Interview with Professor Anthony Grayling -​ Philosopher and Master, New College of the Humanities

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you become an activist and a philosopher?

I became interested in philosophy at an early age, while living in central Africa, where there was much racism and oppression of the local people by the white colonials, and the conjunction of the two made me interested in ideas and in human rights.

Was university education an asset or a hindrance to this?

I found it a help because I had some interesting tutors who introduced me to interesting books: and discussions with fellow students were stimulating too.

Did you have early partnerships in this activist pursuit? If so, whom? 

Although you can’t really call them partners in activism, those with whom I discussed and from I learned different points of view were very helpful to me as I advanced my own thinking about politics, human rights, and the influence of ideologies on individual lives.

How did you come to adopt a socially progressive worldview? 

Early experience of witnessing injustice, racism and great inequality were an early spur.

Why do you think that adopting a social progressive outlook is important?

Because social justice matters: a fair world is likely to be a more peaceful and co-operative one, and one where more people get a chance to benefit from the goods of life and education.

On the topic of progressivism, do you think that progressivism logically implies other beliefs, or tend to or even not at all?

Yes, a progressive outlook in matters of politics and society has a set of implications which place one broadly on the left in matters of politics and economics and among those with socially liberal views on human life.

What are your religious/irreligious beliefs?

I am an atheist, a secularist, and a humanist.

As a progressive, what do you think is the best socio-political position to adopt in the United Kingdom?

Left of centre, secularist, socially liberal, pro-individual liberties.

What big obstacles (if at all) do you see social-progressive movements facing at the moment?

The political system is flawed, biased in favour of vested interests, manipulated by powerful news media owned by a few very wealthy individuals, and the recent Brexit decision is particularly harmful to progressive causes in general.

How important do you think social movements are?

They are very important and helpful when they are intelligent and well thought out. Populism of the far Right and far Left, many motivated by resentment and frustration, can be very harmful. We need a considered debate about how to make society and its structures work to everyone’s benefit.

What is your current work?

I am running a College, lecturing, writing, in particular a book about the causes of war and just war theory.

Where do you hope your professional work will go into the future?

More writing, teaching, and activism.

Thank you for your time, Professor Grayling.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.

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