Thursday, February 4, 2016

Fragments on WWI and philosophers

1. In an earlier post, I mentioned a paper by Jack Reynolds about the impact on philosophy of WWI. It turns out that Reynolds' paper is on-line at Academia.

2. Among philosophical schools of thought, perhaps neo-Kantianism suffered the most as a result of WWI. Prominent neo-Kantians, such as Alois Riehl and Wilhelm Windelband, signed the infamous 'Manifesto of the Ninety-Three' (1914), in which professors defended Germany's war effort (inc. the invasion of Belgium). Eventually, approximately four thousand German academics endorsed the claims of the manifesto, including many more philosophers. I'm not aware of any neo-Kantians who opposed the War. This might be one reason why the neo-Kantians didn't appear in histories of analytic philosophy until recently: after the War, anglo-philosophers didn't want to read them.

3. To get a sense of how philosophers (and some religious thinkers) in the UK and its allied nations viewed the War during its early stages, look at volume 13 (Oct. 1914-July 1915) of the Hibbert Journal, which includes papers by Norman Kemp Smith, G. Dawes Hicks ('German Philosophy and the Present Crisis'), Henri BergsonEvelyn UnderhillCount Hermann Keyserling, and E. F. Carritt. Nietzsche -- er, straw-Nietzsche -- takes a beating.

4. One of the most Hegelian British philosophers of that era was Sir James Black Baillie, who translated Hegel's Phenomenology. In A Hundred Years of British Philosophy (1938, pp. 317-8), Rudolf Metz wrote that the War prompted Baillie to abandon idealism. Metz based this claim largely on Baillie's Studies in Human Nature. Recently, Peter Hoerres has repeated Metz's claim. (Hoerres, 'Idealism as Transnational War Philosophy, 1914-1918', in Anglo-German Scholarly Networks in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Ellis and Kirchberger [Brill, 2014]) However, Metz's claim is disputed on p. 51 of the Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers.

More about Baillie: Too old to join the army in WWI, Baillie served in the Admiralty's Intelligence Division for a couple of years and also was on a London conscientious objector tribunal. After the War, Baillie held several administrative positions. He was a labour arbitrator and lawyer and was knighted in 1931. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds. According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'Baillie is presented as Sir John Evans in Michael Innes's novel The Weight of the Evidence (1944).' For more about Baillie, see David Charlston's dissertation, Hegel's Phenomenology in Translation: A comparative analysis of translatorial hexis. (2012, University of Manchester)

5. In response to the vilification of German philosophy, J. H. Muirhead defended some German philosophers (esp. Hegel) in German Philosophy in Relation to the War.

6. Outside the UK, other philosophers who served on the WWI front lines include: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Franz Rosenzweig, Paul Tillich, Ludwig WittgensteinKarl Löwith, Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach, Alfred Schutz, Michael Polanyi, Gaston Bachelard, André Maurois, Alexander Koyré, Alain.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Arthur Aston Luce, Berkeley scholar and WWI vet

One of the philosophers who fought in WWI was A. A. Luce (1882-1977). He lived for most of his life in Ireland, where he taught at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD). Luce was born and raised in Gloucester, England, and served in the British forces in the War. He made his name in philosophy as a leading scholar of Bishop Berkeley's works. He not only interpreted but, also, endorsed Berkeley's idealism.

Here are some of the other main points of Luce's biography. He was ordained into the Anglican (Church of Ireland) clergy in 1908. In WWI, Luce could have served as a chaplain but elected, instead, to enlist as a soldier in the Royal Irish Rifles (1915-18). In a nine-page biography, Luce's son, J. V. Luce, wrote that his father 'saw nearly three years active service in France, rose to the rank of Captain, and won the MC [Military Cross] for his conduct during the battle of Passchendaele in August 1917'. (J. V. Luce, 'Introduction: A Memoir of A. A. Luce', in Fishing and Thinking, A. A. Luce [Shrewsbury, England: Swan Hill Press, 1990]) Passchendaele (aka the 3rd Battle of Ypres) was among the most wretched engagements in the War. So, it is no surprise that Luce suffered from 'shell-shock' (according to  R. B. McDowell and D. A. Webb in their Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952: An Academic History [Cambridge University Press, 1982], p. 490). It appears that Luce was murdered in 1977. At least, he is said to have died 'a few days after being assaulted ... by a man who had an antipathy towards clergymen'. (Diarmaid Ferriter, 'Luce, Arthur Aston' Dictionary of Irish Biography [Cambridge University Press and Royal Irish Academy, 2016])

In the 1920s, Luce was Samuel Beckett's tutor. At TCD, a tutor's role in relation to an assigned student was advisory and not directed towards teaching. Other professors at TCD had much more influence on Beckett than Luce did (esp. Thomas Rudmose-Brown). Still, Beckett seems to have been an admirer of Berkeley, and when Beckett applied for a teaching post at the University of Cape Town in 1937, he named 'Captain the Reverend Arthur Aston Luce' as one of his three referees. (Letters of Samuel Beckett, v. I: 1929-1940, ed. Fehsenfeld and Overbeck [Cambridge University Press 2009], p. 523, letter dated July 29, 1937) Also, interpreters of Beckett's work have focused on its philosophical relevance, particularly in connection with the philosophy of Henri Bergson. Luce published a book on Bergson in 1922.

