Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Madame Philosopher

The English, as we know, do not tend to be beauty contest winners -- their greatest product these days has been model Elizabeth Hurley who is only tolerable now after having undergone a major upheaval, mainly involving lip enhancement, possible blepharoplasty, other unknown cosmetic procedures and a helluva good stylist. Yes, indeed, generations of aristocratic inbreeding has done its deed. The men tend to go bald quite early and have sagging jowls or misplaced features, such as noses that are too close to the forehead or mouths that are too close to the chin -- not to mention ears that aspire to be wings or other abnormal appendages. The women fare no better and, especially as they age, tend to look more and more like men with wigs.

Nobody's perfect of course and race is an ambiguous designation after millennia of interbreeding amongst the once scattered but later well-travelled ethnicities of the world. Still let's not forget the Prince Charleses of England...

This is all by way of introduction to one Baroness Mary Warnock -- an interesting octogenarian who is a medical ethics expert and philosopher. She also happens to look like a man with a wig...but that's beside the point, of course. This week, the UK Independent online featured a segment where readers emailed questions to Warnock and she answered them. It is fascinating to observe the confidence and established knowledge of an older and indeed wiser individual -- especially one with such a strong academic background. The following is a selection of the questions and her answers. For the whole lot, click on the Independent's link to the feature.

Is there a God?
There have always been gods, either as objects of fear or of aspiration. Our ideas of God change with our understanding, both of ourselves and of the rest of nature. I doubt whether such changing ideas will ever disappear.

What happens to us when we die?
We disappear from existence. But that doesn't mean that we disappear from other people's minds and hearts.

When does life begin?
At no one moment. Fertilisation (or its equivalent in the production of an embryo in cloning) is a process rather than an event.

Should animals have rights?
We have duties towards animals that are in our power. But this does not entail that they have rights against us. The notion that all animals, wild as well as domestic, should be able to have rights upheld against human beings (or other animals) seems to me nonsensical.

Is it ever right to kill innocents in war?
It is never right to kill innocents - in the sense that it is never a duty to do so. But it may be inevitable that, in war, innocents are killed. War should be so conducted, if it must be, that the killing of the innocent is kept to the minimum. Its inevitability is the strongest argument against war.

Do you think women in the West have achieved equality?
No, though they have advanced.