[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 
commentary, then:

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 
this out.
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 
abstract point."
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.

"Later, he 
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.""
Hear, hear. 
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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