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Philosophers: Debates and Dialogues
Alfred Ayer & Arne Naess: The Glass is On The Table
A film by Fons Elders
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The second debate is a lively conversation between British analytic philosopher Alfred Ayer and Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, the father of the deep ecology movement (a term he would coin shortly after this debate).

It begins with both men's thoughts about skepticism. They agree that a skeptical approach is useful, but differ on its limitations. A skeptical approach, Ayer says, should be tempered with common sense or "natural belief." For instance, he feels "convinced beyond a reasonable doubt" that those watching the debate are not, in fact, robots, or about to suddenly transform into swans. That level of skepticism would lead to complete uncertainty and inaction.

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Naess puts forward an approach he refers to as "total view." It is a philosophy that embraces interconnectedness, and which sees the wellbeing of all as contingent on that of each individual. Naess is firm on this point: if threatened with death, he would rather die than kill his attacker. Ayer dismisses the notion of total view as one without "any useful application."

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The conversation moves to a discussion of the utility of the concepts of fact and truth. Naess says that a dismissal of fact runs counter to the British empiricist tradition, while Ayer believes they are essential in order to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Shot in an intimate setting, with the participants seated around a table - Ayer smoking the whole time - this debate highlights not only divergent philosophical approaches, but also distinct debating styles, with Ayer frequently on the attack, and Naess often using humor to quietly counter his points, foreshadowing many of the concerns that would drive the deep ecology movement.

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74 minutes / color
Release: 2012
Copyright: 1971

Subject areas:
Ecology, Ethics, Philosophy, Philosophers

Related Titles:
Philosophers: Debates and Dialogues: Four debates filmed in 1971 between renowed philosophers including Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, Arne Naess, Karl Popper, and others.

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