Stand-up Philosophy #3: ‘Time (and Memory)’

Tuesday 3rd July

Back for a third time at the Jeremy Bentham, this time our theme was ‘Time’. What is it? Could we ever travel backwards through it? And why is there never enough of it to both do the washing up AND go to the pub?

Featured Acts:

Creator of ‘The Geekatorium’ (Leicester Square Theatre) “Deft characterisation…highly likely to make you laugh.” – ThreeWeeks
– arguing that even if time travel was possible, we shouldn’t do it – here’s a badly shot video of it!


Philosopher and writer
– warning us not to try stepping into rivers and explaining why time is impossible to talk about, as featured in this equally badly-shot video:

Prizewinning Science Fiction author
– warning us to beware of the stories created by time and memory. Here’s the (still bad) video:

Top comedian and star of TV’s ‘Stand-up Hero’. “Delightfully offbeat” –
– Talking about the effect of the past on identity (Annoyingly the video ran out of memory…)


Stand-up Philosophy: Academics’ Edition at the LSE


On Tuesday night something a little weird and very special happened: about three hundred people turned up, at six-thirty on a Tuesday evening, to hear a bunch of academics talk about philosophy.

The Forum for European Philosophy had asked me to host a night of stand-up philosophy featuring six academics. (full backstory here). But then a ridiculous number of people showed up. 

Eventually, because there were just far too many people to fit in the 130-seater lecture theatre, it was suggested that we were either going to have to run a second show, or turn away at least a hundred people. So we found some space and ran a second show – simultaneously with the first – with me (Charlie) frantically running between the two rooms, welcoming acts on to the stages, charing mini-Q-and-A-sessions and generally trying to give the whole thing the impression of orderliness.

It was brilliant.

After about an hour and forty minutes, everyone was exhausted but both rooms had seen me (Charlie) introduce:

Gordon Finlayson speaking about whether we should fear death;

Simon Glendinning speaking about ‘the weirdness of our time’;

MM McCabe speaking about Jokes and Philosophy;

Laurence Goldstein speaking about Paradoxes;

Kristina Musholt speaking about Identity;

and Lea Ypi speaking about Marx.

There was even a podcast made of the show in the Wolfson Theatre. It’s at


I’m starting to get the impression that many, many people have been interested in philosophy in a much more serious way than most academic philosophers like to think; they just find academic philosophy pretentious and inaccessible.

Philosophy has been concerned for its own survival for a while; academic philosophers are terrified about department closures, and cuts in teaching budgets and research funding. But at the same time, we’ve been gradually making our discipline so completely opaque to outsiders, especially in the language we use, that what we do is often impossible for any normal person to get their head around.

Too many academic philosophers complain that Alain de Botton can sell a million books, while doing almost nothing to make their own arguments available or accessible to the public. Instead, they obsess about whether they can get an article published in tiny niche journals that only about two hundred people ever read. These philosophers are right, I think, to be worried for their survival. And if they don’t survive, who will miss them?

But I think philosophy which makes itself as accessible and unpretentious as possible is capable of thriving. A few academic philosophers are starting to get this: that the general public of non-philosophers contains a huge number of people who are intelligent, curious, and want to know about philosophy. They do want to know what philosophers are doing, and do philosophy themselves, and know how philosophy can be fun and useful and important to them, too.

They just need ways in.

I want Stand-up Philosophy to be a way in. And I am starting to think that I am not the only one.

– Charlie

Stand-up Philosophy 2# ‘Justice’

Stand-up Philosophy is definitely working. The audience for the second show saw a line-up of acts who were pretty much perfect in terms of them all being extremely proficient comedy performers, as well as all having interesting and different takes on the question of Justice…

DOUGIE WALKER opened the show pretty much perfectly with a thing called ‘What’s so fucking great about fairness anyway?’, in which he argued that a lot of the principles of fairness which we associate with the notion of ‘justice’ (ie treating people the same, etc) don’t really work. He nevertheless argued (with some success) that justice would have to be in some way connected with empathy.

LINDSAY SHARMAN talked about a variety of problems associated with Justice, but in particular raised some really interesting points about whether a person can be just or unjust to their future self. (She was also very funny – out of all the philosophers involved in the show, she the one about whom most people came up afterwards and said, “she was really funny”).

TONY DUNN approached the problem with an analysis of how justice might apply to psychopaths, considering the fact that it doesn’t make sense to punish psychopaths because their inability to empathise with others means that they often can’t really believe that they’ve done anything wrong. Added to the difficulties when it comes to identifying psychopaths, and the fact that they nevertheless have to be prevented from doing harm to others, he claimed (quite convincingly, if somewhat depressingly) that perfect justice is impossible in any world which contains psychopaths.

And the former solicitor and now top stand-up ANDREW WATTS headlined the show with a new and fascinating spin on the question, pointing out that the principle that legal judgments must set precedents in order for later cases to be just, had thrown up all kinds of bizarre anomalies when it came to the practical application of justice; he illustrated this somewhat brilliantly with the problems surrounding the legal status of necrophilia…