EVENT REVIEW: Julian Baggini: How the World Thinks

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6th October, 2018

Palace Green Library

Review by Isabella Garcia Foster

Amidst the flurry of faces filtering into the venue, the name ‘Julian Baggini’ was rapidly rewritten on the display as the last lucky customer snatched up the one remaining ticket. If that wasn’t the most convincing indication of how engaging the event would prove to be, then the overall sense of excitement permeating the room certainly was.

Scheduled to accompany the much-anticipated release of his most recent book (which lent its title to the talk), the vibrantly-coloured, multicultural cover had only been on bookshelves for two days before it graced the stage, along with its author on Saturday afternoon. Julian’s warm, welcoming nature resonated throughout, much to the delight of his audience and Dr Emily Thomas, whose work he commended during their onstage interview. 

His engagement with the wider public extended from book signing – notably featuring one superfan who had carried with him more than twenty publications to autograph — to debating yet another of his impressively accessible books. He stated that both his popular and academic audiences would be able to appreciate this project of philosophical discovery, tracing traditions across continents in order to transfer the theoretical research to an understanding of broader culture.

Whilst acknowledging that nobody can be an expert on world philosophy, he insisted that we should all still seek to gain insight into ideologies stemming from foundations different to our own. It encourages a level of self-reflection that not only shows us how to perceive and improve our own ways of thinking, but also pushes us to confront philosophy’s ‘self image of universal, impersonal knowledge’. 

By priding itself on pure logic, he argues that it neglects the ‘individual quirks and biases’ permitting people to diversify the discipline, which would explain the shameful lack of renowned female philosophers worldwide, at least partially caused by gender neutrality. This did lead into a wider discussion concerning the effects of a few key principles rooted in the Western tradition: individualism and the idea of individual freedom.

The very fact that Baggini’s book was, according to him, ‘born of complete ignorance’ points to the parochial path of Western thought itself, and therefore the ways in which it restricts our perception of reality. We have a lot to learn from the collectivism of other cultures: the notion of ‘oneness’ in the Islamic unity of God, self-acquired wisdom and the liberation of the soul in Indian yoga, and the inclusivity of Japanese etiquette.

There was a lot to take away from this talk, especially going out into a world seemingly dominated by extremes which push people apart and call for everyone to fend for themselves. We can only gain from sharing our experiences of philosophy with other nations and, in turn, opening our eyes to the beauty of other cultures. Julian Baggini managed to unlock the doors to whole other worlds, and for that, I applaud him.

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.