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News: November/December 2007
Philosophy Day Utopia • Krishna and Frede Dead • Half-Human/Half-Rabbit Embryos Given Green Light for Research — News reports by Sue Roberts
Paradise Found in Rochester, NY
UNESCO designated November 22 as 2007’s World Philosophy Day. Each November since 2003, the day has marked around the globe by locally-organised events celebrating philosophical discourse and the contribution it can make to human life. This year the headquarters of World Philosophy Day, (if a day can have a headquarters) is Istanbul. Various round tables and public lectures were arranged in that city, and also in a number of countries around the world. In Rochester, New York, an ambitious Philosophy Day event was organised at St John Fisher College, with a theme of ‘Philosophy and Utopias’. The hosts of this ideal event included Dr Timothy J. Madigan (the Editor of the issue of Philosophy Now which you are holding) and Dr David White, whose thoughts on pirate utopias appear towards the end of this issue.
In Britain, the government has completed a U-turn over its earlier proposals to ban research on human-animal hybrid embryos. This highly controversial research may produce advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases but for religious or ethical reasons it upsets a large number of people. Scientists carried out a very well-organised lobbying campaign to head off the proposed ban, and were eventually successful. Until now scientists have used surplus embryos from in vitro fertilisation procedures as a source of stem cells for research. The U-turn will allow the use of human-animal embryonic cells developed using rabbit or cow eggs.
Cardinal in Abortion Debate
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the legalisation of abortion in the UK. The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has surprised some by engaging in detailed debate over how to amend the abortion law. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor wrote in the national press supporting MPs who want to reduce the upper time limit for abortions from the current 24 weeks to 20. He rejected the advice given by the Royal College of Obstetricians that women should no longer have to obtain a second doctor’s signature to have an early abortion. O’Connor makes clear that his views don’t signal a fundamental shift in the Catholic position that abortion is unacceptable, but says that it is time for a fuller debate on the moral and ethical issues involved. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph he said “Emerging in the debates sparked by this anniversary is a palpable soul-searching among those with very different opinions on the morality of abortion who yet share both a profound unease with where we have come to, and an evident desire for change.” He justified his support for changes to the law, saying “While upholding the principle of the sacredness of human life , I believe it is both licit and important for those in public life to work and vote for achievable and incremental improvements to an unjust law.”
The Power of Gossip
Research on why humans co-operate with each other has revealed that gossip influences our opinions of people even when it contradicts the evidence of our own eyes.
A recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described an experiment involving 126 students, who played a game in which they could either co-operate with each other or cheat on each other. Between the rounds of the game they were permitted to spread rumours about the behaviour of the other students. This gossip had a significant effect on players’ perception of each other even if it ran counter to what they had themselves seen. Rumours that a player had cheated had a marked effect on the attitude of other players. The researchers explained this as a fear that a ‘busybody’ might know something others had missed and would trust this rather than their own judgment. Conversely, rumours that a player was helpful stimulated better co-operation.
Daya Krishna, eminent Indian thinker and former pro Vice-Chancellor of Rajasthan University, died on 5th October aged 84. Professor Krishna occupied a pivotal place on the contemporary Indian philosophical scene. For three decades he was the Editor of the Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, in which he often raised fundamental questions about classical texts and juxtaposed the Indian and Western approaches to philosophy. According to his colleague Prof Rajendra Swaroop Bhatnagar, Prof Krishna was critical yet open-minded, and always looking for new ideas. He authored more than a dozen books, including most recently The Traditions of Indian and Western Philosophies (Bharatiya Evam Paschatya Darshaniya Paramparaein). He also wrote on the relation between logic and the empirical world, on freedom and value, and on social and political philosophy. He is survived by two daughters.
The classicist Professor Michael Frede drowned while swimming in the Gulf of Corinth in August. He was 67. Frede had moved to Athens following his retirement in 2005 from the post of Professor of the History of Philosophy at Oxford University. Before his Oxford appointment, Frede was a philosophy professor at Princeton. As well as making major contributions to the understanding of Classical Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, Frede played a big part in reawakening scholarly interest in post-Aristotelian Hellenistic philosophy. In recent years he focused on another long-neglected area of ancient philosophy, the early Christian and non-Christian Platonist writers of the post-Hellenic period. This led to an important expansion of scholarly enquiry.