[hist-analytic] A. G. N. Flew (1923-2010)
Jlsperanza at aol.com
Jlsperanza at aol.com
Wed Apr 14 13:18:29 EDT 2010
What a BEAUTIFUL obituary, S. R. Bayne! It should and shall be quoted by
anyone interested in Flew! I'm using a slightly different header, because I'm
coming to think that if one replies to a post, there's this idea that
someone HAS to reply to the reply and then reply to the reply to the reply and
so 'eis apeiron', as someone said. But I WILL provide comments as per below!
And will check that paper he sent to you to HIST-ANAL.
That, "He would have loved you!" is just magnificent. And there was NOBODY
who paired Flew in vividness of recollections. I have now located this p.
191 in his "Philosophical Essays", which were edited by the philosopher you
mention involved with the Washington DC University. The reference to Grice
is to p. 191, which is the autobiographical sketch that the editor of
"Philosophical Essays" asked Flew to write. It is simple and to the point, but
a good one, and I've come to learn it by memory:
"As an undergraduate the only teachers of philosophy whom I really got to
know were my own tutors in St. John's College: John Mabbot and Paul Grice."
---- and I'm furthering the Grice/Flew overlap elsewhere. Now for the
In a message dated 4/14/2010 9:59:53 A.M., Baynesr at comcast.net writes:
"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."
Yes, that was a sad episode. I don't know much about it and I expect it
will be relevant to the executors of Flew, and his trustee, etc. He was
married to Annis Harty, and is survived by her and two daughters. So I will
expect people will have consideration for those when they get _too_ vicious.
>From the little I read about his later 'deism', it looks so philosophical to
me, that I cannot see the big fuss. Also, I was just re-reading his early
'Theology and Verification', and his point was so moot. It WAS the Popperian
idea, and the idea of the 'invisible gardener', for anyone who's been to
St. John's College, I know WHERE he may have gotten from (You never see him).
ONE point of interest, to me, though is to relate this to Watkins's attack
on Flew: "The paradigm case argument" (or APC, as Flew preferred, in case
you google this) "justifies miracles". Watkins seems to have a point, and he
was very courteous in his arguing. It would seem that by applying the APC
to our talk of "God", theology IS verified!
Bayne goes on in his memoir:
"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."
It is JUST an excellent collection. The editor of Flew's "Philosophical
Essays" (John Shosky) has a good one on this. He was bringing to Flew's
attention the pamphlet in "Blackfriars" by Dummett where he pours scorn on Flew:
"The membership on the Oxford school of ordinary language philosophy", or
words to that effect, "depends on the nomination by Flew". (Dummett's
phrasing is wittier). In any case, Flew confided to Shosky, "I have never read
the Dummett piece" (or words). He was particularly intrigued, not in the best
of moods, that Dummett would say that the CRITERION for inclusion was a
disparage of Russell. In his answer Flew implicates, "While I was not
particularly pro-Russellian" (see the Bolshevism paper in "PE"), "I doubt other
members of the so-called 'school' shared this with me".
It's just FASCINATING how a person who only stayed a couple of years in
Oxford -- the second part of the 1940s, mainly -- could have assumed the
tenets of the 'revolution in philosophy' so clearly and in such a committed way.
"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."
I read in the Times of yesterday that the Ryle connection IS mentioned.
There was some loose phrasing, as per the Gifford-Lecture-website, where it
was referred to as having to do with Flew's "PhD research", but it's not
clear to me what did transpire of the Ryle connection. As you say, supervision,
but I tend to think that Flew's DPhil was NOT from Oxford. Should check
Owen, in the obit. of Ryle for the Aristotelian Society (in the PAS) is
excellent on this. In a quote I treasure, he goes on to wonder: what group had
a bigger 'cult': The Ryle group or its junior group, the Playgroup of
first Austin and then Grice (Owen is explicit that Grice led the group on
Austin's death)? He goes on to say: The Austin group! Ryle is reported to have
regretted not to have been able to participate in the Saturday mornings on
account of his age (Nobody who was a senior to Austin, born in 1911, was
allowed. At that time, I recently learn from the obit of Pears in the Times,
also, there was a third group: that still had Freddie Ayer as the 'soul of
the party', and which had been the source of the Austin group, actually.
