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Bookmarh WHAT'S WRONG WITH PHILOSOPHERS? Being a Philosopher: The History ofa Practice (Roudedge, $29.95), by David Hamlyn, recendy retired Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and former Editor of Mind (1972-1984), is in most respects a history of philosophy itself, from Thaïes to the present. Hamlyn's angle is to try to show how a practice and profession of philosophy has developed since the Greeks. One of the themes of this solid but unexciting book is the relation of the doing of philosophy to institutional arrangements. On this question, Hamlyn has no particular theory to promote. He shows how philosophy with the Greeks culminated in the Academy and the Lyceum, how it advanced independently of universities—often against them, in fact—in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and how in the last and present centuries it has come back to universities, where it seems bound to remain for the foreseeable future. Hamlyn's outlook is British—English, even—to the point of parochialism. He admires the Americans, though possibly with a hint of resentment since, along with the Vienna Circle, they get some of the blame for the increasing technicality of professional philosophy in the twentieth century, and this, Hamlyn seems to imply, is responsible for the decline ofthe importance ofphilosophy in general British culture. I would have thought rather that Principia Mathematica and the subsequent rise ofRussell/Moore British analytic philosophy were more responsible for making philosophy uninteresting to the British public. (It was William James and John Dewey, nontechnicians both, who were the important American names about the same time.) For better or worse, the British have done more to American philosophy in this century than vice versa. Anyway, it's a bit rich for someone in charge of Mind for twelve recent years to lament the pernicious technicality of contemporary philosophy, isn't it? Hamlyn repeatedly bemoans the lack ofstatus and respect given philosophers and intellectuals generally in Britain, compared to France, where intellectuals are "worshipped," Germany, where scholars at least receive respect, and the United States, which, it strikes me, he doesn't understand well. The French Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 185-192 186Philosophy and Literature tend "to lionize their leading intellectuals and to take up their thoughts as the latest inteUectual fashion." But though it might interview relevant academics for a particular purpose, the BBC shows "no indication of any permanent regard for the scholar." Maybe the BBC people tried to read Mind and just gave up. Hamlyn goes aU weepy over the fact that there would today probably not be "any vast turn-out of the general public for the funeral of a philosopher, as there was reported to have been over the death of Theophrastus," though adds in a cheering footnote that a memorial meeting for A. J. Ayer was "wellattended ." Apparendy Hamlyn never heard about Sartre's funeral in 1980, which was certainly more well-attended than Ayer's—it was a well-attended riot, nearly. I cannot vouch for a comparison with Theophrastus. Hamlyn is right that philosophy has fallen on hard times in Britain—from about the point that Baroness Thatcher became Prime Minister—but I don't think he diagnoses the situation adequately, in part because of his blinkered English oudook. At the end of the book he recalls an incident when he was asked to justify academic philosophy to some bureaucrat, which he did. Afterward , he realizes that he should have said that the question itself was "a sign of the corruption of our times." It would not have been asked in some other countries, "even where there are similar political attitudes to those which have been dominant in Britain." No need to be coy; he obviously means the Reagan/ Bush USA. Why, I found myself wondering, does academic philosophy in the United States still enjoy a sort of residual body of respect, a critical mass of public support, while in Britain, philosophy is perceived as so useless, or marginal , it has actually been abolished from some universities? Hamlyn's book ought to be helpful in the analysis of this issue, but it isn't because, for one thing, despite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 185-192
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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