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Reconsider the decision to refuse Hamza bin Walayat’s request for asylum - Letter to British Home Secretary from philosophers

29 January

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Humanists, UK

To the Right Honourable Amber Rudd, MP

We write as members of the international community of academic philosophers, including many from the UK. We ask you to reconsider the decision to refuse Hamza bin Walayat’s request for asylum on the grounds of his inability to answer correctly questions about ancient Greek philosophers (Plato and Aristotle). We are puzzled by the presupposition of the Home Office that knowledge of these philosophers is a requirement for authentic self-identification as a humanist.

In particular, we would like to draw attention to the following:

1. The Western philosophical canon is not the basis of the curriculum in all countries. ​To expect someone from Pakistan to know about Western philosophy is like expecting someone from Britain to know about Islamic philosophy. Indeed, Plato and Aristotle do not feature in the compulsory years 1-12 levels of the UK National Curriculum: one would have to study A-Level Philosophy or Religious Studies to encounter them. UNESCO reports that “The main goal of education in Pakistan is to develop citizens who live their lives according to the teachings of Islam as stated in the Quran and Sunnah but also to become true practicing Muslims” (RUSHAP 2010). This is obviously incompatible with the open inclusion of humanism.

2. The nomination of Plato and Aristotle as humanists has no scholarly basis. There are several operative senses of ‘humanism’ within modern Western intellectual history (see, e.g., Cooper 1999), none of which owe any distinctive debt to Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, one of the most important modern conceptions of humanism appeals to the ‘naturalism’ expressed in the modern scientific worldview - a development that only emerged in the last four hundred years (see, e.g., Kitcher 2011, Kurtz 1973). Moreover, the Home Office’s claim that Plato and Aristotle could be considered precursor humanists makes no sense: Plato wasn’t a "humanist" in the sense of that term specified in this article by Humanists UK, namely this: "As a descriptive term, humanists can be someone who has simply rejected religious belief but holds some positive conception of human values." Plato does not "reject religious belief": he presents arguments for the existence of a divine creator and the immortality and transmigration of the soul. And there is scholarly debate about the extent to which he can be said to hold a "positive conception of human values": in many of his mature works he proposes a theory of Forms, which locates the source of value in a supernatural domain independent of the human world. Aristotle is also complex: he believes in an objective human good, but he also believes that this good is shaped by its relation to a divine Unmoved Mover. Humanists in past ages disagreed - often fiercely - amongst themselves about the relevance to their projects of Plato and Aristotle, let alone their status as precursors.

3. For someone to be a sincere atheist (or theist), they don’t have to know very much about the philosophy of atheism (or theism). Many sincere adherents of many religions do not have an extensive philosophical or theological understanding of the doctrines and practices they profess (nor need they): what is primary is one’s commitment to a set of values and convictions, expressed through one’s life and conduct (see, e.g., Cottingham 2005). It is not necessary to be an intellectually engaged scholar of humanism in order to be classed as an authentic humanist. (By this absurd criterion, there would only be hundreds, not millions, of ‘authentic’ Christians in the UK, since intellectually sophisticated understanding of doctrines like the Trinity is confined to those with academic training in theology).

4. For someone to be persecuted, perhaps killed, for being a sincere atheist (or theist, or humanist), they need to know nothing about the philosophy of atheism (or theism, or humanism).
Therefore, we deem it unreasonable for the Home Office to make decisions about asylum on the basis of anyone’s philosophical sophistication. The
decision concerning Hamza bin Walayat’s asylum request should therefore be reconsidered immediately.

