction to ethics would be the closest thing. And some students who aren’t might have an introduction to critical thinking. They’re the two sort of subjects that philosophy can offer to the general student. But most students won’t take such courses. Yeah. And so the the, the demand for philosophy at university is like, quite small. But in astonishing in the last 50 years that I’m talking about a downward trend in in the university, but there’s been an upward trend in wider society. Right? So if you go online, let’s say you go to YouTube. Yeah. And you type in philosophy, you’ll get endless amounts of stuff. Yeah. If you want to follow philosophy on the internet, on blogs, and things, there’s a lot of very, very good philosophy available for free to anyone. And likewise, in the bookshop. So 50 years ago, there wouldn’t have been much in the way of books in in bookshops, philosophy books, and now there is. So it’s very curious to buy at some level.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So if somebody was somebody listen to that. Yeah. What, what sort of blogs would would you be looking at? What’s the author’s?

 

Alan Tapper 

Well, the one that I follow on a regular basis is called electric agora. Yeah. And it’s run by a guy in Missouri. I think it was run, University of Missouri. And it has maybe 10 authors who contribute to it. And they talk about things ranging from basic philosophical question through to questions of the day, and they interviewed people and so on. Right. So that’s, that’s sort of one place that people could go to find up to date contemporary discussions of issues from a philosophical perspective. Yeah. But there’s a lot of that.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. So you were saying before that philosophy used to be Yeah, one of the,

 

Alan Tapper 

who was the highest was regarded as the amongst the highest of the great disciplines, historical disciplines. And, and people looked up to, let’s say, Oxford, or Harvard, or other places, as great centres on philosophy. And, in a way we no longer look up to particular places like that and philosophy in the academic world is more Perhaps democratic. It’s much more, there are a lot of people doing philosophy. And there’s there is a serious problem with academic philosophy and that is that most of it has now become highly specialised. So we’ve gone narrow and narrow. Yeah, it’s been seven. And it’s unreadable. Yeah, a lot of it’s unreadable. Because it’s fun. It’s grappling with small questions, or big ones, but in lots of points. And so for someone coming, looking at philosophy, academic philosophy, most of it wouldn’t be of much value to, right. You want to start somewhere else? Because the language is impenetrable. Exactly.

 

Bryn Edwards 

The ideas are to find

 

Alan Tapper 

technical, you’d struggle to know what what what they were talking about.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And would the criticism be fair that as with these fine arguments, Are they gone past the point to possibly providing useful return to society? Rather than one, one or two or three men or women’s pursuit of going somewhere by themselves?

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. I don’t want to be too categorical about that, but generally accepted that philosophy has become too narrow. Yeah. And yet, it should be a broadening subject. And it shouldn’t be a subject that engages with big difficult questions. So at and you need people to be doing the specialised work as well. Yeah, that’s all important. But without losing sight of the big picture.

 

Bryn Edwards 

That just seems to be something that with the pursuit of excellence, and expertise that we have to add to avoid? Yeah, let go of what has or what what, what are some of the things that have contributed to the the demise of philosophy standing? Would you say? as well as

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah, so done the? Yeah. Well, there’s another one, which is that we live in a world dominated by science. Which is good. is a product of the it? Yeah. So product VR, essentially, right. But the downside of that is that we assume that all questions are empirical questions. And therefore, the empirical method, the scientific method, yeah, the experimental method will have an answer to the question if the question is meaningful, right? We may not know the answer yet. And we may not have worked out how to do the experiments. But that that method, that assumption, leaves no room for philosophy, because it’s not an experimental subject. It’s not an empirical subject. It’s a conceptual subject. So yes, I think that, so is it.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Is it almost that we are to use metaphor or analogy? trying to hit a screw in with a hammer?

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah, we’ve got the wrong tool. That’s right. Except we don’t know what the other tools are. That’s the problem. I mean, there are two sorts of tools. One is the experimental empirical one.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Right. Where we have the null hypothesis and the null hypothesis. And that’s right. Yeah, we

 

Alan Tapper 

got we got to measure stuff. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, Magister we test things out. Yeah. And fair bit of that involves quite a bit of theorising as well. But the philosophy is not located in that area. It’s over here. It uses a different set of tools. And those tools are kind of tools. Some are discussed, though. They’re discursive. They’re conceptual, exploratory, exploratory. But the word exploratory in the I know at the level of ideas, and yeah, how are different concepts and different ideas fit together? that’s what that’s what it means besides the most general subject. It’s the most general because it focuses on very general concepts. And I would imagine

 

