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Life Begins at Forty…

by Rick Lewis

“At fifteen I set my heart on learning; at thirty I took my stand; at forty I came to be free from doubts…”

Welcome to the fortieth issue of Philosophy Now. Unlike Confucius, we have come to forty without being free of doubts, or of questions. In fact, without questions, I suppose there would be no magazine.

Philosophy Now took its first unsteady steps in my spare bedroom in 1991. It was born out of a belief that people bump into philosophical problems frequently just through the process of living their everyday lives, and that consequently a large number of intelligent people with no philosophical training would probably appreciate some good quality philosophy. Even so, I would never have dared hope that the stroppy toddler would grow so fast. The problem, as for us all, is how to adapt to maturity without getting stuck in a rut. We’ll keep innovating, but please keep up the flow of suggestions and comments on how the magazine can be further improved.

Philosophy can throw light on day-to-day living but all sorts of philosophical questions also confront us, with greater urgency, in the really big life-events of birth, marriage, death. Death is a perennial subject of speculation and debate among philosophers (even the more cheerful ones!) because, among other reasons, it directly raises questions about why life really matters, and also about the extent to which we have, or should have, control over our lives. Should we be able to choose when to die? In this issue we have a debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Two philosophers tackle that topic from totally opposing viewpoints, and then each responds to the arguments of the other. Why not join in their debate? Write and tell us about your reflections and experiences, and what you think about the arguments we’ve printed here.

Switching from the grimly real-life to the ethereally inspiring, we take a look at the justifications for space exploration. After the Columbia space shuttle tragedy, some people have expressed doubts about the costs and risks of manned space flight. As Chad Trainer explains on page 20, Bertrand Russell was opposed to space exploration even in its infancy. His reasons weren’t the risk to the astronauts so much as the potential military uses of space technologies and the fact that, he thought, the resources could better be spent alleviating more urgent problems here on Earth. Trainer thinks he was wrong, that space exploration should continue, and he explains why. Unless humanity turns its back on space forever, which seems improbable, this debate will only become more intense in the years to come, so read up on some of the arguments here and now.

As well as examining the philosophical questions that confront us in everyday life, this magazine has always taken an interest in the idea of a philosophical life. What is it to live like a philosopher? One person who should be able to tell us if anyone can is Richard Taylor, who is interviewed on page 36. Renowned particularly for his contributions to ethics and on the meaning of life, he looks back at a life of ideas. His trenchant criticisms of academic philosophy are interestingly echoed by a short story which he has contributed, which is printed on page 52.

If you support our aim of taking philosophy to the general public, and enjoy Philosophy Now, can I ask your help? One of the best places to reach thoughtful people is public libraries. Quite a few libraries worldwide do keep Philosophy Now on their shelves, but out of all the libraries in all the towns in the all world, the percentage doing so is small. Being perpetually starved of funds, most libraries won’t even consider subscribing to any new magazine unless one of their users specifically and in person asks them to do so. So what I would like to ask is this: would you mind dropping into your local public library (or your college library if you are a student) and asking them to subscribe? If they do, then you will have been responsible for introducing the magazine to dozens of people who might not have seen it otherwise. Thanks in advance!

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