Flew spoke highly of Pears on occasions (Shosky notes), so I expect Flew knew
everything about the 'inner workings' of undoubtedly the biggest
university on earth, but also one of the most parochial.
"One interesting fact Flew noted was that Ryle's first significant
work was his critical notice of Heidegger's _Being and Time_."
Flew seems to have had Bayne's and my own love for the interesting details.
I always found this "Mind" review a gem to be aware of (Having had to
endured an account of that bore, "Sein und Zeit", as explained by one of my
tutors). I tend to think that this relates to the history of positivism,
because I would think that, had it not been for Ryle's interest in Heidegger,
and the way that he was being poured scorn on by Carnap ("The elimination of
metaphysics", etc.) that Ryle had his tutee (Ayer) move to Vienna for a
sojourn. R. B. Jones will be perhaps able to provide further details. Ayer got
enamoured with Carnap, and forgot all about Heidegger. So there!
"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).""
You have to be an Oxon Lit. Hum. as he was (like Grice, -- Flew was 1948 MA
with a first in greats, first as BA of course), to swallow that. Someone
SHOULD re-edit the Pomponazzi just to check what Flew found so fascinating
about it. Vintage Flew, and I cannot think of Flew's interests in the area
without thinking of Grice's "Personal Identity", which I HOPE Grice, in his
non-authoritarian view, commented on to his tutee. (I found that an early
Flew, dated 1949, for Mind, is entitled "Selves" -- and it can be seen as a
sequel to Grice's paper in that it's concerned with the use of 'self' in
phrases like "myself" but NEVER, Flew argues, in natural English, or ordinary
language, as he'd prefer (he possibly made this phrase famous), 'my self'
("two words" he adds). The way he has this ready criterion: "Fowler, and
not the philosophers" for things is admiring: he thinks some issues pertain,
obviously, to grammar (like the declensions of "I", for example). In this
case, he just notes the oddity of the 'my self' and signals to the
correctness of 'myself' as a 'point of grammar', almost.
Bayne goes on to quote from Flew in the Linacre:
"When I told him that I agreed with Pomponazzi's conclusions he asked
me to refresh his memory."
Metaphorical. You have to LOVE Ryle!
"I told him that those conclusions were: first,
on the substantive issue, that the soul, including the intellect, "is in
way truly itself an individual. And so it is truly a form beginning with
ceasing to be with the body,""
THIS of course predating all that the OTHER brilliant tuttee of Grice at
St. John's ("Peter Strawson" as Flew calls him in a breach of English usage:
it's ALWAYS initials) will say in "Individuals". And in a way it does
relate to Grice's 'Personal Identity', even if Grice is perhaps too much of a
mentalist in that paper, alas, to give proper due to the 'body' (But he has
charming examples like, "I fell from the stairs yesterday", and "I was hit
in the head yesterday with a cricket bat" to point out that sometimes we are
not sure what "I" refers to: a mind, a body, or a combo thereof?).
Bayne continues to quote from Flew:
"and, second, on the question of the
interpretation of Aristotle, that any other view is totally
Indeed, the hylemorphism, so-called.
Flew, Bayne quotes, went on:
"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)."
Which is just as well, on mere chronological grounds! The man had been born
in 1900. Flew may be making a point because this was about the time of the
"Concept of Mind", and the infamous 'ghost in the machine' piece of Rylean
"The most interesting thing *about* Flew, however, was - I think - Flew,
himself. ... I was introduced to Anthony Flew ... at a conference
in Washington D. C. on the work of Bertrand Russell."
Echoes of Bolshevism!
"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."
---- Wonder if you've seen the DVD, Tom and Viv. It features I think
Nicholas Something (I forget his surname, this is odd) playing Russell, and
DeFoe playing Eliot. I got to love Eliot's wife! But the actor playing Russell
seems to play him to a "T", as I think one can say.
"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."
