Monday, 31 August 2009

A Song Of Life For Today

What Are We?

We are not our thoughts.

We are not our desires.
We strive to become our hopes,

To know what we are not.

Our body is like a rose tree,
Which puts out many-petalled flowers.
Dancing in the wind for a while

Like someone who is free.

We are like the grass of springtime.
Our hearts grow green again,
To cover the cart tracks and footprints,
Of endless winters and sunless mind.

Virtual water – what we do not see. 

It takes 37 litres of water to produce a cup of coffee.

During the short time I needed to attach this link, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost more than what an average American family earns in a year. $907.3 billion could pay for comprehensive health care for all Americans for 1 year and half a lifetime for Africa.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Are Women Philosophers Any Good?

Ask people to name philosophers; and they’ll give you Plato, Socrates, Aristoteles, Yajnavalkya or Confucius – all men. An older man with a beard – this is the typical image of a philosopher. Why is there hardly any mention of women philosophers? Are women really so hopeless at philosophy?

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

But how can we evaluate if women philosophers are good in general, compared to men? 
  • What does good mean in such a comparison? Is it creativity in approaching issues? 
  • Does it mean the precision of formulating thoughts and raising questions? 
  • Is it the number of peer reviewed articles and books she writes in high impact factor publications and how often is she cited or is it just how famous she becomes?

What is Philosophy - A Definition of Philosophy!

Before we get around to finding women philosophers, and discovering if they are on par with men philosophers, we need to define what we mean by philosophy. I, a man, am not a professional philosopher, so please be charitable towards my feeble attempt.

A poet or an artist is concerned with the aesthetic side of a subject, an economist is concerned with the profit and loss or quantification of a phenomenon and a scientist is concerned with some particular aspect of existence and phenomena like how a pathogen causes disease or how exactly a variation of temperature changes certain properties of a substance. In contrast, philosophy attempts to understand life and how humans relate to existence as a whole by raising general questions about reality, existence, goodness, justice, knowledge, beauty etc.

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

The word philosophy comes from ancient Greek, philos and sophia, meaning the love of wisdom. If we are not intimidated by the classification by professional contemporary philosophers and look at all of human philosophy since writing began, we detect five sources of philosophic enquiry.
  1. Wonder as the origin of philosophy – Plato (428 – 348 B.C Greece) thought all philosophy orginated in wonderment.
  2. Doubt – Most of modern Western philosophy originates in the spirit of doubt. e.g. Bacon (Francis 1561-1626, English), Descartes, Leibniz, Hume.
  3. Pragmatic or humanistic – Nothing is true for its own sake unless it furthers fruitful activity. E.g. Thales of Miletus, Epicurus, Erasmus. Most of Chinese philosophy is pragmatic.
  4. Love of Wisdom – Not for any theoretical gratification or for satisfying human desires but seeking wisdom for its own sake. E.g. Socrates
  5. Spiritual urge – Most of Indian phisophy, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain upto contemporary Aurobindo follow this tradition. Hildegard of Bingen saw study of nature as divine worship.

