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News: October/November 2002

Pussycats “Not Moral Agents” Shock • Industry Recruits Philosophical Engineers • McGill Says No to Ayn Rand Chair • Warnock okays human cloning “if safe”

Cats & Cruelty

Rev. Prof. Andrew Linzey, research fellow in Theology & Animals at Oxford and one of eight experts called to give evidence at British parliamentary hearings on the future of hunting with hounds, was challenged over his moral right to own cats. Following the Prof’s denouncement of the cruelty involved in hunting as ‘morally indefensible’, Lembit Opik M.P. raised the issue of owning cats and asked whether suffering in the countryside might not be lessened by not having cats. Prof. Linzey replied that his own cats, previously strays, had chosen him rather than vice versa and with regard to morality he said “a cat is not a moral agent. It is not morally responsible. It is therefore inappropriate to talk about guidance of non-moral beings by moral beings.”

His own moral dilemma it appears is over feeding fish to his cats when he is a vegetarian.

Swiss to Curb ‘Suicide Tourists’

A Public Prosecutor in Zurich, Andreas Brunner, is drawing up tougher guidelines on assisted suicide in order to discourage the growing number of foreigners travelling to Switzerland to seek help in ending their lives when it this is illegal in their own countries. Swiss law has for 60 years deemed it legal to assist suicide for those who are terminally ill, in unendurable pain or severely depressed. The conditions to be met are that the drugs used are selfadministered and that the patient has been able to make a rational decision to die (which may be questionable if someone is severely depressed). Four years ago a voluntary euthanasia society called Dignitas was founded, the only one to help outsiders. Of the 110 people assisted to die since, 55 have been foreigners.

Brunner says that in future the authorities would probably demand two medical opinions in relation to each ‘suicide tourist’.

Let’s Get Metaphysical

In a rut? Looking for a change of direction? Do you have what it takes to be an ‘Ontological Engineer’? Cycorp of Austin, Texas, is aiming to produce the world’s first ‘generally intelligent artefact’. In addition to the logicians, linguists and computer scientists already beavering away on their behalf they are seeking individuals with a strong background in metaphysics.

Flood Wrecks Philosophy Library

In August Prague suffered its worst flooding for over 100 years. One casualty was the library shared by the Institutes of Philosophy and Sociology. Despite precautions taken the flood was a disaster; most of the library’s 120,000 books and journals were saturated by sewage-contaminated water. Numerous volunteers worked to remove the books to a cold-storage facility where they will remain until drying facilities are available. Sadly, many rare items, obtained with difficulty over the decades, are damaged beyond repair. The Institute of Philosophy is appealing for help in restocking the library. Further information can be found on the its web page at http://www.flu.cas.cz

Warnock Gives Conditional Thumbs Up to Cloning

The well-known ethicist Mary Warnock made headlines when she said she sees “no major ethical obstacles to human reproductive cloning for strictly medical reasons providing the technique is safe.” In her new book Making Babies she states that while she is currently against human cloning because of the “extreme dangers and uncertainties involved”, if and when these problems are eventually overcome society should be open-minded on the subject. She stressed that each application by an infertile couple would need to be carefully assessed and a licence granted for the procedure to be carried out if the circumstances were right. As Baroness Warnock chaired the committee which drew up the UK’s rules on reproductive medicine, her views carry great weight.

Journals sack Israelis

The editor/owner of a small academic journal based in Manchester created a storm recently when she dismissed two Israeli professors from its editorial board. Mona Baker dismissed Professors Miriam Shlesinger and Gideon Toury from the board of the Translator as part of a boycott of links with Israeli universities in protest at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. However, she was widely condemned for targeting individuals rather than institutions. Gideon Toury complained that he was “appointed as a scholar and unappointed as an Israeli.”

Uni Rejects Ayn Rand Money

The cash-strapped philosophy department at McGill University in Montreal was recently offered a very large sum of money to create a new chair of philosophy. The only restriction by the donor was that it be the Ayn Rand Chair for the study of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. McGill tried to persuade the donor to permit a more general area of study, but to no avail. Consequently the offer was eventually withdrawn; a Montreal newspaper commented that “integrity triumphs over big money at McGill.”

Philosophy is Wicked!

British educationalists are currently mired in angst over the near-collapse of the country’s examinations system, but midst the gloom here is one result to warm the heart. Two 13-year olds, Neeral Dodhia and Harry Taylor, have become the youngest pupils to successfully take Philosophy at AS level. Their teacher Michael Brett, of Lochinver School in Potters Bar, is understandably proud of their achievement in writing detailed answers on Plato’s Republic. How do the boys feel about it? Harry Taylor said “Philosophy is Wicked!”

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