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Kathleen Wilkes - report of the comission doctor honoris causa award of the University of Zagreb, Croatia
By Darko Žubrinić | Published  07/9/2012 | Bilingual , Education | Unrated
Dr. Kathy Wilkes: "I am both honoured and humbled by this honorary doctorate. But I think that you might have given me the wrong degree. ..."

Dr. Katheleen Wilkes (1946-2003) distinguished British humanist

Glas iz Dubrovnika / The Voice from Dubrovnik was a daily leaflet printed just on one A4 leaf (ie. two pages) that tried to follow the daily life and encourage the citizens of Dubrovnik to endure the dramatic events during the Serbian - Montenegrin siege of the City of Dubrovnik. Short articles published in the Voice from Dubrovnik are important testimonies, and among them especially interesting are those writen by dr. Kathy (Kathleen) Vaughan Wilkes from Great Britain. She lectured philosophy at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik (IUC, since 1980), and at that time she was also the president of the IUC. The centre has been completely destroyed in 6 December 1991 during the Serbian bombing and shelling of the city, and its valuable library burned down to ashes. Subsequently Kathy Wilkes donated several thousand of her books in order to start restoring the libray of the IUC.

Each her article paublished in The Voice of Dubrovnik appears in two columns, in English and Croatian, on the first page of the leaflet. The dates above the articles refer to the dates of their publication. She spent four months in Dubrovnik during the most critical period of its destruction by the JNA ("Yugoslav People's Army", in fact Serbian army) forces. The Voice of Dubrovnik was distributed free of charge, and it existed from 8 November 1991 till 5 March 1992.

Ivan Supek, a founder of the Inter-University Centre (IUC), with dr. Kathy Wilkes in Dubrovnik.
Photo from the hall of the IUC, 1999, by the courtesy of  Nada Bruer Ljubišić of the IUC, Dubrovnik.

Kathy Wilkes (1946-2003) has been affectionately nicknamed Kate (ka:te) by her friends in Croatia. She was proclaimed a honorable citzen of the City of Dubrovnik in 1993, awarded with the Hrvatska Danica (Croatian Morning Star) order from the Croatian Government in 1997, and with the honorary doctorate from the University of Zagreb in 2001. Dr. Wilkes died prematurely at the age of 57. According to her last wish, her ashes have been strewn over sea in the City of Dubrovnik.

As described below the identity card of dr. Cathy Wilkes, she has been affectionally named Kate (ka:te).

The Commission for doctor honoris causa award to Dr. Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes, appointed by the Senate of the University of Zagreb and the Rector’s decision of April 10th, 2001, comprised of Srđan Lelas, D. Sc., Full Professor, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Branko Despot, D. Sc., Full Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, Ante Pažanin, D. Sc, Full Professor, Faculty of Political Science, Danilo Pejović, D. Sc., Full Professor, Faculty of Philosophy and Professor Emeritus and Zvonimir Šikić, D. Sc., Full Professor, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture, submits the following


Doctor Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes was born on 23 June 1946 in Great Britain. She graduated in Literae Humaniores at Oxford University at St. Hilda’s College with first class grades and with support from Abbott Scholarship. As a Princeton National and University Fellow she studied philosophy at the University of Princeton where she received her master’s degree in 1971 and doctoral degree in 1973. In the same year she received her master’s degree at Oxford University. In the academic year 1972–1973 she worked as a research fellow at King’s College in Cambridge. As a visiting professor she visited many universities in Canada, United States, and in China, and as a lecturer she was invited to different universities, academies and conferences in North America, China and throughout the whole Europe from west to east and to Turkey. From 1973 till today she has been working as a CUF Lecturer at Oxford University and as a Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St. Hilda’s College.

