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News: March/April 2007

Wrestler turns philosophical • Millikan named woman philosopher of the year • Baudrillard dead at 77 — News reports by Sue Roberts

Wrestling with Ideas

In Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported that a local wrestler has become entranced by philosophy. Since wrestler Nick Baines blew into town (or rather into the University of Northern Iowa) he has, according to his college advisor, applied the discipline learned in his chosen sport to his academic studies. Majoring in philosophy and humanities, Nick has declared his intention of becoming a philosophy professor after graduation. Perhaps he takes inspiration from Plato, who is said to have followed a similar career path! (‘Plato’ was apparently the name he took when competing in the Isthmian Games, and means ‘Broad-Shoulders’).

What Is It To Be Human?

In Issue 59 we reported on the application by British scientists to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority for the green light to carry out experiments to fuse human with animal embryos. It now appears that permission will be granted. The controversial procedures could, according to scientists, provide insights into conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and motor neurone disease. It is reported that the British Government will provide the fertility watchdog with funds for a public debate on the subject. At present the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act 1990 makes it illegal to mix human and animal eggs and sperm.

In another much-debated move, human genes are to be used for the first time in commercial food production in the U.S.A. Ventria Bioscience of California will produce rice which contains proteins found in human saliva and breast-milk. The company claims it could be a source of nutrition and a remedy for diarrhoea for children in developing countries.

Philosophy Olympics

This year’s International Philosophy Olympiad will be held in Antalya, Turkey from May 18-21. The competition brings together high school students from around the world to participate in philosophical dialogue and competitive philosophy essay writing. Those taking part are usually the winners of national heats held previously. The Philosophy Olympiad has been held every year since 1993 and is run from Sophia University in Bulgaria, by an international committee. The choice of Turkey as venue is apt given that last year’s Gold Medal winner was Turkish.

Millikan Honoured

Professor Ruth Millikan was recently named as the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of 2006 by the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) at an award ceremony in Washington, DC. A prolific writer, her main areas of interest are the philosophy of biology, psychology and language. She is best known for her theory of ‘biosemantics’, which is an attempt to explain intentionality (the tendency of mental phenomena to be about something) in biological terms.

Group rights and equal access

Christian students at Exeter University have in recent months followed the example of those at Birmingham and Edinburgh Universities in standing up for what they perceive to be their rights. In this case the Christian Union stated that non-Christians were not allowed to join their executive committee. The response of the University and Student Guild has been to suspend the Union from the official list of student societies on campus, freeze its student union account and bar it from free use of guild facilities. They considered it to be an abuse of equal opportunities and said the Union would regain its privileges if it no longer required members to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, since that meant that participation in the society was not open to every student. The Christian Union was preparing to take legal action in response to what it sees as “a fundamental issue of freedom of speech and of common sense.” The union was told by the guild president, Jemma Percy, that they would in future be referred to as the Evangelical Christian Union and this is currently the case.

It all begs the question as to what might happen if a tone-deaf student applied to join a choir on campus.

Phenomenally Big Project

Ricoeur took an interest in it, and the late Prof. Wolfe Mays remarked that it would be the first complete phenomenological philosophy to be conceived in English”. Conceived 38 years ago, 26 years in the writing, Christopher Macann’s masterwork Being and Becoming finally saw the light of day in January. Its ambition, among other things, is to unify analytical and continental philosophy. At four volumes and 1700 pages it certainly is a great work. Whether Prof. Macann, of Bordeaux University, has his brain wrapped round the truth only time and a great deal of reading will tell... The first edition of Being and Becoming comprises four hardcover volumes in a slipcase, a snip at £125 (plus p&p). PDF files of the work can also be ordered at a more modest £6 from www.onlineoriginals.com. Macann will be explaining the basis of his phenomenology in the next issue of Philosophy Now.

STOP PRESS - Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher and social theorist, died on 6th March at the age of 77. Baudrillard was a postmodernist thinker whose writings foreshadowed the impact of the internet and who was famous for his view that modern society has replaced reality with endless signs and symbols. He was infamous for his remark that the first Gulf War never happened; that it was a ‘video game’. We will publish a full obituary in Issue 61.

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