Saturday 1 January 2000

Philosophy in Soviet Russia (1946)

From The Philosopher, Volume XXIV



By John Lewis

In 1999, the Editor added:

This unusual account reflects a particular time in the history of not only of the Society, but of Europe. The prevailing feeling in Britain was of solidarity and gratitude to 'Uncle Joe' in the Soviet Union, and if, even as this was written, the 'Iron Curtain' was about to be [er...] drawn in the occupied territories, there is no sense in this essay of the cold war conflict that was about to come, (Save perhaps that the author bemoans the lack of interest in 'Bergson, Bradley and Bosanquet'... )

Professor Whitehead has recently warned us that:

 'Mankind can flourish in the lower stages of life with merely barbarian flashes of thought. But, where civilisation culminates, the absence of a co-ordinating philosophy of life, spread through the community spells decadence, boredom and the slackening of effort.' 

Too often,we hear it lamented that we have today no confident philosophy for the human race, and "If the trumpet give no certain sound who shall prepare himself for battle." However that may be in West, there is no doubt about the fact that the Soviet Union, covering one-fifth of the land surface of the earth and comprising 200,000,000 people has a very definite, optimistic and 'coordinating philosophy of life, spread through the community.'

We know little about it here, and what we think we know is usually wrong! But east some information has reached us in an address delivered by the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. by Professor Mitin in 1945, and in reviews of several new works of Soviet Philosophy, notably Alexandrov's new History, of Philosophy. We learn that philosophy is widely taught and, as in Scotland, is a compulsory subject for all higher education courses even in purely technical subjects. It would appear that the Soviet Union is heeding Plato's advice that the only hope for human social happiness lay in the possibility that kings (shall we say the sovereign people?) might become philosophers and philosophers kings.

The large circulation of the works of the classical philosophers offers surprising evidence of the wide popularity of this study. Between 1917 and 1938 over 200,000 copies of the works of Hegel have been distributed, 78,000 copies of Aristotle, 48,000 copies of copies of Einstein, 65,000 copies of Spinoza. Soviet philosophers have produced works on Democritus, Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes, Leibnitz, Locke, and others. Not so much has been done in translating recent British, American and French philosophy into Russian. They seem to know little of Bergson, James, Whitehead, Bradley and Bosanquet.

Needless to say the philosophical writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and other dialectical materialists are in great demand. The Russians claim that this 'great contemporary philosophical doctrine gives people a straightforward, clear-cut world outlook, enables them to understand the laws underlying historical events and arms them with a theoretical weapon for practical use.' But as we have seen the world classics of philosophy also play an important.part in the cultural growth of Soviet people. Engels stated that the history of philosophy is one means of ideological training, that the study of the history of Philosophy is a splendid way of learning to think theoretically. But there is another reason for this great interest in philosophy. The peoples of the Soviet Union regard themselves as the real and lawful heirs of the whole of world culture and are most anxious to spread the knowledge of it not only among the elite but amongst the wise masses of the people.

The result is great intellectual liveliness, among students especially. Mr. Foster Anderson in his Borderline Russia describes how he spent a long evening discussing philosophy with some of the students of Moscow University. His comment is revealing: 'The atmosphere of that small group of men and women with whom I mixed had a quality of the search for truth and.a belief in the human mind to grasp it which I have not met in any other University'.

It would be interesting to know more about the content of Soviet philosophical teaching. No doubt many of us would find ourselves stimulated to violent criticism if we knew more about it; but truth is only found in the clash of opposites, as.Hegel (and Marx!) have long taught us. It might be to our profit to know a good deal more about philosophy in Soviet Russia.

Unanswerable Questions (1935)

From The Philosopher, Volume. XIII, 1935


By Moritz Schlick

Professor of Philosophy in the University of Vienna

1999 The Editor adds: In this article, Moritz Schlick, hub of the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists puts forward a persuasive account of their method of philosophy, with its emphasis on what we may call verification. Readers may note the optimism of the approach, which nonetheless implicitly rejects ethical and religious concerns as inadmissable.

It is natural that mankind should take great pride in the steady advance of its knowledge. The joy we feel in the contemplation of scientific progress is fully justified. One problem after another is solved by science; and the success of the past gives us ample reason for our hope that this process will go on, perhaps even at a quicker pace. But will it, can it, go on indefinitely? It seems a little ridiculous to suppose a day might come when all imaginable problems would be solved, so that there would be no questions left for which the human mind would crave an answer. We feel sure that our curiosity will never be completely satisfied and that the progress of knowledge will not come to a stop when it has reached its last goal.

It is commonly assumed that there are other imperative reasons why scientific advance cannot go on forever. Most people believe in the existence of barriers that cannot be scaled by human reason and by human experience. The final and perhaps the most important truths are thought to be permanently hidden from our eyes; the key to the Riddle of the Universe is believed to be buried in depths the access to which is barred to all mortals by the very nature of the Universe. According to this common belief, there are many questions which we can formulate, and whose meaning we can grasp completely, though it is definitely impossible to know their answer which is beyond the nature and necessary boundary of all knowledge. In regard to these questions a final ignorabimus is pronounced. Nature, it is said, does not wish her deepest secrets to be revealed; God has set a limit of knowledge which shall not be passed by his creatures, and beyond which faith must take the place of curiosity.