A revealing source with respect to Luce's character is the anonymously authored obituary in the Times (of London). ('Obituary: The Rev. A. A. Luce, Churchman and Philosopher' The Times, June 29, 1977, p. 18) According to this obituary, Luce had a 'striking and perplexing personality'. (Ibid.) He was regarded by his peers at TCD as 'independent, sometimes to the point of perversity' and as a holder of 'unusual' opinions. (Ibid.) The obituarist conjectures that 'the strain of these years [1915-18] in the trenches left a deep mark on his opinions and his modes of thought.' (Ibid.) Luce 'was seldom on the side of the majority, and, with a courage that never failed him, fought stoutly for many unpopular and indeed outrageous opinions.' (Ibid.) He became TCD's Vice-Provost in 1949 but was 'forced' to retire from that position in 1952 (due allegedly to his inflexible resistance to change). Finally, the author attributes to Luce a complex personality, in which 'the Puritan, the man of the world, and the sequestered don, the cold disciplinarian and the courtly and thoughtful host, the reactionary authoritarian and the passionate lover of justice -- all these jostled one another in an unpredictable kaleidoscope.' (Ibid.)

I think that the anonymous obituarist might have been R. B. McDowell. McDowell co-authored a history of TCD that contains the following remark, which resembles the just-quoted passage:
Most men contain some qualities which seem inconsistent with each other, but in Luce the opposites were to be seen in conflict almost every day. The courteous host and the frosty disciplinarian; the conscientious and devoted servant of the College and the tenacious fighter for his rights and emoluments; the single-minded seeker after the truth and the master of a repartee based on unfair pseudo-logic; the stern moralist and the very unorthodox churchman; the man of the world and the ill-informed provincial; the stylist in words and the ignoramus in the sphere of fine arts -- what was one to make of such a mixture? (R. B. McDowell and D. A. Webb, Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952: An Academic History [Cambridge University Press, 1982], p. 490-491)
McDowell, a historian, contributed the parts of the book that concerned the humanities.

Luce resembled another British philosopher and WWI vet, Mure, in having a reactionary streak (though Luce wasn't nearly as pure a reactionary as Mure seems to have been). Luce resembled Weldon in being a courageous man who had a volatile, unpredictable character and who seemed to enjoy shocking people with his statements.

Here's a clip in which McDowell and J. V. Luce are interviewed about TCD:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On the nature of the question concerning WWI

Inquiry into WWI's possible impact on philosophy does not require one to say that a given philosophical stance would not have been formulated but for the War. Instead, the idea is that younger philosophers might have been disposed by the War to pay more attention to that view than to others, or to be much more critical of other, rival ideas, or to be more charitable to that position by not dwelling upon its most contentious presuppositions, and so on.

A rough analogy: if we ask how some stretch of DNA first was put together, the explanation will focus on some micro-process involving the relevant chemicals and their interactions. But if we ask how a gene came to preponderate in a species, we shall have to expand our focus to take in environmental interactions, including the forces of natural selection.

Similarly, we might account, say, for Moore's disaffection with idealism in terms of the reasons and arguments that he published. But if we ask, 'Of the various philosophical positions in the air in the 1920s and '30s, why did analytic philosophy catch on in the UK?', our answer may have to encompass social or political considerations in addition to the arguments that appeared in philosophy journals.

So, when someone advances a hypothesis about WWI's impact on British philosophers, it's no objection to say, 'Ah, but the philosophical ideas in question had already been formulated and defended in print years before the War, so they're not explained by the War.' This is because the question being posed is along these lines: of all the extant philosophical positions in the UK before the War, why did these ones catch on and preponderate among UK philosophers after the War?'

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Conjectures about the impact on British philosophy of WWI

I found more sources that address the possible repercussions of WWI for British philosophy (and esp. for British analytic philosophy).

First, Deakin University hosted a conference in November, 2014, called 'Crisis and reconfigurations: 100 years of European Thought Since 1914'. I think that a collection of papers from this conference is going to be published. It looks like the papers are mostly about continental philosophy, but one item, by Andreas Vrahimis (pdf), examines analytic philosophy.

Also, historian Peter Hoeres has an article called 'Idealism as Transnational War Philosophy, 1914-1918'. It appears in Anglo-German Scholarly Networks in the Long Nineteenth Century (ed. Heather Ellis and Ulrike Kirchberger).

Here's a rough sketch of some hypotheses about the War's influence on British philosophy.

