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News: May/June 2009

Website digests philosophy papers • Teaching schoolchildren to think better • Philosopher Marjorie Grene dies, aged 98 — News reports by Sue Roberts

Philosophers’ Digest

A new website called Philosophers’ Digest (philosophersdigest.com) aims to assist philosophers who want to keep up with the vast number of papers published in specialist journals in their field, but who struggle to find enough time. It publishes short reviews (of less than 1000 words) of current papers in academic philosophy journals. Publicity material says: “The Digest’s reviews may contain critical content, but their main purpose is expository, enabling philosophers to get a clear view of the major argumentative moves of a paper.” The site already contains reviews of papers from eight journals, including Ethics, the Journal of Philosophy and the Philosophical Quarterly.

Marjorie Grene

Professor Marjorie Grene died on March 16 at the age of 98. She wrote extensively about existentialism, having studied with Heidegger and Jaspers in Germany in the early 1930s. However, her most important contributions were in philosophy of science, particularly in the philosophy of biology. Grene lost her lecturing job at the University of Chicago in 1944, and spent the next fifteen years living on a farm, where she raised a family and rose early each morning to write philosophy before starting her farm chores. In 2002 Grene became the first woman to be the subject of a book in the highly prestigious Library of Living Philosophers series; an honour restricted to the most influential thinkers of the age.

Distinguished Woman Philosopher

Every year, the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWiP) names a Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the year. It announced in April that this year’s winner is Professor Lorraine Code of York University in Canada. Her best known book is What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge (1991).

Learning to Think: Version 1.0

If you have believed until now that good parenting includes dragging young offspring away from bingeing on chocolate bars in front of their monitors to play footie outside, think again. Radical changes to the curriculum in British primary schools are about to revolutionize their approach to technology and learning. These follow a review carried out by Sir Jim Rose, former director of inspections at the UK government’s school inspection service Ofsted. He proposed that traditional subjects be replaced by six broad ‘areas of learning’.

Children under eleven will be taught how to use Twitter, blogs, webcams and podcasts as part of a drive to develop an understanding of different ways to communicate online. In conjunction, new ‘well-being’ lessons will raise awareness about bullying on the internet and staying safe online. In maths classes, children will use spreadsheets to prepare budgets. Teachers will have more power to plan lessons and information technology will form the backbone of the curriculum.

The results of a three-year study by Michigan State University support the view that time spent on Playstation or Xbox video consoles improves visual-spatial skills, whereby a child learns by thinking in pictures and images. This study was part of a larger project exploring the effects of technology on children’s academic performance, social life, psychological well-being and moral reasoning.

Carrying Twitter or Facebook skills into the workplace can even make you a better employee, according to a study by the University of Melbourne. The results showed people who use the internet for personal reasons at work are 9% more productive than those who do not, as it helps to ‘sharpen concentration’.

And the chocolate? Researchers at Northumbria University have found that eating chocolate can be beneficial when undertaking mentally challenging tasks. Flavenols, compounds found in chocolate, work by increasing the flow of blood into the brain.

Learning to Think: Version 2.0

A London-based enterprise, Philosophy Shop, is recruiting university graduates to teach philosophy in 12 primary schools in London and 10 elsewhere in the UK. The aim is to help children think more creatively and expand their vocabulary. In 2002 psychologists in Scotland studied the benefits of teaching philosophy to schoolchildren. A survey of 105 10-year olds demonstrated significant improvements in tests of verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of sixteen months of lessons compared to a control group. However, the Campaign for Real Education say schools should concentrate on teaching the 3Rs in view of the number of youngsters who leave school without a fundamental grasp of these basics.

Baptism and History

An atheist, one John Hunt, has asked the Southwark diocese in London to remove his name from its baptismal roll because he believes he was too young to agree to the ceremony taking place. His request was refused because the roll is ‘a matter of historical record’. He has since obtained a copy of a ‘de-baptism’ certificate produced by the National Secular Society (NSS) rejecting ‘superstitions’ or the idea of original sin. The president of the NSS explains that the certificate was originally tongue-in-cheek, but estimates that 100,000 people have downloaded the certificates from their website over the past five years.

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