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News: January/February 2005

Moral Values • Another Wittgenstein Discovered? • Goldfish Teaching • Church Finds Ethics Too Pricey • Hobbit News — News reports by Sue Roberts in London and Lisa Sangoi in New York

Moral Values

Since the American presidential election in early November, the moral rift dividing America has come sharply into focus. In an Election Day poll, 22 percent of voters named ‘moral values’ as the issues most important to them, and 80 percent of those people voted for President George W. Bush. The passionate and difficult dialogues that often result when exploring the intersection of faith and politics played out on the NBC news program Meet the Press. Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, the Rev. Al Sharpton, the minister-politician who ran in the Democratic primaries, Jim Wallis, editorin- chief of Sojourners magazine and Dr Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Commission debated the separation between church and state in America. Rev. Sharpton, a former Democratic candidate for president, said: “We’re talking about whether we have the right to impose what we believe on people that may disagree with us. Even God gives you a choice of heaven and hell. We don’t have a right to tell people we’re going to force them to live in a way that we want them to live and, therefore, they’re going to heaven.” Dr Falwell wrote in a newsletter and on his website: “I believe it is the responsibility of every political conservative, every evangelical Christian, every pro-life Catholic, and every traditional Jew, every Reagan Democrat, and everyone in between to get serious about re-electing President Bush.” Dr Falwell said today that it was “my prayer and my hope” that Mr Bush appoints Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion. He said that he believed that marriage was, by definition, between a man and a woman and that he supported the passage of a constitutional amendment defining it as such.

Church Finds Ethics Expensive

The Church of England is reviewing its policy on ethical investments. Clerical insiders say the Church is facing serious financial problems and constraints posed by its ethical investment policy which had cost it an estimated £70m over the past six and a half years. They currently do not invest in arms, pornography or any company whose main business is in gambling, alcohol, tobacco or newspapers. It is suggested that while the Church is unlikely to start financing the arms trade or the tobacco industry, its attitude to alcohol and newspapers may become more lenient.

Zen and the Art of Wheel-Clamping

Buckle your seatbelts while you digest the following! It is reported that a vocational qualification in wheel-clamping (introduced by the examination board Edexel) will soon be compulsory for anyone “seeking a career in vehicle immobilisation.” Thirty hours of training, or ‘guided learning’, will be required. After fifteen hours of acquiring the techniques of clamping and dealing with necessary paperwork, those attaining more than 70% thus far will be given the opportunity to “develop an understanding of spiritual, moral, ethical, social and cultural issues and an awareness of environmental issues, health and safety considerations and European developments.”

This includes “overcoming communication blocks by using active listening techniques,” and learning how to calm aggression by employing a “suitable tone of voice and body.”

Antony Flew Finds ‘God’

In December, newspapers around the globe carried headlines such as “Atheist finds ‘God’ after 50 years”, to describe a remarkable change of mind by philosopher Antony Flew. The story was sparked by the release of a new video called Has Science Discovered God? in which Flew says that although he still accepts the theory of evolution, he now believes some sort of supreme intelligence to be the best explanation for the original appearance of selfreproducing life in the first place. He has therefore abandoned atheism in favour of a kind of ‘Deism’ Many of the newspapers noted that the first public hint of Flew’s new thinking was his letter to Philosophy Now’s August/Sept 2004 issue. However, Flew stresses that he still doesn’t believe in the Christian or Islamic God, or in life after death.

Wittgenstein III

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is famous for revolutionising philosophy twice over. The ‘Early’ Wittgenstein, author of the Tractatus, introduced the picture theory of language. The ‘Later’ Wittgenstein’, of the Philosophical Investigations, developed the idea of language games, and the idea of language as a set of tools.

However, a new collection of essays by Wittgenstein scholars claims to unearth another major shift in Ludwig’s ideas towards the end of his life. The new book, called The Third Wittgenstein (Ashgate 2004), focuses on a late work called On Certainty. The contributors claim that On Certainty should be recognised as one of Wittgenstein’s three great works.

Searle Wins Medal

President Bush awarded the 2004 National Humanities Medal to John Searle, the Mills Professor of Philosophy of Mind and Language at the University of California, Berkeley. He was honored for his efforts to deepen understanding of the human mind and for using his writings to shape modern thought, defend reason and objectivity, and define the debate about the nature of natural intelligence (all matters close to the President’s heart). The National Humanities Medal, issued annually since 1989, honors individuals and organizations whose work has deepened understanding of the humanities, expanded public engagement with the humanities, or has helped preserve access to the humanities. Past recipients include Adeleine L’Engle, education activist Marva Collins, historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, art critic Hilton Kramer, political scientist Harvey Mansfield, and writer Shelby Steele.

