Tag Archives: philosophy

C. D. Broad

My impression is that there was for Wittgenstein little or no region intermediate between a state of high and-concentrated seriousness and rather simple and sometimes almost crudely ‘low-brow’ interludes. I suspect that this, rather than the alleged ‘artificiality’ of the conversation at the High Table of Trinity, made the latter so distasteful to Wittgenstein. That conversation is the talk of men, all fairly eminent in their respective subjects, relaxing after a fairly tiring day’s work. It presupposes common traditions, going back to undergraduate days, and habitual ‘family’ jokes and allusions, and it moves in a sphere equally remote from high seriousness and from horseplay. A major prophet may be an excellent fellow, but he will hardly make an excellent Fellow. And, to pass from the general to the particular, one for whom philosophy is a way of life will find it difficult to associate on easy terms with those (like myself) for whom it is primarily a means of livelihood.

C. D. Broad, Review of Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, Universities Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 3 (May, 1959), p. 306

C. D. Broad

I will now say something of what happened to me from and including my 80th birthday up to the end of 1968. I will begin with my 80th birthday.

December 30th., 1967 naturally began with showers of congratulatory letters and telegrams, and with some gifts. Among these, I will single out for mention a telegram from Bertrand Russell, a card of good wishes from the Kitchen Staff, and the gift of a beautiful silver penknife from Dr Husband.

At 4.20 pm, Bradfield fetched me in his car to his home, where I had tea with him and his wife and his son (“The Nord’). There was a superb cake with 80 candles, all of which I managed to blow out with one breath. (The practice of emitting hot air, of which philosophy so largely consists, had no doubt been a good training for me.)

C. D. Broad, ‘Autobiographical Notes’, in Joel Walmsley (ed.) Broad’s Unpublished Writings, London, 2022, pp. 82–83

David Hume

Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron’d with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv’d of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

David Hume, An Enquiry into Human Nature, London, 1739, book 1, part 4, sect. 7

Scott Alexander

The motto of the Royal Society – Hooke, Boyle, Newton, some of the people who arguably invented modern science – was nullus in verba, “take no one’s word”.

This was a proper battle cry for seventeenth century scientists. Think about the (admittedly kind of mythologized) history of Science. The scholastics saying that matter was this, or that, and justifying themselves by long treatises about how based on A, B, C, the word of the Bible, Aristotle, self-evident first principles, and the Great Chain of Being all clearly proved their point. Then other scholastics would write different long treatises on how D, E, and F, Plato, St. Augustine, and the proper ordering of angels all indicated that clearly matter was something different. Both groups were pretty sure that the other had make a subtle error of reasoning somewhere, and both groups were perfectly happy to spend centuries debating exactly which one of them it was.

And then Galileo said “Wait a second, instead of debating exactly how objects fall, let’s just drop objects off of something really tall and see what happens”, and after that, Science.

Yes, it’s kind of mythologized. But like all myths, it contains a core of truth. People are terrible. If you let people debate things, they will do it forever, come up with horrible ideas, get them entrenched, play politics with them, and finally reach the point where they’re coming up with theories why people who disagree with them are probably secretly in the pay of the Devil.

Imagine having to conduct the global warming debate, except that you couldn’t appeal to scientific consensus and statistics because scientific consensus and statistics hadn’t been invented yet. In a world without science, everything would be like that.

Heck, just look at philosophy.

Scott Alexander, ‘The Control Group Is Out Of Control’, Slate Star Codex, April 28, 2014

Herman Melville

[P]erhaps, to be true philosophers, we mortals should not be conscious of so living or so striving. So soon as I hear that such or such a man gives himself out for a philosopher, I conclude that, like the dyspeptic old woman, he must have “broken his digester.”

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, New York, 1851, ch. 10

Thomas De Quincey

[G]entlemen, it is a fact, that every philosopher of eminence for the two last centuries has either been murdered, or, at the least, been very near it; insomuch, that if a man calls himself a philosopher, and never had his life attempted, rest assured there is nothing in him[.]

Thomas De Quincey, ‘On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts’, Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 21, no. 122 (February, 1827), p. 203

Theo Redpath

There was a charming scene on Broad’s eightieth birthday, when he had tea with the Senior Bursar of Trinity, Dr Bradfield, Mrs Bradfield, and their son. There was a superb birthday cake, with eighty lighted candles. Broad was proud of his feat in blowing them all out with a single breath. Commenting on his exploit, Broad writes: ‘The practice of emitting hot air, of which philosophy so largely consists, had no doubt been a good training for me.’