Bryn Edwards 

Within the scientific framework, we are looking to reinforce expected outcomes. Not necessarily Well, I guess, you have an idea of where you, you have an idea of where you want to go, Yeah, okay. I was probably, I was probably about to put my more where we’ve got to, with sales and marketing in the scientific world, when I tried to sell you predictable out, I sell you predictable outcomes, which is the basis of most sales and marketing than we have today. Whereas I imagine the tools, like you say, of philosophy, are more, not just exploratory, but also open to all possibilities, and all eventualities and pathways, therefore, trying to engage somebody now, in Let’s sit down and have a chat about, you know, set against, certainly set in a business context is, well, no, we need a meeting, what’s the point of the meeting? What’s gonna be the outcome of the meeting? And to be out and sit down and say, I don’t know, we’ll find out and just doesn’t fly? Rarely. Does that make sense? Well,

 

Alan Tapper 

I don’t have any experience in business. So I can’t comment on it from your point of view. But from the point of view of science, yes. I mean, Thomas Kuhn was writing, I suppose in saying that science progresses by big shifts. And in between the big shifts, there is what what he called normal science, where you assume the big background and then you you focus on filling out the details. But what makes science so astonishing is that people were able to make those to ask those big questions and to open their mind to the possibilities that no one had thought of before. So great science is done by by huge acts of imagination. And then this, I guess, quite often that those leaps, lead nowhere. But every so often, they lead somewhere incredible. Yes. That sort

 

Bryn Edwards 

  1. So just thinking that one through. Surely you would have been in some sort of discourse with others, or self to have come up with that big idea to have them use you that? Yeah. See, there’s almost I can see always that like the relationship between wrestling with the big ideas and philosophy that then was born more focused.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. Yeah, the fight behind every great scientists, there is other great scientists. That’s what Newton’s Yeah. on the shoulders of giants. Yes. So everything has a history that leads up to this progression progressing, you know, and the same is true for Darwin. But on the other hand, the the Huxley said about Darwin. He, why didn’t I think of? Yeah, after it’s been thought, that looks a whole lot clearer than it was before him.

 

Bryn Edwards 

So I’m getting the impression then where we are now in an environment where we have over focus, we’ve now almost become over focused as experts in quite narrow field, whether it’s philosophy, or wider science, and almost put that bigger armchair exploratory conversations to one side. Would that be fair?

 

Alan Tapper 

Not quite fair. No. Okay. Yeah. So, yeah. new discoveries happen all the time. Yes. And often the things that could not have been predicted. I mean, we, we, in the last 20 years have lived through the decoding of the human genome and that That that is revolutionising how we understand the biological world. Yeah. So that’s kind of like, like the Darwinian revolution. And it’s not just the human genome, but all genome. So this vaccine that we’ve now discovered within work have been able to create within people said before the virus that before we we had the virus that it would take five years to find a vaccine. And it took over nine months. And that’s because we had we had we could we’ve already decoded the genome, and then we can decode the genome of the virus, and then work out how to create a vaccine for it. Right? That’s going to be revolutionary, because the same techniques can be used on other viruses. So those things are happening all around us.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. I guess my sort of curiosities strikes me that the advent of science is in this far clips that if the philosophy and be more general, of course, at what point did we switch from one to another?

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. So in the alien century, science was called natural philosophy. And, and Newton’s book was the mathematical principles of natural philosophy. And the word, and the word science wasn’t invented until the 1820s. Right. But yeah, I guess there’s not any clear the point where the two things come together as in the philosophy of science. Yeah. So we still have the philosophy of science as a bridge between philosophy and science, the philosophy of science being an attempt to account for what, what we are doing in science? And what are the implications of science, the scientific worldview? And some scientists say that the philosophy of science is a completely worthless subject. And there’s never added anything to our understanding. But that’s, that’s the kind of fairly narrow. I’m trying to think who said that, I think it was Fineman, the great physicist. Yeah. But if you think about other scientists are much more receptive to philosophy as a discipline. I just don’t want philosophers to tell them what they’re going to find when they examine the real world. Right? Because philosophy is more about the the thought processes behind experimental work.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. sweat. Where’s the delineation between that and psychology then? Right. So one of the things I’m finding interesting, yeah, I’ve, I started to read a little bit about this in a couple of books that a former podcast guest has written. And so the idea of the history of ideas. I’m finding particularly interesting at the moment, because I guess, through the internet, I can now access and listen to so many different people. And I guess what I’m trying to orientate myself against is, well, things are genuinely new. And ideas, and what are what ideas have been bubbling around, but they’ve just got a new face on them, if that makes sense.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. So in the case of psychology, if you can go back to the mid 19th century, and really wasn’t any distinction between philosophy and psychology, philosophy of mind was the was what psychology was then. Yeah. And so it was natural in psychology would break away from philosophy. I think the last great person that were combined philosophy in psychology was William James, right. But it’s naturally that you’d break away that it should become experimental. And then it became more mathematical. It realised heavily upon statistics. And as I well know, yeah. studying psychology had suddenly found that statistics.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, luckily, I was good at maths in first place. I thought I was getting away from logic. Yeah. No.

