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News: Summer 1999
Princeton welcomes Peter Singer • Wittgenstein in burglary shock • Philosopher wages war • Doctors want your body — News Editor: Derrick Farnham
Philosopher Hired Under Protest
The appointment of a new bioethics professor at Princeton University was met by over a hundred protesters. Despite the protest, the University maintains that past academic work and the contribution to be made to scholarship and the ethical debate justify the appointment.
Peter Singer will begin in July as the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the university’s Center for Human Values. At issue is his controversial view that parents have the right to euthanize severely handicapped newborn children. Singer holds that at less than a month old, children have no human consciousness and so do not have the same rights as adults. On this view killing a handicapped infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person, and may not be wrong at all. This has generated opposition from antiabortion groups, who deny his premise that infants lack human consciousness and also the disabled, who by Singer’s criteria, are considered undesirable in society. Some hold that hiring Singer lends legitimacy to his views.
The university does not accept or reject the controversial views but holds that they are outweighed by other factors. Princeton spokesman Justin Harmon is quoted by Associated Press as saying “He’s been hired because of the strength of his teaching and his research, not because of any particular point of view he holds for or against any issue.” He is considered by some to be the father of the international animal rights movement.
No Philosopher King
Prince Charles is “utterly confused, and a terrible philosopher” according to Professor Alan Ryan, the left-wing political philosopher and Warden of New College, Oxford. His comments, reported in the Financial Times, were made in response to Charles’ entry into the genetically modified food debate. Ryan was chairman of the working party that produced the report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Charles’ argument for organic farming is that we must work with nature or produce an Orwellian future (fallacy of false alternative?).
But Philosophy in Parliament
For the first time ever, the British House of Commons has held a debate on philosophy teaching. The issue of the teaching of philosophy within the educational system (or rather the lack of it) was raised by Tony McWalter, MP for Hemel Hempstead, in a recent adjournment debate. Drawing on his earlier experience as a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire, Mr McWalter spoke of the difficulties that many young people have in evaluating moral concepts and the failure of the educational system to teach them the objective thinking skills needed to move from mere obedience to the wishes of parents and teachers to a set of moral beliefs founded on a general view. He proposed that “Morality has something to do with an obligation to respect others, but our education system is producing people who can provide no reasons why other should be treated with respect.” Believing that previous governments have neglected the role of philosophy in encouraging children and young people to address important questions and develop independent thought, Tony McWalter asked the Government to involve philosophers in the development of the curriculum in the areas of thinking skills and citizenship.
Researchers were robbed of years of Wittgenstein study. A reward has been offered for their safe return.
Cambridge police are investigating the theft of a CD writer and laptop computer from the Wittgenstein Archive, but of greater concern to the researchers is the loss of a computer hard disk. The disk, little of which was backed-up, contains two volumes of study of Wittgenstein’s opus, the accumulated results of the last ten years of cataloguing by 15 scholars. Michael Nedo, the archive director, is reported by The Times as saying: “The loss of this data, which has no commercial value, is a devastating blow. We are prepared to offer a reward for its safe return because the value of the information and the amount of work it represents cannot possibly be measured.”
Norwegian academics working on a similar project at the University of Bergen are confident they have their work backed up; they are therefore working with at least two Wittgensteins.
Rebel forces in the Congolese civil war have been led by the philosopher Ernest Wamba dia Wamba. Wamba is one of the key figures in the coalition opposing Laurent Kabila, the man who replaced Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. The American-educated rebel leader/philosopher has taught at Brandeis, Harvard and Boston College. He has written on the history of philosophy. He is currently on extended leave as Associate Professor at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Before taking up arms he penned ‘An Open Letter to Americans’ in an attempt to provide background to, and win sympathy for, his cause.
His movement, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) recently took some 50% of the country with other rebel groups, and the tacit support of some local countries. These countries have started withdrawing their troops from the Congo after they and the Congolese Government of President Kabila signed a peace deal. Professor Wamba dia Wamba also wishes to sign, but his movement has split acrimoniously and his former colleagues say they won’t sign the treaty if he does.
Additional details and developments can be found at: www.dac.neu.edu/congocrisis.
Dies Roy Edgley died at the age of 73. He studied under Gilbert Ryle at Oxford and eventually moved on to become professor of philosophy at Sussex University. He turned to Marxism in reaction to the social remoteness of philosophy’s subject matter and played a key role in developing Radical Philosophy into the very respectable journal that it is today. He leaves his wife and two daughters.
Death of Encyclopaedist
Geoffrey Wigoder, editor in chief of the Encyclopaedia Judaica and an expert in the philosophy of bar Hiyya, the medieval Spanish Rabbi, recently died in Jerusalem, Israel. His interests in philosophy had broadened to include modern theology and he was a leading actor in Jewish-Christian dialogue. He leaves a wife and two sons.
Philosophy on the Beach
Vancouver has its own version of the popular philosophy café. On the topic “What is the nature of a fulfilled life?” it was concluded that “sitting on the beach doing philosophy at sunset was indeed fulfilling”. Sessions have been running through the summer. Those seeking philosophical discussion and unfamiliar with the Vancouver shoreline might contact Peter Raabe for information lest they wander out onto the wrong beach and become exposed to more than they desire (the University of British Columbia is notorious for being the only university in Canada to have a nude beach on campus). See the What’s On section on page 54.
It Could Be You
Doctors at the recent British Medical Association annual conference in Belfast voted for a system known as ‘presumed consent’ as a means of increasing the numbers of available donor organs. Calling for a full public debate, Dr Michael Wilks, chair of the BMA Ethics Committee, said the requested change in the law would make everyone a potential organ donor unless they ‘opted out’, and would provide the only realistic prospect of increasing supply to meet the ever-growing demand for organs. Registration of those wishing to ‘opt out’ could be made through driving licences, the electoral register, passports or tax returns. Voicing the concerns of those doctors opposed to the scheme, Dr Chris Tiarks from Eigg said “The whole of medical practice with the living is enshrined in the principal of informed consent. Why should this change after death?”
Philosophy Now faces
It has been suggested that we should publish pictures of the Philosophy Now editorial team, to ‘give the magazine a human face’. This is all an illusion of course, as the magazine is in fact edited entirely by a revolutionary artificial intelligence program running on a superannuated Macintosh SE30. And quite right too. However, those of you who would feel more comfortable reading a magazine produced by ‘humans’ may wish to wallow in the delusion that the people below had something to do with it…
Rick Lewis believes that everyday life throws philosophical problems at us all, and the only question is whether we tackle them badly or well. He founded Philosophy Now in 1991 in his spare time while working as a physicist for British Telecom. He can’t believe it is still going.
Anja Steinbauer says “The uniqueness of the western philosophical tradition has often been pointed out, but neither being unique nor being philosophical is unique to the western tradition.” Anja is now editor for non-western and feminist philosophy in the magazine.
Mark Daniels learnt to think at Warwick University. He is interested in medieval thought, High Tory politics and Pre- Raphaelite art. He has worked as acting pseudorabbi in the City of Norwich.
Bryn Williams Suave thinker about town and Philosophy Now reviews editor. Interested in philosophy of mind, particularly the nature of the imagination, he also runs philosophy cafés in Soho.
Nick Parker is a philosopher turned cartoonist and design guru. He is responsible for designing all those bits of the magazine which look halfway decent.