References
Cooper, David E. (1999) ‘Humanism and the scientific worldview’, ​Theoria 93: 1-17.
Cottingham, John (2005) ​The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy, and Human Value​ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Kitcher, Philip (2011) ‘Militant modern atheism’, ​Journal of Applied Philosophy​ 28.1: 1-13.
Kurtz, Paul (ed.) (1973) ​The Humanist Alternative: Some Definitions of Humanism ​(London: Pemberton).
Law, Stephen (2011) ​Humanism, A Very Short Introduction​ (Oxford University Press).
RUSHAP (​Regional Unit for Social and Human Sciences in Asia-Pacific (RUSHSAP​) (2010) ​Summary of the Teaching of Philosophy in Pakistan​, UNESCO Bangkok, http://www.unescobkk.org/fileadmin/user_upload/shs/Philosophy/Country_s ummary_updated_Aug2010/Summary_of_the_Teaching_of_Philosophy_in _Pakistan.pdf

Signed by

  • Dr. Helen De Cruz, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Oxford Brookes University http://helendecruz.net/cv.html
  • Professor Christopher Bertram, Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol http://www.bristol.ac.uk/school-of-arts/people/christopher-d-bertram/index.h tml
  • Professor James Lenman, Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield http://www.jimmylenman.com/curriculum-vitae.html
  • Dr. Tasia Scrutton, Associate Professor, University of Leeds https://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/profile/20042/958/anastasia_philippa_scrutton
  • Dr. Rebecca Roache, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Dr. Ian James Kidd, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/Philosophy/People/ian.kidd
  • Katherine Dormandy, DPhil (Oxford), Lise-Meitner Research Fellow, University of Innsbruck ​https://katherinedormandy.com/
  • Dr. Brendan Larvor, Reader in Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire http://researchprofiles.herts.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/brendan-larvor%28c13 854a3-738d-4988-92cb-0411199682e2%29.html%20target=
  • Liam Kofi Bright, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method, at the London School of Economics https://www.liamkofibright.com/
  • Dr. Kate Kirkpatrick, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire http://researchprofiles.herts.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/kate-kirkpatrick(bdebcd df-e09c-4136-8cdd-276d3972b185).html
  • Professor Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield http://angiehobbs.com/
  • Professor Jennifer Saul, Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/profiles/saul
  • Dr. Komarine Romdenh-Romluc, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Sheffield https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/profiles/romdenh-romluc
  • Dr. Jonathan Lanman, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast https://pure.qub.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/jonathan-lanman(a665b5b5-768c- 406c-a749-915760103031).html
  • Dr. Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko, Teaching Associate, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Dr. Chris Woodard, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Dr. Zachary Hoskins, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Dr. Stephen Law, Reader in Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London. Member of the Humanist Philosophers’ Group and author of Humanism: A Very Short Introduction​ (OUP 2011)
  • Dr. Craig French, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Professor David Papineau, King’s College London and City University of New York http://www.davidpapineau.co.uk/
  • Dr. Matthew Duncombe, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham. I am a specialist in Ancient Greek philosophy. I wrote my PhD, awarded by the University of Cambridge, on Plato and have published extensively on the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/Philosophy/People/matthew.duncombe​.
  • Dr. Rebecca Bamford, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Quinnipiac University & Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of Fort Hare http://www.rebeccabamford.com/
  • Dr. Kenneth L. Pearce, Ussher Assistant Professor in Berkeley Studies (Early Modern Philosophy), Trinity College Dublin, Ireland http://www.kennypearce.net/cv.html
  • Dr. Mark Jago, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Professor Bill Brewer, Susan Stebbing Professor of Philosophy and Head of Department, King’s College London https://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/philosophy/people/staff/academic/bre wer/index.aspx
  • Dr. Eleanor Knox, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, King’s College London
  • Dr. Shaul Tor, Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy, King’s College London
  • Dr. Ellen Fridland, Lecturer in Philosophy, King’s College London
  • Dr. Sara L. Uckelman, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Durham University ​http://community.dur.ac.uk/s.l.uckelman/
  • Dr. Clayton Littlejohn, Reader in Philosophy, King’s College London Professor David E. Cooper, ​Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Durham
  • University
  • Dr Katharine Jenkins, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Dr. John Callanan, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, King’s College London