1. The War discredited whatever philosophies formed the status quo in universities before 1914. Thus, in Germany, the War finished off neo-Kantianism; in the UK, it dispatched absolute idealism. This conjecture is neutral vis-à-vis the content of the status quo philosophy. It is vulnerable to a similar objection to the one that I leveled at Candlish's proposal; viz., there's little evidence that any of the British philosophers who had first-hand experience of the slaughter were led to change their philosophical views, and, more generally, it's hard to find any established philosopher in the UK whose philosophy underwent a major change due to the War (with the possible exception of Sir James Black Baillie). To avoid this difficulty, a proponent of this first hypothesis must recast it as a claim about the War's influence on only those individuals who became philosophers after the War (and not on those people who already were established philosophy academics when the War began). (Indeed, let's attach this caveat to all three of the hypotheses that I canvas in this note.)

Even then, this content-neutral hypothesis is much more plausible about the War's influence in countries that lost the War. For instance, it looks like the total, unambiguous collapse of the Wilhelmine Reich did unleash much creative energy (in addition to destructive forces) in diverse, Weimar arts and sciences; such a widespread discrediting of the old order is bound to be followed by radical questioning of old assumptions and by the ascendancy of 'new ways of thinking'. But the UK perhaps did not experience any sudden discrediting of the old order. Perhaps it was only later, after the publication of war memoirs (mainly in the 1920s) and after the War's economic costs had grown more apparent, that old attitudes began to be questioned.

2. Prior to the War, philosophers had been adrift in airy speculation, and the War brought them back to earth, to more humble inquiries that at least held the promise of uncovering some truths. Switching metaphors, it was out with the grandiose, a priori houses of cards, and in with careful, humble attending to facts (more Cook Wilson, less Bradley).

Theology saw a similar post-war development. Neo-orthodox theologians (e.g., Barth and Brunner) chastised the pre-War, German theologians (many of whom supported going to war) for having been lost in abstruse, academic disputes. (Such complaints echoed the Protestant propaganda about medieval schoolmen trying to determine the number of angels that can dance on a needle's point. This Protestant trope was taken up in Milton's Paradise Lost [in the figure of the demons 'in wandering mazes lost'].)

Use of this sort of trope should be expected after a calamity. People reflect on the calamity and decide that it owed (partly) to some decadent trend that was evident before things took such a dire turn (e.g., Spengler). The complaint may be directed at benighted academics, who stand accused of leading people astray in fruitless speculations on irrelevant matters. The corrective requires getting back to a neglected locus of truth that had all along been accessible. In its religious version, this locus is a source of revelation (such as the Bible); but in its secular version, some other previously ignored but accessible source of enlightenment must be posited. This source might be experience, so that one could expect to hear calls for a return to the empirical focus of earlier British philosophy. Also, there might be a call to get back to the rigorous examination of facts, and the accessible facts in question might involve words and the logic of their use.

So, perhaps one impact of the War was to drive British philosophers towards empiricism and a greater focus on the minutiae of language, trends that certainly were prominent (in varying degrees) among positivists and ordinary-language philosophers.

3. Before the War, idealists offered philosophical theories of politics and society. After the War, philosophers were reluctant to try to make sense of such human affairs. 'Look how absurd it all is,' they seemed to say, 'all these millions killed for no good reason. There's no sense in any of it.' So, don't bother trying to find sense where there isn't any; don't waste time on some philosophy of social or political matters.

The inter-war years did see a retreat of British philosophy from explicit engagement with politics. Could this have been due, in part, to a sense of the absurdity of human affairs? Was it partly due to the example of Russell, whose political activities in the War got him booted from academia, or of Otto Neurath, who was also imprisoned for his political activities? Was it partly due to the vilification of idealist political philosophy by L. T. Hobhouse and others (on the grounds that it had been inspired by German philosophy)? Seeing Bosanquet's philosophy condemned in this way and seeing Russell's sacrifice may well have dissuaded British philosophers from having much to say about politics. The sentiment may have been, 'You'll only get your fingers burned if you write about politics (in a practical or even theoretical way).'

In his above-cited paper, Andreas Vrahimis analyzes the growing silence of analytic philosophers on matters political. Vrahimis cites a discussion of this topic by Jack Reynolds. I can't find a copy of Reynolds' paper, but judging from its Abstract, Reynolds (like Vrahimis) takes the War to have exacerbated the then-recent divide between analytic and continental philosophy. One factor in this growing divide, according to Reynolds (according to Vrahimis), is continental philosophy's connection to political questions and the relative lack of such a connection in analytic philosophy. Vrahimis draws attention to Neurath's radical political program and to Neurath's claim that his program would be helped by the removal of metaphysics from politics. (Vrahimis, 'Legacies of German Idealism' Parrhesia 24 [2015]: 99) For Vrahimis, Neurath's example shows that analytic philosophy's retreat from theorizing about politics was itself a self-consciously political move. However, in the UK, it was analytic philosophers more generally, and not just positivists, who seldom ventured into political theory after the War. (Interestingly, two of the analytic philosophers who wrote the most about politics in the mid-20th Century were WWI veterans: Mabbott and Weldon.)