It is easy to understand how such a view originated, but it is not so clear why it should be considered to be a particularly pious or reverent attitude. Why should Nature seem more wonderful to us if she cannot be known completely? Surely she does not wish to conceal anything on purpose, for she has no secrets, nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, the more we know of the world the more we shall marvel at it; and if we should know its ultimate principles and its most general laws, our feeling of wonder and reverence would pass all bounds. Nothing is gained by picturing God as jealously hiding from his creatures the innermost structure of his creation, indeed, a worthier conception of a Supreme Being should imply that no ultimate boundary should be set to the knowledge of beings to whom an infinite desire of knowledge has been given. The existence of an absolute ignorabimus would form an exceedingly vexing problem to a philosophical mind. It would be a great step forward in philosophy, if the burden of this bewildering problem could be thrown off.

This, one may argue, is evidently impossible, for without doubt there are unanswerable questions. It is very easy to ask questions the answers to which, we have the strongest reasons to believe, will never be known to any Human being. What did Plato do at eight o'clock in the morning of his fiftieth birthday? How much did Homer weigh when he wrote the first line of the Iliad? Is there a piece of silver to be found on the other side of the moon, three inches long and shaped like a fish? Obviously, men will never know the answers to these questions, however hard they may try. But at the same time, we know that they would never try very hard. These problems, they will say, are of no importance,no philosopher would worry about them, and no historian or naturalist would care whether he knew the answers or not.

Here, then, we have certain questions whose insolubility does not trouble the philosopher; and evidently there are reasons why it need not trouble him. This is important. We must be content to have insoluble questions. But what if all of them could be shown to be of such a kind as not to cause any really serious concern to the philosopher? In that case he would be relieved. Although there would be many things he could not know, the real burden of the ignorabimus would be lifted from his shoulders. At first sight there seems to be little. hope for this as some of the most important issues of philosophy are generally held to belong to the class of insoluble problems. Let us consider this point carefully.

What do we mean when we call a question important? When do we hold it to be of interest to the philosopher? Broadly speaking, when it is a question of principle; one that refers to a general feature of the world, not a detail; one that concerns the structure of the world, a valid law, not a single unique fact. This distinction may be described as the difference between the real nature of the Universe and the accidental form in which this nature manifests itself.

Correspondingly, the reasons why a given problem is insoluble may be of two entirely different kinds. In, the first place, the impossibility of answering a given question may be an impossibility in principle or, as we shall call it, a logical impossibility. In the second place, it may be due to accidental circumstances which do not affect the general laws, and in this case we shall speak of an empirical impossibility.

In the simple instances given above, it is clear that the impossibility of answering these questions is of the empirical kind. It is merely a matter of chance that neither Plato nor any of his friends took exact notes of his doings on his fiftieth birthday (or that such notes were lost if any were taken); and a similar remark applies to the questions concerning the weight of Homer and things on the other side of the moon. It is practically or technically impossible for humans to reach the moon and go around it, and such an exploration of our Earth's satellite will never take place. [Well, seemed a good example then - Ed.] But we cannot declare it impossible in principle.

The moon happens to be very far off; it happens to turn always the, same side towards the earth; it happens to possess no atmosphere which human beings could breathe -but we can very easily imagine all of these circumstances to be different. We are prevented from visiting the moon only by brute facts, by an unfortunate state of affairs, not by any principle by which certain things were deliberately held from our knowledge. Even if the impossibility of solving a certain question is due to a Law of Nature, we shall have to say that it is only empirical, not logical, provided we can indicate how the law would have to be changed in order to make the question answerable. After all, the existence of any Law of Nature must be considered as an empirical fact which might just as well be different. The scientist's whole interest is concentrated on the particular Laws of Nature; but the philosopher's general point of view must be independent of the validity of any particular one of them.

It is one of the most important contentions of the Philosophy I am advocating that there are many questions which it is empirically impossible to answer, - but not a single real question for which it would be logically impossible to find a solution. Since only the latter kind of impossibility would have that hopeless and fatal character which is implied by the ignorabimus and which could cause philosophers to speak of a 'Riddle of the Universe' and to despair of such problems as the 'cognition of things in themselves', and similar ones, it would seem that the acceptance of my opinion would bring the greatest relief to all those who have been unduly concerned about the essential incompetence of human knowledge in regard to the greatest issues. Nobody can reasonably complain about the empirical impossibility of knowing everything, for that would be equivalent to complaining that we cannot live at all times and be in all places simultaneously. Nobody wants to know all the facts, and it is not important to know them: the really essential principles of the universe reveal themselves at any time and any place. I do not suggest, of course, that they lie open at first glance, but they can always be discovered by the careful and penetrating methods of science.

How can I prove my point? What assures us that the impossibility of answering questions never belongs to the question as such, is never a matter of principle,, but is always due to accidental empirical circumstances, which may some day change? There is no room here for a real proof;* but I can indicate in general how the result is obtained.

It is done by an analysis of the meaning of our questions. Evidently philosophical issues - and very often other problems too - are difficult to understand: we have to ask for an explanation of what is meant by them. How is such an explanation given? How do we indicate the meaning of a question?

