"Among ethical philosophers, Jurgen Habermas is a star. Which means he is not quite as famous as Paris Hilton's dog, Tinkerbell.
You won't find him in People or on "Entertainment Tonight." But you will find courses on his thoughts and theories in the philosophy departments of U.S. and European universities. While Habermas, 75, still writes and teaches, his work has acquired a life of its own. There's an entire cottage industry of philosophers who seek to defend or contradict the Habermasian worldview.
That may be why his speech tomorrow at the University of San Diego has already drawn a standing-room-only crowd.
"We have close to 1,400 registered for professor Habermas' presentation," said Stephanie Kellems, who is helping to organize this week's Kyoto Laureate Symposium events. "The Web site has stopped taking reservations."
For 20 years Kazuo Inamori, the founder of Kyocera, has bestowed the Kyoto Prize on international trailblazers in advanced technology, basic science and arts and philosophy.
This is the fourth consecutive year the laureates have visited San Diego, home of Kyocera's North American headquarters.
Among this week's events:
This morning's advanced technology presentation by Alan Curtis Kay, 9:30 to 11, Smith Recital Hall, San Diego State University;
This afternoon's basic science presentation by Dr. Alfred George Knudson, 4:30 to 6 p.m., Price Center Theatre, University of California San Diego; and
Habermas' speech tomorrow, which will be followed by comments from Robert Bellah, professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley and an old friend.
While Habermas resists talking about himself – "the life of philosophers is rather poor in notable outside occurrences" – the white-haired academic has lived in extraordinary and tragic times. Born in 1929, Habermas grew up in Nazi-ruled Germany. His father was a supporter of the regime and Jurgen himself a Hitler Youth.
The Nuremburg Trials were a revelation to the teen, and he began to ask questions about civil rights, democracy and open discourse.
We had a few questions ourselves. While in Germany preparing tomorrow's speech, Habermas took time off to respond to our queries."