  • Professor A C Grayling CBE, Master of New College of Humanities, Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and Co-Editor of the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism​. ​http://acgrayling.com/
  • Dr Nigel Warburton, Freelance Philosopher.
  • Professor John Harris, Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester and Visiting Professor in Bioethics Department of Global Health & Social Medicine School of Global Affairs, King’s College London. http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/john.harris/
  • Professor Kate Soper, Emerita Professor of Philosophy, London Metropolitan University. ​https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_378601_en.pdf
  • Professor Helen Beebee, Samuel Hall Professor of Philosophy, University of Manchester. https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/researchers/helen-beebee(6da7f62b-cee9-4fd6-bff3-ba30cbe339c7).html
  • Dr Ardon Lyon, ex Lecturer at Durham and City universities.
  • Professor Janet Radcliffe Richards, Professor of Practical Philosophy, University of Oxford https://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/people/janet-radcliffe-richards
  • Professor Eric Olson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sheffield https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/profiles/eolson
  • Professor Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge https://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/people/teaching-research-pages/blackburn
  • Professor R A Duff (Emeritus), Department of Philosophy, University of Stirling ​https://www.stir.ac.uk/people/11761
  • Nick Everitt, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia http://www.philbooks.eclipse.co.uk/
  • Peter Cave, Lecturer in Philosophy for The Open University and City University, London and Chair of the Humanist Philosophers Group. https://oneworld-publications.com/peter-cave.html
  • Professor Richard Norman, Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Kent https://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/philosophy/staff/norman.html
  • Professor Peter Millican, Professor of Philosophy, University of Oxford https://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/people/peter-millican
  • Dr Andrew Chitty, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Sussex
  • http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/8678
  • Julian Baggini, Associate Reader in Philosophy, University of Kent
  • The Revd Canon Professor Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Christ Church, University of Oxford http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/staff/revd-canon-professor-keith-ward
  • Dr. Eliot Michaelson, Lecturer in Philosophy, King’s College London
  • Professor John Benson, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Lancaster University
  • Jonny McIntosh, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Oxford
  • Professor Neil Levy, Senior Research Fellow, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford
  • Dr John Tillson, Post Doctoral Teaching Fellow in Philosophy of Education, Liverpool Hope University https://info.hope.ac.uk/aps/index.php/Aps/ext/tillsoj
  • Paul Reynolds, Reader in Sociology and Social Philosophy, Edge Hill University
  • Jack Symes, Teacher of Philosophy and Religious Studies, King Edward VI High School for Girls
  • Dr Hane Maung, Research Associate in Philosophy, Lancaster University http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/ppr/about-us/people/hane-maung
  • Dr Tuomas Pernu, Research Fellow, King’s College London http://www.tuomaspernu.london
  • Dr Peter Cheyne, Associate Professor, Shimane University, Visiting Fellow in Philosophy, Durham University
  • Dr. Lauren Ware, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Kent. I am a specialist in Ancient Greek Philosophy, having written my PhD, and multiple publications, on Plato. ​http://www.laurenware.me
  • Professor Christopher Norris, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Cardiff University, Wales
  • Dr Graham White, Lecturer, School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary, University of London http://www.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/~graham/cvac.pdf
  • Professor Richard Samuels, Department of Philosophy & Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, The Ohio State University, USA https://philosophy.osu.edu/people/samuels.58
  • Dr. Lucy Campbell, Stipendiary Lecturer in Philosophy, Exeter College Oxford; College Lecturer in Philosophy, St. Peter’s College Oxford
  • Dr Tom Angier, Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town University of Leeds
  • Dr. Michiel Meeusen, British Academy Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Classics, King’s College London
  • Dr Martin Sticker, Research Fellow in Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin
  • Mijke van der Drift, associate lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Prof Pekka Vayrynen, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Leeds http://vayrynen.org
  • Dr Sarah Sawyer, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Sussex http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/198219
  • Dr. Luke Roelofs, Ruhr-University Bochum
  • Andrea Raimondi, Teaching Associate in Philosophy, University of Exeter