A conscientious examination shows that all the various ways of explaining what is actually meant by a question are, ultimately, nothing but various descriptions of ways in which the answer to the question must be found. Every explanation or indication of the meaning of a question consists, in some way or other, of prescriptions for finding its answer. This principle has proved to be of fundamental importance for the method of science. For example, it led Einstein, as he himself admits, to the discovery of the Theory of Relativity. It may be empirically impossible to follow those prescriptions (like travelling around the moon), but it cannot be logically impossible. For what is logically impossible cannot even be described, i.e., it cannot be expressed by words or other means of communication.

The truth of this last statement is shown by an analysis of 'description" and "expression" into which we cannot enter here. But taking it for granted, we see that no real question is in principle - i.e. logically - unanswerable. For the logical impossibility of solving a problem is equivalent to the impossibility of describing a method of finding its solution and this, as we have stated, is equivalent to the impossibility of indicating the meaning of the problem. Thus a question which is unanswerable in principle can have no meaning; it can be no question at all: it is nothing but a nonsensical series of words with a question mark after them. As it is logically impossible to give an answer where there is no question, this cannot be a cause of wonder, dissatisfaction, or despair.

This conclusion can be made clearer by considering one or two examples. Our question as to the weight of Homer has meaning, of course, because we can easily describe methods of weighing human bodies (even poets); in other words,. the notion of weight is accurately defined. Probably Homer was never weighed, and it is empirically impossible to do it now, because his body no longer exists; but these accidental facts do not alter the sense of the question. Or take the problem of survival after death. It is a meaningful question, because we can indicate ways in which it could be solved. One method of ascertaining one' s own survival would simply consist in dying. [Er... but in both the negative and positive cases might there not be alternative possibilities making this certainty elusive? You might survive as a snail rather than a philosopher, or not survive at all but be unable to tell yourself the fact. Probably not a good method at all - Ed.] It would also be possible to describe certain observations of scientific character that would lead us to accept a definite answer. That such observations could not be made thus far is an empirical fact which cannot entail a definite ignorabimus in regard to the problem.

Now consider the question: 'What is the nature of time?' What does it mean? What do the words 'the nature of...' stand for, The scientist might, perhaps, invent some kind of explanation, he might suggest some statements which he would regard as possible answers to the question; but his explanation could be nothing but the description of a method of discovering which of the suggested answers is the true one. In other words, by giving ameaning to the question he has at the same time. made it logically answerable, although he may not be able to make it empirically soluble. Without such an explanation, however, words 'What is the nature of time?' are no question at all. If a philosopher confronts us with a series of words like this and neglects to explain the meaning, he cannot wonder if no answer is forthcoming. It is as if he had asked us: 'How much does philosophy weigh?' in which case it is immediately seen that is not a question at all, but mere nonsense. Questions like 'Can we know the Absolute?' and innumerable similar ones must be dealt with in the same, way as the 'problem' concerning the nature of Time.

All great philosophical issues that have been discussed since the time of Parmenides to our present day are of one of two kinds: we can either give them a definite meaning by careful and accurate explanation and definitions, and then we are sure that they are soluble in principle, although they may give scientist the greatest trouble and may even never solved on account of unfavourable empirical circumstances, or we fail to give them any meaning, and then they are no questions at all. Neither case need cause uneasiness for the philosopher. His greatest troubles arose from a failure to distinguish between the two.

* For a more complete account of the matter I may refer the English reader to two lectures which appeared in the Publications in Philosophy, edited by the College of the Pacific in 1932, and more especially to an article on "Meaning and Verification" in a forthcoming issue of the American Philosophical Review.

Science, Art and Play (1935)

From The Philosopher, Volume. XIII, 1935


By Erwin Schrödinger

Professor of Physics at the University of Berlin

2008 The Editor adds: At the time Erwin Schrödinger wrote this, he was living in Britain as 'Temporary Professor at the University of Oxford', having fled the Nazis. The paper in fact appeared the same year as chapter one of 'Science and the Human Temperament' published by Allen and Unwin. However, the Journal was doubtless pleased to be allowed a first taste of writings of the winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics....

With man, as with every other species, the primary aim of thought and action is to satisfy his needs and to preserve his life. Unless the conditions of life are excessively unfavourable, there remains a surplus force; and this is true even of animals. Even with animals, this surplus manifests itself in play: an animal when playing is conscious of the fact that its activity is not directed towards any aim or towards the satisfaction of the needs of life. A ball of wool interests and amuses the kitten, but it does not hope to find any hidden dainty within. The dog continues to roll the beslavered stone and his eyes implore us to throw it again: "Put an aim before me; I have none and would like to have one." With man the same surplus of force produces an intellectual play by the side of the physical play or sport. Instances of such intellectual play are games in the ordinary sense, like card games, board games, dominoes, or tiddles, and I should also count among them every kind of intellectual activity as well as Science* and if not the whole of Science, at any rate the advance guard of Science, by which I mean research work proper.

