Friday, 26 March 2010

More Flowers Blooming...

When I wrote a month ago about letting a thousand flowers bloom in the world of legal services (here and here), I expected these changes to occur after the licences for Alternative Business Structures (ABS) were issued in October 2011 by the Legal Services Board.

But ideas don't always wait for their cues.

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) is taking over the legal department of Thames Water. BLP will take over 15 of Thames' lawyers in a new managed legal services division. According to the Lawyer the deal will be worth around £5 million a year to BLP.

As a result of being on Thames' legal panel, BLP had already taken on around 20% of the company's work. Now that it has taken on their legal team it will be taking over the remainder of the former panel's work. (The panel was heavily populated by the Magic Circle.)

The effect is to embed the law firm inside Thames Water to do the key strategic work while more mundane matters will be cascaded out, Mexican Wave style, to regional law firms.

Without going into detail, the Lawyer coyly mentions that the Thames' lawyers will be paid differently "but not necessarily less."

Having just been at the Georgetown Law Center conference on Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual? where ideas like this were mooted, it's fascinating to see them come into play. American lawyers have a lot to learn yet on this.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance - 46th Weekly Meeting

Dear All

At the 46th gathering of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance, on Friday 26 March 2010, from 6.00 to 8.00pm, in room 5.16, 309 Regent Street (University of Westminster) we will explore the concept of the groupoid and Descartes.

For those who hate vague thoughts, the groupoid allows for the specification and intra-convertibility of the singular general principle and the plural instantiation of things. The groupoid is the concept that sits between the generality of the Set and the symmetric specification of the Group, and provides us a way to think systematically without having to bother with every little detail. The groupoid is a form of strategic thinking par excellence. Even if you hate generalities, you might fall in love with the groupoid.

Joe will present a brief talk on "Risk as Non-Invertibility for 7 Year Olds" which is part of a project on "A Group Theory of Law: A Logico-Empirical Philosophical Investigation of Laws". He will introduce a cyclic-hierarchic conceptual structure and by analogy, pay homage to Plotinus, 2nd century neo-Platonist, who attempted to synthesize Platonic static ideals with the dynamic potentiality-actuality of Aristotle. We will review some concepts that help us to think (and calculate) symmetrically, i.e. groupoid, list of elements, property, binary operation, associative operation, identity, invertibility, subgroup, coset, simple group. These infantile concepts amazingly give us a way to "count" the symmetry of things and to speak precisely like aliens from physics departments in other universes – just kidding, of course. This abstraction should take us about half an hour.

The rest of the time we will read together and comment on passages of the greatest methodological work of the modern period: Descartes’ Discourse on Method ( Descartes' Discourse links algebra to geometry explicitly thereby linking two different functions of the brain together for the first time! Some neuro-physiologists theorize that the brain is a "futures simulator". This vision is not possible without Descartes Method and after the Method, we start to see answers to particular problems as specific pathways in coordinate systems.

If the Discourse gets too heavy, we will reflect in the "baker's oven" with Descartes incomparably beautiful and moving Meditations (

After so much fluffy abstract structure, we will need the sustenance of real food and drink at Vapiano (19-21 Great Portland Street, W1W 8QB) from 8.00pm onwards.

See you on Friday!
Joe and Laura

Finishing the Job

Two and a half years into the crisis, we are at a defining moment in the debate about the financial reform. On Monday, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee approved the Senator Dodd draft legislation to overhaul the U.S. financial regulatory system. Besides its many important elements, the Dodd bill has two overarching objectives: to end “too big to fail” and to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices.

The ways those objectives are achieved spurred a number of controversies. According to the draft, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB), which was initially envisioned by the Obama Administration to be an autonomous, independent watchdog, is to be housed within the Federal Reserve. Consumers themselves, living with an impression of the Fed’s apparent failure to regulate the banking system resulting in massive bank bailouts by the taxpayers, are finding the Fed’s revived authority misplaced. Market participants point out that the consumer protection objective may not always be consistent with the Fed’s primary task of maintaining the safe and sound banking system.

