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News

News: July/August 2007

Richard Rorty Dead • Plato Goes to Broadway • Mobster was secret philosopher • Joan Callahan is philosophy’s woman of the year — News reports by Sue Roberts

Mobster Philosopher Killed

Mafia power struggles claimed an unusual victim this summer. The reputed leader of the Porto Nuova clan of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra was gunned down on a Palermo street. Nothing unusual there perhaps – except that investigating officers discovered that the victim, Nicola Ingarao, had taken an exam in the history of philosophy at Palermo University the day before his ‘execution’. The 46-year old had apparently taken up studying philosophy while incarcerated in Pagliarelli jail for nine years at an earlier stage in his career. His interest in philosophical questions was sparked by reading the Old Testament Book of Wisdom (regarded by Protestants as part of the Apocrypha). He enrolled in a philosophy course from prison, attending classes after his release in February. His professor at the university described Ingarao as a model student, believing that he “owned a toy shop and was interested in studying philosophy for his personal enrichment.”

Wait Til the Height of the Storm!

A procedure said to be “a necessary step toward creating artificial life” has been undertaken by scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland. Taking all the DNA from a bacterial cell and transplanting it into a closely related species, they have succeeded turning the recipient cells into the first type of cell. They describe this as a ‘genome transplant’. If they can now replicate the procedure using a synthetically constructed genome it would enable them to design and create lifeforms from scratch. While this would enable them to create new kinds of bacteria for positive uses such as digesting toxic waste or producing ethanol for fuel, it raises concerns that someday the technology could be used to create a new generation of bioweapons.

Woman Philosopher of 2007

Joan Callahan has been named as the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of 2007 by the Society for Women in Philosophy. Callahan teaches at the University of Kentucky and is an award-winning author. Recognised both for her own contributions to ethics and her support of women in philosophy, she will be honoured at a celebratory reception on 28th December in Baltimore, at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA). Professor Callahan was the co-author with James Knight of Preventing Birth: Contemporary Methods & Related Moral Controversies which received the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1991. She is a founding member of the Association of Feminist Ethics & Social Theory, and is just completing a stint on the APA’s Board of Officers, as Chair of its Committee on Inclusiveness in the Profession.

The Spiritual Simpsons

Homer Simpson and the Archbishop of Canterbury might seem unlikely bed-fellows but the Archbishop, Rowan Williams, has given his blessing to a scheme whereby a book called Mixing It Up With The Simpsons has been sent to youth advisors in every diocese in England. The book’s author, Church of England youth worker Owen Smith, says “The Simpsons is hugely moral with many episodes dealing with issues and dilemmas faced by young people.” He believes the willingness of the show’s writers to deal with questions of morality and spirituality makes it an ideal tool for reaching out to the young. The Archbishop has in the past expressed admiration for the show and was reported to have been approached to appear on it a few years ago.

Plato and Aristotle On Broadway

June saw the world premiere of two newly adapted one act plays based on classic philosophical texts. The plays were performed at the acclaimed arts institution The Kitchen, in Chelsea, Manhattan as part of the ‘On the Greeks’ season presented by the Target Margin Theater Group. The first of the pair, ‘The Argument’, is based on Aristotle’s Poetics. The second play, ‘Dinner Party’, is an adaptation of Plato’s Symposium As any self-respecting Platonist knows, ‘symposium’ means drinking party, and Plato’s dialogue is an account of a dinner party at which Socrates and his fellow guests talk about the nature of love.

Havana Thoughtful Look Around

The University of Havana was the host in June to the 19th Conference of Philosophers & Scientists from Cuba and the United States. Conference subjects included religion, socialism, opposition to capitalism, education and the concept of empire inside and outside the US. The meeting, promoted jointly by the US Radical Philosophy Association and the Dept of Philosophy of the University of Havana, was intended to be “a challenge for collective intelligence on the search for the role social scientists should play in today’s world.” Over the past 25 years this series of conferences has enabled about 800 American philosophers and scholars to debate with their Cuban counterparts and observe life there at first hand. By being there, the philosophers are defying a 50 year old US Government ban on its citizens travelling to Cuba.

Richard Rorty Dies

The well-known American philosopher Richard Rorty died of pancreatic cancer on June 8th, aged 75. His obituary is here.

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