Famous Women Philosophers Throughout History

The first woman philosopher, whose name we know is En-hedu-ana (c.2285-2250 B.C), from ancient Akkad (now Iraq). 2000 years before the Greek ones, her work is the earliest surviving description of an individual’s consciousness of her inner life and relationship to divinity.
Photo source:
  • Aganice of pharaonic Egypt (1875 B.C) sought wisdom by studying natural philosophy and astrology and tried to compute the positions of planets.
  • Lopamudra of ancient India was a philosopher and wife of the great Indian philosopher Agastya. An entire hymn in the Rig Veda is dedicated to Lopamudra. The hymn and Agastya’s discussions with her are here.
  • Gargi and Maitreyi are two women philosopher superstars of ancient India. Maitreyi’s discussions with Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads are sublime.
  • Themistoclea of Delphi (7th century B.C.) taught Pythagoras his moral doctrines. Source:
  • Theano of Crotona (c. 540 B.C. Italy) married Pythagoras, 36 years older than him and had 5 children. She succeeded Pythagoras as the head of his school of wisdom and her daughters Damo, Myria, Arignote and one son all became philosophers.
  • Asphasia of Milatus (5th century B.C. Greece) taught rhetoric to Socrates. Socrates, in Plato’s Symposium mentions that Diotima of Mantinea (a woman) taught him the meaning of beauty and love as a concept. Then there was Arete of Cyrene, Axiothea of Philesia, the delightfully feisty Hipparchia, Phintys, Aesara of Lucania (3rd century B.C. Italy) who wrote her Book on Human Nature, and many others.
  • Pan Chou (Ban Zhao) 45/51 - 114/120 AD was a celebrated Chinese philosopher, author and teacher. Bruriah was a 2nd century Jewish philosopher. Marcella (single mother of seven children) married a much older philosopher Porphyry. His letter to her from abroad urges her to “keep firm hold on philosophy
  • Hypatia of Alexandria, was a celebrated pagan philosopher from the 4th century.
  • Yeshe Tsogyal of eigth century Tibet is still very influential in Tibetan Buddhism. Dhouda of Gascony (ninth century) is one of the first woman writers in Europe.
  • Hroswitha of Gandersheim (Germany 10th century) was an abedissa and Christian philosopher who wrote philosophical plays.
  • In Japan, Murasaki Shikibu (pseudonym 970 – 1031 AD) who wrote The Tale of Genji, which might be the oldest surviving novel in the world and one of the earliest texts to mention homosexual love in details.
  • Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a German mystic, composer, philosopher, writer, inventor of a new alphabet, scientist and poet who suggested a heliocentric universe centuries before Copernicus. She influenced Isaac Newton very much.
  • Akka Mahadevi (c. 1150-1175) of Karnataka, south India, was busy empowering women in her days.
  • Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) was the first woman to write a book in English. Christine Pisan (1364-1430), the Venetian philosopher and widow with 3 children maintained her household with earnings from her many books.
  • Oliva Sabuco from 16th century Spain, Anna Maria Van Schurman 1607 – 1678 from Germany, Margaret Cavendish 1623 – 1667 from England, Anne Finch Viscountess of Conway 1631 – 1679 are some others from that period. Gabrielle Suchon 1632 – 1703, wrote one of the first Feminist philosophical works in Europe.
  • Helena Lucretia Cornaro Piscopia from Venice (1646 – 1684) is the first European woman to obtain a doctorate in philosophy.
  • Catharine Trotter Cockburn from England (1679 – 1749) worked her way out of poverty through her literary and philosophy writings. 
  • Laura Bassi (1711 – 1778), a mother of 12 children, was the first woman appointed as chairperson of a philosophy department in Europe.
  • Ellen Mitchell (1838 – 1929) was the first American women philosopher to obtain a university faculty position. 
  • Susan Blow (1843 – 1916) introduced Kindergarten and formal teacher training to the United States. 
  • Susanne Langer 1895 – 1985, and Hannah Arendt 1906 – 1975 are two famous women philosophers.
Here is a List of contemporary American women philosophers. More information about Western women philosophers of the 17th and 18th century here. Much information about early modern women philosophers can be found here.

How Men Treat Women Philosophers Nowadays?
Let us ask the Lithuanian philosopher Giedre Vasiliauskaite, a teacher of philosophy, her opinion about how women philosophers are seen nowadays.
Photo source: Giedre Vasiliauskaite
"How men treat women philosophers nowadays depends on culture and generation. Philosophers in the eyes of many people are a bit odd, be it a man or a woman. But I am happy because most of the time young and educated people just say 'you must be very smart then'. Otherwise young men treat me as I expect to be treated – with respect. I do admit that in my parents’ generation the absence of women philosophers for some people served as an argument that women cannot be philosophers. That, I think, is simply fallacious reasoning. I am glad that this is barely happening in my generation.”
So, are women philosophers any good

We know that there are lots of women philosophers. Socrates, called the wisest man alive in his time, respected women philosophers as his teachers. So, if women philosophers can be wise enough to teach the wisest man, women philosophers should be smart enough to teach us, the rest of the not so wise ones.
We could evaluate one philosopher at a time but handling all women philosophers is a stupendous task. What are the criteria and who evaluates? Ah mes amis, for this pursuit, one would need many lifetimes. 

Here is another blog by a woman philosopher who enlightens us with the title What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?
Grateful thanks to the extensive work of philosopher Kate Lindemann at women philosophers.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

How Does the European Union Measure up to other Unions of States in the world?