  • Dr. Beth Lord, Reader in Philosophy, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr. Elizabeth Irvine, Lecturer in Philosophy, Cardiff University
  • http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/cy/people/view/99173-irvine-elizabeth
  • Dr Jonathan Head, Lecturer in Philosophy, Keele University
  • Mr. Fionn O’Donovan, PhD Philosophy Student, University of Southampton https://www.southampton.ac.uk/philosophy/postgraduate/research_student s/fbo1g16.page#research
  • L. Syd M Johnson, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Michigan Technological University
  • Joanna Smolenski, M.Phil, M.A., Adjunct Instructor in Philosophy, City University of New York
  • Janek Guerrini, Master student in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, École Normale Supérieure Paris
  • Professor Bob Brecher, Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics & Ethics, University of Brighton
  • Dr. Richard Stopford, Teaching Fellow, Durham University
  • Dr. Mari Mikkola, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Oxford https://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/people/mari-mikkola
  • Dr Ruth Wareham, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Faith Schooling: Principles & Policies), Department of Politics & International Studies, University of Warwick
  • Dr. Boris Hennig, Assistant Professor for Ancient Philosophy, Ryerson University. ​http://www.borishennig.de
  • Dr. Ann Whittle, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Manchester
  • Dr Andrea Christofidou, Lecturer in Philosophy, Worcester College, University of Oxford
  • Dr Peter J. King, Lecturer in Philosophy, Pembroke College, University of Oxford ​https://oxford.academia.edu/PeterJKing
  • Dr Brian Rosebury, Senior Lecturer (Political Philosophy) University of Central Lancashire: http://www.uclan.ac.uk/staff_profiles/dr_brian_rosebury.php
  • Professor Sean Sayers, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Kent
  • Dr Heather Logue, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Leeds Frida Trotter, PhD Student at Université de Lausanne
  • Dr. Keith Begley, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin
  • Dr. Alex Davies, Researcher in Philosophy, University of Tartu
  • Josie M Moore, independent scholar.
  • Dr. Anca Gheaus, Researcher, Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona
  • Professor Andy Hamilton, Philosophy Dept, Durham University
  • Professor James Ladyman, Professor of Philosophy University of Bristol
  • Dr Luca Moretti, Reader in Philosophy, University of Aberdeen
  • Michelle Courria, visiting scholar, University of Missouri, St. Louis
  • Bastian Steuwer, Doctoral Student in Philosophy, London School of Economics
  • Dr Jula Wildberger, Full Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature, The American University of Paris, France https://www.aup.edu/profile/jwildberger
  • Prof Jonathan Gorman MRIA, Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast, ​https://Qub.academia.edu/JonathanGorman
  • Dr. Keith Hyams, Associate Professor in Political Theory and Interdisciplinary Ethics, University of Warwick
  • Dr. Thomas Szanto, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy, University of Copenhagen
  • Professor Michael Morris, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sussex http://m.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/1886
  • Dr Christopher Jay, Associate Lecturer in Philosophy, University of York
  • Dr. Mark T Nelson, Professor of Philosophy, Westmont College, USA; formerly Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Philosophy, University of Leeds, UK
  • Dr Anthony Faramelli, Associate Lecturer in Media and Communications, Kingston University
  • Dr Remco Heesen, Research Fellow in Philosophy, University of Cambridge
  • Zuhtucan Soysal, Research & Teaching Assistant, Middle East Technical University
  • Dr Luca Barlassina, Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield
  • Associate Professor John N. Williams, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Singapore Management University
  • Prof Anandi Hattiangadi, Professor of Philosophy, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Dr Fiona Woollard, Associate Professor in Philosophy, University of Southampton
  • Dr Christoph Schuringa, Lecturer in Philosophy, New College of the Humanities London https://www.nchlondon.ac.uk/faculty/dr-christoph-schuringa/
  • Dr Eileen John, Reader in Philosophy, University of Warwick
  • Professor Alison Assiter, University of the West of England - Bristol, http://people.uwe.ac.uk/Pages/person.aspx?accountname=campus%5Cam -assiter
  • Dr Ben Trubody, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Gloucestershire
  • Dr. Conor McHugh, Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Southampton
  • Dr Mary Leng, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of York.
  • https://www.york.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/mary-leng/
  • Dr Adam Rieger, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Glasgow Dr Ben Davies, Teaching Fellow, University of Leeds
  • Dr Dana Mills, Lecturer in Philosophy, Oxford Brookes University

P.S.

The above letter published earlier by Humanists UK is reproduced here in public interest and is for educational and non commercial use