Friday, August 31, 2012

Joad and Stebbing

I know of two books devoted to Joad. There's Cyril Joad by Geoffrey Thomas (1992) and Radio Philosopher: The Radical Life of Cyril Joad by Tony Judge (2012).

Judge says that Joad and L. Susan Stebbing were friends who lived near each other in Hampstead.  Stebbing was an analytic philosopher who published an influential logic text and a critique of James Jeans and Arthur Eddington (Philosophy and the Physicists).  Her name should (but doesn't) appear in the Projected Table of Contents for the SEPPalgrave Macmillan will be publishing a book about Stebbing (by Siobhan Chapman).

Her friendship with Joad must have been interesting.  In my other posts about Joad, I've linked to several of his on-line bio's, from which it's evident that he was a sexist whose views of women were generally disapproved of even in his own day.  And now here's Susan Stebbing, a woman who was smarter than him and who didn't hesitate to let him know it.  She was quite scathing in print about Joad's works.  For instance, in 1926, Stebbing had this to say of Joad's Thrasymachus, or The Future of Morals:
It is an extremely clever and extremely superficial speech, as its title would suggest. Mr. Joad mistakes diatribe for argument, and appeals throughout to the herd's love of abuse of the forces that are. It is full of an inverted sentimentality that makes clear thinking impossible, and of jokes that merely obscure the issue. (Susan Stebbing, 'English Books', Philosophy [then called the Journal of Philosophical Studies], v. 1 [1926]: pp. 90-93)
In my previous post, I noted that Joad's reviewers tended to be quite complimentary of his prose.  Not Stebbing.  In a symposium at the Aristotelian Society in 1929, Stebbing said of Joad: 'As we shall see, his use of language is very inexact; hence, his statements are confused in the extreme.'

Joad felt the sting of these remarks, as is evident from his review of a volume that had been published in memory of Stebbing about five years after her death.  The review appeared in the Times Literary Supplement of February 26, 1949 (on p. 141).  At that time, the authors of reviews in the TLS were generally not named, but in the TLS's archives Joad is identified as the author of the review.  In it, he says,
Professor Stebbing had an acid manner and a biting tongue. She possessed in an outstanding degree the power to make a person both look and feel foolish ... An undue tartness was the defect of Professor Stebbing's controversial method, but if it was a fault, it was a fault on the right side, and it was more than counterbalanced by her intellectual virtues.
He felt the sting but still expressed respect for her intellect.


Richard W. Symonds said...

Thank you for such thorough research.

Just a small point :

Neither Stebbing OR Joad appeared in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) :

praymont said...

Yes, thanks Richard. I'm reluctant to complain about the SEP, since it's such a valuable resource that was launched and maintained by volunteers; but there are some gaps in their projected contents. I'm not sure if their mission is to cover only original philosophers or also to include great philosophical educators. So, e.g., while critics say that Radhakrishnan wasn't very original, I think he warrants an entry in the SEP due to his efforts in helping the English-speaking world to develop an appreciation for eastern philosophy. I should note that Radhakrishnan cites Joad's Present and Future of Relgion in An Idealist View of Life.