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Tamas Pataki

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ADB replies to Paul Brunton

Dear Editor,

Paul Brunton has written of the quotas used in the selection of subjects for inclusion in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in a review (ABR, February 2006) headed ‘Mysterious quotas’, and in a follow-up letter (ABR, April 2006).

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Shortly before the federal elections of October 2004, Treasurer Peter Costello delivered an address entitled ‘The Moral Decay of Australia’ to 16,000 members of the Assemblies of God at the Sydney Hillsong Church. For his main theme, Costello invoked ‘the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition’, the core of which, according to him, was the Ten Commandments. He lamented that few people could recite the Commandments today, despite the fact that ‘they are the foundation of our law and our society’. He listed the legacy of that tradition as the rule of law, respect for life, respect for others and private property rights. ‘Tolerance under the law,’ he added, is also, ‘a great part of this tradition.’

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Racism in Mind edited by Michael P. Levine and Tamas Pataki

August 2004, no. 263

The anthropologists of some future galactic civilisation, sifting through the remains of human life on earth, will find much to puzzle them, but nothing more so than the propensity of supposedly rational creatures to denigrate, hate or even murder those who are perceived to be different in race. How should we understand racism? Where does it come from, and how can it be eradicated? The editors of this book have assembled an impressive collection of philosophers and psychologists to tackle these questions. Their wide-ranging and often conflicting answers do not make racism less puzzling, but, like all good philosophical investigations, this book has the effect of making the reader puzzle more profoundly.

The editors took a lot of pains with this collection. They ensured that it would be accessible to general readers, as well as scholars. The introduction, by Tamas Pataki, is particularly helpful in providing a framework for the discussion. The editors encouraged contributors to read and comment on each other’s work. The result is a discourse in which participants with different approaches and perspectives cooperate to tackle a matter of serious concern.

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Corrupting The Youth by James Franklin & The Philosophy Of Sir William Mitchell (1861–1962) by W. Martin Davies

April 2004, no. 260

Socrates was executed in 399 BC, charged with refusing to recognise the state gods, introducing new divinities and corrupting the youth. The indictment was probably politically motivated. The philosopher was closely associated with the recently deposed oligarchy led by the murderous Critias, and he had taught Alcibiades, who betrayed the state. Later, Aeschines rebuked the Athenians: ‘You put Socrates the Sophist to death because he was shown to have educated Critias.’

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In March 1944, George Szego, a sixteen-year-old student in a provincial town, watched apprehensively as German troops replaced its Hungarian army posts. The massive deportations that ended in the near annihilation of Hungarian Jewry in the extermination camps and slave gangs of Eastern Europe were not long in coming. Szego had been christened a Roman Catholic. His Jewish parents converted in the 1920s at the height of anti-Semitic sentiment and prohibitions, mainly by reason of prudence and ambition, but also because of the genuine admiration that gifted and educated Jews often conceived for the great cultures that have – if only grudgingly – harboured them, an admiration that found uncustomary expression in Szego senior’s pride in his military exploits and his desire to be a ‘Christian gentleman’.

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Peter Singer occupies a distinguished position at the Centre for Human Values at Princeton University and is frequently described as the most influential of living philosophers. The front cover of this new selection of his writings couples him with Bertrand Russell and, in some respects, the comparison is sensible. Both philosophers have written clearly and simply on issues that are of interest not only to specialists. They have attracted a wide reading public and achieved the kind of celebrity and notoriety rarely associated with philosophers. Both have been activists – Russell mainly in the cause of pacifism and nuclear disarmament, Singer in the cause of animal liberation and the preservation of the environment – and both have stood for parliament.

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