---- Interesting. Philosophers like Flew, Bayne or _me_, take politics
seriously! One reads people calling other people 'conservative', but for a
philosopher, the word is just a 'conservative' label. Flew was into the logic
of the ideas, not an agenda for election!
"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
Exactly. Sadly, his views are reported by "ideologues" and he sometimes had
to couch them in 'ideological terms'. Most of his 'applied philosophy'
seems very abstract in nature, and it's usually his critics that go
'particular', and forget about the philosophical abstract point that Flew is making.
What a man!
"He was an intrepid conversationalist"
As the Times obit read yesterday, "and tall and angular". Imagine if one's
obituary has to refer to 'tall and angular' along those lines. The Times
should stop their silly policy of having the obituaries anonymous. The fact
that Grice is not mentioned in the obit...! Plus, the Times obit tends to be
over-informative on points that it does not need to be, and lacks some of
the detail one expects, I suppose, from an obituary 'in the Times'. But
then, it is an excellent obituary. There is one by the Daily Telegraph, too,
but can't compare.
"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 notice a Grice/Flew overlap of interest in this front: Thrasymachus. In
the "Philosophical Essays" Shosky cared to choose this paper on
Thrasymachus, which, as he notes in the Intro is a veiled critique to the inventor of
the 'veil of ignorance'. The overlap with Grice refers to the fact that
Grice has a similar essay (but more Rawlsian) in his WoW ("Metaphysics,
Philosophical Eschatology, and Plato's Republic") -- it's all about the meaning of
'just' as positivist -- Thrasymachean -- or not --. I love to think that
that kind of essay which can read profitably by a student of the classics
(Plato's Republic, in this case) -- as Austin's Comments on 'the Cave' in a
later edition of his "Philosophical Papers" -- is to me the MARK of an Oxon.
Lit. Hum. --.
"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."
This is fascinating. When people ask, out of the blue, "Who are you?" I
cannot but think of the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland (now a feature film
with Johny Depp). "Explain yourself", the Caterpillar goes on to ask. Of
course Alice had no idea who she was, or what she was, for that matter. ("A
little girl, I suppose. And my name is Alice". "Explain yourself").
(Strictly: "I'm not sure I know who I am." "Explain yourself". The fact that the
Caterpillar is not necessarily hylomorphic complicates things -- for Alice).
----- I think you gotta love your identificatory use of a Donnellian (never
Kripkean) non-rigid designation, or something:
'the best street philosopher in Cambridge'
--- Love that Square, too!
---- Harvard buzzle and huzzle at its best!
"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."
That is good. I suppose if you had been Liza Minnelli you would have said,
'terrific'. She uses 'terrific' to mean 'sensational'. But in the
anglo-speakers I know 'terrific' means what it says! I think it was Flew who makes
the point that Mill's 'desirable' works like 'visible' -- cfr. 'terrible' --
he makes a point that if Mill were speaking a language other than English,
he perhaps would never have made the connection. This is some abstract
argument by Flew, and he uses 'thinged' as abstract for a verb in the passive,
which was good. It's in the "Philosophical Essays", most likely in the
"Philosophy and Language" (1953) essay.
would send me a copy of one of his attacks on Rawls. It's on
Good to know, and I'll re-read.
"I said something to the effect
that while I disagreed with Ryle I liked his style and enthusiasm but that
would probably not like me one bit. Flew raised his head from the
of his feet; thought for a second and then paid me one of my best
ever. He said: "No, no...Ryle would have loved you!""
I will, always, remember Anthony Flew. He had intellectual integrity; he
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.""
I see he has this charming, 'apologia pro philosophia nostra contra
murmurantes'. He SHAPED the discussion of Oxford philosophy even after he had
left it (He left Oxford on Sept. 1950, after two years of teaching at Christ
Church). Imagine: would G. A. Paul, and his "Is there a problem about sense
data?" and so zillion other gems he has in his "Logic and Language" had been
so influential had he not stopped to do the wonderful editing work he did?
--. He was the 'advocate' of Oxford philosophy, and we love him for that.
J. L. Speranza
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