Academic Activity

Doctor Kathleen V. Wilkes’ research work is involved mainly in the field of classical philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science (especially philosophy of cognitive science), philosophy of religion and philosophy of politics. Her opus encompasses more than fifty-five articles as well as review articles in the English language. Her work has also been translated in other languages. She has published three books: Physicalism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978; Real People, Oxford University Press, 1988; Philosophical Problems in Artificial Intelligence (in Chinese), Academic Publisher, Peking, 1991. The manuscript of her fourth book is nearly completed and the title is The Autonomy of Psychology, also for Routledge. Doctor Kathleen V. Wilkes is an often-cited author, and her most prominent book, Real People, has also been printed, in paperback edition. In Real People her approach to philosophy, especially philosophy of science, is the most clearly formulated through critical analysis of the so-called "thought experiments" practised in theory of personal identity. Since these experiments are not only being used in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of mind and comparable fields, her analysis caused a widespread discussion about their role in other sciences. Moreover, this analysis is also an implicit criticism of the method of analytical philosophy, which creates artificial counter examples in order to falsify the argument of the opponent even if the point is drastic or unreal. It also criticises the kind of analytic philosophy engaged in an unrestricted logical game and journey through possible worlds. In contrast Doctor K. V. Wilkes throughout her whole opus pleaded for confronting philosophy with scientific and real empirical facts about people and the world around us, and giving these facts power over the conceptualisation freed from any philosophic dogmatism. For example, in the modern debate about human rationality she is searching for the specific traits of the human mind in continuity with the intelligence of animals, including approval from the results of scientific research.

Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes’ academic reputation can also be seen through her membership of editorial boards of seven magazines. She was also one of the editors of International Studies in the Philosophy of Science from 1986 to 1996; this magazine made its breakthrough on the academic market under the subtitle “Dubrovnik Papers” and is still issued. She is also one of the editors of the proceedings Modelling the Mind, OUP 1990 and of the chapter “Memory and Learning” in The Encyclopaedic- Dictionary of Psychology, Blackwell, 1983. 

Social Activity

Along with her academic activity, Doctor K. V. Wilkes is also known for her rich public and organisational activities, that stretch beyond Europe. Her famous newspaper articles are mainly connected to events in Central and Eastern Europe and, of course, to Croatia. Since 1978 she has published in different newspapers such as New Statesman, Times, Guardian, Observer and others. She has also participated in many university, national, and international boards for inter-university co-operation and she has organised several conferences, especially in Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia and in Holland. She is also one of the founders of three institutions: Jan Hus Educational Foundation in 1979 (Barbara Day wrote about this in her book The Velvet Philosophers), Oxford Colleges Hospitality Scheme (for Central and Eastern European Universities) founded in 1981 and OSI/FCO Chevening Scholars Scheme (for Central and Eastern European doctoral students) founded in 1986. All of these institutions are still active and work to help scholars and students of Central and Eastern Europe in their academic work. For her academic work and social activities she was awarded by the Czech Academy of Science in 1992 and by the Polish Ministry of Science in 1992.

Activities connected to Croatia

Doctor Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes’ connection to Croatia begins with her participation in an international postgraduate course called Philosophy and Science in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She first began as a lecturer and later became the director of the course and she is the one responsible for its continuing existence, even when Dubrovnik was under attack, all to this day. During her time the course reached its peak with dozens of participants every year from more than ten countries. She made it possible for Croatia's philosophers to have many contacts and acquaintances, as well as being yearly informed about the most important events in the profession. However, this does not exhaust her activities in the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik (IUC). Besides being the co-director of two other courses: Philosophy of Mind and What does it mean to be European, Doctor K. V. Wilkes fulfilled her duties as President of the IUC Executive Board from 1986 to 1993.

The people of Dubrovnik remember her best for the reason that she refused to leave the city when the siege of the Yugoslav Army started in 1991. During the whole course of the siege, she was the “unofficial secretary to the mayor” who wrote letters to eminent people and to officials throughout the world, from Prince Charles to Vice-president Gore and Dole and also to different newspapers. Everyday she called BBC World Service. And she also called people such as Lord Carington and Margaret Thatcher, and what was appreciated most be the people of Dubrovnik was that she was practically the editor of the daily bulletin Glas iz Dubrovnika. And after the blockade ended K. V. Wilkes actively helped Dubrovnik and Croatia – at one occasion she herself drove an ambulance bringing medical aid, she also organised the purchase of landmine detectors, etc. She wrote a manuscript about the events in Dubrovnik called Lead upon Gold, but unfortunately a British publishing house lost interest in it after the beginning of tragic events in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her assistance to Jill Craigie, the late wife of her close acquaintance Michael Foot in making her well-known documentary film “Two Hours Away from London” was especially valuable. She also gave her statement to one of the investigators of The Hague Court about the background and acts of siege on Dubrovnik. She is one of the founders of the British-Croatian Society and has been its president since 1995.

Because of her merit for Croatia she was proclaimed a freeman of Dubrovnik in 1993, and in 1997 she was awarded an Order of Danica Hrvatska.