Play, art and science are the spheres of human activity where action and aim are not as a rule determined by the aims imposed by the necessities of life; and even in the exceptional instances where this is the case, the creative artist or the investigating scientist soon forgets this fact as indeed they must forget it if their work is to prosper. Generally, however, the aims are chosen freely by the artist or student himself, and are superfluous; it would cause no immediate harm if these aims were not pursued. What is operating here is a surplus force remaining at our disposal beyond the bare struggle for existence: art and science are thus luxuries like sport and play, a view more acceptable to the beliefs of former centuries than to the present age. It was a privilege of princes and flourishing republics to draw artists and scientists within their sphere, and to give them a living in exchange for an activity which yielded nothing save entertainment, interest and repute for the prince or the city. In every age such procedure has been regarded as a manifestation, of internal strength and health, and the rulers and peoples have been envied who could afford to indulge in this noble luxury, this source of pure and lofty pleasure.

If this view is accepted we are compelled to see the chief and lofty aim of science today as in every other age, in the fact that it enhances the general joy of living. It is the duty of a teacher of science to impart to his listeners knowledge which will prove useful in their professions; but it should also be his intense desire to do it in such a way as to cause them pleasure. It should cause him at least as much satisfaction to speak before an audience of working men who have taken an hour off their leisure time in the hope of obtaining an intellectual joy as to speak before the engineers of an industrial undertaking who may be supposed to be chiefly concerned with the practical exploitation of the most recent results of scientific investigation. I need not here speak of the quality of the pleasures derived from pure knowledge: those who have experienced it will know that it contains a strong aesthetic element and is closely related to that derived from the contemplation of a work of art. Those who have never experienced it cannot understand it; but that is no reason why they should "withdraw weeping from our community", since it may be supposed that they find compensation elsewhere within the sphere of art as, for example, in the free and vigourous exercise of a well trained body in sport, play or dance.

Speaking generally, we may say that all this belongs to the same category to the free unfolding of noble powers which remain available, beyond purely utilitarian activities, to cause pleasure to the individual and to others. f It might be objected that after all there is a considerable difference between scientific and artistic, and even more between scientific and playful activity, the difference residing in the fact that scientific activity has a powerful influence on the practical shaping of life and the satisfaction of its needs. It might be said that it has eminently contributed to material well-being and that the doctor's and the engineer's skill and the judge's and statesmen's wisdom are the fruits it bears; and it may be urged that, on a serious view, these fruits in which the whole of mankind can share are of a higher value than the pleasures of study and discovery, which are open to a few privileged men and their listeners and readers.

It might, on the other hand, be felt that the equation of these pleasures with art is slightly arrogant. Moreover, are we seriously to regard the practical results of science as the acceptable by-products of learned leisure? Should not rather the joys of research be regarded as the pleasant accompaniment of a work which in itself, so far from being playful, is entirely grave and devoted to practical aims?

Judgements of value are problematical. There can be no discussion as to the thanks due by mankind to modern surgery, and to the men who have combat-ted epidemic diseases. Yet it should not be forgotten that the advances of surgery were an antidote desperately needed against the advances of applied science, which would be almost unbearable without the relief provided by the surgeon's ready hand. I do not wish to speak ill of the advances of applied science; indeed it seems to me that one of the chief claims to fame of modern applied science is that it disregards material welfare and personal security and promotes and even creates purely intellectual values which exist for their own sake and not for any given material purpose.

I have here in mind chiefly, because this seems to me to be the most important point, the overcoming of distances in order to promote communication and understanding. I admit that this overcoming of distances has its material aspects. A merchant in Hamburg can reach New York in four days; he learns the exchange quotations daily on board by wireless, can give instructions to his office, and so on. But are we, mankind in general, really interested so very much in the rapidity of business transactions? I venture to deny it. What we really have at heart is something very different. What really gives us pleasure is something very different: far more people than formerly can visit different countries; the nations are brought nearer to each other, can appreciate each other's civilisation, and learn to understand each other. Daring men can penetrate into the polar ice without our being compelled to feel anxiety during months and years; for we receive signals from them, we know where they are, and we can render them assistance.

Last, not least, the pure technical pleasure of overcoming difficulties, the pleasure of succeeding, apart from practical advantages, is continually winning a greater place, not only in the minds of those immediately concerned, for these probably experienced it at all times, but also in the minds of entire peoples. The Zeppelin and the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic obtained for Germany a reputation kindred to that obtained by Walther, Tasso, and Ariosto for the courts where they wrote their poetry. These and similar considerations lead to the conviction that science with all its consequences is not such a desperately serious affair and that, all things considered, it contributes less to material well-being than is generally assumed, while it contributes more than is generally assumed to purely ideal pleasures.

True, its effect on the multitude is generally indirect and the occasions are rare when science can give joy to the many by laying before it its immediate results: indeed, this happens only in those cases where it lays before the community a work of art.

At any rate those who have stood with bated breath and trembling knees before the two thousand years' old dream of beauty created of white marble which the industry of archaeologists has erected in the Berlin Museum will consider that at least as far as the science of archaeology is concerned the question as to why it is being pursued has been answered. As a rule the way to the masses is long and less direct and in certain rare cases it may appear as though a complete barrier existed. However, we would ask that the right to exist should be acknowledged even for these distant blossoms on the Tree of Knowledge; our reason being that they must first fertilise each other in order that other branches shall be able to bear such obvious fruits, palpable to the entire community, as the Graf Zeppelin 1 or the Pergamos Altar.