One hypothesis I haven't addressed is a more specific application to philosophy of the general idea that the War undermined Whiggish views of history. Assumptions about intellectual or moral progress were re-examined and often rejected. This idea is explored by Mark Bevir and Naomi Choi in 'Anglophone Historicisms'. (Journal of the Philosophy of History 9 [2015]: 327-46, esp. at 332) Here's Rupert Read on a similar theme.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

More about the War and British philosophy

Following my last post, my search for some discussion of WWI's impact on British analytic philosophy has borne fruit.

1. First, in a recent paper, Stewart Candlish asks, 'How do we account for the wider decline in allegiance to idealism?' ('Philosophy and the Tide of History: Bertrand Russell's Role in the Rise of Analytic Philosophy', The Historical Turn in Analytic Philosophy, ed. Erich H. Reck [Palgrave Macmillan, 2013], p. 55) He ventures the hypothesis that idealism was a surrogate for traditional forms of religion, offering succour in the face of hard facts. Candlish adds that the ascendancy of Darwinian naturalism reduced the need for such 'consolation'. He then says,
Consolatory views began to look positively distasteful in the aftermath of the Great War. After all the mud, the gas, the relentless shelling, the blood and slaughter, idealism's central tenet of the spirituality of the universe was offensive when not merely laughable, particularly so when we remember its German origins. (Ibid.)
Candlish refers to Paul Fussell's study of the disillusioning impact of WWI, in the light of which the spiritual consolations afforded by idealism and religion alike were exposed to mockery.

Candlish offers these reflections as only a 'sketch of a partial answer'. (Ibid.) I have the following reservations. First, there are forms of idealism that don't offer consolation (e.g., Schopenhauer's version). Second, most of the British, WWI veterans whom I've identified maintained their commitment to idealist or to more traditionally religious frameworks after the War. Why say that the mud, gas, shelling, and so on militated against these outlooks when most of the UK philosophers who suffered these assaults first-hand were not thus disabused? Perhaps idealism was weakened not by the adversity, itself, but by the way the broader culture remembered and interpreted the adversity. Third (and in connection with those 'German origins'): absolute idealism took root and spread in early nineteenth-century Prussia, a culture that was not unfamiliar with the ravages of war.

2. In his The Cultural Politics of Analytic Philosophy, Thomas L. Akehurst says that one effect of the War was to diminish the engagement of British philosophers with German philosophy. I haven't yet looked at Akehurst's book very closely, but he (among other things) examines the vilification of German philosophers (esp. Hegel) by L. T. Hobhouse and others in the wake of WWI, and Akehurst traces this trend in the works of various British philosophers.

3. Flipping through the 1914-19 volumes of Mind and the Aristotelian Society's Proceedings, I found relatively few references to the War. In the brief summaries of the Society's meetings, there are repeated expressions of concern about the increased cost of paper (due to the War) along with encouraging statements to the effect that the Society's membership continues to grow. In Volume 17 of the Proceedings (1916-17, pp. 256-99), there's a symposium on social reconstruction after the War. (The symposiasts were Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, George Bernard Shaw, C. Delisle Burns, and H. D. Oakley.)

In an issue of Mind, there's a short piece by one of the veterans, J. L. Stocks ('The Test of Experience', Mind 28 [1919]: 79-81). Stocks' topic is Aristotle's treatment of courage in connection with fear and 'cheer' (or confidence, to use the more common translation). Stocks says that before his own battlefield experiences, he shared in the widespread skepticism about Aristotle's talk of 'cheer'. However, adds Stock, after serving in the trenches and observing another soldier's behaviour, he now knows what Aristotle meant. Stocks writes of a kind of 'invigoration' and 'enjoyment' (p. 80) that he and his comrades sometimes felt in the heat of battle.

Unlike many (all?) of the other British philosophers who saw active duty in the War, Stocks had begun his professional academic career before the war began; he became a fellow and tutor at St. John's College (Oxford) in 1906. Stocks died on June 13, 1937 from complications of a war wound.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Analytic philosophy and World War I

I'm struck by the dearth of references to World War I in standard histories of analytic philosophy. I don't pretend to have done a comprehensive search, but the War doesn't figure prominently in many of the more well-known histories (e.g., those by Passmore, G. J. Warnock, and Soames). There have, of late, been publications that situate Carnap and other members of the Vienna Circle within the broader cultural trends that followed the War, but I'm not aware of any work that performs a similar function in connection with the analytic philosophers of the UK.

The War is known to have had a tremendous cultural impact in the UK. Historians sometimes speak of the 'long 19th century' as ending only after 1918. In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell traces a host of cultural trends to the War (esp. the increased use of irony). But in many histories of analytic philosophy, you get the impression that the British branch of this tradition was nurtured in an order of reasons well insulated from messy (or muddy) causes. It's mostly context of justification with little context of discovery (little, at least, that reaches beyond university campuses).

