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The Editor’s Bit
by Rick Lewis
Firstly, I must thank everyone for their patience. Issue 3 is later than planned, due to a series of unforeseen circumstances too involved to describe here. Suffice it to say that this is probably the first philosophy magazine to have been partly edited aboard a cable ship in a Force 9 gale in the North Atlantic. I very much hope you will bear with us if publication dates continue to be erratic for the next couple of issues, until we have the magazine on a more stable footing.
It is rather heartening to reach Issue 3, as too many independent magazines seem to disappear for ever after their second issue. I therefore feel that with the publication of Issue 3, Philosophy Now may have broken an invisible barrier, and that from now on things should get easier. The best and most encouraging thing, though, is to see how active the readers are. Not for Philosophy Now the passive receptivity of the readers of other publications. The Poetry Competition in the last issue attracted more than 30 entries, and ‘letters to the editor’ have also been arriving at an increasing rate. People have responded to articles by writing in with articles of their own. It feels as if the magazine is in this respect acquiring a life of its own. I know now how Dr. Frankenstein must have felt when his creature leapt from the operating table and shambled off down the High Street to buy a packet of cigarettes.
Many of the authors who write for Philosophy Now are professional philosophers, but not all, by any means. This is perhaps the only philosophy publication in the country where professionals and irregulars can have a serious dialogue. Debates have been developing on a number of themes, and this issue sees a continuation of the controversy over free will and determinism, as well as a new article on the nature of philosophy. There is a danger, possibly, that the number of articles on this particular theme over the last couple of issues could give the magazine a slightly introspective feeling : lots of philosophers talking about what it is to do philosophy. However, this is a worthwhile debate, as part of the problem with philosophy in this country at the moment is that people find it too arid and too remote from problems that interest them. Shneider and Holstinin report from Russia in this issue that the intellectual vacuum left by the collapse of Marxism is being filled by a tremendous popular interest in certain continental philosophers, not only because their writing style is exciting, but because they are seen as addressing the basic problems of living. In Britain, the educated public tend to view continental philosophers as gripping but pretentious (Nietzsche) or just obscure (Derrida, Heidegger). However, the perceived need for real answers to real questions is just as great, especially among the large segment of the population who ‘aren’t religious’ in the conventional sense. As Mike Fuller says in his review of David Icke’s book, this is probably part of the explanation for the current popularity of New Age thought, which is felt to be ‘more relevant’ than analytical or continental philosophy. It is also sexier, more exciting, perhaps because of its uncertainty, just as a flickering candle is more mysterious and romantic than a 60W lightbulb. It may show everyday objects in a new and interesting way, but the shadows it throws may be deceptive, causing people to imagine things that aren’t there, and to miss things that are. Self-criticism is something the New Age movement is rather bad at. Part of their approach appears to be that everyone must find their own way to salvation, and that it is unfairly dogmatic to criticize someone else’s. The trouble with this degree of tolerance is that New Age thought seems to be slipping into an uncritical ‘anything goes’ situation. Because nothing is tested, everything becomes suspect. Perhaps the New Agers should borrow some of the techniques of analytical philosophy.
You will find little reference to the recent general election campaign in this magazine, for several reasons. Firstly, I reckoned that anyone living anywhere in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its colonies and dependencies would already have been subjected to hours of TV election coverage and acres of newsprint. Secondly, the stark ideological differences of some previous elections (‘79, ‘83) seem to have faded away, with all the parties now fighting for the centre ground. While this is probably good news for fans of consensus politics, it makes the whole business pretty tedious from the point of view of political philosophy. Perhaps dozens of people will now write in to say that I’m quite wrong, and that the election kept them glued to their TV sets whenever they weren’t actually out canvassing. I look forward to hearing from you!