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News

News: Spring 1999

Turing Statue • The Virtues of Cloning • Fending for Feminism • Trying Euthanasia • New Jobs for Thinkers — News Editor: Derrick Farnham

Turing Statue

Alan Turing, wartime code breaker, founder of computer science, and logician may yet have a statue erected in his honour. An attempt to raise funds by public subscription seems to have the support of all but the major computer companies. The statue is to be erected in Sackville Park, between the University Science buildings and the gay village area of Manchester. Information can be obtained and donations sent to The Alan Turing Memorial Fund, 43 Harrison Rd., Adlington, Lancashire.

Turing (1912-54) developed the concept of the theoretical computing machine. He is noted for having developed what is now referred to as the ‘Turing Test’ to distinguish artificial from human intelligence. While working on the first ever all-electronic computer, Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality and took his own life.

Dawkins Says Cloning is OK

Biologist, and sometime philosopher, Richard Dawkins sees clones as identical twins and nothing more. Cloning would achieve, artificially, what occurs naturally when a fertilised egg splits in the womb. The Oxford professor and author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, suggests that objecting to cloning implies there is something offensive about the existence of identical twins. Objections result from what he terms the ‘yuk reaction’, an irrational deep-seated sense that is offended by the thought of cloning.

Dawkins said on the radio programme Agenda, one might clone a loved one so as to produce an identical twin. It might help childless couples, for example. Although he admits the first cloned child might be teased, ironically, because of their unique status, there would be no ‘major problems’.

Philosopher-Knights

Buckingham Palace confirms that Michael Dummett is to be knighted for services to Philosophy and Racial Justice. He has written on Frege and the history of analytic philosophy and is one of the stalwarts of that group.

Richard Sorabji, for his contribution to ancient philosophy, is to become a Commander of the British Empire. Since 1985 he has led a team in the translation of the massive Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca which includes all the known ancient Greek commentaries on Aristotle. Baroness Onora O’Neill has been made a life peer (and therefore will sit in the House of Lords).

‘Crone’ vs. ‘Cockalorum’

Mary Daly (70), world-famous radical feminist philosopher, triple-PhD and Professor of Theology at Boston College, has been given an ultimatum: Boston College administration require her to accept male students in her classes if she is to continue teaching. Against many odds, Daly has been successfully defending the existence of female-only classes for 30 years. However, since a male student, fighting to attend Daly’s class, has involved the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington public interest law firm, the battle has assumed an even more serious dimension, and will now be joined in the legal arena.

Wanted!

Cycorp, Inc. of Texas, are on a quest for ‘ontological engineers’. Professionals trained in logic, metaphysics, epistemology and/or semantics who have excellent facility with first-order predicate calculus, nonmonotonic reasoning, sets, and functions are wanted for their team. Ontological engineers need skills in the formalised representation of everyday knowledge and thought to enable robust and flexible reasoning about a broad range of objects and events in everyday life, in contrast to the narrow constraints of expert systems. Need to know more? www.cyc.com.

Another unusual personnel ad came to us from a company called Philosophical Services. They are seeking philosophers to work as observers and analysts with a sales team for six months. The aim of the project is apparently to experiment with different ways of running a sales campaign. If you are a “peopleoriented philosopher holding an academic position in a U.K. university and willing to capture the changes as they happen, the experience and emotions of the team as they go through the campaign” then you probably don’t get out enough, but by all means contact:
kencust@philosophical-services.com

Goodbye

The Philosophy News Service (www.PhilosophyNews.com) reports that Roger Scruton has “stripped himself of his professorship of aesthetics to rail, ungowned, against the age in which fate has deposited him.”

Mammoth Publication

The Collected Works of Bernard Bosanquet are now available in 20 volumes. A leading figure of the idealist movement in Britain in the late 19th and early 20th century, he had a significant role in British social policy as well as making major contributions to aesthetics, religion, metaphysics, politics and (idealist) logic. He wrote or edited some 20 books and was the author of over 150 articles. The complete set will be available from Thoemmes Press for £1200.00 or $1850.00.

