The Philosopher’s Faith

John Haldane on virtue, happiness, narcissism, and the possibility of God.

“Philosophy from its origins has always had its focus on the idea that we investigate thought and the world and so on in order to answer the question: how ought I to live?”

John Haldane is that rare breed, a public intellectual. He’s an academic philosopher who also works hard to introduce philosophical concepts to the rest of us in ways that connect with our lives.

“Anybody who is seriously interested in living their own life well is going to be somebody who is looking for answers to questions and they’re going to talk to others and so on. They’re not going to think that they can just generate that out of themselves – or they ought not to think that.”

Simon Smart grills John on unhappiness and virtue, self-love, what higher education is really for, optimism and pessimism, and whether arguments for the existence of God have any traction. He also asks: what personal reasons do you have for being a Christian? How do you arrive at belief?

“These are different areas or elements within one’s broader view of the world … There is the scientific over here, there’s the philosophical there, there’s the experiential there and so on, and it’s more a matter of kind of going on the Grand Tour, and revisiting and coming to these, and then experiencing them and reflecting on them in the light of what one has previously experienced and reflected upon, and then moving, and then coming back – and so on. So it’s a kind of to-ing and fro-ing between these different areas.”

John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. He was in Sydney as a guest of the Scots College, to deliver their annual Clark Lecture.