#FREEBRITNEY and the Philosophy of Psychiatry: What questions does it raise?

In 2008, after a series of public mental breakdowns, Britney Spears was placed into a conservatorship. This conservatorship prevented Spears from making any of her own decisions, from whether she could get married to how often she could see her children. Over a decade later, it has come to the public’s attention through the #FREEBRITNEY movement that this conservatorship is abusive. Conservatorships are reserved for those who have significant limited cognitive capacity. However, clearly Spears does not come under this description, as she still able to work. The high profile court case around the removal of Jamie Spears’ from the conservatorship has brought public awareness to issues within the philosophy of psychiatry that are not normally considered by the public.

‘Women have traditionally been forced to submit to men within societal structure.’

The most prominent problem that has arisen from the case is sexism. Women have traditionally been forced to submit to men within societal structure. Woman experience most sexism within medicine and the music industry. When seeking help for their ailments, women are often dismissed as doctors believe they are overexaggerating. Mental illness has also often been used as a tool to enforce certain behaviors in women rather than as a tool to help them. In the music industry, women have often been exposed to sexual harassment and have struggled with a harsher critique from media. Part of these criticisms often involve the fact the star is a women and calls into question their mental illness.

‘A more complex understanding of sexism and societal structure is needed.’

The pressing question around sexism is whether Britney would have been placed within a conservatorship if she was a Brian instead. Individuals have argued that this is a clear instance of sexism by drawing comparisons to Kayne West. West has experienced mental health problems yet there has been little intervention. However, It should be noted that there are other female stars who have had high profile mental health problems (Miley Cyrus) and have not been placed within conservatorships. Others thus suggest the complexity of Spears’ conservatorship may not be reducible to an instance of sexism. However, it can be, but a more complex understanding of sexism and societal structure is needed.

There are questions over the ethicalness of a conservatorship. Initially, conservatorships were introduced in order to protect those who had limited cognitive capacity. For instance, those with severe dementia. There have been instances where vulnerable people have been persuaded to marry individuals they do not know and the individual runs off with all of the money. Conservatorships prevent this by having a conservator who has to approve such decisions.

‘Some individuals argue that conservatorships should not be used due to the abuse that can arise from them. ‘

However, for some, conservatorships have no place. The evidence they provide for this is the ability to abuse the system, which is evident in the case of Spears. The reason for the attention around the case is the controversy of how Spears’ father, Jamie Spears’, has been running it. He is accused of using Britney as a ‘cash cow’, where he forces her to work but is the primary beneficiary of the money earnt by being the conservator of the Britney’s estate. Britney has not been able to challenge this arrangement due to the idea that she is not mentally stable enough to make her own decisions. She has no right to access legal representation nor have a choice about whether her father should remain in charge of the estate. Thus, her father has managed to get away with stealing Britney’s money via this inappropriately placed conservatorship. While the most popular example, Spears cannot be the only example of an individual being trapped for the benefits of others through the use of a conservatorship. Hence, some individuals argue that conservatorships should not be used due to the abuse that can arise from them.

‘The price of ignoring an individual’s suffering is worse.’

Some anti-psychiatrists have used similar examples to argue that mental illnesses do not exist. This can vary from claiming that mental illness is dependent on values only, to arguing that mental illness and physical illness do not depend in the same paradigm to mental illness being reducible to a reference to the same struggle inherent within life that everyone experiences. However, this is a difficult stance to maintain. A broken system does not necessarily mean that the problem it is trying to fix isn’t real. Further, for some, to challenge the existence of mental illness does even more harm than the abuse that arises from acknowledging its existence. The price of ignoring an individuals suffering is worse.

Book Club: The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails Chapter Two *Spoilers*

If you would like to read along with us, you can purchase a copy of The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails from here.

The second chapter of the book takes us to the university town of Freiburg in Germany, which Emmanuel Levinas (a student of Husserl) dubbed the ‘City of Phenomenology.’ It focuses on the meticulous Husserl, who took up a teaching position at the university and developed a group of students to research into phenomenology. While not all Existentialists were Phenomenologists, Husserl and his development of phenomenology was a foundation for the Existentialists to grow from.

In essence, phenomenology is attempting to describing the objects in our awareness. Husserl used to use the example of coffee: imagine we are perceiving a cup of coffee and are asked to describe the nature of the coffee. The coffee cannot be defined by facts about coffee. Nor can it be defined from our past experiences of coffee. Neither of these would be able to describe the particular coffee within our perception. If we remove these aspects from the cup of coffee, then we are looking directly at the being of the cup of coffee. This allows us to skip over the question of whether an object ‘exists.’ We do not need to know whether the object we are viewing exists beyond our mind. In fact, as Bakewell points out, Husserl changed his mind on this. The only thing that matters is describing what appears in our conscience.

