Philosophy, Community and Ornithology: Subscriber Newsletter #09

Will Buckingham
Will Buckingham
Philosophy, Community and Ornithology: Subscriber Newsletter #09

Philosophy, community, some exciting changes at Looking for Wisdom, and some thought-provoking books about birds.

Hello again, Philosophers!

It's time again for the monthly Looking for Wisdom newsletter. This month, we've been roaming all over the place in search of philosophical illumination: from Mozi in ancient China to the philosophy of the Maya, to some of the most enduring philosophical paradoxes of all time.

In this edition of the subscriber newsletter, we've got a recent blog post on the virtues of self-interest (when it comes to reading philosophy, but when it comes to other things as well), some thoughts on philosophy and community, news about updates to Looking for Wisdom, and some book recommendations for ornithologically inclined philosophers! Happy reading.  

Reading Philosophy Differently

I've just added to my occasional blog series on how to read philosophy differently. In this piece, I'm exploring the virtues of reading self-interestedly, and also asking whether self-interest is really as bad as all that.

7 Ways of Reading Philosophy: #3 Reading self-interestedly
Why be a dutiful reader, when you can read self-interestedly?

The next in the series is about how reading out loud can be a great way to get to grips with philosophy. It should be posted in early June, so keep your eyes peeled!

Changes at Looking for Wisdom

Looking for Wisdom is now six months old! So far, it's been quite a ride. And so, this seems a good time to take stock. There are now around 350 of you who subscribe to receive weekly philosopher files, and I'm absolutely delighted by how the project has grown.  

One thing that I always wanted when I set out to build Looking for Wisdom was to see it as a way of building connection and community. We can sometimes imagine philosophers as solitary types, shut away in their ivory towers. But philosophy is as much social as it is solitary: it is about connection and communication. So I've been thinking about how use Looking for Wisdom to build stronger connections.

Building connection

Over the next few months, I'm going to be focussing on building a more connected philosophical community by further developing the Agora community forum. The Agora is designed as a place where you can get stuck in and think through the rich traditions explored in the Philosopher Files. It is a friendly, inclusive space for plunging deeper into the ideas we are exploring together, and the issues that matter to us most. It's a place for sharing experience, ideas and resources, for having fun grappling with tricky philosophical concepts, and for making stronger connections.

The Agora, the Looking for Wisdom Community Forum


As I grow the community aspects of Looking for Wisdom, I'm going to be shifting my focus away from the current model of intensive members-only courses to something more free-wheeling. This change means that from the beginning of July, all the most substantial philosophical content on the site will be freely available to everyone, forever (hurrah!).

I'm going to replace the current courses with a more flexible range of different options, with generous discounts for community members. My plans are still in the quite early stages, but there are lots of possibilities here. Stand-alone short courses? Informal Zoom philosophy cafés? One-off seminars and workshops exploring big themes? Let me know if you have any ideas for things you'd really like to see.

Funding looking for wisdom

This means I'm going to have a new model for how I hope to (eventually) fund the site. The cost to join as a community member is $17 a month or $170 a year, which will help keep Looking for Wisdom running long into the future. All subscribers will continue to receive free weekly Philosopher Files and newsletters. Community members will also get access to the Agora, a community newsletter, and generous discounts on Looking for Wisdom courses.

Note (April 2022): Since this piece was written, we've changed our community model. Now looking for wisdom is free to access for everyone, and funded entirely by donations!

Looking for Wisdom is entirely independent and self-funded. It costs $100s of dollars and 1000s of hours every year to keep running. So if you sign up to join the community, you also get the warm glow of knowing that you are helping support Looking for Wisdom well into the future.

Looking for Wisdom: Community
Sign up as a free subscriber for weekly Philosopher Files. Or become a member of our community to support Looking for Wisdom, and participate in guided discussions in the Agora.

Hello, Stranger

The cover of Hello, Stranger, from the summer 2021 Granta catalogue.

Now some exciting personal news. It's about six weeks until the publication date for my book Hello, Stranger: How We Find Connection in a Disconnected World (Granta 2021). The book is officially out in the UK on the 1st July 2021. Here's the blurb from the Granta website:

When philosopher and traveller Will Buckingham’s partner died, he sought solace in throwing open the door to new people. Now, as we reflect on our experiences of the pandemic and its enforced separations, and as global migration figures ever more prominently in our collective future, Buckingham brings together insights from philosophy, anthropology, history and literature to explore how our traditions of meeting the other can mitigate the issues of our time. Taking in stories of loneliness, exile and friendship from classical times to the modern day, and alighting in adapting communities from Birmingham to Myanmar, Hello, Stranger asks: how do we set aside our instinctive xenophobia – fear of outsiders – and embrace our equally natural philoxenia – love of strangers and newness?

I've got some even more exciting news about the book for later this summer, so I'll keep you posted.

Birds in Philosophy

Here in Sofia's Slaveykov Square, I often sit on the balcony with a cup of tea and listen to the flocks of swifts screaming past. At other times, pigeons come to peck around on the windowsill (making the usually sleepy cat extra-vigilant). If I walk a little way to the south, Borisova Gardens is full of woodpeckers, tree-creepers and nuthatches.

Lately, I've been thinking a bit about birds and philosophy. I wrote about philosophical woodpeckers in my book Finding Our Sea-Legs, and I'm intrigued by the role that birds play in our understanding of the world—and of ourselves.

So here are my top three ornithological philosophy picks. First, Philippe J. Dubois and Elise Rousseau's A Short Philosophy of Birds. Next, Farid al-Din Attar's Sufi text, The Conference of Birds. And finally, Erik Anderson's intriguing object lesson, simply called Bird. Happy reading!

That's all for this time. Next week, expect another Philosopher File, when we'll be in Ancient Greece,

All the best, Will

Image: Persian miniature from a manuscript of Mantiq al-Tayr (Conference of the Birds), by Attar of Nishapur (Farid al-Din Attar), Isfahan, Iran, c. 1610. The hoopoe, centre right, instructs the other birds on the Sufi path. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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