Ending “too big to fail” has caused a significant shift in how large money center banks and financial companies are view by investors. Both S&P and Moody’s have commented on a possibility of credit rating downgrades of certain financial institutions if an implicit government backing is removed. In turn, sell-side analysts promptly conducted an analysis concluding that a few U.S. largest banks’ short-term credit ratings may be reduced below “the highest rating category” effectively cutting those institutions from accessing the money markets.

Taking into account that the same banks provide financing for municipal markets and brick-and-mortar companies often through asset-backed commercial paper programs, some unintended consequences the bill might be well beyond of what politicians are expected.

The Dodd bill might be an interesting document to look at for all those interested in paradoxes of financial regulation. The 1,336-page draft can be accessed here:



Friday, 19 March 2010

Another Anti-Ad for Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance

Another Anti-Ad
for Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance, 45th Session, March 19, 2010, 6 to 8pm in Room 516, Regent Street Campus

On Feelings

1. “A feeling cannot be abstracted from the actual entity entertaining it. This actual entity is termed the ‘subject’ of the feeling. It is in virtue of its subject that the feeling is one thing. If we abstract the subject from the feeling we are left with many things. Thus a feeling is a particular in the same sense in which each actual entity is a particular. It is one aspect of its own subject.” [Alfred North Whitehead (1978) Process and Reality, p. 221.]

2. In the 45th session of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance, we will focus on the concept of Feelings. We will continue to pursue the dynamic tension between the certainty of faith beyond any possibility of systematisation (Kierkegaard) and the pursuit of absolute certainty through formal methods (e.g. the algebraicisation of symmetry through Group Theory). The former is the dynamic of what we feel must be (e.g. the truth of what must be right, what must be love, what is certainly death) and the latter is the static formality of non-feeling or what is immune to any and all change (e.g. formal methods of logic, axiomatic, austere and stand-offishly eternal).

3. As an antidote to the lyric ironic spiritual pounding of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in the previous two sessions, we will begin reading Spinoza’s Ethics, which is subtitled, “Demonstrated in Geometric Order". With Spinoza we have a general theoretical framework of Ethics that stretches across: (I) God; (II) the Nature and Origin of the Mind; (III) Origin and Nature of the Affects; (IV) Human Bondage or the Powers of the Affects; and (V) the Power of the Intellect or Human Freedom. A current neuroscientist, Dimasio, in his book Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain, says of Spinoza’s formal description of conatus (affects, feelings) is an accurate model of how the latest neuroscientific models conceive of emotions and feelings. So much for the uselessness of rationalist theories!

4. We will also discuss an interesting article spotted by Omar Khan: see,

5. Finally, for a cool rendition of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, please see Prof. Stuart Toddington's spot of Bob Dylan's interpretation of Abraham and Issac:

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Maritime Law & Policy Postgraduate Research Student Conference 2010

The London Universities Maritime Law and Policy Group
The University of Westminster, London
Friday 16 April 2010

The London Universities Maritime Law and Policy Research Group are proud to announce that the First Annual Maritime Law and Policy Conference for postgraduate students will be taking place on Friday 16 April 2010. We invite all students wishing to present their postgraduate research work to a friendly and
supportive environment to join us at this conference. We welcome submissions in all areas of Maritime Law and Policy, including interdisciplinary work. 

Each speaker will present their research ideas or papers for 15 minutes and a 10 minute discussion will follow. There will also be invited speakers who will focus on a topic relevant to the maritime law and policy research communities. Postgraduate students who do not wish to give a presentation are also very welcome.