This has philosophical implications for how we study the mind. Husserl and those who succeeded him focused on the intentionality of the mind. If we stopped thinking about other things, we would have ceased to exist. If we try and not think about anything, our mind immediately races to other things, such as how our partner is doing or what we are going to have for lunch. The mind must always be referring to something else. Thus, for Husserl, intentionality is a key part of the mind. This inspired Sartre and was emphasised within his own philosophy.

Part of the joys of this book is how Bakewell presents a version of philosophy that is not often viewed by the public. Bakewell highlights the points of Husserl’s life where he did not follow a path approved by modern day society. When Husserl was in university, he would fall asleep in classes that were not maths. Before he took up the post of a paid university lecture, he did many years of work with the university unpaid and tried to make end’s meet through freelance work. Today’s society has a set idea of how to be ‘successful.’ If you don’t go on to university and then onto a stable job, you have failed. If you don’t continuously work hard, then you won’t get anywhere in life. However, the truth is there are many stumbles along the way and alternative paths to take. Husserl did not even start by studying philosophy. Yet, he became one of the world’s greatest philosophers. The fact that Bakewell highlights these facts is refreshing and, for those reading this in the pandemic, a much needed truth to hear.

Bakewell’s explanation of the philosophy within this section is excellent. She begins by focusing on a quote Husserl would say in the morning when a student would bring him a cup of coffee:

Give me my coffee so that I can make phenomenology out of it.


She then proceeds to expand on this statement, using the cup of coffee to explain the entire idea behind phenomenology. It’s an excellent approach to take, making the philosophy easily understandable but also engaging. It makes philosophy relevant and highlights how philosophy is constantly around us. This fights the view that philosophy is outdated and something to only be found in dusty books.

Overall, an excellent chapter. A bit short for my liking, but the quality is high.

If you would like to read along with us, you can purchase a copy of The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails from here.

Book Club: At The Existentialist Café By Sarah Bakewell Chapter One *Spoilers*

If you would like to purchase a copy of The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails to read along with us, you can find a copy here.


On the first day out with a few friends to Winchester after the lockdown, it rained. Excellent. With all of us loving books, we decided to hide within a Waterstones until the weather had passed. We were approached by the book keeper, who was clearly deeply passionate about his job and began a discussion with me about the books within the philosophy section. There, a white book caught my eye with the title, At the Existentialist Café; Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. I had no clue that such a thing as apricot cocktails existed, so I purchased the book.

The author of the book, Sarah Bakewell, is a lecturer in Creative Writing at the university of Oxford, with other works, such as How to Live A Life: The Life of Montagne. She has had a fascination with philosophy, particularly the existentialists, since a young age but has rejected studying it in a formal setting. Part of the reasoning for this choice is founded from the Existentialists (the topic of the book) who focused partially on phenomenology and what it means to be alive. Overall, her approach to philosophy is unique and is reflected by this book.

The premise for the book is centred around a meeting between John-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Raymond Aron at the Bec-de-Gaz bar in Paris in 1932. This is identified by Bakewell as a pinnacle point within the existentialist movement. She claims that it is the key moment where Sartre began to establish himself as one of the most influential philosophers of his time and as the founder of Existentialism. He proceeded to go on to travel the country, filling lecture theatres and halls with all those who wanted to listen to his philosophy. All of this motivation arose through Aron’s use of an apricot cocktail as a metaphor to illustrate ideas around being. It creates an intriguing basis for an exploration of Existentialism and the key figures within it.

The introduction of the book is lively, making you feel that you are thrown into the streets of Paris and the cafes that these philosophers would regularly frequent. It makes you engage with the strong philosophical tradition that can be traced back to Socrates of discussing pressing philosophical questions in public settings. This feeling illustrates perfectly the strengths of Bakewell’s untraditional approach to philosophy; she does not merely cover the facts but absorbs into an animated world that she is creating. Not only can you feel the philosophy culture of the time, but it gives a feeling of excitement and anticipation and that something exciting is about to happen. It is the perfect writing style for an introduction that motivates you to read the rest of the book. However, the most impressive thing is it matches the style of the existentialists. You get the feeling on being on the edge of what it is to be alive and a sense of the ‘Rock and Roll lifestyle’ that Sartre and Beauvoir led. Bakewell’s approach not only serves as an opening to make you read more, but also to emphasise the message of the existentialism. It is nothing short of genius.

