“Pure white light!” exclaimed a British philosopher in my hearing some fifty years ago when the conversation turned to Henry Sidgwick. That sums up pretty well what his contemporaries thought of him. He stood in their view as the exemplar of objectivity in thought, of clear and passionless understanding. The light he threw on his subject was uniquely uncolored by feeling, prejudice, or desire.
Like others who work in philosophy, I asked myself from time to time what I was trying to do in my philosophizing. The natural answer seemed to be that I was trying to understand the world, and to do so by taking any thing or event that puzzled me and pressing the question Why? till I arrived at the understanding I sought. And what does understanding anything mean? It means to explain it or to render it intelligible. And when does (...) it become intelligible? Only when it is seen in context, and seen as required by that context. This requirement is of various kinds. Sometimes it is causal, as when an attack of malaria is explained by the bite of the anopheles mosquito. Sometimes it is a means-end relation, as when the presence of a rudder is explained as a means of guiding a ship. Sometimes it is logical, as when the Pythagorean theorem is explained by showing that it follows necessarily from other accepted propositions of geometry. (shrink)
In recent years I have wandered rather freely about the American scene, visiting over a hundred colleges and conversing with many hundreds of colleagues. The major impression I have brought back with me is of the overall health of American education. To be sure, the standards vary enormously. In the private universities-of the northeast and the better state universities of the middle west, the level of faculty scholarship and student qualification is high. In some of the smaller sectarian colleges, gasping (...) to keep alive in the rising tide of costs, with little or no endowment and an overworked staff, the standards and the atmosphere are less happy. Still, the general impression is one of vitality. Nearly everywhere I went, I had the same sense of dedication on the part of the staff and of eager receptiveness on the part of the students. (shrink)
Owing to an absence from home, I did not see Professor Errol Harris’s critique of my Gifford Lectures, Reason and Belief, till long past its appearance. But the criticism clearly demands an answer. Mr. Harris argues his case with acuteness and urbanity, and with a command of science that I can only envy.
To some students this method was too uncompromising for human frailty. To others, while chastening almost to despair, it was immensely stimulating; and the writer of this notice, who had the privilege of working with him for three years, falls emphatically in the latter group. Joachim was a remark able teacher who had no use for the arts and devices of the teacher. He gained his effect through the purgative influence on his pupils of his rare singleness of mind. Frail (...) of body, shy, deficient in animal spirits, he was still so obviously and wholly interested in the truth of the matter, so scrupulous in scholarship, and so just in statement, so incapable of glossing over difficulties with rhetoric, so reverent of the great philosophers and so modest about himself, that one's hours with him were memorable lessons in the patience and the discipline of good work. Though the discipline was rigorous, one was given to feel that something of great price lay at the end, nothing less indeed than a vision of reality. Logic in his hands was no mere razor-honing, nor was it a manipulation of symbols according to rules, nor yet a rattling of semantical dry bones; it was a study of the nature and conditions of intelligibility. And since intelligibility reached its high point in philosophy, he chose to study logic by studying the ideals of understanding implicit in the great philosophers. For his own part, the test of any theory was its power to maintain itself in the light of reflectively ordered experience as a whole, and hence he would not have regarded his classical learning, his studies in German literature, or even his virtuosity on the violin as wholly alien to his thought. He belonged to the tradition in which philosophy, if not identical with wisdom, at least carried it as a corollary. (shrink)