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News

News: July/August 2008

Doctors to redefine what is normal • Speed learning trial quickly shows benefits • Charles Taylor prized in Kyoto — News reports by Sue Roberts and Cameron Pritchard

Getting Re-started

The well-known ‘For Beginners’ series of cartoon books about philosophy has been revived after a lengthy absence from the bookstores. The titles include Plato For Beginners, Nietzsche For Beginners, Philosophy For Beginners and many more, and mix graphics with erudition. The series was created by Glenn Thompson, and published for years by his Writers and Readers company. When Thompson died in 2001, the series ceased publication. However, the rights have now been acquired by Steerforth Press, who are reprinting the best-selling titles from the old catalogue and also commissioning new ‘For Beginners’ books as well.

Defining Normality

The American Psychiatric Association has selected members of a new panel to begin labouring on the latest and updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The panel’s objective, as it has been since the first edition of the manual was published in 1952, is to standardize and define the diagnostic criteria for a host of psychiatric maladies, including sexual aberration. The difficulty and controversy surrounding the latter issue has been precipitated by rapidly changing societal norms over the course of the last half century. At stake, some objectors argue, is the potential marginalization of certain behaviours under the pretence of empirical science – a danger that has incited transgender activists to oppose the appointment of David Zucker, head of the Identity and Gender Service at the Centre for Disease and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada.

Currently catalogued disorders include sadism, voyeurism, erectile disorders, transvestitism and pedophilia. Homosexuality, which was initially cited in the first edition as pathological, was subsequently removed beginning with the second edition in 1973 – a move that was hotly contested at the time by religious conservatives. Seemingly on the other end of the political spectrum, Dr Charles Moser, an affiliate of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, has suggested the removal of all paraphilias (unusual sexual interests) from the DSM; he argues that such a revision would, rather than excuse certain criminal behaviours, force transgressors to accept responsibility and deny them the use of pathology as a mitigating factor.

The projected publication date of this fifth edition of the DSM is 2012.

Charles Taylor Wins Kyoto Prize

This year’s winner of the Inamori Foundation’s annual Kyoto Prize for Lifetime Achievement in ‘Arts & Philosophy’ has been named as Charles Taylor (the Canadian philosopher, not the Liberian warlord of the same name). Dr Taylor, an emeritus professor at McGill University in Montreal, will receive a cheque for $460,000. He was selected for the prize for constructing a social philosophy that actively pursues the harmonious coexistence of diverse cultures. By advocating communitarianism and multiculturalism from the perspective of ‘holistic individualism’ Taylor’s approach encourages people to retain their diverse identities while living together peacefully. He argues that dialogue is the primary mechanism through which people develop identities and frameworks for determining what is good and valuable, and in this way links the development of each individual to his or her communal context. In his view, human beings are ‘self-interpreting animals’ – they articulate everyday feelings and moral intuitions into language and act according to their own interpretation of values and goals.

Are They Serious?

Among the many philosophy conference announcements reaching Philosophy Now’s offices is one circulated by the Lighthearted Philosophers Society, which describes itself as “an organization for philosophers who approach their work with a sense of humor.” This merry band will be holding their second annual meeting in October 2008 in St Petersburg, Florida. (The society’s president, David Monroe, teaches philosophy at St Petersburg College.) Their announcement invites contributions on philosophy of humor and witty papers on any other area of philosophy too, and says that “Papers that are funny will be given preference over those that aren’t.”

Speed learning

A technique based on research which has found the memory develops most effectively with short bursts of learning repeated at regular intervals, has been introduced to classes at Monkseaton Community High School in Tyne & Wear. The Head Teacher, Paul Kelley, said that following a successful pilot scheme the method would now be extended to all GCSE classes. He said “In rigorous evaluation, students show improvement regardless of subject, teacher or ability.” The technique involves holding eight-minute sessions of teaching followed by ten minutes to dribble a basketball or play word games before returning to another eight-minute teaching session. No mention was made of the teachers’ mental-health changes as a result of the pilot scheme!

Striving to reduce suffering?

In May the Dalai Lama was awarded an honorary PhD by London Metropolitan University for “outstanding achievements in promoting peace globally, as well as his spiritual guidance and leadership.” Following criticism of the award in the Chinese press, the university’s vice-chancellor has apologised for “any unhappiness” caused by making the award. A spokesperson for the university has emphasized that the apology was not for the award itself, which would not be retracted, but for the ‘unhappiness’ caused.

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