 

Alan Tapper 

That’s there’s still a big question What what? What is our understanding of the mind after you’ve done all of the experimental work? And that, that, like that comes, comes through at different levels. Amongst philosophers, the I suppose the question has always been about the nature of consciousness. So there are those who think that they the empirical approach to consciousness actually hasn’t made any progress. There are those who think the opposite that the only way to make progress is to give an account of the neurophysiology of the brain, right. And there’s a fair few people who don’t, who would like to find some middle ground between these two things, but don’t quite know how to work it out. Yeah. So it’s an ongoing, it’s a serious ongoing problem within philosophy. Yeah, in which psychologists and philosophers are working side by side, new neuroscience, psychology and philosophy. Yeah, where the role of philosophy is to help frame the questions. Yes, and to keep the questions open. So you can’t just assume that the neuro physiological answer is the whole story. It may be but it’s debatable. Then there’s a whole lot of interesting work about which is not my particular field, but a whole lot of interesting work about the nature of emotions. So under the examination of emotions goes back to the 18th century. So Hume, David Hume and Adam Smith are both moral psychologists, I tried to give an account of the basics of human emotions. And it to summarise it basically, him thought that the fundamental emotion was sympathy. Right? And so people can engage socially through their capacity for sympathising with the other person. Adam Smith said that there were two fundamental was one was sympathy. But the other was resentment. And this, this, this debate is actually still going on. I think, the resentment viewpoint is not someone who’s perpetually angry at the world or other people, it’s that you need to have something like resentment in order to provide yourself with self defence. Yes, you need to have it for your family, their protective attitude to your children. And you will, you will, you will feel the same feelings when you think about your country or your community. And so sympathy by itself won’t do the whole job. That’s what smithkline Yeah. presentment is connected to your sense of justice, that’s making a transition from the psychological to the moral. Whereas, if you go from if you start from a sympathy story of human nature, then you progress to a benevolent ethics. And the question then is, well, can you get the whole of ethics out of that? That that psychological origin in sympathy? I’m either So Adam Smith, hello is a great economist. The first book he wrote was called The Theory of Moral Sentiments,

 

Bryn Edwards 

right?

 

Alan Tapper 

Roughly 1751 I think, and he was a close friend of Smith’s right. So this is the Enlightenment right at the friendship level. They both came from not not from Edinburgh, but from the area around Edinburgh and their careers. Oh, Blood and I corresponded. But they came to quite different, different views. And anyway, that’s, that’s the philosophy of emotions. Emotions are part of the natural expression of who we are, but also of how we behave in relation in our relationships with other people. And I think, personally, I think that the level of discussion of that issue in the 18th century was extremely high. And yet it was non experimental. It was like, it was philosophical, discursive. Where do we see that now? Where do we see that discussion? Yeah, can Okay. Well, we can see it in, I think you can see it in quite a lot of authors. There’s a nice book called against empathy by a leading psychologist. And his his point is, there are lots of ways in which we need to switch off empathy. If you’re an ambulance driver, for example, then you don’t want to be empathetic. You want to do your job? Or a police officer? Yeah. Or a lawyer, for example, he gets too caught up in the interest of the client. Yes, too close to the client. And that’s natural. Simply is, its natural, feel sympathetic to someone who you feel is has had bad luck or whatever. But it isn’t actually always very helpful. No. So you have to learn to we all in our work have to learn to control. Likewise, in the reverse, you don’t want to become a person who is like praying to anger, because that’s not very helpful.

 

Bryn Edwards 

overly praying.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. Yeah. overly pray. No. So I think there are lots of places where you can see it, but this book by it’s called against empathy in Iraq. I’m in New York, Paul bloom is a good example of someone who’s furthering that discussion. Further discussion. Yeah. I guess,

 

Bryn Edwards 

even with the ground that we’ve covered in the discussion so far, which has been particularly interesting. How, because a part of your works been informing policy? So how is that level of thinking and understanding of how we’ve got to where we’ve got to then woven into actual policy making decisions? It’s probably maybe track slightly But

 

