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News: December 2018 / January 2019

Berggruen Prize given to Martha Nussbaum • Confusion over approval of dog experiments • Roger Scruton to chair housing design body — News reports by Anja Steinbauer

Nussbaum Wins Berggruen Prize

Martha Nussbaum

The 2018 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture has been awarded to philosopher Martha Nussbaum. Nussbaum, whose approach is inspired by her background in classical Greek philosophy, is widely known for her work on the emotions, on ethics and aspects of political philosophy. Her development of the ‘capabilities approach’ as a conceptual alternative to other models of human well-being in economics has been influential and much debated. She is a prolific writer, author of 25 books and over 500 articles. The 2018 Berggruen Prize decision marks the second year in a row that the prize, which has only existed for three years, has been awarded to a woman. Onora O’Neill, last year’s recipient, is a famous moral philosopher who has made important contributions to the philosophical discussion of ‘trust’, and who has served as chair of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Joel Kraemer dies

Joel Kraemer died on 11 October 2018. He was the John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic and Jewish philosophy at the University of Chicago, and also held appointments at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yale University and Tel Aviv University in Israel. He was a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research. As you will have gathered, he was a prominent scholar of Islamic and Jewish philosophy. Kraemer was famous for his work on the cultural transmission of classical Greek ideas to the Islamic world. He is best known for his biography of the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides.

Scrutonising Design of Homes?

The British Government has appointed an official commission to raise the debate about the importance of beauty and good design in new housing development. According to a press release, the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is intended to “tackle the challenge of poor quality design and build of homes and places.” It will suggest policy solutions so that new developments meet the needs and expectations of members of the community, to “help grow a sense of community and place, not undermine it”.

It will be chaired by conservative philosopher Professor Sir Roger Scruton, known for his writings on innumerable philosophical issues, especially aesthetics, ethics and the philosophy of Kant. He is also a defender of traditional architecture and a critic of some contemporary styles in architecture, such as those of Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid. Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said Scruton was uniquely qualified because he was a world-leading authority on aesthetics, but opposition MPs swiftly called for Scruton’s dismissal because of past remarks about sexuality, religion and other matters.

Vets Dept Resumes Vivisection

Vivisection, or medical experimentation on live animals, remains a crucial issue in applied ethics with important real life relevance. A spokesman for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced that former VA Secretary David Shulkin gave verbal approval for restarting experiments on dogs, on the very day he was fired by Donald Trump in March. Shulkin himself denies having done so. The department argues that the testing was approved because it will help doctors find new ways to treat wounded soldiers. Researchers running the experiments will remove sections of the dogs’ brains that control breathing, sever spinal cords to test cough reflexes and implant pacemakers before triggering abnormal heart rhythms. Critics in Congress and animal welfare campaigners argue that the experiments are cruel and unnecessary.

New Research on Moral Identities

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In new research at Northwestern University Professor Touré-Tillery, whose research is at the intersection of motivation and self-perception, has identified a crucial issue in moral behaviour. The research was reported in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. As people perceive themselves differently in the different roles they fulfil in their lives, e.g. a parent, a manager, a friend etc., these self images make a difference to their moral choices. “We all have different identities that we label ourselves with,” Touré-Tillery says. “What we were looking at in our study is not so much what those labels are or how many there are, but whether people think of themselves the same way across those identities.” The researchers found that people who perceive their personalities as constant across their roles are more likely to behave ethically than those who think of themselves as different in each role. Being moral matters more to this first group because if they behave immorally, it affects how they see themselves in general, Touré-Tillery explains. Wanting to avoid that negative self-image can motivate people to behave better.

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