Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alison Gopnik, "The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life"

A Sydney Ideas lecture

The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life

Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology and Affiliate Professor of Philosophy, University of California , Berkeley

Co-presented with the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, University of Sydney

In the last thirty years there's been a revolution in our scientific understanding of babies and young children, a revolution that's also transformed our understanding of human nature itself. In this talk, Alison Gopnik will outline some of the new discoveries and their implications for the way we think about young children and ourselves. Human beings have a longer childhood than any other animal - our children are more helpless and dependent than any others. Why make babies so helpless for so long? She shows that childhood - our long period of helplessness - is responsible for our uniquely human consciousness and our ability to learn, imagine and love. Their long protected childhood gives human babies an opportunity to learn and play, and that lets them plan and work as adults. Children not only learn about the world around them, they also learn about other people and themselves. By the time they are three or four they understand love and morality. These remarkable learning abilities reflect special features of babies' brains, features that may actually make babies more conscious than adults.

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She is an internationally recognised leader in the study of children's learning and development and was the first to argue that children's minds could help us understand deep philosophical questions.

Date: Thursday 24 February, 2011

Time: 6.00pm to 7.30pm

Venue: Law School Foyer, Eastern Avenue, the University of Sydney

Cost: Free event, no booking or registration required

Web: www.sydney.edu.au/sydney_ideas

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

DOES UNDERSTANDING EVOLUTION HELP US TO UNDERSTAND ETHICS? Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University

Sydney Ideas talk co-presented with Think Global School

Free event but registration is essential. (Registration is full. It will be audio and visually recorded - recordings will be available from the Sydney Ideas website.)

Evolution is neutral with regard to values. It is a fallacy to try to deduce what we ought to do from our understanding of evolution. But understanding evolution does help us to understand human nature, and since in ethics we are often interested in changing behaviour, evolution gives us valuable clues as to what is, or is not, likely to work. The first part of the lecture will explore this topic. In the second part, I will consider the argument that since our moral sense has evolved, it serves to enhance our reproductive fitness, and hence is not a guide to what is really right or wrong. I shall argue that there is some truth to this claim, but properly understood, it should lead us to scepticism about some ethical views, but not about ethics itself.

Peter Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, and educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford. He has taught at the University of Oxford, La Trobe University and Monash University, and has held several other visiting appointments. Since 1999 he has been Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. From 2005 on, he has also held the part-time position of Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

Peter Singer first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation. His other books include: Democracy and Disobedience; Practical Ethics; The Expanding Circle; Marx; Hegel; Animal Factories (with Jim Mason); The Reproduction Revolution (with Deane Wells), Should the Baby Live? (with Helga Kuhse), How Are We to Live?, Rethinking Life and Death, Ethics into Action, A Darwinian Left, One World, Pushing Time Away, The President of Good and Evil, How Ethical is Australia? (with Tom Gregg), The Way We Eat (with Jim Mason) and The Life You Can Save. He also co-authored The Greens with Bob Brown, founder of the Australian Greens.

Peter was the founding President of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. Outside academic life he is the co-founder, and President of The Great Ape Project, an international effort to obtain basic rights for chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. He is also President of Animal Rights International.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sydney Ideas talk by Professor Michael Hunter, "The Royal Society and the Decline of Magic"

A Sydney Ideas lecture co-presented with HPS and the SCFS.

The role of the Royal Society in the so-called ‘Decline of Magic’ was paradoxical. In the society’s early years, many of its Fellows were deeply committed to magical pursuits, while some urged the institution actively to investigate their validity. Yet in practice the society simply excluded magic from its corporate activities, for a variety of reasons on which it is possible to speculate. What is important is that, due to the society’s crucial role in defining the proper realm of scientific enquiry, the result was to banish magic from this by default. This proved surprisingly influential, leading to the emergence in the early 18th century of a myth of the society’s positive role in eradicating such beliefs which was erroneous but is significant in itself.

Michael Hunter has been Professor of History at Birkbeck since 1992. He is the principal editor of the Works (14 vols., 1999-2000) and Correspondence (6 vols., 2000) of Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry. In addition, he has written various interpretative works on Boyle, and his biography, Boyle: Between God and Science, was published in 2009. He has also written or edited many books on the history of ideas and their context in late 17th-century Britain, dealing with such themes as the early history of the Royal Society. His current research is on changing attitudes to magical ideas c. 1700. A further interest is in printed images of the period. A major grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2006 to 2009 resulted in the construction of the website, British Printed Images to 1700 a digital library of prints and book illustrations from early modern Britain, and the publication of an ancillary interpretive volume.

Date: Tuesday 15 February, 2011
Time: 6 to 7.30pm
Venue: Law School Foyer, Eastern Avenue, the University of Sydney
Cost: Free event, no booking or registration required
Web: sydney.edu.au/sydney_ideas