From a certain standpoint, indeed, the number of individuals sharing in a given cultural achievement is really irrelevant. The truth is that arithmetic cannot be applied to matters of the mind any more than to any other manifestation of life: multiplication here becomes impossible. Once a thought has flashed in the thinker's brain it is in existence and is not increased in value by the fact that a hundred other brains follow it. This argument is correct; yet the fact must be remembered that we are not dealing with a single achievement of civilisation or a single sphere of ideas, but with a multiplicity; and for this reason it is desirable even from the purely esoteric and scientific point of view that the approaches to these intellectual treasures should be facilitated and thrown open to the greatest possible number of persons, even if they partake of them less completely than the "initiated". In this manner there is an increasing chance that a number of cultural values may become the property, in favourable circumstances, of one individual; and this amounts to a real "multiplication" of cultural values, and indeed to more than that. When thoughts fructify they lead to new and undreamed of developments.

It is sometimes said that physics is today in a stage of transformation and revolution; a stage described by some as a crisis. Such a stage is one of abnormal activity and of enhanced vital power. Linguistically the expression 'crisis' (the Greek Kpivis equals 'decision') is appropriate; yet it is misleading if it suggests anything resembling a crisis in a business undertaking, a cabinet, or in the course of a disease. In these cases we are thinking of a dangerous stage of decision followed by complete collapse; whereas in science we mean that new facts or ideas have occurred which compel us to take up a definitive position in questions which had hitherto been open or, more frequently, had never passed beyond a kind of vague awareness. It is precisely our desire to be compelled to take up a definitive position; and in the exact sciences such a compulsion is frequently enough brought about deliberately by so-called crucial experiments. The more important the issue happens to be, the 'worse' the 'crisis' will be; and the more certainly will it lead to an extension and illumination of our scientific knowledge.

I admit that the critical stage itself bears a certain similarity to the feverish stages of an illness, which is due to the sudden upsetting of opinions which had hitherto been regarded as secure; a learned delirium is no rarity. But the comparison is invalid unless we add that in the case of science the disease guarantees the patient a freer, happier, and more intensive life on his recovery. To infer from the crisis in individual sciences that there is such a thing as a general twilight of science is a mistake resting upon a confusion of words.

But though we have grasped that this critical stage is not abnormal, and still less is any harbinger of disaster, we are still faced by the question why it is that the transvaluation of all values, which is really a permanent phenomenon, has taken such an acute form not in one science, but in many, and perhaps in most. Such is the case in mathematics, chemistry, astronomy and psychology. Can this be an accident?

In experimental science facts of the greatest importance are rarely discovered accidentally: more frequently new ideas point the way towards them. The ideas which form the background of the individual sciences have an internal inter connection, but they are also firmly connected with each other and with the ideas of the age in a far more primitive manner. This inter connection consists in the simple fact that a far from negligible and steadily growing percentage of the men who devote themselves to scientific studies are also human beings who share in the general world of ideas of the age.

The influence of these ideas can often be traced into unexpected ramifications. Thus some years ago astronomy was threatened with a kind of arteriosclerosis due to the fact that no crisis was on the horizon; and it was saved from this phenomenon of old age, not so much by the perfection of its instruments and by the progress made by physics in the interpretation of astral spectra, as by a new and a wholly independent idea. It was suggested that really new discoveries could be reached not by careful study of individual stars, but by comparative statistics applied to vast groups of stars. This idea, which is so clearly connected with other tendencies of the times, has opened up vast new tracts and has extended our apprehension of space almost to infinity.

Our age is possessed by a strong urge towards the criticism of traditional customs and opinions. A new spirit is arising which is unwilling to accept anything on authority, which does not so much permit as demand independent, rational thought on every subject, and which refrains from hampering any attack based upon such thought, even though it be directed against things which formerly were considered to be as sacrosanct as you please. In my opinion this spirit is the common cause underlying the crisis of every science today. Its results can only be advantageous: no scientific structure falls entirely into ruin: what is worth preserving preserves itself and requires no protection.

In my opinion this is true not only of science: it is of a far more universal application. There is never any need to oppose the assaults of the spirit of the age: that which is fit to live will successfully resist.


Schrödinger adds: Had this essay been primarily written for English readers, another example would very probably have been chosen instead of the 'Zep'. But since it stands, let us take it at the same time as an impressive instance of how the latest and most outstanding achievements of science often fail to augment material welfare

* The word 'Science' is here usually the translation of Wissenschaft, which includes literature, archaeology, philology, history, etc.

Reason in Action (1935)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXVIII No. 1 Special History Issue, originally printed in The Philosopher, Volume 12, 1935.