You must prepare an abstract (250 words) and send to Suzanne Bowles:
All submissions must include your institution, a contact address, an email address and a contact phone number. The deadline for the submission is 1 April 2010. Please see our website for further information and a booking form:

Conference Fee
£20 Speakers
£30 Non-Speakers
The conference fee is to cover the cost of materials, equipment, venue, lunch and refreshments. We have deliberately kept it low to encourage wide participation.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Rotterdam Rules-Public Seminar

The LONDON UNIVERSITIES MARITIME LAW AND POLICY RESEARCH GROUP is pleased to invite you to a Public Seminar on

“The Rotterdam Rules - An overview and a comparison with the existing regimes”


Mr Stuart Beare

VENUE: Room GSB01, London Metropolitan University, Department of Law Governance and International Relations, 16 Goulston Street, London E1 7TP

TIME: 18.15pm for a 18.30pm start

DATE: 24 March 2010

There will be time for questions and answers. Refreshments to follow.


Mr Beare was the Chairman of the CMI International Sub Committee on Issues of Transport Law which prepared the original CMI Draft Instrument.

As a CMI Observer Mr Beare attended all thirteen sessions of UNCITRAL Working Group III from 2002 to 2008 at which the Draft Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods wholly or partly by Sea was agreed. He finally attended the 41st session of the UNCITRAL Commission in June 2008, when the Draft Convention was approved for submission to the UN General Assembly.

Mr Beare practised as a solicitor with Richards Butler in the City of London specialising in shipping law for thirty years from 1966 to 1996, after which he remained associated with the firm for some years as a consultant. He is a Vice-President of the British Maritime Law Association and in 2008 was elected a Member honoris causa of the CMI.

Mr Beare studied classics and law at Cambridge University and obtained MA and LL.B degrees.


The Rotterdam Rules were adopted by a Resolution of the UN General Assembly on 11 December 2008 and have been signed by 21 states. They are intended to replace the Hague, Hague-Visby and Hamburg Rules. The Rules were developed by UNCITRAL in the course of thirteen sessions of its Working Group III on Transport Law, but the Preliminary Draft Instrument, which was the starting point for the negotiations in Working Group III, was prepared by the CMI.

The preamble to the Resolution expresses concern that the current regime lacks uniformity and fails adequately to take into account modern transport practices. The Rules update the provisions contained in the existing regimes with particular reference to their scope of application, the obligations and liability of the carrier, the obligations of the shipper to the carrier and transport documents. They introduce provisions to address the specific concerns noted in the Resolution with regard to door-to-door transport contracts, electronic transport records and containerisation. They also include provisions that are not contained in any of the existing regimes regarding delivery of the goods, the rights of the controlling party and the transfer of rights. There are also provisions on jurisdiction and arbitration, but these will only bind states that specifically opt in to them.


Please contact:

Claire Keefe, London Metropolitan University,


Susan Hakwer, London Metropolitan University, (

Prof. Jason Chuah, University of Westminster


Was Moses the First Transactional Lawyer?

(Thanks to New Yorker)

Friday, 12 March 2010

Money Market Funds as a Category

Thanks to Joe’s great efforts to navigate us through the ocean of unknown, extracting tangible benefits from our Friday’s seminars, I turned to the Foundation. I started with the building blocks: the Categories, or “what we are talking about.” In Aristotle's logic, categories are adjuncts to reasoning that are designed to resolve equivocations. An equivocation is a variation in meaning, as Aristotle puts it: "Things are said to be named ‘equivocally’ when, though they have a common name, the definition corresponding with the name differs for each". In his view categorizing the object of study was the way to prepare it for the application of logical laws.

I study the impact of financial markets on law and regulation and regulatory response to market developments in the narrow focus of the money market fund (MMF) industry. MMFs that started as a U.S. phenomenon in 1971, in nearly forty years have grown into a $5.8 trillion global industry. In the early 1980s the European investment management community adopted MMFs, but with a great number of variations to fit the local legislations and practices. The market dislocation of 2007 – 2009 exacerbated by the liquidity crisis that followed the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers have led financial regulators in all major jurisdictions to review the existing policies. The European Union now is facing even greater challenges due to the fragmented nature of the local markets and the lack of regulatory consistency. The de Larosière report published in February 2009 pointed out that an efficient Single Market should have a harmonized set of core rules.

