Summary of Contents & Commentary on
The Impulse to Philosophise

Griffiths, A. Phillips, ed. The Impulse to Philosophise. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. See esp. “Scenes from My Childhood” by Bryan Magee and “The Roots of Philosophy” by John White.

Proem v-viii (editor)
The Examined Life Re-examined (Colin Radford) 1-23
Trouble with Leprechauns (Martin Hollis) 25-39
On Why Philosophers Redefine their Subject (Stuart Brown) 41-57
Some Philosophers I Have Not Known (Frederic Raphael) 59-72
The Roots of Philosophy (John White) 73-88
Re-engaging with Real Arguments (Alec Fisher) 89-107
Can Philosophy Speak about Life? (Ilham Dilman) 109-123
Congenital Transcendentalism and the ‘loneliness which is the truth about things’ (Frank Cioffi) 125-138
Philosophical Plumbing (Mary Midgley) 139-151
Beyond Representation (Anthony Palmer) 153-163
Scenes from my Childhood (Bryan Magee) 165-180
Metaphysics and Music (Michael Tanner) 181-200
Philosophy and the Cult of Irrationalism (Brenda Almond) 201-217
Is Philosophy a ‘Theory of Everything’? (G. M. K. Hunt) 219-231
Notes on Contributors

Some of the essays in this volume reflect the provincialism and banality of British philosophy, particularly the obsession with Wittgenstein. In my view, the essays on arguments (6) and theories of everything (14) have the most interesting philosophical content.

1. The Examined Life Re-examined (Colin Radford), pp.1-23.

While making some concessions, Radford refutes Wittgenstein’s limited negative notion of philosophy as therapy.

2. Trouble with Leprechauns (Martin Hollis), pp. 25-39.

Paradox and the philosophy of (rational) action.

3. On Why Philosophers Redefine their Subject (Stuart Brown), pp. 41-57.

With the examples of Russell and Wittgenstein.

4. Some Philosophers I Have Not Known (Frederic Raphael), pp. 59-72.

On the danger of scurrilously attributing motives to philosophers.

5. The Roots of Philosophy (John White), pp. 73-88.

Skepticism regarding the ‘philosophy for children’ movement.

6. Re-engaging with Real Arguments (Alec Fisher), pp. 89-107.

Advocacy of Informal Logic. Fisher notes that philosophers themselves do not reason deductively as they advocate and argue. Fisher deploys a pragmatist conception of logic while critiquing Quine. Note that Fisher prioritizes content, not form, and discusses mental models as the basis of reasoning about content.

7. Can Philosophy Speak about Life? (Ilham Dilman), pp. 109-123.

Dilman counters the notion, touted most notably by Wittgenstein, that philosophy has nothing positive to say. Conceptual clarification serves a positive function as well, applicable also to personal life.

8. Congenital Transcendentalism and the ‘loneliness which is the truth about things’ (Frank Cioffi), pp.125-138.

Cioffi is intrigued by the suspension of the natural attitude that occurs when one begins to doubt one’s reality and muses whether life is a dream. Referenced here are Mark Twain, Husserl’s phenomenology, and Wittgenstein’s solipsism (See quote from Findlay, p. 130). See also:

Dreamed Life by Mark Twain
Putting Descartes Before the Horse” by Dave Berg

9. Philosophical Plumbing (Mary Midgley), pp. 139-151.

On the problem of professional over-specialization, the general need for philosophy, the invisibilty of social structures and the assimilation of social models.