There must have been some interesting Great War impact (immediate or delayed) on the growth of analytic philosophy. Wittgenstein composed his Tractatus while he was a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian forces and a prisoner of war. Russell lost his position at Cambridge due to his opposition to the War and jeopardized his own well-being via his run-ins with the law over the War's continuation. So, the War loomed large in the lives of two of the most influential, early analytic philosophers. There must be some publications about the War's impact on Wittgenstein's thinking. With regard to Russell, there's this bit by Father Copleston:
One effect of the First World War on Russell's mind was to turn it away from the idea of an eternal realm of abstract truth, where one can take refuge in the contemplation of timeless and non-human beauty, to concentration on the actual concrete world. And this meant, in part at least, a turning away from purely logical studies to the parts of psychology and linguistics which seemed to be relevant to epistemology. (History of Philosophy: Bentham to Russell, p. 438)
I have yet to chase down Copleston's references in this part of his book, so I don't know if the author is here paraphrasing Russell or giving his own interpretation of the war's effect.

In a retrospective paper, Gilbert Ryle wrote:
For the First World War had, between 1914 and 1918, virtually extinguished a whole generation. To the academic world as outside it, to the departments of philosophy as to those of other disciplines, there returned a bare handful of mediators between us, who in 1918 were too young for active military service, and the members of 'the old gang' who, in 1914, had been too old for it. ('Fifty Years of Philosophy and Philosophers', Philosophy 51 [1976]: 383)
Ryle characterizes the War's influence in negative terms as an absence, a missing generation.

Several British philosophers saw active duty in the British forces in WWI. Here are the ones whom I've so far found:

John David Mabbott (officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery; Oxford, President of St. John's College);
Henry Habberley Price (Royal Flying Corps; Oxford, Wykeham Professor at New College);
Geoffrey Reginald Gilchrist Mure (Warwicks Royal Horse Artillery; Oxford, Warden of Merton College, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford);
Thomas Dewar Weldon (Royal Field Artillery; Oxford, Magdalen College);
Charles Arthur Campbell (10th Borders Regiment; Glasgow, Dean of Faculties);
John Macmurray (Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders; University College, London (Dept. Head), Edinburgh);
Sir Walter Hamilton Moberly (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry; Birmingham, Vice-Chancellor of the Manchester University);
John Leofric Stocks (King's Royal Rifle Corps; Oxford, Manchester, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool); and
Arthur Aston Luce (12th Royal Irish Rifles; Trinity College, Dublin, Vice-Provost).

Some reflections:

1. Only three of these philosophers were within the tradition of analytic philosophy (Price, Mabbott, and Weldon). Re. Price: while I think he was an analytic philosopher, he was out of sympathy with some of the main trends in that tradition. E.g., he addressed traditionally metaphysical topics.

2. Many on this list were very much engaged in metaphysics. Price wrote about God and the survival of death (and was President of the Society for Psychical Research [1939-41]). Campbell and Macmurray wrote about free will. Luce was a Berkleyan idealist, Mure an idealist of the Hegelian variety. Moberly was a devout Anglican who criticized retributivist models of punishment. Mabbott and Weldon, though not focused on metaphysics, wrote about topics that were seldom addressed by other analytic philosophers in their time; both published books on political philosophy, and Mabbott published on punishment (defending retributivism).

3. It's interesting that so many of these WWI veterans went on to hold high administrative positions in universities.

4. I'm looking through Mabbott's autobiography Oxford Memories, but his remarks there about the War seem largely confined to his own experience of it. However, in Chapter 10 of his book The State and the Citizen: An Introduction to Political Philosophy ('The State as a Centre of Sympathy and Co-operation'), Mabbott examines the extent to which the state can promote 'sympathy and willing co-operation'. (The State and the Citizen [London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1948], p. 95) He says that the 'ideals of service and fellowship ... seldom survive the early moments or the crisis of a war, before the inevitable disillusion sets in'. (Ibid., p. 96) He adds that in WWI, one sees how 'war brought out the worst everywhere, in the Church, the Press, the Government, the Army, how even where decency lurked, in the trenches for instance, it was a soured and acid decency, the dogged acceptance of necessary evil rather than the high heroism of the early days'. (Ibid., pp. 96-7, footnotes omitted) (In the omitted footnotes, Mabbott gives examples to illustrate his points about the Church and the Press.) It's interesting that Mabbott leaves academia out of his list of corrupted institutions. Also of note is that he quotes approvingly from C. E. Montague's Disenchantment in this part of his book.

5. There was at least one promising, young French philosopher who was killed in WWI (Pierre Rousselot), and at least two German philosophers were (Emil Lask and Adolf Reinach). (Indeed, it appears that whole discussion circles in Germany never recovered.) However, I'm not aware of any UK philosophers who were killed in the War. Were there any?