My favourite part of the introduction is the examination of why existentialism became so prominent within culture. Sartre became the equivalent of today’s celebrities, selling out theatres and having to yell out over crowds in order to give his lectures. When compared to the image of philosophers today (old men with beards sat among dusty books) the fame of Sartre would be unrecognisable. However, Bakewell smoothly puts this popularity within the pressing context of the time. At the time of the development of Sartre’s writing, the world had seen two wars which had resulted in a suffering that the world had never seen before. Death was prominent throughout society, lingering around the corner, particularly for those who developed PTSD as a result. Such suffering left people questioning the existence of God. People wanted to abandon God as no loving God would have allowed the horrors of the wars. However, the Church had traditionally provided the guidance on how people should live. It created a new society with a vacuum in the middle. However, Sartre’s philosophy provided a new way of living and coping in a world that saw tragedy. Existentialism provided promising grounds for finding a way to cope with the belief that there was no God.

This part of the introduction makes the book one that could have significant impact on our society. We too have experienced a horrific tragedy. The pandemic has taken the lives of many in the worst way possible. For some, they will no longer be able to believe in a loving God when faced with the natural evil that is persisting within society. Revisiting the philosophy of the Existentialists may provide answers for many who feel the same vacuum as those who lived through the horrors of the wars. Bakewell’s book, as a book that is accessible to those who have no foundation within philosophy, may be able to provide this guidance.

The introduction of this book is thus excellent. However, this does not mean it doesn’t present any problems. I would have liked to have received more information about Beauvoir throughout the introduction. She was an excellent philosopher in her own right and Bakewell acknowledges that Beauvoir played an important role in Sartre’s life, both philosophically and romantically; they corresponded every day to discuss the ideas that they had come across and had an open relationship where both were the other’s primary partner. However, she is portrayed throughout the introduction as mostly a love interest or a spectator to the greatness of Sartre. She was a great philosopher in her own right, and I feel Bakewell could have emphasised that point better. The book could have been used to help erode the mostly male canon but Beauvoir was sidelined. However, this issue may be dealt with at a later point within the book.

The most prevalent problem with the introduction is the organisation. It is 35 pages long compared to all the others which are 25 pages long. This directly challenges the fast-paced tempo that Bakewell was attempting to build. It also jumps back and forth between bibliography, context and philosophy. I feel this could have been sharpened and streamlined in order to provide a more dynamic chapter. The study of philosophy is partially about condensing things into their simplest form and making them clear. Bakewell could have done more to ensure this. For instance, at the end of the chapter she attempts to define existentialism. This is not needed. As Bakewell acknowledges herself, there is no one definition of existentialism or phenomenology that can be provided, despite Bakewell’s attempt. A rough definition can also be inferred from the chapter and there are many other chapters that can be used to build up the picture of existentialism. Thus, certain areas of the introduction, like the end section, could have been reduced to make it more streamline.

With that being said, however, the genius outweighs the lack of organisation. As someone who has not read any Existentialism, it makes it engaging and fun to read. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the book holds and whether Bakewell can keep the same passion throughout the book?

Comment below how you found the introduction of the book. Do you agree with us that the introduction was excellent? Or do you think we missed something in our review?

If you would like to purchase a copy of The Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails to read along with us, you can find a copy here.

Dr John Frame: The Parable of the Invisible Gardener Part 3

Things to know:

– Falsification (in Flew’s case) is the idea that a proposition or statement is meaningful only if there is a method that could falsify the statement. The statement doesn’t need to be false, but there must be a hypothetical situation in which the statement could be proved false. For instance, ‘the cat is on the mat’ can be falsified by the cat not being on the mat. In contrast ‘sky blue rich tea’ has no method of falsification because it is nonsense.
– Verification is the idea that a proposition or statement is only meaningful if there is a method that could verify the statement. For instance, you can verify ‘the cat is on the mat’ by seeing that the cat is on the mat.
– For a proposition to be meaningful for Flew and Frame, it has to make a difference to our lives. For instance, if we hold the proposition that ‘the cat is on the mat,’ we act differently than if the cat wasn’t on the mat. Flew identifies this difference via falsification.
– Flew maintains that religious language is meaningless because it cannot be falsified. It makes no difference.

Who is John Frame?

