Rupert Read
  • 3.27A Arts

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Personal profile

Biography

I am an associate professor of philosophy at UEA. Before coming to Norwich, I studied philosophy, politics and economics at Balliol College, Oxford. There I was introduced to Wittgenstein by my teachers Tony Kenny, Peter Hacker, Gordon Baker and Stephen Mulhall. Afterwards, I studied for several years at Rutgers University (NJ, USA), where lecturers such as Jerry Fodor and Colin McGinn taught me ‘mainstream’ philosophy of language and mind. This experience solidified my conviction that Wittgenstein had revolutionised philosophy, and had in effect pre-emptively dissolved ‘analytical’ philosophy. I pursued and broadened my interest in Wittgenstein by working with James Guetti, Louis Sass, Saul Kripke, Alexander Nehamas, Cora Diamond and others at Rutgers and Princeton, and took my Ph.D in a Wittgensteinian exploration of the relationship between Kripke’s ‘quus’ problem and Nelson Goodman’s ‘grue’ problem.

Upon returning to the UK, I lectured for two years at Manchester University, encountering properly for the first time the impressive Wittgenstein-affiliated ethno-methodological critique of sociology. I landed a permanent job at UEA in 1997, where I have stayed for the last two and a half decades, working to grow the philosophy postgraduate community, the Department as a whole, and the Wittgensteinian side of the Department in particular. I have published a substantial number of books and papers while at UEA, notably the collection, ‘The New Wittgenstein’. I have also developed the emergent field of ‘film as philosophy’.

In recent years I have become increasingly involved in politics, having sat as a Green Party councillor in Norwich from 2004-2011, and having stood for both national parliamentary and European elections. As such, much of my recent work has taken a distinctly ecological turn. I have written for the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman, Resurgence / The Ecologist, and I appear semi regularly on Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service, on programmes such as ‘Free Thinking’ discussing philosophy.

I am open to supervising PhD students with interests in Wittgenstein, film and philosophy, ecological philosophy and related areas.

You can find out more about me and my work at my website: www.rupertread.net

Key Research Interests and Expertise

Philosophy of language, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Philosophy of Literature and Film, Philosophy of Psychology, Eco-philosophy.

Research Interests

Wittgenstein runs throughout my interests and my work. I write and publish exegesis, but principally I apply Wittgenstein’s thought, resolutely interpreted, to diverse subject-matters. A picture of this can be garnered from my books, ‘Applying Wittgenstein’, ‘A Wittgensteinian way with paradoxes’, and ‘Wittgenstein among the sciences’. In the latter, I interpret Kuhn and Winch after Wittgenstein, and think accordingly the status of various science and ‘science’ disciplines.

My controversial book ‘There is no such thing as social science’ appeared in 2008. ‘Wittgenstein among the sciences’ was the sequel: it took in everything from ‘cognitive science’ through economics to linguistics. As regards philosophy of literature and film, I am particularly interested by ‘deranged narratives’; my interest in the philosophy of literature and film intersects with my interest in the philosophy of psychopathology. I am motivated by a desire to understand the roots of philosophical discontent and delusion.

This brings together my interest in Buddhism (particularly Zen), in psychopathology and in ‘the psychopathology of philosophical delusion or illusion’, and in propaganda and the framing of language and of political ideologies. I want to know from whence in our biology, our psychology, our language and our culture philosophical problems come. Wittgenstein has typically been badly misunderstood as saying that these problems come only from our language.

This is a superficial and more or less positivist error or illusion. But there is a profound difficulty in getting clear on the origin of these problems: because this aim can seem to imply the absurd ambition of exiting entirely and permanently from such problems, in order to see how they have clouded our vision.

By contrast, I am interested in exploring the ways (e.g. through desire, fear, and political ideology – thus see especially my ongoing work on ‘The Lord of the Rings’) in which such problems most deeply ensnare us; and how (e.g. through meditation, honesty with oneself, a ‘therapeutic’ engagement with one’s problems, and a sane society) one/we can most effectively learn from them and change through and beyond them.

I believe that philosophers cannot abdicate the challenge of thinking about how we ought to live, and thinking against the grain of the times to change those times. Now more than ever.

 

Research Projects

1) Wittgenstein, resolutely interpreted and applied - I regard Wittgenstein (and the ‘Wittgenstein Research Group’ at UEA) as the heart of my open-ended research project into philosophy, thought and life. I aim in the next year to complete a book joint-authored with Phil Hutchinson, laying out what it really means to think of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations as a radically therapeutic work (after the fashion of ‘the New Wittgenstein’ and Gordon Baker) or, as we now prefer to put it, a ‘liberatory’ and ‘ethical’ work.

2) An ecological alternative to the political philosophy of liberalism -My other key research project for the years ahead is to challenge, chiefly on grounds of the call upon us made by future generations (and by non-humans), the dominant ideology of our times: individualist materialism … and its legitimating ideology in the academy: political liberalism. I have published a series of papers in which Rawls’s liberalism is put severely to the test by the climate crisis which we are inhabiting, and also by its evisceration of the possibility of a response to that crisis taking seriously the claims of spirituality and religion.

I believe that a true egalitarianism and a sense of the sacred is incompatibly with the political philosophy of liberalism. I also believe that ecology requires precaution, and so I am working on several papers jointly with Nassim Taleb, on the Precautionary Principle. (This project brings together somewhat the philosophical with the other side of my life: my active involvement in the Green House thinktank, and indeed in ‘Green politics’.)

 

At UEA I am involved in the Wittgenstein Workshop and organize the annual Philosophy Public Lectures and take part in the ‘Philosophers at the Cinema’ series that we put on in Norwich’s art cinema, Cinema City.

Teaching Interests

Teaches: Wittgenstein; Philosophy & Literature; Philosophy & film; Theories of Politics and Society; Mental Health and Philosophy; Philosophy of the Sciences; Nietzsche and 20th Century Continental Philosophy.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Devlopment Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action