10. Beyond Representation (Anthony Palmer), pp. 153-163.

On a pervasive misunderstanding of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, the conflation of ‘facts’ and ‘states of affairs’. Following his explication, Palmer sums up logic as picture theory (155). Wittgenstein dissolves the conundrum of representation instituted by Descartes and Locke, rejecting that tradition (160). Palmer was inspired by John Donne (161), whose perspective preceded said tradition. Wittgenstein is akin to Berkeley but avoided the representationalist trap Berkeley fell into; neither were idealists (162),

11. Scenes from my Childhood (Bryan Magee), pp. 165-180.

Magree recounts the (anxious) preoccupations of childhood and his teen years with the philosophical puzzles of will, time, space, infinity, truth, determinism, motion, solipsism, holism. He had no interest in God or anything other-worldly. He discovered ‘philosophy’ in university, in the 1950s when Oxford was entirely indifferent to his concerns. Magee constrast himself to other types of people with respect to philosophy: indifferent, religious, or strictly scientific.

12. Metaphysics and Music (Michael Tanner), pp. 181-200.

The essay begins with Carnap’s famous quote: Metaphysicians are musicians without musical ability. Tanner doubts that this makes sense. Does music incorporate metaphysical truth or reflect the psychology of the composer? Is music structured like an argument? This way of thinking about classical music begins with the 19th century. Beethoven was the first composer deemed metaphysically capable. Does musis have cognitive content? Does music embody truth? The less religious, the more composers invested spirituality in their music. It was the same with the development of the realistic novel. The author recounts the history of his own impulse to philosophize, from attraction to Catholicism to McTaggart to Wagner. Tristan und Isolde: Wagner got away with nonsense. But real religious music is less flashy and seductive. In contrast with musical revolutionaries, the great metaphysicians are stylisitically unmusical (e.g. Spinoza). On the other hand, Hume was disturbed by his conclusions. For Nietzsche, system-builders were driven by ‘moral’ views, manipulating their arguments to their pre-conceived ends. Nietzsche was subversively personal. Philosophy, compared to science or literature, is closer to literary criticism (197, also cf. Kant). Philosophical movements are like artistic movements (198). Music rather than metaphysics is the vehicle for transcendence: “musicans are metaphysicians with musical ability.”

13. Philosophy and the Cult of Irrationalism (Brenda Almond), pp. 201-217.

Ordinary language philosophy rejected popular concerns. By failing to pursue meaningfulness, “professional philosophy has opened the door to the cult of irrationalism which represents the truly popular philosophy of today.” The existing tendencies are amoral secular utilitarianism and fundamentalist religion. She also dislikes the prevalence of anti-Enlightenment, postmodern relativism. She advocates the unity of philosophy. She is unhappy with holism, coherentism, and particularism ... Wittgenstein’s forms of life, Quine’s web of belef, Davidson’s conceptual schemes, David Lewis’s possible worlds, Rorty’s pluralism, Marxist sociologism, Foucault, Michael Young’s sociology of education, attacks on the canon, feminist ideologies. (She evidently does not understand Marxism.) She also criticizes the rejection of normative rationality in biomedicine. She concludes with her own impulse to philosophize: as a child, reaction to “unfairness of treatment and unreasonableness of argument.” Her ideal is of a common reason, the essence of philosophy, which is under attack by all the tendencies she deplores. All these debates are not new, they go back to antiquity. Curiously, she favorably cites Adorno on truth.

14. Is Philosophy a ‘Theory of Everything’? (G. M. K. Hunt), pp. 219-231.

Famous philosophers have emigrated from science, and theoretically innovative scientists have invested in philosophy. Philosophy’s domain is the integration of knowledge. The plan of this paper is presented:

“I will first look at the nature of a theory of everything. To do so I will examine the theories which philosophers of science have proposed about the nature of scientific theories. In doing so I will argue that the classical theories of scientific method are, at first sight, more suitable for this purpose than modern theories of method. Nevertheless [...] these theories fail to find a place in theories of everything for that important function explanation.”

Wittgenstein, Marxism, Sociology, Politics: An Annotated Bibliography

Philosophical Style: Selected Bibliography

Argumentation & Controversies: Selected Bibliography

Biographical and Psychological Dimensions of Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Philosophy of History of Philosophy & Historiography of Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

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