Born in 1939, Dr. John Frame is a professor of systemic theology at RTS Orlando. In 1974, he published a paper called ‘God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence’ in John Montgomery’s God’s Inerrant Word. In it, he challenged Flew’s assertion that religious language is meaningless because a belief in God makes no difference to a religious believers life. Instead, he argues that religious language is meaningful despite their resistance to falsification. They are convictions which underpin how we view the world.

What do Flew and Frame agree on?

Frame and Flew agree that there are some odd characteristics to religious language which make its propositions unique. Frame believes that these do rightly make them resistant to falsification:

-In ordinary language, we only suggest a probability. When we say the cat is on the mat, we can accept that there may be a chance that the cat is not on the mat. We could be hallucinating, or maybe it was a dog. In contrast, religious language conveys a sense of certainty. When it is claimed that God exists, the person doesn’t believe that there’s a possibility that he may not. They are certain he does exist.
-Religious language is tightly connected to morality. In some cases, when a person states they believe in God, this leads to beliefs in how a person should act. For instance, believing in God may lead to believing that sex before marriage is wrong.

Why does morality lead to Frame challenging Flew?

Because religious statements are connected to morality and hence to a change in behavior, it cannot be argued that religious language makes no difference. A person may not steal only because of their belief in God. If they didn’t believe in God, they would steal. This is therefore a change directly linked to religious language. It disproves Flew’s claim that religious language makes no difference and is meaningless. In fact, it makes religious language verifiable.

What is the problem with Frame holding that religious language is verifiable but resists falsification?

These two acknowledgements seem to be in contradiction. On the one hand, Frame acknowledges that religious language can be verified due to it changing people’s behavior. However, he agrees with Flew that religious language resists falsification. These seem to be two contradictory positions. How can they be resolved?

What does John Frame argue religious propositions are?

Religious propositions are convictions or basic commitments. This in fact makes religious language ordinary as convictions occur throughout all language. Everyone has convictions. These are used to interpret the world. For instance, most people have a commitment that there is an external world or that killing in cold blood is wrong. There is no evidence that can be presented that would change these commitments. They are unfalsifiable. This makes religious language appear less odd.

How does Frame use the idea of convictions to resolve the apparent contradiction?

Frame explains that the reason for the apparent contradiction is that the arguments which verify our convictions are circular. There is evidence that supports our conviction. The misery and sorrow of those who have lost a loved one through homicide will use this as evidence that killing in cold-blood is wrong. However, the reason why this evidence is compelling to us is because we have a basic commitment that means this evidence has weight. If we had a commitment that killing is ok because it gave us what we want, then the sorrow of a family wouldn’t hold any weight. The evidence of us receiving money for someone else’s death would be far more compelling.

How does Frame apply his argument to the Parable of the Invisible Gardener?

John Frame adapts the story of the Invisible Gardener as follows:

Two explorers walk though a jungle and come across a clearing. A man is working there, claiming that he is the royal gardener. One of the men says this can’t be as it goes against all his findings. The two explorers camp in the clearing. Every day the man comes and tends the garden. Several other people come to the clearing and say that the man is indeed the gardener. However, the man still refuses to acknowledge that the man is a gardener. His fellow explorer asks him, “What is the difference between this gardener and an actual gardener?” 

‘God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence’ John Frame

How does Frame use the adapted Parable of the Invisible Gardener to argue against Flew?

Frame illustrates that Flew has a basic conviction as well: that God does not exist. To him, the evidence of the religious believer is not compelling because of this basic conviction. However, it also goes the other way. The evidence for Flew’s non-belief isn’t compelling to the religious believer because of their commitment to their belief in God. Therefore, Flew cannot conclude that religious language can be demonstrated to be meaningless and makes no difference.

Revision Questions:

  1. What do Frame and Flew agree on?
  2. Why does morality lead to disagreement between the two?
  3. What is Frame’s attitude to the falsification and verification of religious language?
  4. Why may Frame’s position appear contradictory?
  5. How does Frame resolve this contradiction?
  6. What does Frame believe religious propositions to be?
  7. How does Frame change the Parable of the Invisible Gardener?
  8. How does he use the new parable to criticise Flew?

Further Thought

  1. Do you agree that the link between religious language and morality makes religious language a) meaningful b) verifiable?
  2. Do you think religious language is ordinary or odd?
  3. Do you think Frame successfully deals with the contradiction effectively?
  4. Can circular arguments be justified within philosophy? Or are they always a sign of bad reasoning?
  5. Do you think Frame is successful in challenging Flew?
  6. Can Flew’s argument be justified through more than just circular reasoning. Is there something Frame has missed?
  7. Are there any consequences of Frame’s argument that make you uncomfortable?

