Friday, June 20, 2008

Taylor wins Kyoto Prize

Political theorist, McGill emeritus professor, and winner of last year's Templeton Prize, and lately co-chair of the Quebec commission on reasonable accommodation has won this year's Kyoto Prize.
The prize, which is often referred to as the "Japanese Nobel", consists of a gold medal and 50 million yen ($470,765) in cash.

"I'm very, very honoured and I still haven't quite gotten over it," Taylor said.

"I feel there must have been some mistake, but I'm honoured to think that I place on a par with those other people that have won this award," including German thinker J├╝rgen Habermas.

The award citation follows.
Construction of a social philosophy to pursue the coexistence of diverse cultures

Dr. Charles Taylor is an outstanding philosopher who advocates "communitarianism" and "multiculturalism" from the perspective of "holistic individualism." He has constructed and endeavored to put into practice a social philosophy that allows human beings with different historical, traditional, and cultural backgrounds to retain their multiple identities and to live in happiness with each other.

He has criticized the atomistic view of the self, the conception of the human being grounded in the human sciences of naturalistic tendency such as methodological individualism and behaviorism, and tried to establish a "philosophical anthropology" on a foundation of phenomenology, hermeneutics, and language-game theory. In his view, human beings are "self-interpreting animals" that act with a sense of value and purpose: human beings articulate everyday feelings and moral intuitions in language and act according to their own evaluation of goals and values. He criticizes modern utilitarianism for leaving value judgments to the feelings and preferences of the atomistic selves and argues against it that human beings are the "situated selves" that are embedded in the fabric of social relations. In other words, it is through webs of interlocution that human beings develop identities and acquire frameworks within which they determine for themselves what is good, what is valuable, what they should do, and what they are for or against.

Having made extensive studies of the philosophy of Hegel, which are widely regarded as the best contemporary work on the philosopher written in English, Dr. Taylor delved back into the thought of Rousseau and Herder. He then adopted Gadamer's notions "fusion of horizons" and "history of effects" to situate his own thought in a historical context and has built a convincing social theory. Drawing on the concept of "recognition," which is a key to his philosophy, he contrasts the "dialogical self" with the "monological self" and offers "freedom in situation" in place of "absolute freedom." Human beings can flourish only if their identities are recognized by others and, accordingly, he stresses the importance of bonds with community and sense of community as a necessary condition for the realization of liberalism emphasizing individual autonomy.

The concept of recognition is at the base of Dr. Taylor's multiculturalism as well. Identity-formation in modern society is sometimes rooted in a distorted recognition, and this often results in self-repression and in a subsequent struggle aimed at a revision of "self-representations" projected upon by others. Dr. Taylor argues that "it's reasonable to suppose that cultures that have provided the horizon of meaning for large numbers of human beings, of diverse characters and temperaments, over a long period of time are almost certain to have something that deserves our admiration and respect, even if it goes along with much that we have to abhor and reject." In putting forth this principle, he has provided rational grounds for the dignity of human beings living a deep diversity and for their demands for recognition.

In his native Canada, Dr. Taylor is also involved in political activities campaigning for the recognition of collective rights of minority groups to preserve their cultural identities. He has been seeking a way to overcome Eurocentrism and to reach for genuinely global values, paying due attention to the specific conditions of non-Western societies. He has invariably aspired to a society resting on mutual recognition, where each member strives by mutual efforts through dialogue for a better understanding and for changing the narrow frameworks of understanding with the realization that the space occupied by him/her as a self within the whole "story" of mankind is quite limited and he/she is in no possession of an absolute standard for judging the relative merits of various cultures. Dr. Taylor is a prominent thinker who has pointed the future course for us through his own life, envisioning the future in which diverse, heterogeneous cultures peacefully coexist upon mutual recognition.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"May equality live long and prosper."

Impending nuptials for George Takei.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I'm going to live forever, part 73 of a continuing series

More good news about the nectar of the gods.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers looked at coffee drinking and the risk of dying from heart disease, cancer or any other cause. They found that people who drank more coffee were less likely to die during 18 years of follow-up in men, and 24 years of follow-up in women.

And the effect was strongest in women: those who drank two to five cups of coffee a day were up to 26 per cent less likely to die than abstainers - mainly because of a lower risk of death from heart disease.

Women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily were 25 per cent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than "non-consumers."

Those who drank more - four to five daily cups of coffee - saw their odds fare even better, to 34 per cent reduced risk.

Researchers found similar patterns for men, but the numbers didn't reach statistical significance, meaning they may be due to chance.

The team found no association between coffee drinking and dying of cancer in either gender.

"Previous studies had been inconsistent. Some of them found that coffee increased the risk of total death and others found just the opposite," says Esther Lopez-Garcia, the study's lead author.

Published in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine, the new study suggests that "coffee drinkers can be reassured that coffee doesn't increase the risk of death," says Lopez-Garcia, of the department of preventive medicine and public health at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.

Showing something of an excess of scholarly caution,

Lopez-Garcia isn't recommending people drink more coffee to live longer. "It's too early to say coffee is beneficial for health," she says.

It's not too early; it just feels that way because you haven't had enough coffee yet!