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Janet Cameron has a BA (Hons) 2.1 with the Open University in literature and philosophy, (1994-96) including "The Philosophy of Art." She holds an MA in modern poetry with the University of Kent at Canterbury, (2001-2003), incorporating the philosophical manifestos of major poets and the work of the controversial founding father of deconstruction in philosophy, Jacques Derrida. Janet is a retired lecturer at the University of Kent.
Cameron holds a full Cert.Ed in further education (1993) and has lectured for many years in English literature and creative writing. She is an award-winning writer, and the author of twelve books, mostly regional history publications, numerous articles on history, philosophy, feminism and human rights and short literary fiction. She also writes a monthly magazine column for Writers Forum.
on March 15, 2015 :
I’m a bit of a philosophy novice, not one to consort too readily with big ideas and even bigger dilemmas; so I approached this book with a degree of caution.
I needn’t have worried. Just as in her earlier book, Fifteen Women Philosophers you should have learned about in school: (but probably didn’t), Janet Cameron employs her gift for making philosophy both accessible and relevant. In language which the layman can understand she looks at the philosophical arguments underlying some of the big issues facing us today — not just the Greek philosophers of thousands of years ago.
Why is the N-word offensive? What price individual happiness when set against the greater good? How can we balance cultural values against gender-based abortion? And how important is it to use language accurately (whatever that means)? These are just a few of the topics covered in the book. It isn’t long, but Cameron weaves the thoughts of the ancients with those of some very modern philosophers (several are interviewed for the book) and presents some difficult philosophical concepts in a modern manner. I keep finding myself referring to it in conversation and that’s a mark of its quality — it’s an excellent, and above all relevant, introduction to practical philosophy in a modern age.
(reviewed 12 days after purchase)
on March 04, 2015 :
Understanding the Argument.
Janet Cameron is intent on convincing those who believe that philosophy is “airy-fairy stuff”, of no practical use, they are wrong. She does so by explaining how philosophy can help us reach informed conclusions about specific current moral and ethical issues. She examines six from the perspecitive of particular philosophical ideas: animal rights; the desirability of immortality; the pursuit of happiness; the preference in some cultures for sons over daughters; the way language can be used to reduce the emotional impact of a proposition; whether punishment should fit the crime, the perpetrator's background or the needs of the victim.
On the subject of animal rights she turns on the one hand to the philosopher Peter Singer who argued that all sentient beings are capable of suffering and that, therefore, animals have the same right as humans to be protected from suffering. On the other hand are those, like Howard Darmstadter, who argue that the relief of human suffering should take precedence; if the greater good of humankind can be served by the suffering of animals, for example using them for food or in testing pharmaceutical products, then the suffering of the animals is acceptable. Cameron concedes there are complicating factors: doubts about whether animals' really do experience suffering; whether the suffering endured in order to satisfy human needs is worse than the suffering that is part of their lives in nature; whether animal tests to verify the safety of cosmetic products are of a different order to those aimed at finding cures for diseases.
The problem, as Cameron points out, is that philosophers like Singer tend to deal in absolutes, in black and white, rather than the grey that permeates each of these dilemmas. She cites David Hume who argues for human instinct over pure reason when considering such questions. It might seem that this runs counter to her central argument. Because we are free to choose we can dismiss Singer and put our own interests ahead of those of animals, we can follow our hearts and do everything in our power to avoid causing suffering in animals – become vegetarian, refuse to buy products tested on animals – or we can steer a middle way, eating only meat we know has come from farms that treat their animals well. Whichever choice we make, consideration of the philosophies underlying the possibilities will, according to Cameron, help us in that choice.
And so it is with the other dilemmas. She is especially good when considering the use and miss-use of language, including the use of racial insults. The final chapter is an interview with Adam Croom who argues that the effect of the insult depends crucially upon the relationship between the person delivering the insult and the person on the receiving end. Good friends can use all manner of insults between themselves that would, if used in a dispute with an enemy, have a very different impact.
I do have a problem with her discussion of cultural issues, the problem being that culture and philosophy are so closely intertwined. We may pay attention to the teachings of modern philosophers but the core of our beliefs, our moral certainties in Western civilisation, are based on Judeo-Christian teachings. How far should we go in imposing those ideas on other cultures that are based on a different set of moral values? It is here that we come back to the “airy-fairy” nature of philosophy and religion: both are based on belief rather than scientifically observable fact. That does not distract from the value of Cameron's latest offering which will appeal to anyone with an enquiring mind who is perplexed by the complexity of our twenty-first century lives.
(reviewed the day of purchase)