Philosopher A.C. Grayling may visit Haw Par Villa

British philosopher Anthony Clifford "A.C." Grayling.

British philosopher Anthony Clifford "A.C." Grayling does not believe in religion, but on his first visit here, he may well head off to scrutinise dioramas of the Chinese version of hell.

"I have not visited Singapore before, but my wife lived there as a child and is looking forward to showing me the scenes of her memories," Grayling, 64, writes in an e-mail interview ahead of his two appearances at the Singapore Writers Festival next month.

The father of four - two grown children from a previous marriage, plus a teenage stepson and daughter - is married to novelist Katie Hickman, 53, who lived in Singapore from 1969 to 1971.

She told The Straits Times in a 2008 interview that one of her most vivid memories is that of being terrified and thrilled by the "cave with the scenes from hell" at Haw Par Villa, where statues embody images from Chinese folklore.

Grayling is well known for his philosophy of secular humanism and opposition to organised religion.

His first public appearance here, on Nov 2, will be for a lecture titled A Good Life In A Bad World?, billed as "an illuminating lecture on how we live, how we treat one another, and our interactions with the world at large".

Later that evening, he hosts an already sold-out dinner, part of the Singapore Writers Festival's annual Eat Your Words series, where readers and writers share food and food for thought.

Dinner guests are assured of a treat, judging by Grayling's description of a typical meal at home. "We have lively conversations about everything under the sun. My wife is a writer, the children are clever and highly individual. There is no end to the surprising, funny, serious, philosophical and sometimes zany topics that arise," he writes.

He published two books with Bloomsbury this year typical of his engaging and argumentative style.

The God Argument presents arguments for and against the existence of religion. The Good Book unites moral teachings from various religious and philosophical schools of thoughts, and is provocatively subtitled "A Humanist Bible".

"The Good Book took me more than 30 years to make. Many of the things I've written about in other books were sparked off by what I learnt in that process," he says.

He is the author of 13 scholarly works on philosophy and 21 more general works. He studied at the University of Sussex and Oxford University and taught philosophy at Birkbeck College from 1991 to 2011.

That year he founded an independent university, the New College Of The Humanities in London. The star-studded faculty includes famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Asked about current enrolment, he gives no details, but says: "The college is flourishing wonderfully. It is very exciting to be creating a new, different and innovative higher education institution with gifted students who love their studies."

He was one himself. Brought up in an expatriate family in Zambia, Africa, his interest in philosophy began at age 12 when he found the complete works of Plato in the local library.

After devouring those in his pre- teens, he went on to other heavyweights including G.H. Lewes' The Biographical History Of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell's The Problems Of Philosophy, J.S. Mill's On Liberty and Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, all of which he recommends to novices interested in philosophy.

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