Alan Tapper 

no, yeah. It’s, it’s true that that’s been another thread in my career. I even said at the start, but it’s hard. It’s hard to answer. In to put in in very general terms. Okay. Let me have a go. Yeah. So let’s go back to the post war world. Yes. World War Two. Yep. were clearly the the western liberal countries had won that war. Yeah. And they then had the power to frame the post war world. So liberal, democratic values. The question is, what does that mean? And what are we offering? That’s a reconstruction of Germany or Japan, these questions are still very much an issue for us. Yeah. So in some ways, you could say the Anglo Saxon tradition, was what we were passing on the Anglo Saxon tradition of the Enlightenment, which didn’t go as far as the French Revolution. Better had replaced an aristocratic world and replaced a Christian world and the Christian world. What, in broad terms? What happened? I think in that period after the war was there was a there was about 20 years of kind of natural economic progress, which raised Germany and Japan and America into leading countries in the world. And then the question was whether whether society is needed to go further than just economic prosperity or rising levels of economic prosperity. And so that raised in America, in particular, all the questions of civil rights. But in Europe had raised the question, I think more of the welfare state, right. And the formation of welfare states or the formation of welfare, welfare state through social democratic parties was like the next big project.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And four, and you could see how the impetus for two would be different. Yeah. In America, you still got quite a young country. There’s not long been dealing with slavery and things like that. So yeah, civil rights is, is more of a focus was you got these very older, established countries in Yo, in Europe? Where, okay, we haven’t had slavery like we’ve had over in America. But we have yet different people on on different steps of the economic ladder.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yep. So So yeah, so both of those were kind of social justice movements. And, and that,

 

Bryn Edwards 

and that sort of fits in with that sort of, yeah, 20 years later in the 60s.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah, that’s right. And lots of kind of other liberation type movements. Hmm. The question that was then left was is that essentially what we are Anopheles philosophical level is that the primary thing that modern society should be aiming for that is social justice. And amongst philosophers, the key figure in that discussion was an American, john Rawls, who wrote a book called a theory of justice. And the argument of Albert was that justice means the protection and prioritising those who are the least well off in modern societies, right. And he, his argument for it was, imagine that you don’t know where your place in society is going to be. If you if you think that way, then you would see that it’s a desirable thing that society should be structured in such a way that people at the bottom end of the socio economic spectrum are failing. And therefore, you need some redistribution, to use

 

Bryn Edwards 

a favour and as it looked after,

 

Alan Tapper 

yeah, look, you therefore need some redistribution from the well off to the least well off. That was, Rose’s book was about that big. Right. But it had a summary. It has an actually did have a summary roughly like that. Right. And had enormous impact. I doubt I doubt that many people read the whole thing. But the concept that the function of the state is to redistribute to the least well off to hold and some people thought it didn’t get far enough, but many people thought, well, that’s the rationale for civil rights. That’s the rationale for the welfare state. And then the talents to that came from, in part from Kant, economists, and in part from other philosophers who who had a different account of justice, and that account was the different exchange voluntary exchange between people between consenting adults were in the economic sphere. The outcome of that could be that you become very rich and I become rather poor. Right, we’ve we’ve both entered into the marketplace. Yes. And you have not done any wrong to me, you have not disadvantaged me, but the outcome is one does well, and the other does less well, therefore, inequality is morally neutral, that sort of inequality. And then there’s a second layer of vagamon, on top of that, which is that if we have a competing economy or competitive economy of that sort, then we will all benefit, even though you’ll benefit more than I do. Right? I’m better off than I would have been. You’re much better off than you would have been. And this was the argument put by Robert nozick, who was a contemporary of rolls. Yeah. And they were actually in the same corridor at Harvard. And so this generated byte, which which multiple philosophers ran for quite some time, because they are two competing models of how society should be organised.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. ones with a sense of justice.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah, once once the themes of social justice and the other is the sense of neutrality? Well, just, yeah, justice as voluntary transactions, voluntary exchanges. And then there’s, then there’s a whole other set of questions, which is, well, how do you measure inequality? Yeah. And the natural thing to think is that you measure it by income or wealth. Yeah. In other words, it’s a purely economic measurement. But of course, it doesn’t need to be. People could be disadvantaged, because, you know, they’re quite well off economically, but they suffer from social discrimination in some way or other. But most, for the most part in the field of social policy research. Probably the central question is the measurement of inequality. And that’s where I, my work was located in that. So in you can ask people, do you think Australia is a gala? terian society? We generally think we’re democratic and egalitarian. And then you push a bit harder. So what does that mean? Is there much inequality between people at the top and the bottom? And at that point, people will divide because some will say, Well, of course, and it’s very unequal society, nonsense.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And it’s not necessarily what you initially said. When people say, you know, quite neat, yeah, that’s right, exactly. So

 