John McMurray

Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic in the University of London

Almost the only point in which it is possible to achieve certainty about the philosophy of Socrates is that he held that virtue is knowledge. It is a view which nearly all moderns are agreed in holding to be certainly wrong. The problem of morality, we say, is a problem of the will, not of reason. The difficulty that faces us in our conduct is the, difficulty of doing what we know to be right. A virtuous person is one who is capable of doing what he knows to be right even under the pressure of severe Temptation to do what he knows to be wrong. Socrates' mistake, therefore, is an elementary, almost a childish one. Yet we have to remember that this childish mistake, if it be such, is maintained both by Plato and by Aristotle; that it is central to their whole moral outlook, in spite of the difficulties to which it gives rise. As for the correction of it, which points out that virtue is a matter of the will, we have to notice that the very idea of the will hardly exists for the Greek philosophers. They did not seem to feel any need for it

Now it may be true that the explanation of this is to be found in our own high moral development. On the other hand it may not. And before we dismiss the Greek view of the matter in favour of our own, we ought to make the attempt to understand why it is that the idea of will is conspicuous by its absence in their moral theories, and what precisely led them to identify knowledge and virtue. It is to this task of understanding that I wish here to make a slight contribution, and one which makes it very much less easy to say confidently that we are right and Socrates was wrong.

Take first the conception of will. Why is it so necessary in our thinking about human conduct? What is its function? The answer is, I think, that it serves the purpose of enabling us to pass from a static conception of human nature to the consideration of human beings in action. We tend always to start by defining a human being in terms of his character, as if he were an object with certain properties, or a machine with certain uses. Having done this to our satisfaction, we go on to ask, "What makes him act? What sets the machine going?" The answer is then, "The Will". In particular we are apt to define a human being in terms of his capacity for thought, his ability to know and understand things. We are thinking beings. Now, if this is the essence of our nature, it raises quite naturally the problem "What is it that sets a human being acting instead of just thinking?" As Kant put it in his abstract terminology, "How can pure reason become practical?" The answer is that the thinking being also has a will which enables him to carry out the decisions he has come to as a thinker.

Now, the Greeks never needed this conception of will because they never thought of starting with a static definition. A human being, they imagined, is at least alive, and life is action. To be alive and to to behave, they felt, are surely the same thing. There is, therefore, no point at which they have to ask "Now, what can it be that makes him act?" Their moral problem is not how to get him to act, but how to persuade him to stop and think. Aristotle will define Man as a rational animal. But when he does so, he does not mean, as we tend to do, that man is a thinking being with the strange capacity of getting into action. He means that he is an active, living creature - an animal - with the peculiar capacity for reflection and deliberation.

If we, start in this way, action is given; it is the main datum, the obvious fact which does not call for explanation. What does call for explanation in human behaviour is the manner in which the capacity to reason and reflect modifies the form of human behaviour, and in particular how it gives rise to the moral distinction between good and bad action. If we take for granted that activity is the natural characteristic of any living creature, we shall not find any obvious need to explain what it is that makes a man act. We shall not find the conception of will requisite at all in our consideration of human behaviour.

It becomes obvious now that it is not merely our higher development, or our deeper moral insight, that makes us insist that morality is a matter of the will. It is rather a traditional bias on our part towards defining. everything in static terms. Indeed, from this point of view, the Greek attitude of mind is more natural than ours, and possibly more proper. The idea of will may merely be a necessary fiction, to make good the limitation inherent in our initial analysis. If we leave action out of account to start with, then we shall have to bring it in again somehow later on. More than this, the view that virtue is, knowledge begins to seem less childish than it did. For in some sense it is obviously the capacity to think and reflect and know that gives to the animal spontaneity of life a moral character, and it is the increasing interference of reflection with the animal forms of action which accounts for the development of morality. In this sense at least virtue and knowledge are correlatives. But the full significance of the Socratic view that virtue is knowledge is not yet apparent. We have yet to see how this acceptance of action as the primary fact of life modifies the conception of knowledge.

Because we start from a static 'definition we interpret the statement that virtue is knowledge as if it meant that in order to act virtuously we need only know what it is right to do. First get to know what is right and then you will inevitably do it. But this is not in the least what Socrates meant. He takes action for granted. Virtue is not for him a property of the .agent, it is his way of behaving. Virtue is virtuous behaviour. What Socrates says then, is that virtuous behaviour is knowledge, not, be it noticed, that virtuous behaviour presupposes knowledge. We should also remember that knowledge which is thus identified with virtuous behaviour is, as Plato explains, knowledge of the good, and that knowledge of the good is not theoretical knowledge about goodness, but the direct apprehension of the supreme value itself. Then, the full mean of the statement can be brought to light if we put it in the form that "Virtuous activity is the apprehension of Goodness." This implies that the good is apprehended in action, and that if the good is in action truly apprehended, the action itself is a virtuous action.

This is already something very different from what is usually conveyed to our modern minds by the phrase "Virtue is knowledge." But in order to understand how such, a view arises, whether it be right or wrong, we must further consider the nature of conscious action. Consider an agent acting in any given situation. From his standpoint, before action there are alternative possibilities of action, in and upon the situation. But he can act only in one of these ways. Whichever of the possible actions he does will rule out all the others. They become impossible once he has acted. The action is irreversible, because it produced a new situation. Thus the action is a choice. This is entirely independent of any conscious choice on the part of the agent. Even if he is completely unaware. of all the possible alternatives, it is still true that they exist in the situation, whether he recognises their existence or not. His act, just because it is an act, makes impossible a number of actions which were possible before.