Following up on our previous discussions, I’d like to share my article that focuses on the recent initiative undertaken by the Committee of European Securities Regulators to execute on the de Larosière’s report recommendations in introducing a common definition for European MMFs. The paper is an initial step in my much larger research project, which starts with an attempt to define MMFs as a subject of regulation.

The paper can be accessed following the link:


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Regulator Reviews Research

For the last three months the legal services market and legal profession has has a new regulator, the Legal Services Board (LSB). The LSB has been radical, fresh and stimulating in its approach to its tasks. (You can see its business plan here.) Under the Legal Services Act 2007 the legal profession (and market) is being shaken up in ways never before envisaged and the LSB has an important role in steering those changes.

One feature that has impressed me about the LSB has been its commitment to research. This has now been cemented by the establishment of a Research Strategy Group within the LSB to guide the LSB in this area. The LSB has invited me to be a member of this group and we have our first meeting soon.

There is no better time to be doing research in this area!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Proceedings from the 44th meeting (5 March) of the Philiosophical Foundaitons of Law and Finance

Dear all

Follow the proceedings from the 44th meeting of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance seminar:

1. In the first part of the class Joe introduced his groundbreaking work-in-progress on the application of Group Theory (GT) to law and finance.

2. Philosophy, the LOVE of wisdom, from ancient times has hunted the goose with truth, symmetria and beauty. (Plato's Philebus.) The model of truth for Plato came from the perfect forms of geometry which he tried very hard to apply to social issues. Understanding the 'perfect state' (The Republic) and 'God given laws' (The Laws) was built on tiny precise arguments--always hunting the elusive goose.

3. Modernly, since the early 19th century, symmetria have become Group Theory (GT). GT is the algebraic form of ALL geometric symmetries. That is, with GT you can calculate the quantity (measure the degree) of symmetry. This is a vast improvement over Plato's Euclidean machinery and the proof is in the pudding since GT now underpins most of physics, chemistry, biology and many of the arts, architecture, design, etc. But GT has not touched the theories of law at all. Not one article has been published which even tries to establish the link between GT and the law.

4. GT is extraordinarily simple. It starts with a definition of a group as a set (collection or system) of elements, where any two elements combined form another element of the group. This definition is sometimes called the Axiom of Closure, which can be written as {G, m}, G stands for the elements of the group and m stands for the binary operation. The concept of the group is further constrained by three other Axioms (Associativity, Identity and Vertibility []) which act as conditions to the qualification of a group. So, for something (anything at all) to be a group, we need to find the appropriate elements and appropriate binary operator. This is what Joe is trying to do in his paper, "Group Theory of Law and Finance--Chasing the Goose".

5. Is all the effort worth the trouble? What is clear is that if GT can be applied to law then we would have a precise view of the entirety of laws, their "structure" would have objective meaning and instead of moanfully bleating about the "complexity" of laws (which many legal theorists do), we would have some means of calculating and predicting "its" (in the most general sense) and "their" (in the most particuliarized sense) order. So much could be imported from GT for free!

6. Hopefully the technology of GT may help us get beyond Platonic aporia.

7. In the second part of the class we continued reading Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Tremble”. This time we dived in chapter one, the Panegyric Upon Abraham. K. announces his intention to ‘recall’ the binding of Isaac by Abraham in order to uphold the memory of this profoundly religious episode which presents human despair and the consolation – and predicament – of faith.

