Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Law and ethic - confidentiality

Secret or confidentiality is an obligation for many professionals: lawyers, doctors, journalists etc. They can be sued if they reveal to public any information that has the necessary quality of confidence. However, many people have committed breaches of confidence, like Claude Gubler.

Claude Gubler was Francois Mitterrand's doctor, therefore he was entitled to a total confidentiality concerning his patients.
On the 16th January, 1996, eight days after the former president died, Claude Gubler published a book, Le grand secret, in which he revealed that from 1981 to 1996, false health reports were published in order to hide Mitterrand's cancer to the public. he also denounced the fact that from 1994, F. Mitterrand was no longer able to govern because of his illness.

Two days after the book was published, Mitterrand's family managed to get an injunction preventing further sales of the book. After a court case Gubler was prosecuted for violating medical secrecy and received a suspended 4 month jail sentence. He was ordered to pay damages of 340 000 francs (approximately £34,000) and was also struck off the medical register preventing him from practising medicine.

In May 2004, the European court of human rights condemned the judgment of the French court over this case. They decided that the injunction against the book should have been lifted after a few months in the name of freedom of speech. Following this decision, the book was re-published in February 2005.

Monday, 26 October 2009

1st seminar paper- John Locke

Seminar paper: John Locke, Epistle to the Reader

John Locke was born near Bristol in 1632. He studied in Oxford, but it’s only thanks to Descartes’ essays that Locke became really interested in philosophy. He was also influenced by famous scientists such as Robert Boyle and Sydenham.
Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding was published in 1690. In this book, he explains his view of human understanding and its extent. His aim was to determine the origins of human knowledge, its authenticity and greatness. He analyses human’s abilities in order to understand how we can develop ideas and therefore find out about the limits of human understanding. In the Epistle to the Reader, Locke explains to his audience the target he hopes to reach in writing this Essay. First of all, let’s see more in depth the content of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

I. Ideas

1. Innate ideas

Since Locke is considered as one of the first empiricist philosopher, it’s understandable that he strongly disagrees with Descartes’ concept of innate ideas. The British philosopher states that knowledge comes from experience of senses and personal reflection. According to the principle of innate ideas, some ideas, such as the existence of God, are universal. Locke proves that this principle is wrong, basing his argument on the fact that children don’t have such ideas, or that in other civilisations some of the moral ideas existing in Western countries don’t exist at all. Thus Locke refers to the concept of Tabula Rasa, which means in Latin « virgin wax tablet ». He considers that a newborn has an empty mind, a bit like a new computer with an empty hard drive. Experience will, little by little, get absorbed by the mind. Therefore, experience is the only origin of human’s knowledge and understanding. Locke deepens his analysis describing two sorts of ideas: simple and complex ideas.

2. Simple ideas

According to Locke, simple ideas are complete and cannot be divided. We cannot analyse, define or explain them as they are not mixed with other ideas. For example, the idea of numbers: would we be able to analyse and explain clearly the idea of the number one? Probably not.

3. Complex ideas

Complex ideas are just an association of simple ideas. Locke analyses three types of complex ideas:
1) Complex ideas composed of simple ideas. These are just a modification of a simple idea. For example, the idea of the number two is simply the addition of the idea of the number one. Then, there is
2) The way of thinking: perception, memory, awareness, which is also an association of ideas.
3) The free will, which means humans have the power and the freedom to decide to do something or not.

II. Knowledge

Thus, Locke showed that human’s knowledge is always linked with ideas. Knowledge without ideas is just impossible. He also classified human’s knowledge in four degrees of assent: the two first ones are about certainty, the third is about opinion and probability and the fourth is about Faith. I believe that these particular points are very important in our context because as we know, journalists are perpetually seeking after the truth. Here, Locke is giving us a quite pessimistic view of Knowledge in general, as there is very little we can be totally sure of.
The greatest degree of assent is the intuitive knowledge.

1. Intuitive knowledge

We could define intuitive knowledge with Descartes’ cogito « I think therefore I am ». This refers to every idea we have that we are totally sure to be true, like our own existence. Locke says that we perceive our own existence and it doesn’t need to be proved. If it needed to, everything else should be proved, because nothing is more sure than our own existence. This is the greatest point of certainty we can ever reach. Locke carries on his analysis with the demonstrative knowledge, which is a step below the intuitive knowledge on the scale.

