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News: November/December 2014

Be A Stoic For A Week! • DesAutels is Woman Philosopher of 2014 • Brian Leiter Steps Down — News reports by Sue Roberts

Stoic Week 2014

Stoicism was one of the longest-lasting and most popular schools of ancient Greek philosophy. Founded in Athens around 300 BCE by Zeno of Citium, it was influential for many centuries. Its adherents ranged from a Roman Emperor (Marcus Aurelius) to slaves like Epictetus. Stoics developed a complex, interrelated set of theories on logic, physics, cosmology, knowledge and ethics. The core of Stoicism, though, was its call for us to identify with the impartial, inevitable unfolding of the universe and to strive for a calm acceptance of misfortunes. (See Bill Stott’s cartoon.)

A group of latter-day adherents of Stoicism has invited people to ‘try out’ living like a Stoic for a week from 24 to 30 November 2014. The scholars and psychotherapists grouped around the website Stoicism Today aim to revive the philosophy of Stoicism and show how it is relevant to life in the modern world. They say that you can live like a Stoic for a week by following the instructions in their online handbook. The group sprang out of a conference on Stoicism held at the University of Exeter in 2012. For more info see: blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday.

The Digital Dead

When somebody dies, what becomes of their Facebook page? A conference was held at Deakin University in Melbourne on 7th November to discuss how the internet is changing the ways “in which the dead figure in the lives of the living.” Papers covered subjects such as ‘The Ontological Status of the Digital Dead’, ‘Do We Have a Duty Not to Delete the Dead?’ and ‘Memorials, Commemorative Practices and Digital Games’.

Born to be Glum

Most British and American people are genetically programmed to be less cheerful than, say, the Danes. So claims Professor Andrew Oswald, an economist at Warwick University, who says the difference is caused partly by the gene which regulates the brain neurotransmitter serotonin. The gene comes in long or short forms, and the short form creates a lack of serotonin which can lead to depression. Those born in Britain and the USA tend to have inherited the short form of the gene which is why, despite strong economies and stable governments, they end up low on happiness rating tables. By contrast Denmark and the Netherlands have the lowest proportion in the world of people with the short form of the gene. Professor Oswald, an expert in the factors that contribute to happiness, carried out a study in 131 countries for the Economic and Social Research Council’s 12th annual Festival of Social Sciences. (For more visit esrc.ac.uk.)

Born to be Brainy

A study by the University of Aberdeen and NHS Grampian has found that children who grew up between 1939 and 1945 became far more intelligent than those born just 15 years earlier. Researchers think that cutting rich, sugary and fatty foods during the years of austerity had a beneficial effect on their growing brains. Lead researcher Dr Roger Staff said “Although food was not appetising during their formative years it was nutritious. In addition, postwar political changes such as the introduction of the welfare state and greater emphasis on education ensured better health and opportunities. Finally in their thirties and forties the 1936 group experienced the [North Sea] oil boom which brought them prosperity. Taken together, good nutrition, education and occupational opportunities have resulted in this lifelong improvement in their intelligence.” The university examined two groups of people raised in Aberdeen; one born in 1921 and one born in 1936. Results were published in the journal Intelligence.

Fighter Leiter Says Bye Bye t’PGR

Prof. Brian Leiter has announced that he is to step down from the editorship of the Philosophical Gourmet Report, the widely-consulted ranking of philosophy PhD programmes that he started as a graduate student back in 1989. Based on hundreds of questionnaire submissions by academics, the PGR identifies and ranks the 50 best PhD programs in the USA, the top 15 in the UK and the top five each in Canada and Australasia. The reports have proved invaluable reading for prospective graduate students and for academics. The exercise was never likely to be a route to universal popularity for Leiter, but his detractors have been multiplied by the feisty – some said abrasive or even intimidatory – style of his emails to those he perceived as critics. Consequently, in September an open letter was signed by over 620 academics saying they would not volunteer assistance to the PGR while Leiter remained in charge. Therefore Professor Berit Brogaard of the University of Miami will co-edit the PGR’s 2014/5 edition alongside Leiter, after which she will become sole editor and Leiter will join the project’s Advisory Board.

Woman Philosopher of Year

Peggy DesAutels
Peggy DesAutels

The Society for Women in Philosophy has named Peggy DesAutels as its Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the Year for 2014. DesAutels, who is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton in Ohio, has published several books on moral psychology and feminist ethics and her wide interests also include philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

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