Alan Tapper 

we have, indeed, it’s not we have two images of ourselves. One is that we, like, fair and equal, fair and equal and democratic. And we treat everyone as as you find them. Yeah. And then on the other hand, you have this other sort of discourse, which says, well, hang on a minute, there are people in our society who have a lot of money and they live a wealthy lifestyle, and there people down the bottom who don’t live very well. So this is like an apparent contradiction. Yeah. But that takes you into the question of well, how did you measure that? They were, you know, the claim, what how do you justify the claim that they are so unequal? And that’s, that’s the kind of area that my work was in with my colleagues at Curtin. And broadly speaking, I and my colleagues were of the view that actually Australia is economically, pretty. more, much more, is considerably more equal in most other places in the modern world, in modern economies. And so we were analysing income inequality and wealth inequality. And basically the question. The issue kind of slips through your fingers when you try to do this analysis. But what I was doing was technically called fiscal incidence analysis, right. And that what that means is that you count not just people’s income, nor just the income after the after they pay the income tax, but their income. Again, not just as an individual, but as a household. And after you’ve counted all taxes, and all government social expenditures, right? expenditure on education, on health, housing, whatever. So that’s a much more complicated calculation and the outcome of making that complicate that calculation brings down it equalises it made make some inequality shrink. Yes. Because you’re now counting the cost of children. And it’s not to say that there isn’t much inequality, after you’ve done that calculation, but it reframes the issue. It’s not just how much income you got in your employment or whatever. So the

 

Bryn Edwards 

fun right and understanding. It’s not just let me you know, me comparing myself from a, you know, a less well off suburb against somebody who lives in Cottesloe. Peppermint Grove. Yeah, he’s the fact that we both live in Western Australia or in Australia. And then we have all this infrastructure that’s around and support says, Yeah, don’t make that. When you put that underneath that comparison. is looking this big. This big sitting on top of that. That’s, that’s right. Yeah.

 

Alan Tapper 

In simplifying it, yeah, no, that’s the kind of coming back to the level was, How does it look? Does it look as if we’re very equal society or not very equal society. People have generally taken Sweden and Scandinavian societies as the most equal. And then Australia kind of fits into the middle bracket. And America is more more economically polarised. But if you go beyond America, you find that there’s considerably more income inequality in many other places. So we’re narrowing, we’re keeping ourselves now narrow down to the, to the Western OECD countries. But then, then you get to the question of wealth. So let’s, let’s agree that Scandinavia is a model of income. equality. That’s the kind of that’s as far as you can go in that direction. That’s the welfare state and in full operation, and so on. What would you expect to find bout wealth inequality, wealth inequality and income inequality, you would expect to find that they essentially be the same thing. But that actually is not. Scandinavia is very unequal when you measure people’s wealth, right. So there’s, this is a very surprising thing.

 

Bryn Edwards 

That’s pretty similar income,

 

Alan Tapper 

but different, very different, very different, quite, quite high levels of wealth inequality. Now, I don’t want to go into why that might be so but it’s just it shakes up all your assumptions. So where does Australia fit in terms of wealth inequality? Well, it turns out that it’s right down the bottom. It’s the most one of the most equal countries in terms of wealth distribution, right? So even if you thought, well, we’re in the middle rank of income inequality, we’re actually clearly in the bottom rank of wealth inequality. Right. So this reinforces the idea that we actually quite egalitarian right now, why that should be stows is not is a question that I don’t think has been researched properly. But that disparity between income and wealth inequalities is, is where, where I got to or where we got to where the other thing to be said about wealth inequality is that it’s highly correlated with age. Right? So the older you get, the wealthier you get. Make sense? Yeah. But people forget that. And so when you see the raw figures for wealth inequality, the numbers there’s a thing called the Gini coefficient, which measures that is the lowest is in Australia is about point six. America has about point eight, Scandinavia is up around the point eight mark, and then a number of countries in the middle. But that that’s a that’s a bit of an illusion because much of that high number is composed of age. It’s just that people when they start out in life in their 20s, don’t have any wealth. Yeah, they don’t have any assets. Yeah, most people. Now you might inherit something that’s a fairly rare, and certainly, it’s rare to inherit a lot in your 20s. It’s more common that people inherit in their 60s when their parents die, right? So inheritance reinforces the benefits of being out the wealth benefits of being overweight. And then you can say, well, that’s fine, that’s normal, that’s natural, you know, life, you start out at the bottom and you work about, but it still doesn’t fit with the story that we’re very unequal because wealth. When you measure a cross section of wealth, you get these very high measurements. So I guess what I’ve done in my research in that field is kind of question the question. Question the assumptions about how you measure in the frame, the framework question.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, and the measurement.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. And then, and then see what new figures come out if you if you do the calculations again. And what I was doing was not philosophy. It had that philosophical element to it, but it involved a lot of calculation using IB s. Statistics. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t just asking questions, it was trying to give a measurable answers. And the answers are quite, quite surprising. If you follow the line of thought, lies, lies behind. Yeah. Am I? Well, there’s sort of headline figures that you get you see in the newspaper. But if you do this, if you if you, if you were to factor out age, yeah, then wealth inequality would come right down, it would come right down to a Gini Coefficient of two or two point something, point two or point to something. That’s just that’s this the the technical side of this is that things are totally different. If you measure them one way, as against if you measure them another way, and then you have to debate will have served, we measure these things.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And that comes back to framing does it come to the framing that’s now come back to negotiation? Just comes back to philosophy? That’s right. Yeah.

