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News: April/May 2015

Irving Singer dies • Heidegger notebooks shock • Old skull prompts philosophical questions — News reports by Sue Roberts and Anja Steinbauer

The Road To Riches After All?

Planning to go to university and looking for a degree that is interesting and intellectually challenging but will also give you the chance to earn a decent living after graduation? Then philosophy could be for you. No, really, no kidding. Research by websites Payscale.com, Bankrate.com and TheRichest.com suggests that although degrees such as engineering and medicine are still front runners when it comes to the chances of high salaries, some humanities degrees are not far behind. Surprisingly but deservingly, philosophy tops this list! Graduates with philosophy degrees have “higher earnings potential than many other arts and humanities-related fields,” according to TheRichest. Payscale states that mid-career median salaries for philosophy graduates are around $84,000.

Heidegger Society Chair Resigns

Martin Heidegger in 1960
Landesarchiv Baden-Württenberg

We all know that philosopher Martin Heidegger had Nazi leanings, that he hoped that Hitler’s regime would advance him in his career ambitions and that he didn’t lift a finger to protect Jewish friends and colleagues, including his mentor Edmund Husserl. Cold calculation, political naïveté, external pressure – what motivated him to act the way he did? How deeply was he involved? Documentary evidence of his Nazi interests is available, such as his infamous 1933 speech on beginning his post as Rector of Freiburg University and his famous interview in Der Spiegel of 1966. What has so far not been available is more detailed information about when he first became involved with National Socialism and how sincerely he believed in the ideology, especially its ugliest expressions such as anti-Semitism. The recent publication of his Black Notebooks has revealed that anti-Semitism was much more central to Heidegger’s thinking than had been previously assumed. In January, prominent philosopher Günter Figal said that the content had left him “surprised, horrified, shocked”, prompting him to resign as chair of the Martin Heidegger Society. Deputy chair Donatella Di Cesare called Figal’s resignation “an unphilosophical gesture.” The bulk of Heidegger’s notes remain under the control of his family and have not been made available to research.

What is a Human Being?

Studies on a fossil lower jaw with teeth, found at Ledi-Geraru in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 2013 have shed new light on the history of human evolution. Natural History Museum’s human origins expert Chris Stringer says it now looks possible that there could already have been three early Homo lineages in East Africa by 1.8 million years ago: habilis, rudolfensis and erectus. He explains that the study of human beginnings put the very question of what it is to be human is a stake: “Are we defined by our small jaws and teeth, our large brain, our long legs, habitual tool-making and meat-eating, or some combination of these or other traits? If we require the combined presence of several traits to recognise a fossil as Homo, many of these specimens are simply too incomplete to make a confident diagnosis, and that is true overall until we arrive at the more complete remains and behavioural evidence of Homo erectus.”

The Meaning of ‘Terrorism’

Two men in their twenties who were convicted of releasing mink and foxes from fur farms in the US Midwest and have already served sentences are set to appear before the district court in Chicago for possible further sentencing under the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). The AETA makes it illegal to engage in conduct “for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.” The two animal rights activists will argue that the AETA is a misapplication of the concept of “terrorism”, and should be deemed anti-constitutional. One of the defendants expresses how the damage of private property should not be regarded as an act of terrorism: “When we think of terrorism, we think of violence being committed against individuals.” He further comments that applying the term to acts of protest which is “an affront to the meaning of what violence really is, and a slap in the face to a public that sadly knows what terrorism actually looks like.”

Irving Singer

“Everyone in my family persuaded me that I ought to be more loving, which troubled me. So like most philosophers, I dealt with the criticism by constructing a theory and a philosophy which enabled me to dismiss their ideas.” So joked Prof Irving Singer of MIT, possibly the world’s most influential modern philosopher on the nature of love, who died on February 1 aged 89. Singer’s active academic career spanned 65 years, in which he wrote 21 books covering topics as diverse as the philosophy of love, the nature of creativity, aesthetics, moral philosophy, as well as philosophy in literature, music, and film. Honouring his distinctive academic contribution, Professor Richard Holton, head of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT called Singer “a representative of a kind of philosophy that gets short shrift in many analytic departments: one that is as happy talking about love, or film, or opera as it is talking about mathematics or experimental psychology or quantum mechanics.”

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