If I were asked to put forward an ethical principle which I considered to be especially certain, it would be that no one can be responsible, in the properly ethical sense, for the conduct of another. Responsibility belongs essentially to the individual. The implications of this principle are much more far-reaching than is evident at first, and reflection upon them may lead many to withdraw the assent which they might otherwise be very ready to accord to this view of responsibility. (...) But if the difficulties do appear to be insurmountable, and that, very certainly, does not seem to me to be the case, then the proper procedure will be, not to revert to the barbarous notion of collective or group responsibility, but to give up altogether the view that we are accountable in any distinctively moral sense. (shrink)
This book, originally published in 1963 provides a sample of the criticisms of philosophers on the course of linguistic philosophy. A chronological ordr is followed, with work ranging from that of traditionalist thinkers to second thoughts about linguistic philosophy on the part of writers who have been influenced by the movement.
Not so long ago I attended a conference of philosophers and politicians. I was introduced to one rather opinionated politician as one of the philosophers. He promptly asked me, “What sort of philosopher?” I turned the edge of this by replying rather tartly in turn, “Quite a good one, it is generally thought.” This may seem a little naughty, but there are some uses for prevarication, and few of us care to attach a too explicit label to ourselves. When we (...) do so we often find ourselves keeping the wrong company. There are still some isms around, but we have weeded out most of them from our syllabuses. There is more important and rewarding work to do than fighting pitched philosophical battles between closely regimented troops. (shrink)
It is notorious that great philosophers are apt to be misunderstood. Controversy rages about their work, and sometimes they are credited with completely contradictory views. Consider the sharply contrasted opinions of Plato's political thought by Sir Karl Popper, on the one hand, and G. C. Field and H. B. Acton on the other.
Belief in the ultimacy and distinctiveness of ethical principles has been challenged in many ways to-day. The advance of science, especially in the fields of psychology and anthropology, has provided the relativist and the sceptic with many new weapons to put in their armoury; and the positivist has launched a very subtle attack. The present state of society, both in the internal affairs of the peoples of the world and in their inter-relations, has brought many moral principles into contempt. But (...) there have also been notable advances, especially where more self-effacing virtue is concerned. Philosophers have also rebutted the attacks of the sceptic with peculiar incisiveness and vigour; indeed we know better to-day than at any other time just what we must hold if the objectivity of ethics is to be maintained. How the battle is going is by no means easy to determine. But there is one corner of the field, and that the one from which the most powerful attack of all may be delivered, which the upholder of the ultimacy of moral truths has left almost wholly undefended, so lightly does he estimate the danger from that quarter. That is the religious one. Account has been taken of the arguments of the sociologist and the Freudian psychologist, but it has been assumed, with astonishing naïveté, that religion is an ally to be wholly relied upon. But morality and religion have often been in conflict, and they seem to be so as much as ever to-day. For some of the most powerful forces in our religious life, and those which are in some ways most attuned to our needs, seem to be wholly inimical to the moral life. It is with this aspect of the vast problem of morality and religion that we can best concern ourselves in a course with the general title of “Moral and Political Conflicts of Our Time.”. (shrink)
Poetry has to do with reality in its most individual aspect. It is thus at the opposite pole to science, and out of its reach. Studies like The Road to Xanadu , highly valuable though they may be in one way, do not help us in any measure to understand what poetry in itself is; nor do they heighten substantially our appreciation of poetry. This may seem rather obvious, but it is not in fact idle to say it. For our (...) thought is apt to be unduly coloured to-day by the progress of science, and some of the votaries of science are prone to regard it, in the Biblical phrase, as ‘profitable unto all things.’ These are less naïve to-day than their prototypes a century ago, and they have a subtler psychology at their disposal when they turn to art. But their view is no less pernicious for that reason. Science has very certain limits, and we only bring it into contempt by forcing upon it a forlorn and unnatural enterprise beyond its own terrain. Some scientists, and they include eminent persons like Julian Huxley, have made that mistake in regard to our ideas of right and wrong, and have endeavoured to develop a science of ethics. It is not to the purpose here to expose the confusions involved in this particular act of aggression on the part of science. Science has nothing to do, in the final analysis, with our ideas of right and wrong. And it is also true, quite apart from ultimate questions about the meaning of value, that we cannot give a scientific analysis of art. Science may indeed help us to understand matters incidental to the pursuit of artistic activities. (shrink)
This book by Dr Barbara Wootton has already been widely acclaimed as an exceptionally shrewd and timely assessment of the methods and achievements of the social sciences today. She herself has much experience of social work and of the systematic investigation of social problems. She believes in social science and expects a great deal from it. This lends additional weight to the critical side of her work. Her strictures, although sometimes severe, are not those of the hostile critic out from (...) the start to demolish and discredit. Her concern is plainly to see the subject established on as firm a basis as possible and set on a course which will give it the maximum usefulness. (shrink)
Few people, I imagine, would be disconcerted to learn that it is not very easy to provide a philosophical account of their activities; and this holds no less when these activities are of an intellectual nature. Historians and mathematicians and scientists do not wait in that fashion upon the deliberations of philosophers; and a good thing it is for them, too. For their patience might otherwise be rather severely tried, since disagreement and dispute appear to be the life-blood of philosophy. (...) Nonetheless philosophical questions about these and other activities are not irrelevant to practice. (shrink)
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