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News: Autumn 1996

Kuhn obituary

The death of one modern giant (Karl Popper) of the Philosophy of Science two years ago has been followed by the death of another giant of the genre, Thomas Kuhn, discoverer of the pernicious paradigm. Kuhn investigated the distinction between science as it ought to be, and science as it really is, finding that instead of scientific progress marching ahead smoothly, it staggers along in fits and starts as it shambles from one paradigm to another.

Kuhn’s most famous work, the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was written after he started teaching the history of science and decided that Aristotle’s Physics was not simply wrong, but rather that the ideas and concepts were radically different, yet less useful than Newton’s or Einstein’s. He then tried to explain sociologically why science moves from one set of explanations to another.

His magnum opus sold over 1 million copies and provoked much debate – especially over words like ‘paradigm’ which seemed to have dozens of differing meanings in his book! Difficulties in pinning him down were exacerbated by exchanges such as: “Dr Kuhn, are you a realist?” “Of course!” “But Dr Kuhn, don’t you argue that whenever theories change, the whole world then changes too?” “Of course!” Thomas Kuhn was born in Ohio and died of cancer on 20th June aged 73. He was fond of rollercoasters.

Routley obituary

Richard Routley, died of a heart attack in Bali, Indonesia on 16th June at the age of 60. He was buried at his home, Nameless, outside Gerringong at the edge of a favourite forest, overlooking the sea.

Routley was well known for his work in logic (especially relevant and paraconsistent logic: he was particularly interested in the logic of meaningless statements, such as descriptions of Sherlock Holmes and how they could be ‘true’), metaphysics, semantics and also for his later writings on environmental philosophy including a 1982 paper In Defence of Cannibalism. He changed his name to Richard Sylvan and published a number of ‘green’ papers under his new identity.

Boolos obituary

George Boolos, professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT, died of pancreatic cancer on 31st May at the age of 55. Born in New York, Boolos was best known for a work co-authored with Jeffrey, Computability and Logic (1974), on metalogical problems, which made major advances in tying computability in with logic.

Peking Conference on Business Ethics

This will be held in Peking in April next year. It is expected to be a big event and include such luminaries as the Hobbes & Descartes expert, Tom Sorell and several Vice-Chairmen of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress. Hopefully China will manage to do better in business ethics than it’s managed in applied ethics (Tienanmen Square and the suppression of Tibet spring to mind as exemplars), and the organisers have happily managed to put on a guided tour of occupied Tibet for any who wish to investigate China’s achievements in that field.

University Research Funding

With shrinking research budgets the Russell Group of Vice-Chancellors (from the 17 leading research universities) have tried to persuade the Government to allocate them its research funds almost exclusively. A division would then emerge between a handful of traditional research-driven universities (for example Oxbridge, UCL, LSE & Warwick) and a larger number of others devoted almost purely to teaching.

While disasterous in many respects, this might diminish the “Publish or Perish” syndrome of obscure publications in philosophical research. One telling incident earlier this year was the publication in an American journal of Transgressing the Boundaries – Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity which was written as a spoof: a load of old bunk full of trendy references and fancy jargon. The journal ended with egg on its face. A signal warning!

Venetian Philosopher-King clobbers Bossi

Massimo Cacciari, Mayor of Venice and a Philosophy Prof has reportedly stymied Umberto Bossi’s North Italian independence movement by magnificent metaphysical manoeuvres which prevented the trains of Bossi’s followers from depositing them at the site of their most recent demonstration in Venice and then arranging for local boats to sound their klaxons and drown out his speeches. Watch this space (it might declare UDI).

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