Intention Care

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While I’m in sympathy with the conclusion I’m not sure about the reasoning:

“If it was technically possible [to remove an image painted over another] it would certainly be unethical, as it was Magritte himself that decided to cut up one of his paintings and then create new compositions over the fragments,” she said.

“The preservation of the artist’s intention is in my opinion our main priority.”

“Non-invasive and non-destructive imaging techniques will enable us to make a reconstructed image of the hidden painting.”

Creators’ intentions and wishes have come up before—Kafka, Nabokov, Vergil...—but those cases involved unpublished work (enabling appeals to privacy, or to a desire not to be remembered for unfinished compositions), along with the intention that it should never be made available for public viewing... which is clearly not the intention being honoured here, as the third sentence shows. Favouring non-destructive imaging because the painting on top has some (ethically salient) worth of its own would be a familiar form of argument. Even an argument from posthumous harm might be more easily linked to destruction of the artist’s later painting. Reifying intent and setting it up as the thing you most want to preserve... I’m not sure what to make of that.

Future Imperfect

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Until recently I thought the trickiest thing about long-term intergenerational ethics was the need to peer into distant, largely unpredictable futures. I have changed my mind. After pondering sentences like ‘Unborn generations depend on us’ (will depend? are going to depend? will be already depending? are yet going to have used to depend? will have been using to go to be having depended?) I’m just glad I don’t also have to deal with the grammar of time travel.


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As I understand it (from some distance), the story so far goes something like this: (1) The students’ union at the School of Oriental and African Studies urges that its philosophy-related courses should teach mostly African and Asian thinkers (not in itself startling given the name of the institution), and insofar as white philosophers must be taught this should be through a sociohistorically ‘critical’ lens (whether the African and Asian philosophers are to be taught uncritically is unclear). This forms part of its agenda of ‘decolonisation’. (2) The press picks up the story, linking it to topical debate about ‘student satisfaction’ in university rankings and funding. Since we were not actually told which philosophers’ work is surplus to decolonised requirements, the press speculatively drops in a few names from the list of greats. Some reports note that one of the minds behind the declaration is an admirer of Frantz Fanon, whose influences included, er, Karl Marx. (3) The SOAS union posts either a semi-clarification or a semi-backpedal, depending on your interpretation.

Goodness knows what they’d make of the Meirokusha.

Sadly, slapdash student manifestos about ‘decolonisation’, if they have any effect on the status of philosophy beyond the Western canon, might well have a counterproductive one, undoing work done by scholars to gain those schools of thought a wider hearing and get them taken more seriously in Anglophone philosophy. Such an approach hardly looks supportive of the kind of comparative philosophy which says, you know how our usual approaches haven’t solved this puzzle, well Nagarjuna said something interesting...

The Leading Question

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Historic England has commenced a series of what it calls online debates ‘where conservation and heritage experts debate the topics uppermost in their minds’, beginning with: ‘Why is a diverse and inclusive workplace essential for the heritage sector?’

It must have been a much neglected question hitherto; none of the people I’ve known who were struggling to find or keep employment in the sector ever asked me that one.

Cultural Transmission

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This week I learnt that my work has been plagiarised in a heritage/UNESCO-themed document apparently issued to school pupils by the Nanking Model United Nations. Setting a great example there...