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News: March/April 2002

Chomsky to the Rescue • French Philo Sent to Kabul • What’s Bugging Jeremy Bentham? • Iran Hosts Human Rights Conference

Tu Wins T’oegye Prize

Medieval Korean philosopher Yi T’oegye (1501-1570) briefly hit the headlines recently with the award of the 9th International T’oegye Studies award. The prize, which is worth $10,000, went to Tu Wei-ming, the eminent Harvard-based professor of Chinese philosophy. T’oegye, like many scholars in countries bordering China, was strongly influenced by Confucius, and Tu, who is perhaps the most famous contemporary advocate of Confucianism outside China, has written extensively on T’oegye. Tu was interviewed in Philosophy Now Issue 23. The award ceremony was held at the T’oegye Studies Institute in Seoul.

Chomsky’s Day in Court

The American linguistic philosopher and social critic Noam Chomsky appeared at a court in Istanbul to rescue a publisher who was being prosecuted by the Turkish authorities. Fatih Tas, director of Aram Publishing, was expecting a minimum one year prison sentence for publishing writings critical of the Turkish government’s treatment of the Kurdish minority.

These included American Interventionism, a Turkish translation of Chomsky’s essays in one of which he savages the Turkish government’s “miserable oppression” of the Kurdish people.

Chomsky flew to Turkey and petitioned the court to name him as a codefendent with Tas in the case. Instead the charges were dropped. Chomsky later told the Guardian “I hope it will be a step towards establishing the freedom of speech in Turkey that we all want to see.” He is no stranger to controversial positions, having himself expected to be imprisoned for his outspoken criticism of America’s involvement in Vietnam.

The Wages of Philosophy: A Million or Two

Two awards recently made to philosophers reflect the attention being given the subject by prestigious, grantgiving bodies. In cash terms the awards are worth more than the Nobel Prize.

Philosopher Robert Pippin of the University of Chicago has been awarded $1.5 million by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. The award was made in recognition of Professor Pippin’s application of the thought of 19th century German philosophers such as Hegel and Nietzsche to the social and political problems of today.

Harriet Zuckerman of the Andrew Mellon Foundation said “The intent was to underscore the significance of the humanities in the intellectual life of the nation. We wanted it to be a signal that work in these fields is very important.”

Meanwhile, Barry Smith has been awarded $2 million by the Humboldt Foundation. The Wolfgang Paul Award was made by the German foundation in support of Smith’s work on the ‘formal ontology of information systems’. He is developing standard methods of information processing, using philosophy in association with other disciplines. This is intended to help overcome compatibility problems between different systems which store and communicate information. Dr Smith read philosophy at Oxford and Manchester before moving to the University of Buffalo.

The Philosopher as Envoy

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy travelled to Afghanistan in February at the request of the French government in order to assess the situation and report on the needs of the Afghan people.

Levy has made several trips to Afghanistan in recent years. He was an ally of commander Ahmad Shah Masood, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance leader who was assassinated prior to the September 11 attacks.

Described as the thinking Frenchwoman’s sex symbol, the 53-year old philosopher is the the author of Barbarism with a Human Face and The Testament of God.

Before his involvement in Afghanistan, Levy was an advocate of intervention in Bosnia. His film Bosna!, a documentary made with Alain Ferrari, confronted the harsh realities of the conflict. Levy is critical of the spectacle of violence offered by the entertainment industry, which he calls “a faked violence…a special effects death, in dolby stereo with sound effects.” The film concludes with the assertion “Europe died at Sarajevo.”

Here kitty, kitty.

Another milestone has been passed along the uncertain road of animal cloning with the birth of a cat at the Texas A & M University last December. The kitten, named cc (variously reported as being short for Carbon Copy or CopyCat), was the only live product of 87 cloned embryos trans-ferred to 8 female cats according to the online edition of the journal Nature. One other pregnancy occurred but failed. Apart from the very low success rates seen so far in experiments of this type, the long-term health of cloned animals is an unknown quantity.

However, this latest venture by Texas A & M, who have been trying unsuccessfully to clone a dog, marks a move away from cloning mice and farm animals towards domestic pets. The research has been funded by financier John Sperling, who hopes to charge people to replace their lost or deceased pets – a useful service for any owners who don’t believe that their pets are partly a product of their experiences and upbringing. His company’s website (www.savingsandclone.com) says that “we expect to begin commercial pet cloning on a very limited case-by-case basis later this year.”

Incidentally, little cc is not entirely true to her name. Her coat is not an exact replica to that of her ma, the pattern of colours being determined by conditions in the womb rather than by genes.

Human Rights Meeting in Iran

The 2nd International Conference on Human Rights is to take place on 17-18 May 2003 at Mofid University, in the Iranian city of Qom. Its title will be ‘Theoretical Foundations of Human Rights’‚ and it follows the first such conference held in May 2001 which focussed on the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’. The organizers hope that the conference will become a biennial event. A call has gone out to academics worldwide to submit papers on topics such as Philosophy of Human Rights; Human Rights and Religion; Human Rights: Universality and Cultural Diversity. President George W. Bush, who recently described Iran as part of an ‘axis of evil’ along with Iraq and North Korea, is thought unlikely to attend.

French Scientists to Study Philosophy

According to a report commissioned by the French Ministry for Education, scientific education in France is in need of a complete overhaul. In the report Prof. Lecourt recommends that the teaching of philosophy of science should be integrated into all science degree courses. Major extracts from the report, available for the first time in English, are included in the latest issue of The Pantaneto Forum, an online philosophy and science journal. Its editor, Nigel Sanitt, believes that the arguments and conclusions in the report will have consequences for university teaching far beyond the borders of France. (www.pantaneto.co.uk)

Warnock Defends Doctor

The well-known ethicist Baroness Mary Warnock has spoken out in support of her long-term family doctor following an open letter by Dr Nick Maurice to his patients in his surgery newsletter. In it he admitted to using morphine to ease the suffering of two terminally-ill patients in such a way as to allow them “quiet and easy deaths‚” a situation almost certainly familiar to many G.P.s. Dr Maurice stressed, however, that he would not support legalisation of the induction of a patient’s death by such means as he has “grave concerns” over how such deaths might be handled.

Lady Warnock, who sat on the House of Commons Select Committee on euthanasia, unhappily had to face the dreadful dilemma over easing the suffering of a loved one when her husband, Sir Geoffrey, died two years ago. Although the matter had never been discussed openly, she said, she felt it probable that Dr Maurice, acting in the best interests of her husband, had adjusted his schedule of morphine medication shortly before his death. This had followed her expression of deep concern over the apprehension she and Sir Geoffrey felt regarding his deteriorating state. She spoke of her great trust in the doctor’s clinical judgement.

Bentham Catches Nasty Bug

The embalmed corpse of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham recently disappeared from its glass display case in University College London, to be replaced by a card saying that Bentham had “gone on holiday.” In fact he had been removed for extensive restoration work. Bentham, the pioneer of utilitarianism, lived between 1748-1832 and was the founder of University College; in his will he bequeathed his body to the college with instructions on how to turn it into an ‘auto-icon’. In the decades that followed, Bentham’s head was frequently stolen by marauding students from the rival King’s College, but on the whole the body has stood up remarkably well to the ravages of time. The restoration project has taken place under the direction of Dr Nick Merriman of the college’s Institute of Archaeology. It is rumoured that a beetle infestation had occurred though we have been unable to confirm this. We do know that Bentham has now returned home safely.

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