Based on these facts, it is obvious that Doctor Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes is a productive, respected, and influential philosopher who has through her activities not only significantly helped Croatia's struggle for independence and defence from the Great Serbian aggressors but she helped and is still helping the development of the Croatian academic community. It is our honour to positively evaluate and whole-heartedly support the proposition to give Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes an honorary doctoral degree of the University of Zagreb.

Zagreb, 27 March 2001

Professor Srđan LELAS, D. Sc.
Professor Branko DESPOT, D. Sc.
Professor Ante PAŽANIN, D. Sc.
Professor Danilo PEJOVIĆ, D. Sc.
Professor Zvonimir ŠIKIĆ, D. Sc.

Response by Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes

Rector, distinguished professors, ladies and gentlemen (what is the best mode of address ?)

I am both honoured and humbled by this honorary doctorate. But I think that you might have given me the wrong degree.

To explain this, let me tell you an anecdote. I have honorary membership of the (Dubrovnik) HV, with a splendid plaque signed by Brigadir Veselko Gabričević. The Commandant of the Dubrovnik Battalion used to come around to talk to the Mayor (Pero Poljanić); and his batman (or assistant?) stayed outside Pero's office, where I had a desk; and we chatted – his English was much better than my Croatian. As a joke – and only as a joke – I asked this nice guy what rank I had as an honorary member of the HV. He didn't know. But when the commandant reappeared, there was an intensive discussion, for at least five minutes; and then he (the batman/assistant) told me solemnly that I was an “honorary private”. In consistency, therefore, you should be giving me an honorary bachelor’s degree.

This is a very humbling moment. I have made friends for life; and found out a lot about the nature of courage. There was fear; certainly there was lots of fear. But, with almost no exception, it was fear for someone else, not for themselves. “Are my parents (or my children) in the shelter, or, have they thought that going into the bathroom, or the kitchen, or the basement, would do instead? “My son is up on Srđ, in the fort; will he survive the attacks from Žarkovica?

I was also provoked into thinking about propaganda; and self-deception. What is it that makes soldiers agree to shoot at hospitals, or monasteries? Vukovar was the example of the worst that could happen. But why? I still don't understand this. Possibly the worst day for Dubrovnik – rivalling in significance “Black Friday”, St Nicholas Day, December 6th – was the news that Vukovar had eventually been overwhelmed.

I do not think that I deserve this honour. The people with whom I worked had no choice; there they were, this was something they had to do. I could have been safely in Oxford, worrying about Croatia, certainly;  but safe myself. As I have said already; I discovered a lot about the nature of courage, and (especially) the power of propaganda, and self-deception.

Of the many letters we sent out, few got a reply. Three replies I remember: one from Prince Charles, whom we'd invited to visit (while Dubrovnik was in its hardest moments). He said that he'd like to come; but thought that his security people wouldn't allow it. Bush (senior Bush; then President) didn't reply; but Al Gore and Bob Dole (both Senators at the time) did. I don't need to translate “Gore” and “Dole” for you. [In Croatian "gore" - up, "dole, dolje" - down; D. Ž.]

I was so well looked-after during the war. Possibly I was the most well-protected person in the whole city. But basically: Dubrovnik refused to surrender, and its medieval walls confronted twentieth-century missiles, and did so, on the whole, successfully.

I would like to consider this honour as (indirectly honouring the IUC and its staff, then and now. What looked like complete destruction, when Frana Bulića 4 burned, and was left as an empty shell, would indeed have been a destruction of Supek's dream - were it not for the undaunted courage, commitment, and sheer hard work of the incomparable staff. Most of them are still there, whether (now) in the IUC, or in the ICCU / (MSHS). It is they, primarily, who kept alive Supek's ambition; and who are responsible for the astonishingly swift rebirth of the phoenix-from-the-ashes which is the present IUC.
I can only thank you this is an honour I don't think that I deserve; but of course I am extremely grateful; I've been going around Oxford with a great big grin that would make a banana look straight.

Dr. Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes at the University of Zagreb

Address by Professor Branko Jeren,
Rector of the University

Dear Professor Wilkes,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues, Dear Guests!

"Verum factum". Truth is an act. Truth is a deed taught Giambattista Vico, an Italian philosopher.

TRUTH! To what extent Croatia and Dubrovnik needed genuine truth in 1991 To what extent still need genuine truth today.

