Earlier this month, when the news broke that Lars Vilks tragically died in a car crash, comments sections from Bangladesh to Tanzania, from Indonesia to Pakistan, erupted in gleeful celebration. Vilks was the Swedish artist who in 2007 stirred worldwide controversy with a series of drawings that depicted Muhammad as a dog. One of the most common reactions to his death was “Alhamdulillah,” an Arabic phrase that means “Praise be to God.” I am not a theologian by any means, but doesn’t that border on blasphemy? After all, praising God for the car crash implies that God had a hand not only in the death of Vilks, but also in the death of the two members of his security detail who had nothing to do with the offensive drawings, and were just doing their job. One commentator proclaimed that he “bought a cake to celebrate,” and there was plenty of language used by other commentators that cannot be reproduced in a decent newspaper. Comments sections of course are not exactly known for nuanced and intelligent discussion. Rather, they often bring out the worst in people, and I am reasonably confident that the vast majority of Muslims do not share the jubilant attitude toward the death of Vilks and the two police officers. Yet, that attitude still seems to be prevalent enough to warrant reflection.Continue reading “Celebrating the Death of Lars Vilks Diminishes Our Humanity”
Philosophy is often dismissed as impractical and of little relevance to everyday life. But the reality of business speaks a different story. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs come from a philosophy background. Philosophers pay attention to every minute detail of a problem, yet don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and have a unique set of skills that enables them to drive innovation and makes them valuable assets for any business.
I caught up with five of my former students at the University of Dar es Salaam who are now up-and-coming entrepreneurs, and I asked them about philosophy and their experiences as philosophers in business.Continue reading “What lessons can Socrates offer to the world of business?”
Voici une traduction française de mon dernier article, qui a été publiée dans le Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics:
L’article résume les principaux arguments de certaines de mes récentes recherches en éthique animale. Je soutiens que l’idée qu’il existe une différence moralement pertinente entre les humains et les autres animaux est incompatible avec la science moderne. Merci beaucoup à Valéry Giroux et surtout à François Jaquet pour la traduction, et merci également à Shamima Lasker pour avoir autorisé la réimpression de cet article en français.
Hasna Begum, former professor of philosophy at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, has died. She was known for her work in feminist, social, and moral philosophy, her poetry, and her love and kindness toward others.
Hasna was born on February 24, 1935 in Dhaka in what was then the British Raj. She went to school in Kolkata and Dhaka until her family arranged for her to get married at the age of only thirteen. For the next thirteen years, during which she gave birth to six children, she dedicated all of her time to her family. She then resumed her education and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dhaka in 1968, followed by a master’s degree from the same university in 1969. In 1978, she was awarded a PhD in Philosophy by Monash University in Australia, where she was the first doctoral advisee of Peter Singer, now the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. For her dissertation, which was later published as a book, she investigated the moral philosophy of British philosopher G. E. Moore.Continue reading “Bangladeshi philosopher, feminist author, and social activist Hasna Begum dead at 85”
Almost everything about my birth as a girl from a middle class family in the subcontinent presaged my life as a dutiful daughter, a good wife and mother. I was the elder of two daughters of Abdul Hafiz, a man of extraordinary scholarly achievement, and his wife Rabeya Khatun, modestly educated but an independent thinker. She saw no reason why her children’s gender should hold them back. My life began in 1935 in Dhaka, East Bengal, at the home of my mother’s elder brother, Dr. Momtazuddin Ahmed, House Tutor of Salimullah Muslim Hall. Dr. Shahanara Husain is my only sister.
As a young girl, I was enrolled in school in Kolkata. These were years of extreme political upheaval and communal strife among Hindus and Muslims at the conclusion of British colonial subjugation. Thus my early education was mostly home tutoring. When my family moved to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, I actually completed an entire school year. My schooling was once again interrupted when my 39 year old cousin requested my hand in marriage when I was barely fourteen. My mother did not wish this for me and with her brother’s help, hastily arranged my marriage to the eldest son of Professor Kazemuddin Ahmed, Nuruddin Md. Selim. I became a young wife in 1949 and a mother to my first daughter within a year.Continue reading “Housewife to Professor, by Hasna Begum”
Leaving behind family and friends in Bangla Desh, a grandmother has come to Australia to satisfy her longing for higher education.
A very young grandmother, Hasna Begum, who was 36 last month, was married at 13, which is unusual even in Bangla Desh.
