The AAPAE is extremely fortunate in having eight outstanding keynote speakers at our forthcoming annual conference at the University of Sydney. These speakers are Professor Simon Chapman, Associate Professor Ian Kerridge, Dr Simon Longstaff, Professor Ron McCallum, Professor Gael McDonald, Professor Geoff Moore, Dr Alan Saunders and Professor Peter Singer. Individually, each one of them is a major figure in his, or her, own right; and collectively they must represent the most outstanding intellectual pool available in Sydney from the 15th to the 17th of June. We cannot help but be grateful for their generosity in giving up their most valuable time and agreeing to join us at our conference.
Reflecting upon that, I remember catching a flight a few years ago from Buffalo to Chicago. The aircraft was a medium size one with two seats on each side of the centre aisle. Seated next to me, in the window seat, was an earnest young man who pointed to an elderly but distinguished looking gentleman, wearing a crumpled, Columbo-style, fawn-coloured raincoat, seated across the aisle from me. ―That‘s Gary Becker,” he told me reverently. ―The Gary Becker”.
Becker, I knew, had won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1992. But soon this young man was pointing out others on the flight who had won the Nobel Prize for economics, and runners up too. He explained to me that they were all on this flight as they had been attending a prestigious economics conference at a university in Buffalo. He then stared ahead, obviously deep in thought, while the plane was rocked violently by powerful headwinds. After some deliberation, he turned to me and asked plaintively, can you imagine the loss of intellectual capital if this plane crashes?”
I knew that Becker was known for his interest in human capital but I did not think that this question related in any way to that. Although, it did occur to me, that if the plane crashed the loss of intellectual capital was perhaps not going to be my primary concern even if, arguably, it should have been. However, at our conference in Sydney we too will have around some very precious intellectual capital, although most fortunately on terra firma.
Albeit, while we will be very firmly on the fine and solid soil of New South Wales there is one other difference too. In that aircraft we were travelling from one geographic point to another. At the University of Sydney we, as an association, are returning to the very geographic point where we originally set out from. Yet, perhaps the actual geography is irrelevant. Perhaps all that is relevant is the history. Let me explain.
One of our keynote speakers, Professor Geoff Moore from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, is a recognised authority on Alasdair MacIntyre‘s philosophy. Part of MacIntyre‘s philosophy is that the history influences the philosophy. And sometimes it might in rather unusual and very curious ways.
One of our other keynote speakers is Professor Peter Singer. Singer is without a doubt Australia‘s most renowned philosopher. Indeed Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University‘s Centre for Human Values, is one of the most renowned philosophers in the world. Paradoxically however, Singer once wrote how to some his career had taken a surprising turn” taking a path that some relatives could not have predicted”; although Singer writes how he later learnt that his grandfather, David Oppenheim, also wrote about fundamental values” and wondered if his life was echoing that of a grandparent”. Curiously enough, while it well might have echoed a grandparent it was also historically influenced by an even earlier ancestor.
Singer identifies as an ancestor Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664-1736) who was the Chief Rabbi of Prague. Rabbi David Oppenheim is remembered as both a most prolific writer and also as a bibliophile obsessed with augmenting his collection. Years after his death his collection, which consisted of cabalistic, theological, Talmudic, philosophical, mathematical and medical books, was acquired by Oxford University‘s Bodleian Library. That acquisition helps explain why the Bodleian library claims to hold the best collection of Hebrew and Yiddish manuscripts in the world. Furthermore, that collection and others like it are one of the reasons why Oxford is the great university which it is. And it must have been because of being the great university that it is that Peter Singer studied philosophy at Oxford. So perhaps one cannot escape one‘s history when pursuing philosophy.
Likewise we at the AAPAE perhaps also cannot escape our history. Our association started nearly eighteen years ago as a colloquium concerned with the teaching of applied ethics. And it did so here at the University of Sydney‘s Women‘s College. One of the speakers at that colloquium was Dr Simon Longstaff who soon became the first president of the AAPAE and will be one of our keynote speakers at our forthcoming annual conference. Others who will be attending our conference were also at that colloquium. And so we are coming back after a number of years to the University of Sydney; but while we are coming back to the University of Sydney we have to create something for the future if we are to have a future.
There are different ways in which we could create something for our future. One way though would be to emulate Peter Singer‘s illustrious ancestor, Rabbi David Oppenheim, and to create something Oxford would desire. That is by no means beyond our reach. After all, if we contribute outstanding research wouldn‘t Oxford University want it? And others too?