8. One controversial interpretation of the text was that the torrential ode to faith is in fact parodistic. There is almost sarcasm in K’s pious declamation – in presenting devoted elegies the narrator is instead caught by doubts. “No, not one shall be forgotten who was great in the world. But each was great in his own way, and each in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved. For he who loved himself became great by himself, and he who loved other men became great by his selfless devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all… It is human to lament, human to weep with them that weep, but it is greater to believe, more blessed to contemplate the believer”. Really? The narrator is full of wonder for the appalling proof of faith demanded by God to Abraham. In the end the narrator, frenzied, seems to question its very questions and declares himself and his purpose belittled by the impenetrability of the very events he aimed at upholding: “Venerable Father Abraham! In marching home from Mount Moriah thou hadst no need of a panegyric which might console thee for thy loss; for thou didst gain all and didst retain Isaac… Thousands of years have run their course since those days, but thou hast need of no tardy lover to snatch the memorial of thee from the power of oblivion, for every language calls thee to remembrance”. It can be also recalled that in the prelude K. provides four alternative accounts of the binding of Isaac (and, for example, in tale no. 2 Abraham… “offered that and returned home. . . . From that time on Abraham became old, he could not forget that God had required this of him. Isaac throve as before, but Abraham’s eyes were darkened, and he knew joy no more”), or that he writes “Fear and Trembling” under pseudonym, or that the thesis was about Socrates’ irony, which he emulated throughout the same thesis…

8. Again, honour to our brave group this time starring Alex, Roman, Francisco, Cameron, Laura, Daniela, Angelina and Gavin.

9. Unfortunately, we can anticipate that Joe is travelling to Istanbul so there will be no class next Friday. The meetings will resume on Friday 19 March.

Kind regards, Joe and Laura

Sunday, 7 March 2010

"The Power of Yes" (Or the Fear of Saying No)

In the Power of Yes a playwright tries to find out the causes and explanation for the financial crisis. David Hare populates the stage with bankers, hedge fund managers, MPs, lawyers, journalists and the occasional journalist. (Background pack here which includes a good timeline on the crisis.)

He asks them why this happened and Myron Scholes "explains" why the Black-Scholes options pricing theorem should always work. Long Term Capital Management is mentioned almost as a passing embarrassment. A minor blip on the smooth horizon of the derivatives radar. The fault of the 1998 Russian economic collapse not the model. Models play an unfortunate role throughout the crisis, whether it's Black-Scholes or the Gaussian Copula. They seemed to inspire unquestioning faith in their adherents.

As the various characters come forward to explain their roles or why they should be exonerated of blame, the playwright's anger, and hence ours, rises at the utter cupidity and stupidy of these City folks given such freedom by the regulators and government. One of them aptly says which government minister will willingly criticize the City when a warm seat on the board of an investment bank beckons when he steps down. They were frightened of saying no.

Gillian Tett--unnamed in the play but clearly recognizable--analyzes, perhaps the most hated man in the crisis, Fred Goodwin and his response to the collapse of RBS and the scorn hurled at him. He wasn't to blame; it was the fault of the market... Nor could he say sorry. (I've reviewed Gillian Tett's book on the crisis, Fool's Gold.)

The message of the play pushes the lack of responsibility by the main players in the system, their lack of acceptance of culpability, that they did anything wrong. Indeed William Keegan in the Observer noted, and this should send shivers down anyone's spine:

It is still not clear that the commercial bankers have appreciated the rightful degree of public anger. But central bankers have. In Istanbul (at an IMF meeting) Paul Tucker, the deputy governor of the Bank of England responsible for financial stability, told the Institute of International Finance: "We can't continue with a regime where, to put it crudely, the downside is picked up by the taxpayer and the upside is picked up by bank shareholders and executives."
If you would like more information, Mark Thomas, a guerilla comic, has put together a fine video of his understanding of the crisis recorded at the National Theatre.

The play won't run much longer so go and see it--it's well worth it.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance - 44th Weekly Meeting

Dear all

Joe has an astoundingly structured agenda for the 44th gathering of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance, on Friday 5 March 2010, from 6.00 to 8.00pm, in room 5.16, 309 Regent Street (University of Westminster):

1. One of the ambitions of First Series of Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance, Sessions 1 - 40, was to provide a sufficient treatment of the philosophical toolkit consisting of infinity, symmetry and uncertainty. We found that snippets of Plato's Laws, Timaeus, Apology, Republic, and Aristotle's Metaphysics and Rhetoric could be re-jigged according to the following distinctions: (1) divergent versus convergent infinities (Knopp); (2) bilateral, translational and rotational symmetries (Weyl) and (3) risk (Pascal). These then gave us an apparatus to examine the sacredly unsayable (such as "justice" and "truth")) found in the works of Plotinus, Nargarjuna, Blake, Rumi, etc and the meaning of faith translated in the discourse and processes of the global financial system--which is homomorphic (maybe) to Durkheim's vision (1905) of a global religion.