Help us keep philosophy accessible for all.

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Thank you! Because of this, we can continue publishing our absurd philosophy.



Dr. John M. Frame | Reformed Theological Seminary (rts.edu)


Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Joy of Not Knowing: A 4 Star Review

~Includes affiliate links~

Education today is incredibly problematic. In a statistically driven system, the focus of schools is no longer on learning but on training children to pass exams. This is done through mindless repetition and most lessons being structured like a test. Most schools are desperately trying to improve their standings in leader boards due to receiving inadequate funding. However, it has put significant strain on members of staff, teachers and children. With mental health services drastically underfunded, it has led to a crisis; the World Health Organisation found that 10-20% of children have mental health conditions. This is not ok and something needs to change.

Marcelo Staricoff (former headteacher and now a school tutor in education at the University of Sussex) in his book The Joy Of Not Knowing puts forward a fantastic solution to these problems. From the ‘Flying High’ research project, he developed an innovative new method of teaching based on philosophy. The book aims to provide a guide for primary teachers on how to further their students’ learning.  He gave me a free copy of his book to review.

Staricoff identifies that learning can only occur when a child doesn’t know something. Because of this, his book focuses on how to get children to be comfortable with handling the unknown (hence the title of the book, the Joy of Not Knowing™ or JONK™). He sees learning as a pit, where children come to terms with the fact they won’t always know the answer to a question. It is then the job of the teacher to provide the child with the methods on how to get to the correct answer, not to provide it for them.

This aim is superb and can have significant impact on a child’s mental health. Instead of framing the child’s lack of knowledge as a failing, it becomes a challenge. The child becomes curious about the topic and explores it. This leads to a richer understanding than if the child was merely looking for an answer. Furthermore, it better prepares children for when they leave education. It is an important aim of Staricoff’s to instil dispositions within children that make them lifetime learners. If using this approach, school no longer becomes a memorising task. It becomes a foundation for children that can be applied to whatever challenges they face.

The genius of this book lies in the recognition of the role that philosophy can play in the education of children. Most people see it today as irrelevant to their lives (ironic, as philosophy is the study of living.) However, Staricoff demonstrates why philosophy is the most vital subject a child could learn. As acknowledged previously, the point of the book is to make children comfortable with the concept of not knowing. This is key to philosophical discourse as philosophy is about tackling questions we may never know the answer to. However, it develops a deeper understanding of the world around us. Hence, using philosophy as an example of how to learn can lead to the better understanding of other subjects.

Furthermore, he notes the important role philosophy plays in motivating children to learn a subject. While teaching the children a maths lesson, Staricoff changed the learning objective from ‘Can we know the properties of 2D shapes? to the Philosophical question of ‘Do 2-D shapes exist?’ He noticed a significant increase in interest from the children. With the greater interest, the children developed a richer knowledge of the subject. In a small gesture, Staricoff highlighted the real difference philosophy can make.

The greatest complaint heard about philosophy is that it cannot be practically implemented. Staricoff demonstrates that this is not the case by providing practical activities of how such a stance can be implemented in the classroom. This can be demonstrated in my favourite part of the book – the philosophy chapter (no surprises here). I could not stop smiling while reading the Why Books’. One of the children at the Infant School where Staricoff was the Headteacher at, asked Staricoff if they could have special books to write down the philosophical questions they came up with after their philosophy lessons. The idea took off in the school. They would take their books home to discuss it with parents and jot down their conclusions. At the start of the school day they would jot down the ideas that came into their heads. To know how motivated children were by their why books and their philosophy lessons fills me with joy and is a clear example of Staricoff’s cleverness with his practical implementation of philosophy.   

There was only one thing that I didn’t like within the book and that was the discussion questions. These are aimed at teachers in to make them discuss how they can implement the JONK system within their teaching. I felt that these overstepped the line of a handbook and went more into the teacher training aspect. I feel it is better to keep these separate to the book but maybe offer training courses alongside the book if teachers were seeking more help within its implementation.

Something I would like Staricoff to consider in the future would be to include what aspects of the project proved challenging. This book prescribes drastic changes to the school environment. While these are definitely for the better, it cannot have implemented without a hiccup. It would have been nice for the book to discuss these challenges as an example for teachers who would have been facing their own challenges.

Help us keep philosophy accessible to all.

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Thank you! Because of you, we can keep producing our quality, absurd philosophy.

%d bloggers like this: