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In Bad Taste

by Rick Lewis

In his article on the joys of running a philosophy café near Vancouver (p.10) Peter Raabe says that “in North America it is considered the height of bad taste to discuss politics, sex or religion in polite company.” I suppose the same goes, more or less, for Britain too. Flicking though the dummy copy of this issue, I realise that we have in that case assembled what is virtually a Bad Taste Special Issue. Virtually all the articles seem to be discussions of sex, politics or religion. The one on ‘Kant and Prostitution’ goes further by being about the politics of sex. Plainly this issue of Philosophy Now would be wholly inadmissible in polite society, and I advise you not to leave it anywhere that your children or servants might get hold of it.

I’m just sorry we didn’t manage to work in anything on sexual religions, or on religious politics. Still, there is always next time. I was tempted (sorely tempted) to have a front cover proclaiming ‘Vicars and Tarts Special Issue’, showing leading theologians talking to prostitutes. But sanity, (and the vicelike grip of my co-editor on my windpipe) eventually prevailed and instead we’ve run a photo of our interviewee in this issue, David Chalmers, who is a recently risen star in the philosophy of mind, who rarely writes about sex, politics or religion, and who can therefore be counted on to raise the tone of the whole magazine.

On a more serious note, it is quite interesting to compare Daniel Hill’s overview of current academic activity in the philosophy of religion with the last article in the magazine, Joanna Motyl’s short story about John Scotus (who incidentally was described by Bertrand Russell as “the most astonishing person of the ninth century”), or even with Bob Harrison’s article on the ethical thinking of the early Christians. Many of the problems with which all these Christian thinkers have wrestled have stayed the same down the millenia, but the differences in the tone of the debate, and the sociology of the groups conducting it, are quite startling.

Many thanks to everyone who responded to the reader survey in our last issue. A tidal wave of forms came back to us, and the results were (to us, at least) very interesting. Apparently more than 87% of you are graduates, but less than a third have degrees in philosophy. This confirms that Philosophy Now really does appeal to the educated public at large, which was the aim all along. Readers follow a wide variety of professions, with the most popular being education (one reader wrote sadly that he was a lecturer, but that he was “increasingly disinclined to designate it as ‘education’”) On religion, the godless appeared to have a slim majority over the faithful, with the religious believers including Episcopalians, Quakers, Jews and Muslims, but how should I categorise the three Buddhists and the Taoist who replied? The one worrying result was that male respondents outnumbered females by a factor of 4:1. What are we doing wrong?

As regards philosophical matters, some intriguing finds came to the surface. Ethics, metaphysics and philosophy of mind were the most popular subjects within philosophy, followed by philosophy of religion and philosophy of science. Continental philosophy was almost twice as popular as analytic – which was the least popular choice. Asking people to name the most stimulating and convincing works of philosophy stimulated a wide selection of responses. The most popular authors were Kant and Hume followed by Mill, Marx and Sartre. Over 3/4 of you had read Plato, Descartes and Sophie’s World. Half of those reading Sophie’s World enjoyed it, whilst 1/3 disliked it. Less than 10% have been to either a philosophy pub or a philosophy café.

90% of you liked the new design of the magazine either moderately or a great deal, which is a relief. One respondent wrote “it’s both pretty and fun, as once was I”!

To the 10% who have been buying Philosophy Now since the very first issue, we would like to say a particular thank you, as well as for the many kind comments and expressions of support. I’m touched. (Most of you will have guessed that long ago). The individual responses should help us tailor the magazine more closely to the desires of you, the readers.

The winners of the prize draw were Stephen Baines, MJ Mason, Christine Haclett, Malcolm MacInnis, Thomas Baxter and Peter Smith.

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