Ricoeur Wins Pile of Cash

The Library of Congress have honoured joint winners for this year’s John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences. Last year’s prize,the first, was awarded to the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. This year’s winners are French philosopher Paul Ricoeur and Yale historian Jaroslav who shared the $1 million award, announced recently by the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington. Born in France in 1913, Ricoeur received degrees from the University of Rennes (1932) and the Sorbonne (1935 and 1950). After years of teaching in France he moved to the USA where he taught at Yale and Chicago. Returning to France in 1991, he now lives in Paris. Billington paid tribute to Ricoeur saying that he “draws on the entire tradition of western philosophy to explore and explain common problems such as : What is self? How is memory used and abused? What is the nature of responsibility?”

Habermas Wins Prize Too

The philosopher Jürgen Habermas has won the Kyoto Prize, widely regarded as the most prestigious award for achievements in the sciences and humanities apart from the Nobel Prize. Habermas, who is probably Germany’s best-known intellectual, is the main successor to the Frankfurt School philosophers such as Adorno and Horkheimer. Formerly a Marxist, he has made major contributions to critical theory and to speech-act theory. He is a defender of ‘modernity’ against the postmodernists.

Where Are All the Women?

A new organization has just been established for women graduate students in philosophy. The founders of the Society for Women’s Advancement in Philosophy (S.W.A.P.) say that one of their main purposes is to encourage women graduate students to publish more articles and present more papers at conferences and colloquia, as part of the preparation for an academic career.

Swiss Vote for Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research highlights the moral divide facing both Americans and the European nations. In Switzerland a law was passed by parliament in 2003 permitting research on surplus human embryos. Afterwards, politicians from across the spectrum called for a referendum and urged Switzerland’s 4.7 million voters to repeal the new law under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy. However, in November, 1.15 million Swiss voted by a 2:1 majority to support the stem cell law. Turnout was well short of the average 40 percent participation in Swiss national ballots, a fact which political scientists blamed on the complexity of the issue. Embryonic stem cells are formed during initial development of the human embryo and give rise to the specialized cells of various body tissues, including heart, kidney and brain cells. They are a valuable research tool for studying the development of human tissues and may hold the key to developing medicines and therapies to treat a variety of diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. Opponents argue that stem cell research is tantamount to killing human life.

Braincells galore

British company ReNeuron has achieved a world-first by generating a bank of millions of nerve stem cells. By cloning and growing foetal stem cells then inserting a special gene to ‘immortalise’ them, the company has been able to turn braincells removed from a foetus, aborted for medical reasons, into specific cell types on a massive scale. ReNeuron believes that, introduced into the human body, naturally-present growth factors will turn these cells into cortex cells to treat stokes; strietal cells to treat Huntingdon’s disease; and into retinal cells to treat blindness.

Antichrist Lectures at Temple

Marilyn Manson, rock star and selfproclaimed ‘antichrist superstar’, guest lectured an ‘Art and Society’ class at Temple University. He opened the lecture with the question, “Can I share a bottle of red absinthe with you?” Manson, dressed in an all-black suit, dark lipstick, and bulbous sunglasses, answered students questions about art, politics, and religion. MTV filmed the whole ordeal.

Goldfish Bowl Teaching

Philosophy teacher Peter Ireland, Head of Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton, Cumbria, has installed two-way mirrors in one of his classrooms. Officially named the ‘professional development room’ but nicknamed the ‘goldfish bowl’, a one-way audio link allows observers outside the room to hear and privately discuss happenings. Mr Ireland believes it to be ‘powerful tool’ for improving teaching practices; and his staff are said to approve. The 11 to 18-year-old pupils know that observation during class is possible. Two-way mirrors are used to monitor clinical situations but is it ethical to place people under such surveillance in everyday situations?

Hobbit News

Archaeologists have found the remains of a 3-foot high figure with a human face but very small brain. The 18,000-year-old female skeleton, nicknamed ‘the Hobbit’, was discovered in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. Several similar skeletons have since been found by the team of Prof. Soejono of Indonesia and Dr Mike Morwood of Australia. The finds “suggests communicative skills and use of language”; if this was possible with a much smaller brain it may alter our understanding of intelligence and “what it means to be human” according to Prof. Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. The skeletons have been declared a new human species and named Homo floriensis. This is questioned by more sceptical scientists such as Jeffrey Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh who see no reason to include them in the human family.

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