Paul Sagar was born in 1986 and raised in Southport, near Liverpool. At 18 he went to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford. He then spent a year not being able to do unpaid internships in journalism, eventually working for an MP instead. Returning to academia, Paul has just finished an intercollegiate MA in Intellectual History and the History of Political Thought at the University of London. He is about to begin a PhD at the University of Cambridge on the moral and political philosophy of David Hume. He blogs at Bad Conscience.
Why do you blog? > Partly ego, but partly intellectual restlessness. I get bored, and blogging keeps me sharp.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Whenever younger readers email me with something like 'I'm really interested in the political philosophy you write about – what should I read to learn more?' and I reply to them with a bunch of recommendations.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > An ill-considered attack on the Conservative Party for the Guardian CiF blog. I got mauled (sort of justifiably). I'm stronger and wiser for it now, though.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Keep it short and sweet. The internet is littered with long-winded, self-involved, navel-gazing rubbish. If you've got something to say do it in 600 words. If you've got nothing to say resist the temptation to post filler, or else yours will be yet another boring junk-blog. (I frequently fail to follow my own advice).
Who are your intellectual heroes? > David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, Bernard Williams.
What are you reading at the moment? > John Rawls's Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, Cain and Hopkins's British Imperialism 1914-1990: Crisis and Deconstruction.
Who are your cultural heroes? > I grew up involved in the DIY punk and hardcore scene. The point was to be our own cultural heroes (we failed). More generally, I don't see how anyone under 25 can have cultural heroes: my generation only has media puppets and made-to-order 'rock stars' owned by Disney.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Probably American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
What is your favourite movie? > Blade Runner. And here's why.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > Before I went to University I was a moral realist. Then I read Hume, then Bernard Williams and Simon Blackburn. There was no going back.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > That freedom is not simply and straightforwardly the absence of interference, and connectedly that all choices are not equal simply because not subject to direct coercion. The opposite (ultimately Hobbesian) idea now underpins an awful lot of manipulative politics which places the blame for the sufferings of minority groups on the sufferers themselves – women, in particular, are victims of this. (Example.)
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > American right-wing libertarianism and the Austrian/Hayekian predecessors/variants.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, because 'reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions'. Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality runs a close second.
Who are your political heroes? > Only one: John Pugh, MP for Southport. I used to work for him. The man is a paragon of hard-grafting, conscientious decency. He goes far beyond the call of duty, fights for the people he's been elected to serve, and frequently takes the personal hit accordingly.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > The rapid depletion of essential resources, especially oil, and the threat of runaway climate change putting agricultural land at a premium, with the resulting resource-pressures pitting over-populated nation-states against each other or against themselves.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > It depends on how serious and out-of control climate change turns out to be, and how rapidly we can mitigate its worst effects.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Life is fiendishly, immensely, mind-bogglingly complicated. Yet therein lies the beauty of human experience, coming with guaranteed opportunities for unlimited exploration. And because the world is so immensely complicated, you can be sure that libertarians and conservatives are almost always wrong about almost everything.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Absolutely not.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > An ability to be patient, sympathetic and understanding, combined with a recognition that sometimes people still need to be told to shut up.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Wilful intellectual laziness and/or deliberate ignorance.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > Very few. To save life, definitely. But few others.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > I sometimes find the French extremely annoying in public situations. I'm allowed to say that because my mum is French.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Twitter. Watching television. Praying to a God who quite clearly either doesn't exist or doesn't care.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I would hold my tongue on many of the occasions I insisted on telling people what I thought was the truth, even though it would have hurt nobody to stay quiet. I'd now have more friends, and far fewer enemies.
What talent would you most like to have? > To be able to play the guitar well. But I can't, and it's my own fault because I don't practise.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Chris Morris.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > That my girlfriend Beth can do her Masters degree next year, then get a job working for an organization that helps others; a job that makes her happier than the horrible corporate one she's having to work now because she needs the money.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would be able to buy as many books as I want, without having to eat beans on toast every night to justify the ridiculous sums I have parted with that week.
What animal would you most like to be? > A house cat. Then the amount of time I spend sleeping would at least be normal.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]