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Letters

Letters to the Editor

The Philosopher as Politician? • Whose Right? • Waugh Cry • Classical Misunderstanding • Existential need • Nietzsche Trail • But is it wrong to commit howlers?

The Philosopher as Politician?

Dear Editor,

With regard to Colin Harper’s article in Issue 5; likening philosophy to detection is illuminating and I too have used this analogy in an article on the metaphysical significance of the detective novel, published some years ago. I also agree with Harper’s suggestion that philosophy differs from spying in significant ways. His philosophic mistake is not to appreciate that analogies have limits beyond which they become unhelpful or even nonsensical. When the poet likens his love to a red rose he does not imply that she could profit from being fed manure. Philosophy is neither spying nor detecting but can be illuminated by various analogies.

Harper’s analogy is just as vulnerable to abuse as is mine. For example: most fictional detectives are police officers or – like Poirot – work with the police. So does Harper suggest that philosophy is about maintaining and protecting the existing form of society? It seems unlikely, as he would thus condemn his self-confessed political stance as utterly unphilosophic.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Peter Rickman
City University, London


Whose Right?

Dear Sir,

John Green in Issue No.5 writes about abortion without a trace of philosophical objectivity. While his argument that a woman’s body is her own may be emotionally persuasive, it is no more philosophically defensible than the State’s right to outlaw abortion.

Mr. Green exclaims in outraged tones that “the foetus is neither the product nor the property (of State, Church, etc.)”. It is at least arguable that it is also not the property of the mother.

The central problem is not addressed by his letter, namely at what stage is the foetus/child a separate being from its mother. Presumably Mr. Green would not give a mother the right to murder her child at 2 months or 2 years. Before showing such righteous indignation he should make clear what definition of separate life he is using: at some stage the foetus is no longer part of the mother’s body – would he suggest this is when the umbilical cord is cut, and therefore legalise abortion in the ninth month?

I agree with Mr. Green that it is not philosophers who should decide, but Parliament has a right and duty so to do.

Yours faithfully,
Brian Cole
Amersham, Buckinghamshire


Waugh Cry

Dear Editor,

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Upon examination this is found to be true. Auberon Waugh’s rejection of philosophy implies that he lives a life that has not been examined, from which we can conclude that his life is one that is not worth living. Waugh cannot object to this assessment because he has not made any examination of it. His remarks are a sign that he is probably incapable of doing so.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Keith Seddon
Editor, The Philosopher


Classical Misunderstanding

Dear Sir,

As the Editor originally responsible for commissioning the new edition of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s What Is Philosophy? (although I no longer work for Routledge), I would like to utter a word or two in its defence. The savage review in your 4th issue reflects the complete incomprehension of the ‘classical’ Platonic- Aristotelian tradition of philosophy by most analytic, and indeed ‘modern’ philosophers. For the book is an attempt to revive and renew that classical tradition, currently out of fashion.

It is not the case, as many modern thinkers assume or would like to believe, that the classical tradition has been ‘proved false’, and has therefore been entirely superseded by modern philosophy. From the Nominalists on, what happened was that philosophical discussion came to be conducted exclusively at the level of discursive reason – the level of ‘concepts’ and the use of words. But the classical tradition depended on acquaintance with another level of consciousness than that of conceptual reason, a level that became inaccessible partly for cultural rather than simply philosophical reasons.

This other level is reached by ‘stepping back’ from the external world. Turning inward by a process of contemplation, the classical epistemologist asked the question: How do we know the world? and answered in terms of a kind of intellectual ‘light’ transmitted by the universal ideas or ‘forms’. The subsequent discussion revolved around the question of our relationship to these forms. Were they innate (Plato), or acquired by abstraction from sense experience (Aristotle), or a bit of both? That we had them was regarded as obvious: this was merely what anyone could find if they turned inward; and the philosopher was one who had learned to do this.

Certain Oriental techniques of meditation can serve to reintroduce us to this deeper level of consciousness, the level at which classical philosophy was conducted. For the followers of the early Husserl, the ‘science’ of phenomenology served this purpose just as well (For a detailed analysis of the method, see Josef Seifert’s Back to Things in Themselves, especially chapters 2 and 4,) By trying to focus on the intelligible essence of things, by ‘bracketing’ their accidental and contingent properties in a phenomenological epoche, these philosophers succeeded in grasping things at a level ‘prior’ to the subject-object split.