 

Alan Tapper 

Anyway, I have finished doing that type of work, but it was fun to

 

Bryn Edwards 

  1. Do you see? The Do you see areas in life of let’s just say arbitrarily, or broadly, how we we collectively do life that are lacking from us placing more of an importance on engaging with philosophy? Currently?

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah, well, I mean, the obvious answer is that we need it we now live in a world of social media and all kinds of instant reactiveness and people then get all worked up by by what someone else said. And they take offence over merely verbal stuff. Yes. When what they shouldn’t do texts off because they text Yeah, text or or Twitter? Yeah, yeah. More Facebook. And then you see these terrible pylons and people being vilified. So yeah, that’s where I think that’s the obvious answer is that we need to cultivate and educate people in Let’s say, on the one hand, a more charitable attitude to people with whom you disagree. And also a kind of intellectual self defence, say you You must cognitive immune system. That’s right. Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, that’s good. Yeah. If you had that attitude, then you would feel free to say things that, you know, other people are going to disagree with. Yes. And then you he pays to be vilified as opposed to being vilified or cancelled or, or shamed. And that’s, that’s philosophy had something to contribute to that. Because it’s the most disagreeable subject, right? Yeah. Yeah, nice. Philosophers. arguments and counter arguments are just the absolute norm. Normal. Yeah. Yeah. And you can say things that are probably a bit more constructed than law. But yeah, yeah. Well, law is different. Because it has to solve.

 

Bryn Edwards 

It has to solve problems. Yeah.

 

Alan Tapper 

But yeah, in that case, you say, in the case of philosophy, you’re not good philosophy. If you don’t argue you’re leaving the beginnings of philosophy. Right? The word argue is ambiguous, right? It means I’m sometimes just can just be mean, sometimes just conflict. But it also means giving reasons. So the education system should should cultivate the idea of constructive disagreement. Yeah, with where constructive means giving reasons for what you want to say. Yeah. And the right attitude to that is that people shouldn’t be allowed to say, practically anything. Without, but then they should be asked to give their reason for. And then we can argue whether the arrangements are any good.

 

Bryn Edwards 

And then in the marketplace of ideas. The stronger ideas will continue. That’s right. Your hopes are less than the ones we’re

 

Alan Tapper 

like, that’s right. Yeah. So that’s the theory of liberalism. Yeah, liberal liberal, john Stuart Mill, and Joseph Priestley, who was in that kind of, and Adam Smith and David Hume and the Enlightenment figures, all believed that instead of having orthodoxies you, we all live better if we free if we have free speech, and not voluntary associations, and clubs where we can argue and discuss and try out different ideas and viewpoints and zone

 

Bryn Edwards 

skies, bans coffee shops,

 

Alan Tapper 

goes back to the coffee shop. But for whatever reasons, social media, I don’t know, I never look, I know nothing about Facebook, or have hardly ever seen any Twitter’s. But yeah, it’s not my word. But yeah, it has potential great potential, but it doesn’t seem to work out as well as it should. And especially for young people who are more vulnerable to shame shaming.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. And if you haven’t developed that life experience of being able to interact in in constructive disagreement. And also, being able to separate that constructive disagreement to this is just say, you know, Alan, and I disagree doesn’t necessarily mean that Ellen and I are not friends anymore. in separate, we can still go head to head on error. And it because we’re all acting in good faith, we have that level of trust, and connection, and then yeah, then we can achieve some really interesting things. But if we don’t even have those basics, and there’s no way I’m going to, you know, it’s acting out out of

 

 

anger.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Benj. Yeah, fondness, spy spine.

 

Alan Tapper 

So this, I mean, philosophy has a particular role to play in this. I think

 

Bryn Edwards 

it’s interesting when, when you originally when I asked you the question, and I said, Do you see areas where philosophy has a role? So when you put forward social media, I’ll be honest, immediately I was. It wasn’t so much in the actual participation of social media. I went to the bigger question of is social media a good thing? Do we collectively have the skill set to deal with such a thing? If not, should we switch it up? Yeah. Because that’s Yeah. Well, it’s like a similar argument to smoking. Yeah. And drinking, things like that.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. If we don’t have the skills to deal with it. Yeah, we’d be better off going off and living in some social media free way.

