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News: Winter 1991

Singer Silenced

The annual meeting of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society, which was due to be held in August in Salzburg, was cancelled due to threats of violence from political activists. The philosopher Peter Singer, who favours euthanasia, was due to speak at the symposium, and groups representing the handicapped threatened to disrupt the meeting unless his invitation was withdrawn. The Society responded instead by cancelling the whole meeting.

The Aristotelian Society AGM in Durham shortly afterwards passed a motion deploring this curtailment of free speech. A rather sniffy article in the Times called the affair a ‘squabble among philosophers’ and said that British philosophers had emerged from it with no credit. This provoked a spirited response from Professor Mark Sainsbury (of King’s College London) who pointed out that it wasn’t a problem between philosophers at all, but a case of philosophers standing up for the principle of free speech. The Times unfortunately declined to print part of Professor Sainsbury’s letter.

Philosophy in Russia

As Russian society again opens up, there are stirrings of curiosity in the West about what Russian philosophers have been doing. A seminar on Russian philosophy (‘Russian Philosophy : The Religious and Aesthetic Dimensions’) was held on 6th-7th July at the Pushkin Club in London. It was organized by Dr. Jonathan Sutton.

The Joint Session

One of the most important events in the philosophy calendar in Britain is the Joint Session – a conference organized every year by the Mind Association and the Aristotelian Society. This year’s Joint Session was held in Durham (12th – 15th July). The Session was well attended, and the average age of the attendees was lower than for some years – “Which pleased all of us greybeards” said Mark Sainsbury, the editor of Mind.

The papers presented covered topics ranging from philosophy of mind and ethics to interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Strife in Swansea

A heinously complicated row has been rumbling on for months at University College Swansea. The battle originated as a minor skirmish over claims that the Centre for Philosophy and Health Care at the college had provided paid advice for a doctor accused of trafficking in human organs. Some of the philosophers at Swansea were of the opinion that this was a bit dodgy, and that accepting money for advice compromised the Centre’s independence.

The argument broadened to cover academic standards, with allegations that external refereeing of Masters’ degrees at the Centre was inadequate or non-existent. The philosophers making these claims (Cohen and Williamson) were threatened with disciplinary action, for bringing the College into disrepute. A ‘defence committee’ sprang up and conducted a war of pamphlets with the Swansea Philosophy Department. A University of Wales commission of enquiry investigated and ruled that the examiners were wrong to have awarded a degree to one of the students at the Centre. The finding was followed by expressions of shock and horror all round.

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