6. Perhaps a major, long-term consequence of the War was a turning away from comprehensive systems in favour of more piecemeal intellectual exercises -- more Cook Wilson and less Bradley. There was also more attention to concrete phenomena and a suspicion of abstraction.

Monday, January 4, 2016

More quotations about facts

(Part I from last May)

G. E. Moore (1953): '"Facts" is a very ambiguous word, although it is so constantly used as if it were clear.' (Some Main Problems of Philosophy, p. 306)

Henry Philip Tappan (1844): 'By fact, we mean phenomena, — something which we know by observation merely. Facts are of two kinds: 1. Facts of the Senses, or external observation. 2. Facts of the Consciousness, or internal observation.' (Elements of Logic, p. 427)

William James (1907): 'The facts themselves meanwhile are not true. They simply are.' (Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. Lecture VI. Pragmatism's Conception of Truth)

W. R. Dennes (1932): 'Facts are events. ... [T]he facts propositions report are qualified and related events which occur and cease but are not true or false.' ('Fact and Interpretation', Studies in the Nature of Facts, vol. 14 of the University of California Publications in Philosophy [Berkeley: University of California Press]: 98)

L. Susan Stebbing (1930): 'A fact is not an event. ... A fact is anything that is the case. ... Facts simply are; they are neither true nor false. Only propositions can be true, or can be false.' (Modern Introduction to Logic, p. 36)

Talcott Parsons (1949): 'A fact is not itself a phenomenon at all, but a proposition about one or more phenomena.' (Structure of Social Action, Part 1, ch. 1, p. 41)

Henry S. Leonard (1957): 'Propositions, or states of affairs, are either true or false. If a proposition is true, it is called a fact. If it is false, it is said not to be a fact. Thus, facts are true propositions.' (Principles of Reasoning: an Introduction to Logic, Methodology, and the Theory of Signs, p. 47)

Bernard Bosanquet (1885):
English custom has always recognized 'fact' as to some extent a middle term between Thing or reality, and the knowledge which is in our heads. Fact is always conceived as relative to knowledge, whereas thing and reality rather imply independence of knowledge. ... [W]e regard fact as belonging, no doubt, to reality, but as existing for us by construction and especially by abstraction, as the embodiment of it in judgments conclusively shows. I have little doubt that most men would unhesitatingly affirm the existence of things apart from percipient intelligence, but if asked the same question about facts they would be puzzled and would probably decide in the negative. Unknown facts, although a simple process of reflection forces the notion of them on the mind, are felt to be a troublesome conception. Thus I think that common-sense recognizes the true nature of that (viz., fact) on which it chiefly relies, far more correctly than we admit if we confuse fact with thing and reality, or on the other hand with the unformed datum of sense. (Knowledge and Reality, pp. 45-6; [Emphasis added])
Sven Edvard Rodhe (1939): 'The view that the truth of a judgment lies in its correspondence with a fact meets with the difficulty that a fact qua such and nothing else cannot be conceived as given otherwise than in judgments. We never attain to more direct contact with facts than in our judgments, and, unless mutually contradictory judgments are accepted as equally true, the correspondence of the judgment with fact can only be interpreted as its agreement with other judgments. The demand for accordance between judgment and fact is a demand for accordance between judgments, since the answer to the demand for fact is no fact but judgments.' ('Correspondence and Coherence', Theoria [Jan., 1939]: 23)

W. V. Quine (1987): 'Or perhaps we settle for a correspondence of whole sentences with facts: a sentence is true if it reports a fact. But here again we have fabricated substance for an empty doctrine. The world is full of things, variously related, but what, in addition to all that, are facts? They are projected from true sentences for the sake of correspondence.' (Quiddities, p. 213)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Final batch of 2015 philosophy links

I begin the new year by trying to finish off the old one with this roster of philosophy links from the final third of 2015. I've done some housekeeping by adding new tags, including one for Jane Austen, about whom Barry Stocker has put up seven posts (see below).

Johannes Zachhuber on the relevance of Max Weber to the study of historical and contemporary religion (inc. a discussion of Peter Ghosh's book Max Weber and 'The Protestant Ethic': Twin Histories). Duncan Kelly's review of Ghosh's book in the TLS.

Robin Lane Fox's book on Augustine (Augustine: Conversions to Confessions) reviewed in the Financial Times by John Cornwell. Mark Lilla's review of the same book in the NY Times, and Sameer Rahim reviews it for the Telegraph.

Renaissance Mathematicus debunks the notion that Aristotle was a 'killer of science', and on the fruitfully mistaken phlogiston theory.

Joshua P. Hochschild: 'What's Wrong With Ockham? Reassessing the Role of Nominalism in the Dissolution of the West'.

Massimo Campanini on 'science and epistemology in medieval Islam'.

Harald Sack on 'Avicenna and the Islamic Golden Age'.

Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri interviewd by Nina zu Fürstenberg on processes of 'economic and social decadence'

A reflection on the life of Fatima Mernissi (1940-2015), 'the pride of Islamic feminism'.

Susan Gelman is interviewed about essentialism

Barry Stocker on 'Jane Austen and the Ethical Life', a seven-part series.

Soupy Sales nails it:

Danny Heitman on 'the talented Mr. [Aldous] Huxley'.

From the ManWithoutQualities blog: 'Oakeshott, Ivan Illich, and J. K. Rowling on 'School''.

Daniel A. Kaufman on C. S. Lewis' essay conceived in a toolshed.

Andy Wimbush reviews James Wood's The Nearest Thing to Life.

Ava Kofman on 'Nietzsche the space man'.

John Yargo on 'Michel Tournier and the Novel of Ideas'.

In the Lancet, 'Voices, Identity, and Meaning-Making' (Angela Woods on the Hearing Voices Movement).

The 'Madness & Literature' Network.

From Philip K. Dick's last interview:
The big turning point came when I was nineteen. ... I looked around at the world. And I said, Causality does not exist. It’s an illusion. And I talked with a guy who was in the philosophy department. I said, 'I suddenly realized it was all an illusion. Because, an effect follows something, B follows A, we think A caused B. But actually it just follows it. It’s a sequence. A sequence like a sequence of integers. They’re not connected.'
Patrick Wilcken reviews Adrea Wulf's The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science.

Michael Roth reviews George Makari's Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind.

Nick Hopwood is interviewed about his book Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud.

The THE solicited book recommendations from academics.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thomas Dewar ('Harry') Weldon

In WWII, philosopher T. D. Weldon was Sir Arthur ('Bomber') Harris' assistant in Bomber Command. He helped Harris formulate the arguments and draft the documents that would promote the program of area bombing. Weldon was also a philosophy tutor in Magdalen College at Oxford University.

My interest in Weldon was piqued by C. S. Lewis' description of him. Lewis and Weldon were colleagues at Magdalen. They seem not to have been fond of each other. Here's some of what Lewis has to say about Weldon:
...determined to be a villain. ... a frequent and loud laugher .... carries a great deal of liquor without being drunk. ... He is insolent by custom to servants and to old men .... He has great abilities, but would despise himself if he wasted them on disinterested undertakings. He gives no quarter and would ask none. He believes that he has seen through everything and lives at rock bottom. ... Contempt is his ruling passion: courage his chief virtue. (Lewis, All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927, ed. Walter Hooper [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1991], pp. 482-3)
Lewis modeled a fictional character partly on Weldon in two scifi novels, Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength. The character in question is Dick Devine (aka Lord Feverstone), who is supposed to reflect Weldon's atheism and rationalism (in the loose and popular sense).

Before teaching at Oxford, Weldon served on the western front in WWI. He joined the Royal Field Artillery in France in 1915. From humble beginnings, Weldon was promoted to the rank of 'acting captain' ('Weldon, Thomas Dewar (1896–1958),' Mark J. Schofield in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Lawrence Goldman [Oxford: OUP, 2004[). He was wounded and awarded 'the Military Cross and bar' (Ibid.). According to R. W. Johnson, 'Those familiar with the mores of the British Army will recognize that this meant that he was quite insanely brave and clearly on the verge of a Victoria Cross' (Johnson, 'Exploring the Secret Garden', chap. 4 in Look Back in Laughter: Oxford's Postwar Golden Age [Newbury, UK: Threshold Press, 2015])

Weldon was a philosophy tutor at Magdalen College from 1922 until his death in 1958. He was known to have a good rapport with his students. According to the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, he was 'not only accessible but also hospitable to his students, rewarding their efforts with a glass of sherry or a tankard of beer.' ('Weldon', Schofield, ODNB) (Weldon was a drinker. Another student, Robert Paul Wolff, recounts a discussion with a 'clearly inebriated' Weldon.) One of Weldon's more well known students was John ('Jack') Frederick Wolfenden, Baron Wolfenden of the Wolfenden Report. Weldon was the godfather of Baron Wolfenden's son, the brilliant, tragic journalist and spy Jeremy Wolfenden. (Incidentally, in his biography of Wolfenden (the younger), Sebastian Faulks says that Weldon took the nickname 'Harry' from a 'music-hall comedian' (Faulks, The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives, [NY: Vintage, 2002], p. 212).)

