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News

News: December 2001 / January 2002

British government bans criticism of religion • Jazz Philosopher Releases CD • Reid Scholars Woven Together • Gentle Jürgen says Give Peace a Chance

Bye bye free speech?

Have you heard the one about the vicar, the priest and the rabbi? Well, don’t tell anyone. The comedian Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) wrote to the Times to warn that a new law will effectively outlaw religious jokes. In the wake of September 11, British Home Secretary David Blunkett introduced legislation to ban incitement to religious hatred. The hastily-drafted law is closely modelled on existing laws against racial hatred, but critics claim it fails to distinguish between incitement and legitimate criticism. Professor Richard Dawkins commented to Philosophy Now that “Individuals have political opinions, artistic opinions, musical opinions, sporting opinions and religious opinions. All of these opinions are subject to criticism by others who disagree. Sometimes these criticisms can be strong and even bitter. But only religious opinions are protected by the law. This is clearly a ludicrous anomaly.”

Philosopher Releases Album

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote several pieces for the piano, Theodor Adorno played the violin, and now an American philosopher is following the tradition of musical philosophers. Harvard Professor Cornel West is releasing an album on CD entitled Sketches of My Culture. The music on the album reflects Professor West’s wide interests in contemporary black music, and includes jazz and ballads as well as rap.

West is the most prominent black philosopher in America, and is the author of several controversial books including Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America and The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. Having described his philosophical role as that of “jazz man in the life of the mind”, Cornel West told the Philadelphia Inquirer that music can help Americans come to terms with the world following the September 11 atrocities: “We can gain great insight from a blues people. Especially now, as a whole country has the blues.’’

Habermas Wins Peace Prize

The Frankfurt School sage Jürgen Habermas has just been awarded a peace prize by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. The award was made at the close of the Frankfurt Book Fair, held at the beginning of October.

Calling in his acceptance speech for religious and ethnic tolerance, Professor Habermas spoke of the need to combine the rational, secular approach with the spiritual insights of religion. While recognising the secular nature of modernity, Professor Habermas said “the West must distance itself from religion without blocking out its perspective.”

Habermas is the most prominent and politically outspoken philosopher in Germany today. His theory of ‘communicative action’ stresses the need for public debate as a means of social progress.

Nietzsche Scholar R.J. Hollingdale Dies

R.J. Hollingdale, a noted scholar and translator of Friedrich Nietzsche, died on September 28th aged 70. Together with the American Walter Kauffmann, he was largely responsible for Crazy Freddie’s rehabilitation in the English-speaking world. Most readers of Hollingdale’s vivid but reliable Nietzsche translations probably assumed that he was an Oxford don. In fact, however, he was one of the great amateur scholars. Reg Hollingdale left school in South London aged 16 and by profession was a journalist and subeditor on the Guardian. His book Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy, has rarely been out of print since its debut in 1965. This and his Nietzsche Reader (1977) have been the core of many students’ study of the philosopher for decades. The respect with which Hollingdale was regarded in academia was expressed by his election as President of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society in 1989.

Polish Philosopher Murdered

The Polish philosopher Dr Artur Rojszczak was murdered on September 27th. His father was also shot and killed, and his wife Agnieszka was critically injured. According to police, Dr. Rojszczak’s neighbor has confessed to the crime. Aged 33, Dr Rojszczak was an associate professor at Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland. His interests included the philosophy of language and cognitive science.

Bureaucracy claims another philosopher

Sue Blackmore, a well-known figure in psychology and philosophy of mind, has left her position at the University of the West of England due to ‘intolerable bureaucratic demands’. Dr Blackmore told Philosophy Now that “Academic freedom is nigh impossible in this climate of overwork and control.”

She is noted for her work on consciousness (on which she is currently writing a textbook) and on meme theory, the idea that “habits, skills, stories and technologies are replicators that compete for space in human brains and cultures.” In The Meme Machine, she writes “My aim in this book is to show that many aspects of human nature are explained far better by a theory of memetics than by any rival theory yet available. The theory starts only with one simple mechanism – the competition between memes to get into human brains and be passed on again. From this it gives rise to explanations for such diverse phenomena as the evolution of the enormous human brain, the origins of language, our tendency to talk and think too much, human altruism, and the evolution of the internet.”

Blackmore now hopes to pursue a career as a freelance broadcaster and writer. She has already presented programmes such as Horizon for the BBC and The Cleverest Ape in the World for Channel 4, and has also appeared on television many times speaking about issues such as alien abduction, ESP, and parapsychology. She gained notoriety for an incident involving the accidental setting alight of the philosopher David Chalmer’s hair at his birthday party last year.

Reid All About It!

A new society is being formed by fans of the 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid. The society will be officially launched at the American Philosophical Association meeting in Seattle in March. The founders are Professors Rebecca Copenhaver and Terence Cuneo of Lewis & Clark College in Oregon and Professors Knud Haakonssen and Paul Wood from the Reid Project in Aberdeen.

Professor Copenhaver told Philosophy Now “Although Thomas Reid has been a somewhat neglected figure, interest in his philosophy is growing and the Reid Society is dedicated to nurturing such growth and supporting international, interdisciplinary scholarship on Reid.”

Thomas Reid lived from 1710 to 1796. He argued against the various forms of idealism he found in Descartes, Locke and Hume, advocating a form of realism about perception based on a common sense pragmatism.

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