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Deakin University Associate Professor Stan van Hooft admits he is something of an idealist, but his philosophy that individuals have a responsibility to shape world events has won him a place as a finalist in the 2010 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes – the Oscars of Australian science.
The awards recognise the year’s most innovative and influential scientists, together with the country’s top science communicators and teachers.
Associate Professor van Hooft was nominated as a finalist in the ethics category, for his book Cosmopolitanism: A Philosophy for Global Ethics.
In the book he argues that people should adopt a cosmopolitan view, embracing the whole world into their moral concerns and applying these standards impartially and equitably regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion and gender.
“It then goes on to unpack the implications of that argument,” he explained.
“Cosmopolitanism is a demanding and contentious moral position.
“For instance, with the refugee crisis I challenge the way we put national boundaries around our concern for others.
“One of the first things we think about is our national interest, yet for a cosmopolitan the first thing we should think about is the needs and rights of the refugees. It’s about their moral status. To an Australian cosmopolitan who lives here the fact that there is a national border between them and us is morally irrelevant.
“With the environment, the argument that we mustn’t place too many restrictions on our carbon emissions because of its effect on Australian business is also ethically questionable.
“A cosmopolitan would say ‘why does it matter that the business that is affected is an Australian one?’
“Everyone has a responsibility on this issue; it is not about putting the national interest first.”
Associate Professor van Hooft credited his colleagues in Deakin’s School of International and Political Studies for inspiring him to write the book.
“Philosophers often sit outside the real world and think about the ideal and whether we can live up to those ideals,” he said.
“They clarify problems and propose moral stances for people to live by. I found myself with colleagues who taught politics and international relations and was exposed to their interests. As a result I found that I acquired a much more practical and global outlook.”
Associate Professor van Hooft said everyone had a role to play in world events.
“World poverty and global injustice, for example, are problems that we are all involved in and which we can all do something about. But we need to see the victims of poverty in the developing world as just as deserving of our assistance as the poor in our own country.
“There is always a question about how much you can do and whether you can do enough,” he said.
“So individuals can do something as simple as sponsoring a child through Oxfam, or making a political decision by supporting the party which has the better policy on what you believe in.”
Associate Professor Stan van Hooft is available for interview. He can be contacted on 0437 232 506
The awards ceremony for the 2010 Eureka Prizes will be held on 17 August at the Randwick Pavilion at Sydney’s Royal Randwick Racecourse.
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