With a GDP of 18, 394 billion USD, The European Union (EU) is the largest and most economically powerful union of states in the world nowadays. But how does the EU trading power compare to other union of states in the world and historically?

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

Some EU Performance Indicators:
  • World market share of EU is 18.4% - decreasing 1.7% in the last 10 years
  • The free European Health Insurance Card gives health services to over 160 million people
  • Gender equality - 59% of university graduates are women
  • Increased mobility for travel and for work - no visas or passport controls among Schengen countries
  • Fight against discrimination - 1 in 3 EU residents have witnessed and 1 in 7 have experienced discrimination
  • Fatal workplace accidents have decreased 17% in this decade
  • Cleaner environment - EU leads the 'Kyoto' protocol

Continental Unions in the World Today

Currently, there are three continental unions in the world today. The EU, the African Union, and the Union of South American Nations. Of these only the EU has no borders among most member states, a common currency, common foreign policy, common parliament and laws (though each member state retains their own parliaments, laws and foreign policies).

  • Union State of Russia and Belarus is a loose marriage between Russian Federation and Belarus. Both countries seem to have got tired of the marriage and still have customs borders.
  • The Commonwealth of Independent States was created from the debris of the Soviet Union but is much looser than the EU. 277 million people living in 22 million km2 earn $6,110 per capita gdp in 11 currencies.
  • In the African Union 850 million people living in 29, 757 million km2, speaking 2000 languages, earn $ 1,896 per capita gdp in 53 different currencies.
  • In the EU 500 million people speaking 23 languages, living in 4,3 million km2 earn $30,513 per capita gdp in Euros in 16 countries, while 11 countries have their own currencies.

Historical Share of World GDP

The economic historian Angus Maddison of the University of Groningen in his work The World Economy: Historical Statistics gives a perspective in historical share of world GDP per region.

100 AD

1000 AD
Some changes from 100 AD: A new player called the Islamic Caliphate has 18.5%, Japan has doubled its share and the Roman Empire has disappeared.

1870 AD
More changes: The British Empire's share is the dominant now and USA is rising.

1998 AD
Current situation: The British Empire has vanished, giving top place to USA. China is retaking its place high up. India is also sluggishly ascending back.

How Does The EU Compare With historical Empires

Alexander the Great’s Hellenic empire at its largest around 323 B.C. Much smaller than the current EU.

The Roman Empire at its largest 118 A.D. is almost the same size as the EU today.

Charlemagne’s empire at its largest around 800 A.D. is a tiny affair compared to the EU today.

Unions of States Proposed and In the Process
  • The Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) with 31 member states was created in 2002 to promote Asian cooperation at a continental level, combining ASEAN, SAARC or the Gulf Cooperation Council. Non-members are Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq, Israel, Turkey etc.
  • The Union of South American Nations plans to integrate Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations in the EU model by eliminating tariffs by 2019.
  • Six Arab states in the Persian Gulf have planned the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf trade bloc.
  • The NAU (North American Union) of Canada, Mexico and United States, with a common currency Amero is just a proposal and bête noire of conspiracy theories.
Trivia Statistics from EU
  • 50% of energy used in EU comes from outside EU. Only one country, Denmark exports energy.
  • 24% of the world’s milk production comes from the EU
  • Tallinn, Estonia has the highest percentage of non-EU residents 27.8%.
  • The UK puts 139 people out of 100 000 in its national population to prison, while India puts 28 and the United States 686.
  • The land area covered by forests increased in the EU by 4.8% between 1990-2005.
  • Denmark, Finland and Sweden; countries consistently in the top 5 places of least corruption in the world according to Transparency International have been the choice destinations of refugees from Somalia, the country persistently occupying the bottom rung.
Photo source:
What is the Phone Number of the EU?

"Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?" - Henry Kissinger is supposed to have said this once. This is totally apocryphal, he never said it. 
According to Financial Times 
"Kissinger’s concern was the precise opposite – he was fed up with having to deal with a Dane whom he regarded as incompetent and ineffective, who was trying to represent the whole of the EU as President of the Council. "
The direct phone number of the EU is 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11
  • from anywhere in the EU
  • 9.00-18.00 CET (weekdays)
  • in any official EU language.
Enjoy your call to the EU!