Philosophy, Logic And Reason – Stephen Fry


Interview Transcript

Question: What philosophers influenced you?

Stephen Fry: Philosophy is an odd thing. When we use the word in everyday speech you know you sometimes hear it hilariously. They say, Oh, its never good to be late. Thats my philosophy.

You think thats a generous description of that rather dull precept to call it a philosophy, but its odd how philosophers generally speaking, at least the ones Ive read or the ones I you know value, dont have in that sense a philosophy. There is no particular Socratic or Nietzschean or Kantian way to live your life. They dont offer ethical codes and standards by which to live your life.

They dont offer a philosophy to follow. They just simply raise an enormous number of questions mostly, so in the sense that you put the question is there a philosopher thats important to me.

Well I me I loved really the sort of the Bertrand Russell grand sort of tour of philosophy, the history of philosophy from the pre Socratics as they’re called, Zeno and so on through to Socrates and Plato and Aristotle.

I never quite liked Aristotle. I think thats partly… Although he was obviously a genius and brilliant and he invented logic, so whats not to like. I think it was his influence on the medieval mind was probably rather pernicious and unfortunate and all those categories and things, but when it opened up with I suppose Spinoza and them, but then Kant and the enlightenment era.

Oh and actually Locke. I did like Locke. He was a fine philosopher, but they dont… I mean what is so great about them is that they just… Theyre quite scary when you think of the word philosopher and especially if its logic and symbolic logic and it gets onto Hegelian philosophies, incredibly difficult to read I find and you follow it for about… Well its like trying to grab a salmon.

You know the harder you clutch at it the more it springs, slips out of your hand and whoa, its gone and you chase it again and what was that and you feel very stupid, but the… I think the beauty of questioning and simplicity that you get from Kant in particular I think is just amazing because its like they say of simple mathematical laws that make fractals, the tiniest little elegant observation about or question about something just spins out these immensely complex things that make you rethink everything.

So yes, I think philosophy is a really important dimension, but I think in our age we tend to be rather sloppy about it. We either think Buddhism is philosophy, which you know or some sort of eastern thing about being nice and spiritual and that will do, which its fine.

I mean you know obviously I believe in kindness and niceness and lots of spiritual things, but the real intellectual rigor and quest of logic is something that Im afraid takes incredibly hard work and we live in an age in which hard work is if not actively deprecated or denigrated it is run away from or ignored.

Its sort of people frown at you and say, Well, thats a bit dull and stupid. Why cant we just short circuit it and talk about like spirit? Well yeah, you can say spirit, but if you think thats philosophy and if you think thats good enough.

The most important philosophy I think is that even if it isnt true you must absolutely assume there is no afterlife. You cannot for one second I think, abbragate the responsibility of believing that this is it because if you think youre going to have an eternity in which you can talk to Mozart and Chopin and Schopenhauer on a cloud and learn stuff and you know really get to grips with knowledge and understanding and so you wont bother now.

I think its a terrible, a terrible mistake. It may be that there is an afterlife and Ill look incredibly stupid, but at least I will have had a crammed pre afterlife, a crammed life, so to me the most important thing is you know as Kipling put it, to fill every 60 seconds with you know what is it? To fill every unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

You know absolutely, so thats all Im saying I suppose. Is that there is no point wasting time being lazy, though of course indolence in a divine way, actually has its advantages. Oh, shut up Steve. Okay, next one.

Please subscribe to Science & Reason:

Rubbish Reasoning: Appeals to Popularity

This is part of a series on Logical Fallacies.

It’s clearly wrong to accept the majority’s approval as evidence for the truth of a claim, but advertising is often successful in persuading us to do just that. You may know it as the Bandwagon Effect.

Thankfully, the erroneous nature of the Appeal to Popularity is one of the easiest to explain and demonstrate.

Pro Tip:

An Appeal to Popularity argues the existence of a MAJORITY as evidence for a claim.

Appeals to popularity have the following form:

  1. Most people love X.
  2. Therefore X is true.

  1. There is a consensus about X
  2. Therefore X is true

  1. 90% of those surveyed recommend X
  2. Therefore X is true

We tend to seek assurances that our acceptance of a new belief or even of the ones we currently hold conforms with the views held by the majority. This is known as communal reinforcement.

Appeals to Popularity are similar to three other logical fallacies, but should not be confused:

  • Appeal to Belief – Argues because most people believe a claim, it is true.
  • Appeal to Common Practice – Argues because most people do a claimed action, it is valid.
  • Appeal to Emotion – Argues because a claim has favourable emotions associated with it, it is true.


  1. Nikzor Project – Fallacy: Appeal to Popularity
  2. Wikipedia – Argumentum ad Populum

How to Win Arguments, As It Were

One of the projects I have been working on over the last couple of months is SeekTheEvidence at (strangely enough).

Its primary aim is to promote critical thinking in the public arena;  I want it to end up being a small-to-moderately sized repository for  “fun science” for the public; something that is intriguing, and informative.

For the most part, the information gathering process is a casual one – mostly through my browsing on the internetz. When it coming to interesting videos, articles, etc, however – SeekTheEvidence is supposed to be a COLLABORATIVE project.

With that, I invite anyone who has any material, or would like to make any material to simply contact me here. Posters, Audio, Decal Designs, Links, Suggested Articles, Videos – everything and anything. Even if you sent me a list of all your critical-thinking bookmarks, that would be awesome!

Okay, so where was I going with all this …

I came across an interesting article the other week. I found it really amusing, however I am not quite sure how to incorporate it in to the website – or where; or if it belongs there.

How to Win Arguments, As It Were

Check it out, and let me know where.