Suppose now that the action is not a random action but has a purpose in it. Then at once the action may be right or wrong. If it turns out to be one of the artery natives which achieves the purpose, it is right. If it does not, it is the wrong action. Again this is true if the agent is quite unconscious of the alternatives and even if he is unconscious of the purpose which the action aims at. Only in that case it is not morally right or wrong; but as soon as the agent is conscious of the end to be achieved by action in the situation, and of the possibility of acting in various alternative ways, the moral issue arises. For then the. action which he actually does defines his own idea of the good. Notice that it is his action which defines it.

By acting in the way he does, and not in any of the other possible ways, he chooses that action as the best action in the circumstances. This is the point from which Greek ethical theories start. The way a man acts decides what he believes to be good. And that is the opposite of the starting point which says that what a man thinks is good determines the way he acts. We recognise the Greek starting point when we say that if you want to know what a man really believes, you must watch how he behaves. For the consistent trend of his behaviour is his normal way of determining which of the alternative possible ways of living is the one for him. It, thus, defines his conception of the good.

Where, then, does knowledge come in? It comes in as knowledge of what he is doing. The more clearly a man recognises what the consequences of his action will be, the more he knows what he is doing, and the more deliberate and conscious his actions become as choices. Of course it is still the action which is the choice; the choice is not made first in thought and then carried out.

Now we can understand the full meaning of Socrates' statement that virtue is knowledge. If a person knows what he is doing, then the life he makes for himself is one of the possible ways in which he could have lived, and so it defines by its actual character a conception of the good. If that conception of the good, which is thus implicit in his way of living, is a false conception, he is ignorant of the true good and his life is, in fact, a false choice. The virtuous man is the man whose life is in fact a choice of the true good, and since he is a conscious being he knows what he is doing; so that his life defines consciously the good as it really is. It is quite simply true from this point of view that virtuous action is knowledge of the good, or if you prefer it, of how to live properly.

The Albigenses (1925)

From The Philosopher, Volume. III, 1925


By J.P Arendzen

2000 - the Editor adds:

The Philosopher, in its early years especially, reflected a curiousity and interest in the religous and philosophical practices of other cultures. In this paper, the lecturer makes some fascinating observations on one of those sub-cultures so beloved of anthropologists - and ethical relativists: a group that believe children are evil.

Mrs Grenside, in her interesting lecture on Tarot Cards, as reported in your issue of July-September, [the paper was not published though - Ed.] refers to the Albigenses, 'a sect of the 14th century which, owing to their secret doctrine, endured much ecclesiastical persecution." I am afraid Mrs. Grenside unconsciously leaves upon her readers an impression with regard to the Albigenses which is historically incorrect. Their doctrine was not really secret, and the persecution they suffered was not 'ecclesiastical," it was rather the opposite, it was the outcome of popular indignation, they suffered more from the anger of the people than from the opposition of the clergy. The clergy seem to have exercised a considerable moderating influence on the rough and ready justice of the populace and to have substituted in most cases legal procedure for the lynch law of the infuriated mob.

The fact is that the Albigenses believed indeed "in the existence of dual forces - good and evil - neither being necessarily triumphant", but they believed in a great deal more, and they vigorously applied their beliefs to practical life. They believed in the existence of dual forces, good and evil, but they conceived these forces as matter and spirit. In consequence matter and especially the human, body - the flesh as they called it - was intrinsically evil. Thus earthly life was evil, and above all, marriage, the' perpetuation of life was intrinsically evil. Their "perfect people", their " good people", were those who abstained from marriage. Now, celibacy was of course largely practised in the Catholic Church, but marriage was never regarded as evil in itself. Marriage was regarded as something holy; it was in fact - and still is today among Catholics - one of the Seven Sacraments with baptism, confirmation, penance, communion, last anointing and, Holy Orders. It was - and still is - celebrated before the altar and solemnly blessed during the Sacrifice of the Mass. The vow of chastity of priests, monks and nuns was a matter of free choice, of voluntary self-denial of a good thing for the sake of a higher motive.

The Albigenses stood on a totally different standpoint. The procreation of children was for them the supreme sin. A woman with child was described as having a devil, as possessed by the evil one. No one could be saved unless he renounced marriage. Even sins between unmarried folk, or unnatural crimes were looked upon as of less malice than marriage, for marriage was held to be the shameless flaunting of evil under the cover of legality, and there was less hope of repentance for so-called "wedded" folk.

As human nature was too strong to be overcome by Albigensian tenets, only the perfecti submitted to the full rigourism of this unnatural superstition, the bulk of their followers lived the ordinary human life. These people regarded the perfecti with a veneration bordering on worship and they lived in the hope that sometime before death they would also renounce all gratification of the flesh and receive "the consolamentum." When they had undergone this rite of complete renunciation, when in fear of death or in moments of fanaticism and there seemed danger of their returning to the ordinary ways of the world they often went on hunger strike and starved themselves to death. This death was often forced upon them by their Albigensian brethren, who refused all food and drink to the unfortunate victim, thereby thinking save him or her from eternal damnation. It is not contended that the perfecti were all people who were leading sinful, hypocritical lives, no doubt many were honest fanatics.

However, human nature being human nature, Albigensian tenets led to horrible depravity in many instances. Human nature cannot be thus violently outraged, without taking terrible revenge. The designation of les Bourges for the Albigenses registers the loathing of horror-struck Europe. The crusade proclaimed against them may in some cases have outstepped the limits of justice, but it was preferable to the irregular murders and lynchings in districts where the Albigensian fanaticism had wrought havoc in the home and destroyed family life together with marriage.