“Arranged marriages are really no longer the custom in my country now,” she said when I called to see her in the outer Melbourne suburb of Clayton, where she is staying.
“Mine was the last in my family as my younger sister did not marry until after she gained her Master of Arts degree.”
Hasna Begum (which means Beauty Queen) was married to a cousin, Selim, who is ten years older but, she said, “very considerate.”
Her first child, a daughter Shama, was born when she was 14. “I was a child with a child,” she said rather ruefully. “But we had no sex education and had to cope the best way we could.”
Shama now has a six-month-old son of her own.Continue reading “Self-imposed exile is simply a matter of degree”
Traditional morality assumes that there is something morally special about being human. The fact that someone is a human being, rather than, say, a dog or a cow, makes a big difference in how he or she may be treated. Humans have full and equal moral worth or dignity and thus may not be killed, even if doing so would promote the greater good, whereas non-human animals have a lesser moral status and can be sacrificed for even the most trivial human pleasures.
This moral worldview fits well with the Aristotelian idea of a hierarchy of being, according to which each species is a static group of organisms with a distinct essence. The philosophical line that morally distinguishes humans from other animals corresponds to the empirical line that Aristotle thought distinguishes the human species from other animal species. Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, however, we know that there is no such line on the empirical side of things. We now understand that all life is interrelated, and that biological characteristics come in degrees and continually evolve as a result of natural selection. As the principle of evolutionary continuity informs us, any differences between species are differences in degree, and not in kind. The real picture looks something like this:Continue reading “An evolutionary argument against exclusively human dignity”
Philosophy Tanzania is a Tanzania-based mailing list for everyone, everywhere with an interest in philosophy.
The list features philosophical discussions, book and article recommendations and reviews, philosophy videos, news, and events, calls for papers, information about graduate programs and scholarships in philosophy, and more.
To join, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, wait for the response, and follow the instructions. Karibu sana!
Should active enemies of freedom be allowed into free countries? In 2007, speaking at Columbia University in New York City, then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad memorably declared that there are no homosexuals in Iran, drawing derisive laughter from the audience. He also made similarly outrageous remarks about the Holocaust and women’s rights in Iran. Thousands protested, and the world saw him for what he is – an ignorant bigot who as president exhibited “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” as the university’s president put it in his introduction. Untrue and immoral speech tends to discredit itself, especially under scrutiny, and that is precisely why it should not only be permitted but welcomed.
Secretary Mike Pompeo last week declared Paul Makonda and his wife, Mary Massenge, ineligible for entry into the United States. In a statement released by the U.S. State Department, Pompeo said he was banning Makonda “due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights, which include the flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” He did not state which right violations specifically led to the decision. I say, let him come, and treat him to some good old American free speech. Continue reading “Let Paul Makonda come to America”
On Tuesday, December 3, 2019, the Department of Philosophy at Jagannath University in Dhaka, Bangladesh hosted a day-long workshop on the life and philosophy of American philosopher Tom Regan. The workshop was conducted by Wilson John Simon, a researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and me. We were invited by the Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy, Professor Siddhartha Shankar Joarder, who also moderated part of the discussion. Continue reading “Jagannath University students discuss the philosophy of animal rights”
Jaalia katika fikra zako kwamba: leo ni siku muruwa ya mwezi wa Septemba. Hakuna joto wala baridi, upepo mwanana unapepea na mawingu yanang’ara angani. Unachukua blanketi lako na kuelekea katika moja ya fukwe huru za jiji la Dar es salaam. Unajiandaa kwenda kujipumzisha ufukweni hapo na kufurahia machweo jua. Bali unapofika ufukweni mipango yako inatibuliwa bila ya kutegemea. Unaelezwa na afisa ulinzi kuwa serikali imeweka sheria mpya za matumizi ya fukwe. Unaambiwa kwamba huwezi kutumia ufukwe huo kwa vile wewe ni mtu mweusi. Watu wengine wowote wanaruhusiwa kutumia fukwe hizo isipokuwa watu weusi tu, na iwapo mtu mweusi yeyote angekaidi amri hiyo basi nguvu ingeweza kutumika. Continue reading “Ubaguzi mubashara: kadhia ya maadili dhidi ya uwepo wa mipaka”
