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News: June/July 2018

Giant Karl Marx Bestrides Trier • Derek Parfit’s Photography Exhibition Opens • Bertrand Russell Prison Letters Project — News reports by Anja Steinbauer and Tim Beardmore-Gray

Happy Birthday: Marx Turns 200

Karl Marx was born 200 years ago, on May 5, 1818, in the German city of Trier, a major centre of power both of the Roman and of the Holy Roman empires, but at Marx’ time a part of Prussia. It is fair to say at the good people of Trier are conflicted about the city’s famous son. On the one hand, they are not shy about making the most of the commercial opportunities that this occasion affords: From plastic garden gnome Marxes to commemorative 0€ bank notes, all kinds of capitalist kitsch is available for Marx fans to celebrate their hero’s bicentenary. On the other hand, there have been both pro- and contra- Marx protests in the run-up to the festivities. A particular point of contention has to do less with Marx and more with China. The People’s Republic has donated a 5.5 m tall bronze statue of Marx – accessorised with a crimson cloth for the unveiling – which now beautifully but controversially adorns a space close to Trier’s most famous monument, the huge Roman city gate Porta Nigra.

The Philosopher as Photographer

Venice canal
Parfit’s Venice

There are some things you are quite likely to know about Derek Parfit (1942-2017): that he was a brilliant Oxford philosopher, that he wrote two hugely influential books, Reasons and Persons (1984) and On What Matters (2011), that his contributions changed the debates in the fields of personal identity and moral theory. What you may not know is that he was also an avid architectural photographer. For two decades he spent several weeks per year in St Petersburg and Venice devoting himself to his photography, an interest he pursued with the same meticulous dedication characteristic of his philosophising. He once remarked that he wanted “to take good photographs and write good philosophy, for their own sake.” If you happen to find yourself in London over the next month, here is your chance to see Parfit’s photographic work on exhibition: ‘The Mind’s Eye: the Photographs of Derek Parfit’ will run from May 11 to June 30, 2018 at Narrative Projects, 110 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6XR.

The Cost of Beauty

You don’t have to be a philosopher specialising in practical ethics to believe that it is wrong for lab animals to have to die for the sake of cosmetics companies blessing us with yet another body lotion or lipstick. Though many consumers feel that way, they may not be aware that in 80% of all countries it is still legal to test cosmetics on animals. The European Parliament has now called for a EU diplomatic initiative at the UN to work towards a worldwide ban on these practices by 2023. Within the EU the sale of cosmetics products that have been tested on animals has been prohibited since 2013.

Brixton Letters Project

In 1918 British philosopher Bertrand Russell was sentenced to six months in Brixton Prison for his anti-war activism. Over the next few months the Bertrand Russell Research Centre at McMaster University in Canada plans to publish all of Russell’s many prison letters online at http://russell-letters.mcmaster.ca – each one a hundred years to the day after it was written. Transcripts will appear alongside scans of the original letters and informative annotations. Russell apparently saw his incarceration as a great opportunity to get some work done. He wrote to his brother Frank on May 6, 1918: “Conditions here are good for philosophy… I shall cultivate my mind enormously.” His very first letter on arrival in prison – a blunt request to the Governor for certain privileges – reveals that Russell was soon paying rent for his own private cell. With recipients including the Home Secretary, the pacifist Gladys Rinder and his lover the actress Constance Malleson, the letters will no doubt shed light on the criminal pacifist’s personal life and anti-war politics. They may also provide insights into his philosophical process. He writes to Frank that he aims to write an Introduction to Modern Logic and make a start on Analysis of Mind once he has the correct materials. The last letter will appear on September 13, 2018, a day before the one hundredth anniversary of the philosopher’s unexpected early release.

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