 

Bryn Edwards 

writing. I

 

Alan Tapper 

don’t know if you can do that. But just sending an email and sending even emails are fine. They can lead to arguments. Yes. But unconstructive arguments. And this comes to the question about scores. Yeah. And I like I think that philosophy is, is in many ways, the best antidote to these problems. Yeah. And so I was lucky enough to have an involvement in the establishing of philosophy as a school subject in Wi Fi. And it now exists as a secondary school subject. Starting from 2008. so fluffy now has a presence in schools, which it didn’t have before. And it has it has a presence in in all but one of the Australian states. And it’s an interesting question for me, why did philosophy? Why was it not part of the school curriculum? But in any case, what it has to offer is training in constructive disagreement, and recognition of the old the necessity of forgiving reasons, and then have the skill of neutrally evaluating the reasons, rather than assuming the truth of some favourable favourite favourite dogma? From the start from the start. Yeah. But in order to get good at that, you have to practice it, you can’t just be told, you know, news. So amongst people who have been advocates for philosophy as a school subject, there’s a thing that they call community, I’m part of this team, like we call community of inquiry. Yeah. Where you, you find maybe you do a reading a small reading. And then you ask the group, this as a group activity? What questions would you like to ask about this piece of writing, and then the students lead the, this can work from primary through to second Higher Secondary students then lead the set the agenda, these are the questions, put them up on the blackboard, these are the five persons we would like to discuss. In the in the light of having read that story, one of my best, yeah. And then as a group you work together megawati question one. Now, let’s all pull our thoughts on question one. And this this as a kind of teaching strategy, it’s the best way to to make philosophy feel like normal, rather than the teacher LED. Yeah. Now we’re gonna talk about this man and his Yes, that’s right. You

 

Bryn Edwards 

know, this becomes his Yes.

 

Alan Tapper 

That becomes history. Yeah. Yeah. So community of inquiry is the preferred pedagogy for doing philosophy and is not really very different from how philosophy is done at university level. In tutorials. Tech section, yeah. Frame some questions. That’s right. So that’s why I think philosophy has some has something important to contribute because then every student has has a say, you kind of need to go around the different debating is different completely from debating. And the nice thing when when this becomes a normal practice is that kids who haven’t spoken much, or because they’re alienated from school, or they’re shy or whatever, shown to be as reflective as anyone else. And they can come up with different and better ideas. And then, and then you see a transformation of the group. Yeah. And this has social benefits for, for the functioning of schools. So there’s, this goes, this goes back more than 50 years to a American guy named Matthew Lippmann, who, obviously he’s very bright and became a lecturer at Columbia University. And after a few years, he said, this is hopeless. These students don’t know how to think these the brightest, brightest and the best. But he said I hadn’t been trained in how to him to think or to present an argument. And he thought, well, by University, it’s just too late. So you have to get back to the younger. And then he spent his the rest of his career trying to find an appropriate curriculum for philosophy as a school subject, and wrote, textbooks that were designed for classroom use. And when once he got that, that that programme established, he brought it to Australia, right. And Australia has had a pretty significant role in the advancement of philosophy in schools. So we tend to think of Australia as not being very Philosophical Society. But actually, we are both at the academic level. And in some ways, we’re one of the leaders of philosophy in schools around the world. About there’s a long way to go.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. And if you pay up through them, the more kids have a constructive discussion, skill set, as they age and mature. That’s only going to increase just the level that we operate. in society, there’s a democracy. That’s right. And what

 

Alan Tapper 

happier because a student has learned those sorts of things, learns other things that go with it, which is when someone starts to try to dominate a discussion. They shouldn’t be comfortable to say, so what is your reason for saying that? these sort of things?

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, yeah, just to say, Yeah, I guess the other thing that as we get more versed in that, something, something that I’ve been thinking about, particularly at the journey that I’ve been through doing this is that you’re creating. So I take a step back, because I found myself getting more and more trained in this neutral assessment and whereby I can happily almost port, a large chunks of brain, his thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, to one side more just over here for a minute, create space, to let what you have to say come in. And then I spend a day or so and see which bits settle and how they settle. I have this slide. And when I talk about this, I have this picture of leaves falling with no breeze to stop it, and then you see what’s the mosaic and then which bits of the mosaic stay with me afterwards. And so it’s quite it’s kind of a gentle thing. But one of the things I also find is that through creating the space where I know people are in good faith, I can trust them, or just the fact that they have the skill set to interact. Then recreate them recreate the conditions for emergent conversations, where instead of it being just almost like the battle of wills, it’s like, oh, oh, there’s something interesting there. And I’ve sat at this table, having conversations with people where the two of us have gone, or do you feel like there’s something there and then you can both together, go off and follow that thread. And it goes to where exciting. And I can’t help thinking that that’s the place where we’re going to find some of the answers to some of the biggest problems that we’re

 

Alan Tapper 

learning to learning to hold a discussion or conversation without, without worrying about how what you say is going to be received. Yes. And, and then it’s mutual from

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Alan Tapper 

I think that’s the basis of friendship. And I think it’s the basis for a good

 

Bryn Edwards 

marriage. And we can both go pretty hard on each other. Because the foundation is, well,

 

Alan Tapper 

if you trade each other’s ideas with respect,

 

Bryn Edwards 

yes. Oh, yeah. You know, it’s, that’s a shit.