Theo Redpath, ‘C. D. Broad’, Philosophy, vol. 7, no. 282 (October, 1999), p. 594

Marya Hornbacher

Myself and I continue to converse while I put the vacuum away in the hall closet. “You really should clean this closet,” I say, wandering into the thicket of ball gowns and coats and suits as if I’m heading for Narnia. I pick my way over several suitcases and climb up a ladder and down the other side, having realized that it is important to find my bathing suit right now, but I trip on a broken television and land with a thud in a pile of boxes. “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t get me started,” I shout, and crawl back out, finding my hiking boots on the way. I go down the hall to collect all my shoes. “The thing is, probably everyone talks to themselves now and then, don’t they?” I sweep everything off the closet shelves and begin arranging my heels in order of color and height. “But perhaps they don’t talk to themselves quite this much. Time to do the laundry!” Abandoning the shoes, I pull all the bedclothes off the bed, upending cats, and go out my back door and down the staircase of my condo, singing a little laundry song, and I trail through the basement with my quantities of linens, note that my laundry song has taken on a vaguely Baroque sort of air, and note further that, to my regret, I do not play harpsichord, though my first husband’s mother did, but she was really fucking crazy, and once called me a shrew. “A shrew!” I cry. “Can you imagine! Who says shrew?” I laugh almost as hard as I did when she said it. I continue my efforts to stuff my very large, very heavy brocade bedspread into the relatively small washer. “Perhaps it won’t fit,” I murmur, concerned, but then realize that if I just leave the lid open, the washer will, in its eminent wisdom, suck in the bedspread in its chugging, “obviously,” I say, rolling my eyes at my own stupidity. I pour half a bottle of laundry soap over the bedspread and turn the washer on. I stuff the sheets and attendant cases, pillows, etc. in the other washer and wander back upstairs. “I’ve locked myself out,” I say grimly. “Fucking idiot.” I lean my forehead against the door and become curious as to whether I can achieve perfect balance by tilting myself just right, “On the tips of my toes, with the forehead just so, and she does it!” I cry, balancing there. “People, she does it again! Will she never cease to amaze!” I shake my head in wonder, and laugh riotously. “Probably time to stop talking,” I murmur. My neighbor comes out his back door with a bag of garbage. Real casually, I lean my cheek against the door and sort of right myself with a shove of my face. Hi! I wave dramatically, as if he is far away. He smiles nervously. I can’t decide if he smiles nervously because I am acting weird, or because he is getting his PhD in philosophy, which would make anyone nervous.

Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life, New York, 2008, pp. 230-231

Jim Holt

[T]he more interesting x is, the less interesting the philosophy of x tends to be, and conversely. (Art is interesting, but the philosophy of art is mostly boring; law is boring, the philosophy of law is pretty interesting.)

Jim Holt, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, New York, 2008, pp. 67-68

C. D. Broad

In the controversies of party politics, which move at the intellectual level of a preparatory school, it is counted a score against a man if he can be shown ever to have altered his mind on extremely difficult questions in a rapidly changing world. In the less puerile realm of science and philosophy it is not considered disgraceful to learn as well as to live, and this kind of stone has no weight and is not worth throwing.

C. D. Broad, Examination of McTaggart’s Philosophy, Cambridge, 1938, vol. 2, p. lxxiii

Ben Rogers

At yet another party he had befriended [fashion designer Fernando] Sanchez. Ayer was now standing near the entrance to the great white living-room of Sanchez’s West 57th Street apartment, chatting to a group of young models and designers, when a woman rushed in saying that a friend was being assaulted in a bedroom. Ayer went to investigate and found Mike Tyson forcing himself on a young south London model called Naomi Campbell, then just beginning her career. Ayer warned Tyson to desist. Tyson: “Do you know who the fuck I am? I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.” Ayer stood his ground. “And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field; I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.” Ayer and Tyson began to talk. Naomi Campbell slipped out.

Ben Rogers, A. J. Ayer: A Life, London, 1999, p. 344

Daniel Dennett

In most sciences, there are few things more prized than a counterintuitive result. It shows something surprising and forces us to reconsider our often tacit assumptions. In philosophy of mind a counterintuitive ‘result’ (for example, a mind-boggling implication of somebody’s ‘theory’ of perception, memory, consciousness or whatever) is typically taken as tantamount to a refutation. This affection for one’s current intuitions […] installs deep conservatism in the methods of philosophers.

Daniel Dennett, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2005, p. 34

John Barrow and Frank Tipler

Whereas many philosophers and theologians appear to possess an emotional attachment to their theories and ideas which requires them to believe them, most scientists tend to regard their ideas differently. They are interested in formulating many logically consistent possibilities, leaving any judgment regarding their truth to observation. Scientists feel no qualms about suggesting different but mutually exclusive explanations for the same phenomenon.

John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford, 1986, p. 15

Derek Parfit

Strawson describes two kinds of philosophy, descriptive, and revisionary. Descriptive philosophy gives reasons for what we instinctively assume, and explains and justifies the unchanging central core in our beliefs about ourselves, and the world we inhabit. I have great respect for descriptive philosophy. But, by temperament, I am a revisionist. […] Philosophers should not only interpret our beliefs; when they are false, they should change them.

Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Oxford, 1984, p. x

Robert Nozick

Does life have meaning? Are there objective ethical truths? Do we have free will? What is the nature of our identity as selves? Must our knowledge and understanding stay within fixed limits? These questions moved me, and others, to enter the study of philosophy. I care what their answers are. While such other philosophical intricacies as whether sets or numbers exist can be fun for a time, they do not make us tremble.

Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 1

Colin McGinn

It is by no means inconceivable that the special character of our art and our personal relationships depends upon the cognitive biases and limits that prevent us handling philosophical problems, so that philosophical aptitude would deprive our lives of much of their point. Philosophy might require even more self-sacrifice than has traditionally been conceded.

Colin McGinn, Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993, p. 156

Peter Strawson

What principles should govern human action? As rational beings, we should act rationally. As moral beings, we should act morally. What, in each case, are the principles involved? What is it to act rationally, or morally? It is often thought, or said, that philosophers are preeminently the people who have (and have neglected) a moral obligation to apply their rational skills to these great questions.

Peter Strawson, ‘The Parfit Connection’, The New York Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 10 (June 14, 1984)

John Harris

There is always a danger when labels are attached to philosophical positions for people to assume that if they reject a particular school of philosophy in general, or adhere to a different philosophical tradition or approach, they can safely ignore or reject arguments from another school of philosophy.

John Harris, Clones, Genes, and Immortality: Ethics and the Genetic Revolution, Oxford, 1998, pp. 5-6