2. Demonstrative knowledge

According to Locke, demonstrative knowledge consists in comparing ideas. With this process, we can then link them to other ideas to discover the truth. There are four steps in demonstrative knowledge:
-Discover proofs
-Organize the ideas so that we can clearly
- Deduce the result, and then
- Reach a conclusion.
In the demonstrative area, mathematics is the greatest point of certainty ever reached, because they include these four steps. Locke also believes that we can prove God’s existence with this process. Indeed, as the non-being cannot produce anything, therefore it means that an eternal being has created the world at some point. The rest of our knowledge is perceived by our senses.

To conclude, in his Epistle to the Reader, Locke says that understanding « is the most elevated faculty of the soul.». Although it is really difficult to gain knowledge, it is very rewarding to seek after the facts and the truth. As future journalists, I think this is the most important point we should all remember about John Locke’s philosophy.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Question time

When I first heard of the BNP, I was wondering why the Brits were talking about a French bank, Banque Nationale de Paris. Then I felt quite ignorant when I learnt that it actually was the British National Party. I admit that I am not very aware about English politics, not because I'm not interested in it, I just haven't paid enough attention to the political matters in the last few months. My political culture is mostly about France I'm afraid, but I'll try to correct this "weakness" in the next three years.

I found a very interesting article in The Independent yesterday: "10 things you should know about the BNP". Before reading it, I was really hoping that I would find differences between the BNP and the Front National (BNP's French equivalent). Basically, the leader of the French party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, wants all the immigrants to go back to their country. He also wants to reestablish the death penalty and the franc, and basically feels the same as Griffin concerning homosexuality.

In The Independent's article, I learnt that there was absolutely no difference between Le Pen and Griffin. They're both racist, they both denied the Holocaust. Griffin said about the Holocaust: "I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat." He also wants to restore white supremacy in Britain. The constitution of the BNP says: "The British National Party [...] is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non European peoples." That is not quite what was said on Question time yesterday night. Griffin appeared less radical than I had expected, it even seemed that his ideas were almost justified. Was that just to convince people that he's not a fool? Probably. The Independent gives another idea of the BNP's leader. He appears as a Hitler fanatic, as he read Mein Kampf when he was 13.
He was convicted of inciting racial hatred in 1998 and was given a suspended nine month prison term. He met the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in 2000. I could carry on! Anyway, I think these facts mean more than Griffin's speech.

Nick Griffin must know about Locke's philosophy

We all know that Locke based his theory of knowledge on empiricism. So did Griffin, Hitler and Staline. The BNP created a mascot, " Billy Brit", which is aimed to sensitize children from the age of 8 about BNP's politics. Children are encouraged to download the picture of the mascot and to listen to the songs it sings. I think this is total propaganda and they're simply trying to manipulate children. They probably realised that it is difficult to convert adults, but it's much easier to convert children if they're raised in a racist and nationalist environment. If the children have only learnt about this particular political angle, they're very likely to support the party once they're grown up.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Outreau affair

This morning's lecture focused on miscarriage of justice and qualified privilege. The first part of the lecture reminded me of a very serious case that happened a few years ago in France.

On the 25th February 2000, Thierry and Myriam Delay's children were put into a foster home after Myriam Delay denounced her husband to the police for abusing their kids. The children accused their parents' neighbours, friends' parents, people in the neighbourhood for organising "pedophile orgies". They raped the children, filmed them and then sold the movies. At least 15 kids would have been abused. Thierry Delay would have "rented" his kids to pay his debts. In 2001, the investigation started, while all the suspects were held in jail until they were tried.

The trial, which started in May 2004, was presided over the judge Burgaud. On the 10th May, Thierry Delay confessed he raped his children but exonerated all the other suspects apart from his wife. Myriam Delay also exonerated 13 of the 17 defendants. The theory of the pedophile network fell apart.* It appeared that only Thierry and Myriam Delay's four kids were abused. On the 2nd July, seven suspects were acquitted. Thierry Delay was convicted to a 20 year jail sentence, whereas his wife was given a 15 year jail sentence. The seven people who were acquitted demanded the State to admit their huge mistake. Each of them received 100 000 euros. Six defendants out of ten appealed against the conviction. They were all acquitted on the 1st of December 2005.*

I think this case is considered as one of the the worst miscarriages of justice in France, Jacques Chirac himself called the affair "a judicial disaster". One of the defendants committed suicide awaiting for the trial. Even if the defendants have been acquitted, most of them have been held in jail for several years. They've been defamed, the moral prejudices have been terrible. At the very beginning, 70 people were accused, seventeen were tried, and only four people were finally convicted to a jail sentence.