In WWII,  Weldon worked in the civil service from 1939 until 1942, at which time he became Sir Arthur Harris' Personal Staff Officer at Bomber Command. ('Weldon', Schofield, ODNB) Wing Commander Weldon was tasked with defending Bomber Harris' program of bombing German cities. The program had been challenged by a Cabinet Minister and Christian socialist, Sir Stafford Cripps. On Dec. 8, 1944, Cripps gave a lecture at Bomber Command Headquarters, in which he condemned area bombing as a decidedly un-Christian thing to do. Harris wasn't there, but the officers who attended the lecture were quite put out. In response, Harris had Weldon give a lecture the following night in defense of area bombing. (Jonathan Glover, Humanity: a Moral History of the Twentieth Century [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001], p. 86) In his lecture, 'The Ethics of Bombing', Weldon denied that area bombing was terrorism, arguing that its purpose was to save lives by shortening the war. (My information about Weldon's lecture is drawn from Glover's above-cited book and from David I. Hall, '“Black, White and Grey”: Wartime Arguments for and against the Strategic Bomber Offensive', Canadian Military History 7 [1998]: 7-19). Among Weldon's critics at the time was the Rev. John Collins, the Anglican chaplain at Bomber Command who referred to Weldon's talk as the 'bombing of ethics' (and who would later be instrumental in forming the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). (C. S. Lewis also was opposed to Harris' policy.)

It's odd that Weldon should have resorted to such a rationale, for he appears to have been a Kantian. A. J. Ayer characterized him as such. Actually, what Ayer says (in the course of explaining why neither he nor J. L. Austin won the John Locke Prize in 1933) is that Weldon was 'a Fellow of Magdalen, who was later to become an inflexible linguistic philosopher but was then an orthodox Kantian'. (Ayer, Part of My Life [London: Collins, 1977], p. 152) So, Weldon was an orthodox Kantian in 1933 but might not have been by the time WWII rolled around. Also, while Weldon was in some sense a Kantian, I don't know if he ever endorsed Kantian ethics.

There's a consensus among those who have written about him that Weldon was psychologically maimed by his battle-field experience in WWI. This comes through in C. S. Lewis' characterization of Weldon (as one who had the air of having 'seen through everything and [who] lived at rock bottom') as well as in a note about Weldon by a former student (Canadian-born Anthony King). R. W. Johnson says that Weldon 'was a man of steel who, in both wars, had had to face appalling situations and ultimate questions'. (Johnson, Ibid) Perhaps, then, Weldon's willingness to advocate area bombing was a case of brutalized (in WWI) and brutalizing (in WWII). Kantian and other alternatives to utilitarianism were fine for discussions at Magdalen College, but in the horrifying world of 20th-century warfare, it's massacre or be massacred.The anger, the drinking, talk of a suicide (though that's disputed)* -- today, Weldon would be in treatment for PTSD. In his day, he was wheeled out as a mouthpiece for the designers of terror bombing.

A few more notes about Weldon:

His Introduction to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1945) was enlarged and republished 1958 under a shortened title (Kant's Critique of Pure Reason). R. G. Collingwood (for whom Weldon had been a teaching assistant) appears to have refereed the 1945 version of Weldon's Kant book -- at least, he expressed approval for the text in a letter that he wrote to Clarendon Press in 1939 (Nov. 17), where Collingwood wrote that the book 'tackles the subject in the one and only right way, i.e. as an historical subject'. (R. G. Collingwood: A Research Companion, James Connelly, Peter Johnson, and Stephen Leach [London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015], p. 90)

Weldon was active in the administration of Magdalen. Margaret Simons reports that he 'was, according to his biographers, responsible not only for forming the Modern Greats curriculum, but also for transforming Magdalen from an easygoing place, in which wealth and family position were key selection criteria, to an academic meritocracy'.

On Weldon's death, Ayer says that Gilbert Ryle had intended to drive to Venice with 'his friend Harry Weldon' to attend the 12th International Congress of Philosophy in 1958, but Weldon died, and Ryle invited Ayer 'to take his [Weldon's] place'. (Ayer, More of My Life [London: Collins, 1984], p. 157)

*The official cause of death was a brain hemorrhage.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Three mistakes in a recent book on Einstein and Bergson

I've seen few philosophical works on the books-of-the-year lists. One of the few is The Physicist and the Philosopher by Jimena Canales. The focus of the book is a dispute between Einstein and Bergson about the nature of time.

I've just bought the book and haven't had time, yet, to read it. However, after skimming some pages I've found three mistakes.

First, on p. 183, Canales says that 'Einstein admired Eddington for refusing to fight during World War I and liked Bertrand Russell, who had been imprisoned for refusing to join the army, for similar reasons'. In fact, Russell was fined in 1916 for writing an anti-war pamphlet, and was imprisoned for six months at the end of the war because he had written that American troops in the UK might be used for breaking strikes.

Secondly, on p. 204, Canales writes that Jacques Maritain 'helped craft' the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the Charter was written after public consultations in 1980 and came into effect in 1982. Maritain died in 1973. I can find no evidence that Maritain contributed to Canada's earlier Bill of Rights (1960).

Thirdly, on p. 205, Canales reports that 'Maritain is known for having coined the word "scientism".' In fact, he isn't known for having coined the word, since it was being used before he used it (in 1910).

Update (Dec. 16): A colleague has informed me that Canales' book is longer than it needs to be (i.e., could do with a good edit) but is worth a read.