2. In Series 2, the ambition is in the same general direction as in Series 1, but our methodology will be sharpened. Instead of using the naïve but beautiful visual symmetries (as if we knew them--sigh), we will look underneath the hood so to speak, at the assumptions that compose the language of symmetry--which is Group Theory.

3. Group Theory (GT) is the algebra (precise calculation) of symmetry. I'd say even more strongly like Descartes in the Discourse of Method relating linear algebra to the two dimensional plane, that Group Theory and Symmetry are the same. Thankfully and mercifully, there are only four GT Axioms: closure, associativity, identity and invertibility. []

4. By the way, mathematicians think of Group Theory as a form of philosophy rather than maths--it's that easy!

5. Following from Session 41, I will attempt to demonstrate how metrology (scales of knowledge--the nominal, interval, ordinal and rational) is a deep question inside the Axiom of Closure. We can see how the divide between social science and "hard" science occurs in there. For those who love graphics, our questioning turns on the meaning of the abstract symbolism of {G, •}. This notation will be explained.

6. Why such an investigation? Is it worth the trouble? Well, GT gives us a way of talking about the entirety of law and finance, allowing us to make better than best-guess predictions about their structure. That's the hope and promised miraculous snake-oil cure of GT!

7. In the first hour (6 to 7pm), I'll explain point 5 above by reading and commenting on parts of a paper I'm working on.

8. From 7 to 8pm, we will continue reading Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling.

9. Maybe we'll find an irrational relation between the two hours.

From 8.00pm onwards you can propose topics and jokes at Vapiano (19-21 Great Portland Street, W1W 8QB) where we reconvene for drinks and meal.

See you on Friday!

Joe and Laura

PS If you have problems in getting into the building please text or call me at 07910 305957 and I’ll try to help. Laura

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How To Get Your PhD

(Thanks to Dion

I am starting some work on analyzing the Bar and barristers with a young researcher at Manchester University, Anna Zimdars. Her research is in the field of equal opportunity and social justice issues in higher education and employment.

I got to know her at the SLSA conference last year--which I posted about--when her paper was one of the few bright moments among some dire sessions. Anna was doing a large-scale study of entrants to the Bar about which we know little. She and I are going to work further on these data taking into account practice areas.

Having received her PhD in 2007, Anna was inspired to write a short guide, How to Get Your PhD: A Guide for Students. It is the sort of guide everyone wishes they'd had at the start. I recommend it and it's a free download.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

What Happens When Lawyers Wax Philosophical?

(Thanks New Yorker)


Monday, 1 March 2010

Proceedings from the 43rd meeting (26 February 2010) of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance seminar

Dear all,

Follow the proceedings from the 43rd meeting of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance seminar:

1. For those who still fear and tremble before the factual uniqueness of death, and don't believe philosophy will offer them any consolation, then Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling is for you.

2. Kierkegaard is the genuine heir not only of Socratic irony but also of Aristotelian rhetoric and metaphysic.

3. The premise to (attempting to) understanding Kierkegaard is understanding ‘irony’. K.’s irony is the most legitimate heir of Socrates’ irony. It is a pretension of ignorance which shows the interlocutor that she does not really know what she thought she knew. Thus, it reveals an openness, the imperfection of the received wisdom.

4. His contribution to philosophical theology like the fixed solitary interiority of Descartes is to protect (which of course, needs no protection at all!) a protonic core, called faith, which is completely uncoupled to any (rational) system of thought.