The judge Burgaud (above), who is held partly responsible for this miscarriage of justice, has been recently tried by his fellows. He received a blame (warning) for negligence and lack of impartiality during the trial. This sentence is considered as very weak by the ex defendants.

* I have simplified the story because this case is much more complicated. If you want more information about it, please visit these websites:

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Zeno's paradox

Zeno's paradox can be quite difficult to understand, because, as its title says; it's a paradox. Zeno imagined this paradox (among others) to support Parmenides' doctrine that motion is impossible, it is just an illusion. Let's take the most well known paradox, which is the race between Achilles and a tortoise.
Achilles and a tortoise are about to start a race. As Achilles is very fast, and the tortoise very slow, the athlete decides to start running when the tortoise is 100 yards ahead of him, to make the race fairer. But Achilles will never be able to catch up with the tortoise. Why? Common sense makes us think that if Achilles is faster than the tortoise, he's going to win the race. When Achilles has reached the point where the tortoise started, it's no longer there, the tortoise is a short distance ahead of him. But when Achilles run to the second point where the tortoise was, the tortoise is still ahead of him, and so on.

Why doesn't it work in real life then? Well, the answer is actually quite simple. Zeno considers that the distance between the tortoise and Achilles is infinite, and that we can divide it endlessly. However, in real life, we can measure the distance between the tortoise and Achilles, it is limited, that's why the athlete would win the race against the tortoise.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Law restrictions for journalists

Today's lecture basically consisted in determine the different types of crimes (indictable only offences, either way offences or summary offences). We've also been through the restrictions journalists face when it comes to report a fact in a newspaper. I'm not going to repeat what's written in McNae's essential law for journalists, all of us have read it, haven't we?

The fact I found particularly interesting is that some journalists try really hard to get round the laws and the court restrictions: here is a link where a journalist explains how to challenge a court reporting restriction. Even though we are not at this stage yet, it's still quite interesting to read. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=41633

The following story perfectly fits in the context. A judge has allowed the identification of a sex case school after an application from the Daily mail. She probably decided it was in the public interest to release that information. To know more about this case, click here. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=44352&c=1
Last week, we've been told that famous people almost never sue newspapers. I have found the exception! Liam Gallagher (Oasis' singer) sued The Guardian for libel. Here is the full story: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=44388&c=1

I hope these links are going to be helpful, since today's law lecture was only the second one, I thought that posting some examples could give a clearer understanding of McNae's book.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Francis Bacon and his Idols

This week has been really busy for me, so I apologise if this blog looks a bit empty at the minute, I will try to work more on it in the next few weeks.
Today, I have read the chapter about Francis Bacon in History of
Western Philosophy (yes, I'm part of the 50% of the class who read the wrong chapters last week, though it was pretty interesting to learn that in Pythagoras' religion it was not allowed to eat beans ... )
I have studied Bacon's philosophy when I was at the lycée (or high school) and I think that some aspects of his philosophy are worth a more detailed explanation than the one you can find in Russell's book.

You probably (don't) remember that at some point Russell refers to Bacon's Idols, he explains quickly their meaning, but from my point of view the explanation is not totally clear. I think this is an important concept to understand, because it's one of the unavoidable philosophical topic.

The first Idol is the Idol of the Tribe. This refers to the prejudices shared by the whole mankind, for example, men tend to trust their first impression and their senses.

The second Idol is the Idol of the Cave. This concept certainly refers to Plato's cave myth. All of us are brought up in a certain historical context, education which will influence our temperament. Then, our temperament makes us think in a particular way and not in another. Therefore, all of these element prevent us from being objective. For Bacon, the cave is designed by all of these elements. Although Plato's version sounds a bit more complex, I think the two concepts are very similar. It's easy to link this concept to the journalism world: even if a journalist is supposed to report the truth and only the truth, is he totally objective?

The third Idol is the Idol of the Market Place: In Bacon's opinion, no thought is possible without language to express it. Therefore, when men communicate, misunderstandings and bad interpretations occur regularly because men use the same words to express different ideas. I believe this particular idol is also important because as future journalists (hopefully), it is recommended to choose our words carefully!

The fourth Idol is the Idol of the Theater: Basically, this refers to beliefs and religions accepted without a single question by people because they are supported and spread by well educated minorities.

That is what I've been taught in France. However, interpretations can vary and I hope I made it clear enough, it is already hard work to be clear in philosophy when I can speak French, but in English, it's almost Mission: Impossible !