[hist-analytic] Anthony Flew

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Wed Apr 14 08:58:47 EDT 2010

Thanks to Speranza for bringing this to the attention of the list. 
I have been undecided on how to handle this. Given the vicious 
attacks on Flew in his later years as he appeared to move in the 
direction of a theistic point of view, Speranza's posting stands 
in some contrast to detractors of Flew. 

Speranza , rightly, points to Flew's two volume _Logic and Language_ . 
This was put together in a collection by Anchor publishing and 
it served as the basis of my early undergraduate work in analytic 
philosophy. This is not merely an autobiographical detail on my 
part. There can be little doubt that many others shared my experience. 
Flew was particularly close to Gilbert Ryle , and there is an 
excellent collection of short essays put together by Rom Harre 
and John Shosky for the Linacre Journal wherein Flew provides some 
insights on Ryle as well as personal reflections. In one essay, 
"Gilbert Ryle : A Personal Reflection" a number of facinating details 

on Ryle are brought to light by Flew. 

One interesting fact Flew noted was that Ryle's first significant 
work was his critical notice of Heidegger's _Being and Time_ . Another 
very interesting point of detail is contained in the following: 

"I cannot now say when the question of the possibility or impossibility 

of spiritual first arose during those Ryle supervisions. But I do still very 

vividly remember Ryle's response to my discovery of Pietro Pomponazzi's 

great polemic _De immortalitate animae_ (The Immortality of the Soul). 

When I told him that I agreed with Pomponazzi's conclusions he asked 

me to refresh his memory. I told him that those conclusions were: first, 
on the substantive issue, that the soul, including the intellect, "is in no 

way truly itself an individual. And so it is truly a form beginning with and 

ceasing to be with the body," and, second, on the question of the 

interpretation of Aristotle, that any other view is totally un-Aristotelian. 

Ryle left me in no doubt that he both agreed with these conclusions 

and had reached them before I had." (The Linacre Journal: The Ryle 

Issue, edited by Rom Harre and John Shosky , pp. 13-14). 

The most interesting thing *about* Flew, however, was - I think - Flew, 

himself. One reason I didn't address the list on this was because I was 

undecided whether to relate a personal story. When I tell a story there 

are certain list members who, actually, try to use this against me. I 

know this and who they are; but, I think I'll tell this story anyway. 

I was introduced to Anthony Flew by John Shosky , as I recall, at a conference 

in Washington D. C. on the work of Bertrand Russell. It was a superb 

conference. Shosky gave a remarkable paper on the relation of T. S. 

Eliot and Russell and a lot of good philosophy took place. When I was 

introduced I could help be reminded of another person I had met years ago, 

Richard McKeon , who also has been maligned by people with strong 

philosophical views. Anyway, Flew and I had an extended discussion 

by ourselves and I came away with a number of impressions, all from 

my point of view favorable. 

To begin with, Flew was far more conservative politically than I had 

come to believe. He didn't couch his remarks in terms of the politics 

of the day, as many ideologues are wont to do, but preferred to make 

abstract point. He was an intrepid conversationalist and displayed a 

distaste for Rawls's work that bordered on contempt. I shared his view, 

but my respect for Rawls was considerably more pronounced, 

reflecting, perhaps, a mere difference between Flew's stature as a 

philosopher as my own. I think it was Flew (may Toulmin , but I think, 

now, Flew) who, following our discussion, asked: "Who are you?" I 

was taken by surprise, but knowing his disposition decided to tell the 

truth. "Me?" I asked. "Well, you may not know me but for some time 

I have had the reputation on Harvard Square as the best street 

philosopher in Cambridge!" I awaited in poised silence to see what 

his reaction would be. His eyes lite up, and he was obviously sincerely 

impressed - or so I came to strongly believe. Had I told him I was a 

tenured Assistant Professor at Berkeley, he probably would have said, 

"Oh, alright." My point is that Flew was an egalitarian; he was not a 

prima dona; he lived philosophy. 

During our discussion of Rawls , I mentioned that "This guy stands to 

become the most influential political philosopher since Mill, and this 

influence will be mostly terrible." Flew indicated agreement. Later, he 

would send me a copy of one of his attacks on Rawls . It's on 

www .hist-analytic.com . One other experience of a personal note, 

one I was tempted to forgo. As we were talking - I believe he was smoking 

a pipe, but I'm not sure - the discussion from my side became a bit personal. 

I said I had trouble with professors, academics and the "culture." He didn't 

react. I said that while I admired Wittgenstein we would not have gotten 

along. He looked towards the floor shaking his head, and with a think British 

accent said: "No, no, I rather think not." Then I said something to the effect 

that I doubted that I would have gotten along with Russell. He replied - again 

looking at his feet - "No, no." I was desperate . I said something to the effect 

that while I disagreed with Ryle I liked his style and enthusiasm but that Ryle 

would probably not like me one bit. Flew raised his head from the direction 

of his feet; thought for a second and then paid me one of my best compliments 

ever. He said: "No, no... Ryle would have loved you!" This was not a comment 

relating to Ryle's amorous nature, or lack of it (it would appear). Things like 

this sustain a philosopher who does not make his or her money at philosophy. 

I will, always, remember Anthony Flew. He had intellectual integrity; he said 

what was on his mind and was not burdened by having to please, certain, 

people. He was a free man, and in the best sense a "free-thinker." 

Steven R. Bayne 
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