 

Alan Tapper 

And the same with children? Because they, they’re part of the conversation to even quite small and how,

 

Bryn Edwards 

how is it for you, as a person in the world, given the, you know, the level of thought and the lenses that you develop, to look into the world, and then to see lack of capability when it comes to constructive discussions and constructive disagreement? And and some of the stuff that we’ve talked about here? Is, is it hard? Does it frustrate you? He’s interested, they’re thinking, God sack if you guys just

 

Alan Tapper 

yeah. I used in many ways, the people, we focus on our politicians. And I used to feel that sense of complete negative reaction, because politicians almost never give you a reason for anything. But I think I’ve become more more willing to see it as a role, rather than a place where people are speaking from how they really feel. That’s the role that talk is not some role at talks. Yeah. Not adverse and not the person. Yeah. And occasionally, when I’ve known political people, yeah. You learned that they are not what they seem, in a good way. I’ll give an example. I once heard Brendan Nelson, who’s a high ranking politician for for a period. But he came to a conference event that I was at. And he arrived at eight o’clock in the morning. And he was launching something. And I think he saw straightaway that the launching wasn’t very interesting. And so he just talked to us, like the conference, people who were all from the humanities and social sciences, about the value of the humanities and social sciences. And he was from a medical background, and he’d been a politician. And he did it better than I could have done. And probably better than anyone in the room, but just off the top of his head. It’s Yeah. So I thought that was a little lesson for me that he didn’t seem to me a very impressive politician. But when I heard him speaking, I thought, Oh, my goodness, this is a pretty impressive human being. Yeah. So we were there to persuade politicians that the humanities and social sciences should be taken more seriously. And he did. Back to us. Did your job for you? Yeah, he did a job. Yeah, I wish. I wish I’d had a recording of what he said, huh? Anyway, that’s, that’s only one instance. You shouldn’t generalise from single single point examples here. There aren’t many politicians that you say, well, they are real inspiring people. But then you have to say, well, they’re not quite lead. It’s not really their job to be inspiring. And after all, we had some terrible, but inspiring politicians in the 20th century. And that’s something you’d rather avoid. I don’t mean Churchill. I mean, yes. I mean, the other way the other guy.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Yeah. Yeah. He was. Certainly good at mobilising. Yeah, that’s right. terribly good. Yeah. So the last question has caught my guess. So hypothetical one was gonna be more fun because you’re a philosopher. So you’re on about questions is ask, ask this of all my guess, is, if I could just slow everyone down. And so that Alan could load a question up into the collective consciousness for everyone, just to have a little think about five or 10 minutes. What would that be?

 

Alan Tapper 

I think the question I would ask is, what is it that you? And we really value?

 

Bryn Edwards 

I like APR. The double path?

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. Well, in general, yeah. So I think that’s I’m not sure why I would ask, I would ask that question. Obviously, you put me on the spot. But the answer that people generally give, when they are given time to think about it, is that what they value most is their family. And that’s, that’s one of the that’s kind of established social science finding. But I guess, I guess there’s all sorts of reasons for feeling that family is problematic. But from a child’s point of view, they’re pretty much indispensable. That’s my personal point of view. And that’s the that’s the answer I’d give to your question. Myself,

 

Bryn Edwards 

again. So for me, it would be around connection. Yeah. Solid, genuine trusting. Yeah. connection with others. Yep. staying close. And my relationship, my family, friends. Yeah. Sure. And those around?

 

Alan Tapper 

Yeah. I think everyone thinks basically, in that way. We’re almost everyone that there are, there was a set of people that were close to you. And then there’s a little bit further and further. And you validated them all bad. Some. And that’s because we are social. Yeah, that’s right.

 

Bryn Edwards 

It’s one of the things we started.

 

Alan Tapper 

Yes, it is. But we came from an aristocratic heritage. And that didn’t really value family in quite the same way. So that’s one of the things about living in a prosperous modern world that we can also live rich families.

 

Bryn Edwards 

Really enjoyed that conversation. Say, I have good stuff. And if there was watch this, and they’d like to reach out where can they find you?

 

Alan Tapper 

I can you can put my email address on the on or message me or not? Yeah,

 

Bryn Edwards 

indeed. Alan. Thank you very much.

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