The ‘necessary essence’ or intelligible form of justice (for example) is both ‘in’ justice and just acts and is discovered by me as knower of justice, thus becoming the intentional object of my knowledge and, as it were, entering me. In order to perceive the ‘just-ness’ of justice I must be able not only to see and think about it (or about the way the word ‘just’ is used), but actually to contemplate the intelligible essence of justice. That contemplation takes place ‘in me’ – but one might as truly say it takes place in justice itself. It involves what Hildebrand calls ‘dwelling-in’, a spiritual ‘wedding’ with the object (p.178).

In these respects, despite certain original points not mentioned by your reviewer, Hildebrand’s philosophical approach belongs to the classical tradition in philosophy. It cannot be dismissed as merely a way of shoring up Catholicism. According to the review, Hildebrand taught that those who do not have the experience of intellectual intuition “can only yield to the authority of those who do”. It would be fairer to regard Hildebrand’s book as an invitation to acquire such experience. He was one of this century’s greatest defenders of the freedom and dignity of the human mind, and of the human rights of the Jews against the Nazis. Any philosophical method that sustains an unwavering defence of human dignity is surely worthy of serious attention.

Yours sincerely,
Stratford Caldecott
Oxford


Existential need

Dear Philosophy Now,

I come to you for help from Florida, United States of America.

I am a former Vietnam P.O.W. who fell to the world’s greatest enemy: drugs! In Vietnam, under the direction of the North Vietnamese Army, I conceived an addiction that’s haunted me for the last 20 years. Please help me!!

I’m in desperate search of the works of Jean- Paul Sartre, on existentialism, which I can’t locate in the prison library. I don’t have any money, but do have a desire and willingness to learn about life and the choices we as human beings choose. Existentialists, Sartre, Braun, Frandl and others interest me very much. They help me understand myself, something the United States military never tried to do after Vietnam. Please send me copies of any writer on existentialism.

If you’ll allow your heart to dictate your decisions you’ll afford me the chance to understand about myself. Hope to hear from you…. A devoted student and believer in philosophical means. Please help me!

Sincerely,
Raul J. Luis
Mail #738, DeSoto Correctional Institution,
PO Box 1072, Arcadia, Florida 33821 U.S.A.

p.s. I’ve come half around the world for help…. isn’t it a shame I had to travel so far? Thank you.


Nietzsche Trail

Dear Sir,

I must challenge Linda Williams’ feminist interview with Friedrich Nietzsche (Issue 5).

I don’t think Fred ever composed a ‘lousy’ metaphor. A great part of his genius was to express himself throughout in semi-metaphorical terms. For me, this metaphor (“supposing truth is a woman – what then?”) likens the compulsive search for truth to the equally compulsive search for an ideal partner.

It is a universal experience that following the wooing and wining, life together is never quite what was expected. In the same way a particular philosophical or scientific truth once established usually raises more questions and uncertainties than existed before.

In my view his metaphor does not imply that ‘woman’ is an illusion, but rather that the concept of an ideal partner is an illusion. There is a fairly widespread awareness of this, even though we still pursue it. On the other hand, the idea that truth, in the sense of perfect correspondence, is equally illusory is not, unfortunately, widely appreciated.

Nietzsche felt strongly about this, and made the point many times in different ways. He had it in for all the seekers of perfect truth, and particularly for those who reckon they’ve found it (believers of any sort).

Yours sincerely,
Leo Westhead
Scarborough


But is it wrong to commit howlers?

Dear Editor,

You are guilty of a dyslogism, not to say a howler, in your latest editorial, but in surprisingly good company. In his ground-breaking Language Truth and Logic, the late Freddie Aye, no less, quotes (p.107) “You acted wrongly in stealing that money” in order to claim that “in adding that this action is wrong I am not making any further statement about it (but) simply evincing my moral disapproval of it.”, overlooking that ‘stealing’, instead of the morally neutral ‘taking’ begs the question with a tautology.

So with your “Is murder wrong?”, instead of “Is killing wrong?”. You go on to say “Of course it is”, but it is so because the word ‘murder’ begs the question, which was not your point.

Yours faithfully,
Bernard Baboulène
London

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