Dr. Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes grasped and witnessed the truth of Dubrovnik and Croatia through her outstanding deeds and accomplishment/acts.

Ladies and gentlemen, today I have the great honour and privilege to confer the title Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Zagreb to Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes as was decided by the Senate on 10 April 2001.

Dr Wilkes' ties with the University of Zagreb have been long-standing and deep-rooted. Through her generous and exceptional commitment in the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik she has created a strong relationship with many of our scholars and has become a genuine member of the Croatian academic community. Thus, it is not surprising that the Senate has with exceptional satisfaction accepted a proposal that the University of Zagreb bestows Mrs Wilkes an honorary doctorate. This valuable initiative was put forward by Mrs Ivana Burđelez, the Head of the International Centre of Croatian Universities in Dubrovnik.

I had the pleasure meeting Dr. Wilkes in December 1991 during the many turbulent months when Dubrovnik was under siege by the barbaric Great Serbian and Montenegrin troops. I was a representative of the University and the Ministry of Science and Technology, which was at that time about to begin a symbolic reconstruction of our devastated and burned down Centre. It was the time when Dubrovnik lived without electricity and water, and even food was at shortage for weeks so that our ship was the only temporary connection with the rest of the world. Horrified by the sight, even before we got off the ship we could painfully witness the indescribable dimension of atrocity committed upon Grad.

However, the local people and among them also you, Dr Wilkes, brought a miraculous spirit of optimism to the boat. Almost frozen, you did not speak a word the first half-hour. However in that silence we could feel the strength of your courage.  Afterwards, when you spoke about the people's suffering, the attack and damage on the Grad, about your decision to remain there and the need to transfer the truth to the world, I understood the real meaning of "Truth is a deed". This gave credibility to your truth, Dr. Wilkes.

The following day, at the burned down Stradun, I comprehended the significance of trustworthiness. I remember that many long-suffering citizens of Dubrovnik were approaching you speechlessly and embracing you, even though they have never met you. Those embraces reflected, as a poet would say, prayer, spite and sorrow, and their need to receive from you new courage and optimism. You, Dr. Wilkes have selflessly achieved this.

Even today when it seems as if truth is missing, your deed, your truth has a special power and trustworthiness value. Thank you for this.

Professor Branko Jeren, Rector of the University of Zagreb, congratulating Dr. Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes an honorary doctoral degree.

P  R  O  G  R  A  M

G. F. Händel: Canticorum Iubilo; D. Scarlatti: Exultate Deo

Uvodno slovo prof. dr. sc. Branka Jerena, rektora Sveučilišta u Zagrebu

F. Dugan: Zahvalnica

Govor promotora prof. dr. sc. Srđana Lelasa

Proglašenje počasnim doktorom i uručenje diplome

D. Britvić-Đ. Jusić: Dubrovačka zvona

Zahvala Dr. Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes

Gaudeamus igitur; sudjeluju:

  • Tereza Kesovija – posebna gošća
  • Akademski zbor “Ivan Goran Kovačić”, Dirigent Saša Britvić

Zagreb, 11 April 2001

On the basis of Article 112 of the Law on Higher Education and Article 31 of the Statute of the University of Zagreb, and on the recommendation of the Commission of Experts comprised of Professor Branko Despot, D.Sc, Professor Srđan Lelas, D.Sc., Professor Ante Pažanin, D.Sc., Professor Danilo Pejović, D.Sc., and Professor Zvonimir Šikić, D.Sc., the Senate of the University in Zagreb at its 11 session in the 332 academic year (2000/2001) held on 10 April 2001 made the following


An honorary Doctorate of the University of Zagreb is conferred to Doctor Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes (b. 23 June 1946), a distinguished and internationally renowned philosopher, a publicist and a longtime head of a postgraduate course Philosophy and Science in Dubrovnik, without breaks even during the siege on the city of Dubrovnik for her exceptional scientific work and for selflessly supporting Croatia in its process of independence and defense from aggression as well as for her great contribution to Croatia's academic community.

The formal ceremony, the signing of Doctor Kathleen Vaughan Wilkes in the Book of Doctors Honoris Causa of the University of Zagreb and the bestowal of a Diploma will be held on 22 May 2001.

This decision shall come into force on the day it is promulgated.

Rector Professor Branko Jeren, D.Sc.

Formated for CROWN by prof.dr. Darko Žubrinić
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