Euthanasia and the Law

America’s most noted euthanasia advocate was denied his full day in court. The Financial Times reported that Jack Kevorkian, acting as his own defence, was forced to move prematurely into his closing arguments. The retired pathologist’s provocative videotape of himself assisting in the death of the terminally ill Thomas Youk, was meant to ignite a debate on euthanasia. But the judge refused to hear testimony from the deceased’s relatives. Further, the prosecution’s repeated legal objections prevented Kevorkian from dispelling the idea that the lethal drug injection was a cold, premeditated act. Kevorkian was, therefore, unable to develop his argument that homicide is not necessarily murder and that “medical service is exempt from certain laws”. The case remained on legal ground and a philosophic debate on the definition of murder, that might have challenged the existing laws, was thwarted. Outside the courtroom, international media coverage insured that the material for debate was widely and readily available.

Obituaries

The Cambridge philosopher, John Renford Bambrough died on January 17, aged 72. A fellow of St. John’s College for almost 50 years, he was dean from 1964-1979, president from 1979-1983 and editor of Philosophy from 1973 to 1994. The Times claims that by the time his first major essay ‘Plato’s Political Analogies’ was reprinted in Plato, Popper and Politics (1967) he had come to believe that Wittgenstein’s work provided support for the idea that philosophical knowledge was indeed capable of reaching truth through reason and with justification. Labelled an inspirational rationalist, he held that there existed objectivity in most branches of philosophy, just as in mathematics and science.

Providence, R.I. (AP) Roderick M. Chisholm died in hospital at the age of 82. He was a major figure in epistemology. A realist, he held that the senses could be trusted to give reliable knowledge of the outside world and thus opposed the rival philosophical camp of phenomenalism. A graduate of Brown University in 1938, he received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1942 and then taught at Brown from 1947 to 1987. In 1991, Chisholm was the subject of a volume in the Library of Living Philosophers.

The American philosopher, Nelson Goodman died this winter. He was born in 1906. A major influence on Quine and Kripke and teacher of Noam Chomsky, his works included The Structure of Appearance (1951); Fact, Fiction and Forecast (1954) and Languages of Art (1969). ‘Goodman’s paradox’ refers to a difficulty in the theory of confirmation. In order to show that our accidental linguistic history influences our thinking, Goodman introduced the predicate “grue” as an illustration. A ‘grue’ emerald is either a green one or a blue one depending on when it is observed. In later years Goodman characterised himself as a radical relativist. A bibliography is currently being developed on-line. (For information and suggestions contact srbayne@CHANNEL1.com).

Dame Iris Jean Murdoch passed away February 8th. She was born in Dublin in 1919 and educated at Oxford where she later lectured in philosophy. Her death was widely reported in the national news and many memorials were broadcast and published on her life and achievements, including a reading, by her husband, of his recollections of her last years. Her popularity was a result of the high quality of her novels, her first being Under the Net (1954). Her contribution to philosophy is of equal merit.

Conferences

Analytic philosophy’s new self consciousness shows it to be displaying the classic signs of crisis. This is exemplified by its current interest in its origins and history and its concern for its nemesis, Continental philosophy. Examining the nature of the crisis promises to offer diagnoses for the present and forecasts for the future of philosophy. At least this is the assumption of the conference ‘The Crisis in Analytic Philosophy’. The crisis is the focal point for the Centre for Post-Analytic Philosophy’s conference on April 12-13th. Register for the conference by e-mail to
eme@soton.ac.uk

The first Australian Institute of Computer Ethics Conference will be held July 14-16 at the Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. The institute suggests that ethical issues associated with the development and application of information technology arise at the systems development level. With the flow-on effects of installed systems this offers revolutionary, complex and wide-ranging challenges. Loss of jobs, de-skilling, and employee monitoring and surveillance must be questioned as new computer systems are introduced into the workplace. The conference will examine, amongst other things, desirable and undesirable changes, how computers affect the environment, how educating to increase awareness of designers and stakeholders might be possible and what professional responsibilities are. Information on the conference is available at
www.aice.swin.edu.au/events/AICEC99/

The Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, will organise a conference on the Philosophical Foundations of Constitutional Reform in co-operation with the Australian Society of Legal Philosophy. The proposed focus will be the legal and political theory of republicanism as applied to various aspects of constitutional reform, including constitutional rights, separation of powers, the rule of law, and democracy, and also to diverse theoretical responses to the republican theory. The conference will be held August 13-14 in Sydney. Further information can be obtained from conference@law.usyd.edu.au.

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