5. We started by reading the preface of ‘Fear and Tremble’. K. writes under pseudonyms and ironically criticises himself as a writer who has not understood the ‘System’, the convention…

6. We then approached the Prelude, where K. narrates the sacrifice of Isaac. From Fear and Tremble, Prelude, I: "And God tempted Abraham and said unto him, Take Isaac, Mine only son, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon the mountain which I will show thee."
It was early in the morning, Abraham arose betimes, he had the asses saddled, left his tent, and Isaac with him, but Sarah looked out of the window after them until they had passed down the valley and she could see them no more. They rode in silence for three days. On the morning of the fourth day Abraham said never a word, but he lifted up his eyes and saw Mount Moriah afar off. He left the young men behind and went on alone with Isaac beside him up to the mountain. But Abraham said to himself, "I will not conceal from Isaac whither this course leads him." He stood still, he laid his hand upon the head of Isaac in benediction, and Isaac bowed to receive the blessing. And Abraham’s face was fatherliness, his look was mild, his speech encouraging. But Isaac was unable to understand him, his soul could not be exalted; he embraced Abraham’s knees, he fell at his feet imploringly, he begged for his young life, for the fair hope of his future, he called to mind the joy in Abraham’s house, he called to mind the sorrow and loneliness. Then Abraham lifted up the boy, he walked with him by his side, and his talk was full of comfort and exhortation. But Isaac could not understand him. He climbed Mount Moriah, but Isaac understood him not. Then for an instant he turned away from him, and when Isaac again saw Abraham’s face it was changed, his glance was wild, his form was horror. He seized Isaac by the throat, threw him to the ground, and said, "Stupid boy, dost thou then suppose that I am thy father? I am an idolater. Dost thou suppose that this is God’s bidding? No, it is my desire." Then Isaac trembled and cried out in his terror, "O God in heaven, have compassion upon me. God of Abraham, have compassion upon me. If I have no father upon earth, be Thou my father!" But Abraham in a low voice said to himself, "O Lord in heaven, I thank Thee. After all it is better for him to believe that I am a monster, rather than that he should lose faith in Thee."

When the child must be weaned, the mother blackens her breast, it would indeed be a shame that the breast should look delicious when the child must not have it. So the child believes that the breast has changed, but the mother is the same, her glance is as loving and tender as ever. Happy the person who had no need of more dreadful expedients for weaning the child!

7. K. gives us a pathetic account of the story, whereby Isaac pleads for his life whereas Abraham, hardened, silences his child. The close reading leaves us puzzled. What is faith? Why obeying God is he orders to do the most horrible thing one can imagine? Indeed why would you be religious? Competing arguments were presented by the atheists/ agnostics amongst us. Namely, that the community, the church brainwash man to go against his humanity, imposing control and neuroses. Or, that one embraces religion out of implicit calculation giving some liberty but getting something in return. Would you embrace a manifestly contemptible religion? Death and killing are the most heinous deeds man can do. Why indeed do they continuously occur? Is that a betrayal of humanity? Passion or deliberation, can any motive explain death? Thought rapidly runs to war – and other types of terrorism.

8. But K. presents four different readings of the tale!

9. When Kierkegaard was a boy, his father would force him to walk round and round the frontroom of the house imagining what it would be like to be outside.

10. This is his essential technique.

11. K. de-couples you with acts of the imagination that put you in situations which carry no home-spun truth, no simple conclusions, bringing you back against whatever apriori you might have espoused but leading you to a state of aporia (wonderment). A million intepretations of what Abraham and Issac are about, but none of them satisfy any system. This is the irony of faith. There is no cogito, no ergo, and certainly, no sum.

12. K. is captivating, his contorted mind a blast of lucidity. We shall read more from ‘Fear and Tremble’ next Friday.

13. Of course… honour to our group of brave philosophers! The participation of Daniela, Fiona, Cameron, Chiara, Omar, Francisco, Giuseppe, Marco, Giordano and Laura was absolutely passionate.

See you next Friday!
Joe and Laura

Painting: 'The Binding Of Isaac (The Akedah)' 2002 by Alan Falk