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News: Spring/Summer 1996

Frank Sibley obituary

On Friday 22nd March, a memorial service took place at Lancaster University for one of this country’s greatest philosophers of aesthetics, Professor Frank Sibley. Anyone who has studied aesthetics is likely to have come across such seminal papers as ‘Aesthetic Concepts’, and ‘Colours’. In the first, published in 1952, Sibley presented the now famous theory that aesthetic properties, such as ‘grace’, ‘delicacy’ or ‘balance’, depend upon and emerge from non-aesthetic properties, and are nonpositively condition-governed. Thus one cannot determine the aesthetic qualities of a work merely by describing its non-aesthetic properties. On the other hand, it may be possible to anticipate negative features which emerge from particular non-aesthetic features.

In ‘Colours’ Sibley argued that the way in which we make judgments in the aesthetic realm is akin to the way we determine the colour of an object. We determine that ‘x is red’ by appeal to those who have maximum discriminatory powers, not by the methods we use in scientific, mathematical, or legal discussion. This opens the way for talking of a kind of ‘objectivity’ in aesthetics.

Frank Sibley began his career studying PPE at Oxford, under Gilbert Ryle, and taught at Cornell University, before going to Lancaster in its early days in the 1960s. His commitment to that University, for more than 30 years, latterly as Professor Emeritus, earns him the gratitude and respect of hundreds of Lancaster philosophers. Frank was a poet of some talent, and a man of wit, and academic rigour, for all of which qualities he will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues and students alike.

May he rest in peace.

Gordon Giles (Gordon studied aesthetics with FN Sibley at Lancaster University between 1985-9)

Wales Centre for Practical Philosophy

A new centre has been established at the University College of Wales in Swansea. One of the main tasks of the Centre is to promote philosophy in the classroom. The Centre will run courses for teachers on how to facilitate ‘Socratic dialogue’ among their pupils. Advocates of philosophy for young children claim that by teaching them thinking skills and enhancing their self-confidence it can greatly help their academic performance and development generally. The courses will be run by Karin Murris, who used to run similar courses in Reading before moving to West Wales last year.

The British Society of Philosophical Consultants

Is the name of a new society for philosophers interested in practising as consultants. Philosophical consultancy is now well established in Holland, where large companies and private individuals increasingly employ the services of philosophers to clarify the decisions and dilemmas facing them. The new British society (formed under the wing of the corresponding Dutch organisation), aims to promote similar activity in Britain, to provide training for would-be consultants and to ensure basic standards. Full membership is open only to people with an MA in philosophy, but others can join as associate members. The society is based at the new Wales Centre for Practical Philosophy (see above).

Sartre in Love-Triangle Shock!

A new book by former French philosophy teacher Bianca Lamblin caused a stir. The book narrates how in 1938, as a naive 17 year old schoolgirl, Lamblin was lured into a love affair with both Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. The affair ended in 1940 when both Sartre and de Beauvoir suddenly dropped Lamblin, leaving her emotionally devastated. However, with the publication of de Beauvoir’s diaries and letters fifty years later, Lamblin discovered that the two great existentialists had been secretly laughing at her all along. She decided to write this book as an act of revenge. (A Disgraceful Affair by Bianca Lamblin, translated by Julie Plovnick, is published by Northeastern University Press).

Singer Booed

The launch of the German edition of Peter Singer’s new moral philosophy book How Are We To Live triggered noisy demonstrations in Bonn. Singer’s controversial views on euthanasia for severely handicapped infants are hugely unpopular in a country where Hitler’s euthanasia programme is still remembered. Demonstrators in wheelchairs attempted to halt a book launch attended by Singer, and police made forty arrests.

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