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News: February/March 2020

Charred scrolls yield Philodemus’ notes • French philosophers debate their future • A ‘philosophical belief’ wins legal protection — News reports by Anja Steinbauer

Down Girl wins APA Book Prize

The American Philosophical Association awards a biannual book prize to the best published book written by a younger philosopher. It has just been announced that the 2019 prize goes to Kate Manne, associate professor of philosophy in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, for her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (see review in Issue 133). The book is a study of why even supposedly ‘postpatriarchial’ cultures, such as the US, struggle to truly leave misogyny behind. Manne, referred to by the Chronicle of Higher Education as the “Philosopher of #MeToo”, explained: “My dearest hope is that, whether or not readers agree with it, my book will help to improve the conversations we are having about misogyny, sexism and related social ills.”

MBE for Emma Worley

Emma Worley, co-founder of the The Philosophy Foundation with her husband Peter, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year honours list. The Philosophy Foundation trains philosophers to teach philosophy and Critical Thinking to children of all ages, in schools and beyond. Worley remarked: “I am of course proud to be honoured in this way, but it really is a reflection of the charity’s innovation and all the hard work of the philosophers who work with us every day, and those who have supported us over the years, from our Trustees, Patrons and funders to organisations such as Philosophy Now who have championed our work from the beginning.”

Veganism is ‘philosophical belief’

Ethical veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’ and consequently merits protection under UK law, a tribunal has ruled for the first time. A milestone legal case was brought by Jordi Casamitjana, who says he was fired by the League Against Cruel Sports because of his ethical veganism. His former employers disagree, claiming his veganism was irrelevant to his dismissal. However, the case was ground breaking in that it makes a determination about the status of veganism. The judge ruled that ethical vegans should be entitled to similar legal protections in British workplaces as those who hold religious beliefs. “Religion or belief” is one of nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act of 2010.

Judge Robin Postle decided that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the meaning of the Act because it satisfies several criteria, including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

The Archaeology of Knowledge

There once was a philosophy library in a villa in Herculaneum, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. This was a bad place to be when the famous eruption of that volcano nearly 2,000 years ago buried Herculaneum and Pompeii. Remains of ancient papyrus scrolls were found by those tunnelling down into the ruins in the 18th century. In 1795, scholars carefully unrolled some of the scrolls and glued them onto cardboard to preserve them. Papyrus scholar Graziano Ranocchia from the Italian National Research Council explains that the same processes that charred the scrolls also preserved them. “Unless Vesuvius erupted, they would never have survived,” he claims. One such scroll, charred and tattered, was a history of Plato’s Academy written by Philodemus, in Greek. It also had writing on the back, which then of course could not be read. Now scholars have deployed imaging technology to read the hidden side. It had been impossible to detach the papyrus fragments from the cardboard, Ranocchia said. “You see, this would destroy them. They are extremely frayed.” His research team used shortwave-infrared hyperspectral imaging to decipher the writing on the back.

Ranocchia said the huge spectrum range allowed them to penetrate the layers of the papyrus. “So with a huge penetration capacity, this is why we are able to read what our predecessors weren’t able to read through conventional multispectral imaging or infrared photography.” They found notes made by Philodemus himself during the compilation of the book. Kilian Fleischer, a classicist at the University of Würzburg, explains that they offer a unique insight into an ancient philosopher’s writing process. An unforeseen bonus was that more of the text on the front also became legible: “It was a bit like Columbus, who went out to find India but at the very end he ended up in America. We wanted to make the back visible but the front of the papyrus is displayed much better.”

The Future of French Philosophy

An ambitious conference is being held in Paris, bringing together dozens of philosophers to discuss the future direction of French philosophy. Appropriately titled Où va la philosophie française? it will be held from 16-18 January. For the first two days it will be hosted by the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, and the last day will be at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Sessions will cover metaphysics, phenomenology, ethics, technology and philosophy of religion. The organisers and participants include many of the current French philosophical luminaries and also Dr Joseph Cohen, of University College Dublin. One of the main sponsoring organisations is the College International de Philosophie, co-founded by Jacques Derrida in 1983 to shake up the teaching of philosophy in France.

Roger Scruton (1944-2020)

As we were going to press, word came through that the English conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton had died. As well as political philosophy, he was renowned for works on aesthetics, sex and animal rights. At some personal risk, he held underground philosophy seminars in Eastern Europe during the Communist era, personally smuggling books, teaching materials and exam papers across the Iron Curtain frontiers. We will bring you a full obituary in our next issue.

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