If you study engineering, medicine, law, or almost any of the other subjects taught at university, you learn this, and you learn that, and in the end you know some things that others do not. Philosophy is different, and rather unique in that regard. After studying it for many years, I feel like I know not more but less than when I started, and I suspect the feeling is common among philosophers. That is because philosophy is not so much about providing answers as it is about asking questions. A consequence, unfortunately, is that the value of studying philosophy is easily underestimated. After all, what use is an academic discipline that cannot provide definite answers? With so many mundane yet significant day-to-day problems, why waste time and resources on splitting hairs and pondering in abstract thought? The concern behind these questions might seem particularly relevant in Tanzania, where a large portion of the population still lives in poverty and there is an understandable longing for immediate practical results, and it might be part of the reason why the Department of Philosophy at Tanzania’s oldest public university, the University of Dar es Salaam, was finally established only five years ago, in 2013. Continue reading “Philosophy means business”
Consider the following thought experiment: It is a pleasant day in September. It is not too hot, not too cold, and not too windy, and the sky is clear. You grab a blanket and head to one of Dar es Salaam’s public beaches, intent to make yourself comfortable by the seaside and enjoy the sunset. Once at the beach, however, your plans are rudely thwarted. You are informed by a law enforcement officer that the government has put a new policy in place. You are told that you may not access the beach – because you are black. Black people and only black people are no longer allowed on the beach. If necessary, that policy will be enforced by the use of physical force. Continue reading “Discrimination in plain sight: The moral case against borders”
Dyu Publication, a Dhaka-based press, published a Bangla translation of Tom Regan‘s The Philosophy of Animal Rights (ISBN: 978-984-93197-6-4; English original available here), which offers an accessible and compelling introduction to the philosophy of animal rights. This is the first time any of Regan’s work has been translated into Bangla. Continue reading “Bangla translation of Tom Regan’s The Philosophy of Animal Rights published”
Horrified by the tragic loss of innocent human life in the then-ongoing Vietnam War, a young philosopher by the name of Tom Regan went to the university library and buried himself in books on war, violence, and human rights, determined to prove that the American involvement in the war was morally wrong. One day, he picked up Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Reading it with great care and interest, he must have come across the following lines:
“To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” Continue reading “Philosopher-activist Tom Regan, preeminent advocate of animal rights, dead at 78”
The way we think about and treat non-human animals is deeply confused, and scholars are in a unique position to provide some clarity. The Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics hence decided to dedicate two special issues to the relationship between human beings and other animals, and asked me to be the guest editor.
Less than two weeks after the first issue was published, the second special issues has now been published as well, and is available here. My editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
- Bob Fischer (Texas State University, U.S.A.):
Wild Fish and Expected Utility
- Akande Michael Aina (Lagos State University, Nigeria) & Ofuasia Emmanuel (Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria):
The Chicken Fallacy and the Ethics of Cruelty to Non-Human Animals
- Iván Ortega Rodríguez (Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain):
Animal Citizenship, Phenomenology, and Ontology: Some reflections on Donaldson’s & Kymlicka’s Zoopolis
- Rhyddhi Chakraborty (American University of Sovereign Nations, U.S.A.):
Animal Ethics and India: Understanding the Connection through the Capabilities Approach
- Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.):
Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 2
Last August, I accepted an invitation to edit a special issue of the Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics, devoted to animal ethics. The interest was so great that one issue became two, the first of which has just been published.
- Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.):
Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 1
- Eric X. Qi (Rice University, U.S.A.):
Special Relations, Special Obligations, and Speciesism
- Yamikani Ndasauka & Grivas M. Kayange (University of Malawi, Malawi):
Existence and Needs: A case for the equal moral considerability of non-human animals
- Sreetama Chakraborty (Belda College, India):
Animal Ethics: Beyond Neutrality, Universality, and Consistency
- Gabriel Vidal Quiñones (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile):
Singerian Vegetarianism and the Limits of Utilitarianism: A path towards a Meaning Ethics
This presentation by Professor Tom Regan (North Carolina State University, USA) was recorded at the University of Heidelberg in Germany on May 24, 2006. It is a great resource for the classroom and anybody with an interest in animal ethics.
Abstract. Philosopher Tom Regan begins by contrasting the fact that many people make a firm distinction between the animals they live with (cats and dogs, for example) and other animals. He explains how it is that Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) extend the same sense of compassion and respect that they feel for companion animals, on the one hand, to the other animals who routinely are turned into food, clothing, and the like, on the other. Not all ARAs, he explains, arrive at this destination in the same way. In particular, some need to be convinced; some need a logical argument. Professor Regan accepts this challenge and invites others to consider the main factual and moral questions whose answers inform the conviction that animals have rights.