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, the generalissimo of the crusade, was a brave and noble figure. Saint Dominic and the first Friars Preachers in the thirteenth century (for it was in thirteenth not the fourteenth that the Albigensians flourished), were no cruel persecutors, on the contrary they lessened the horrors of the civil war in the south of France to the best of their power. Their word brought more people back from their monstrous superstition to common sense than the world ever did.

We must, however, never forget that Albigensianism was not really a heresy, against Christianity and the Catholic Church, it was a revolt against nature, a pestilential perversion of human instinct. If this abhorrence of marriage had spread, Europe would not indeed have died our for want of children, for after all nature is unconquerable and children would have been born notwithstanding the terrors of the consolamentum and the tyranny of the Algibensian hierarchy of elect. But Europe would have been filled with a race of degenerates, it would have become a sink of iniquity, The Albigensian Crusade was in the last instance a war of defence against the insidious force of a ghastly form of insanity masquerading under the cloak of religion.

That some of these fanatics were sincere, that some of "the elect" really led chaste lives, that they preached against immorality and commended purity, does not alter the question, it only made their influence the stronger for evil.

To picture the Albigenses as a sort of primitive Protestants, a kind of early Puritans, loving their Bible, stern but strict and upright, may have been the fashion in evangelical circles fifty years ago. but historical studies have dispelled that strange myth in more enlightened times.

Mrs. Grenside is, of course, better informed, she knows that Albigensianism is the antithesis to Christianity. Christianity is based on monotheism, the existence of one good and almighty God who created all things out of His power.

Albigensians looked upon this material world as the product of the spirit of darkness. Moreover, even amongst men, Albigensians taught a fundamental distinction. Some men derived their origin from the Evil One they could never become virtuous or gain happiness, they were simply creatures of the spirit of Evil, others were created by the Good God and, once they adopted Albigensian tenets and received the consolamentum they were indefectible in grace.

Although the Albigensians were radically opposed to Christianity and monotheism, they adopted some Christian terminology. The Son of the Evil Principle, Lucifer, seduced a host of celestial spirits and these spirits became incarnate in evil men and these were destined to eternal damnation. Even the new-born child, if dying immediately after birth, might be instantaneously damned, if his soul were an evil spirit. Christ, however, the Son of the good God, came on earth in a phantasm-body, not of course in a real body made of cursed matter, and Christ came to save the spirits of the good imprisoned in human bodies.

The practical working of these weird doctrines in the conduct of he masses can best be studied in the reports of the Christian officials charged with the conversion or the punishment of the offenders. It is almost a standing formula for their conversion to say: "He (of she) married." To acknowledge wedlock was the equivalent to cease to be an Albigensian, iniit matrimonium meant the man or woman returned to Christianity. The word endura was a term used by the Albigensians for hungerstrike of death, or the opening of the veins, or excessive bleeding to hasten death. This will explain the following words:

Dictus Hugo (Rubei) in quadam infirmitate, [is this really necessary - Ed.] de qua convaluit, fuit haereticatus per Petrum haereticum, et receptus est ad sectam et ordinem dicti haeretici, quam aliquibus diebus in dicta infirmitate tenuit et servavit, stans in endura, sed post modum ad instantiam matria suae comedit et convaluit. Item isto anno Petru Saneti haereticus invitavit ipsum, quod vellet se ponere in endura et facere bonum finem, sed ipse non consensit tunc, sed quando esset in ultimo vitae suae (Lib, sent. Ing., Tolos, p138 as quoted in Lunborch Historia, Inq, Amsterdam, 1610)

i.e. [surely 'id est' - Ed.]

"The aforesaid Hugh Rubei was received into heresy by Peter, a heretic, when he (Hugh) was on his sickbed, from which sickness, however, he recovered. He was received into the sect and order of the aforesaid heretic (Peter) and for some days during the aforesaid illness, persevered therein and observed it, by keeping the endura, but afterwards at the persistent imploring of his mother, he took food and recovered from his illness. This year again Peter Sancti, a heretic solicited him that he should put himself under endura and make a good end, but he (Hugh) did not consent to do it then, but when he would be at the end of his life."

The wild fanaticism wrought anarchy in the South of France. Some people unable to bear the total abstention of marriage held that it was permissible if the bride was a virgin and if the couple separated after the birth of the first child. Others again argued that since the material body was the creation of the Evil One and not of the good God, it did not matter what one did with the body, and thus gave way to all their passions. Others thinking flesh evil abstained from all animal food except fish and so on, and so on. The supreme act of heroism, suggested by the leaders of the sect was to starve oneself to death and so to have done with matter altogether.

To designate the attempt to stem this evil as " ecclesiastical persecution" is not fair to history. The great Innocent III, one of the soundest, sanest, most enlightened men of his time, was about he last man in the world to countenance persecution. At first the greatest leniency was used, only when the Albigenses had assassinated the Papal legate were stricter measures used. Secular princes rather than ecclesiastical leaders favoured the forcible suppression of the movement, though at last they persuaded the Pope to call it a crusade.

No doubt crimes were committed, but a true historian must never lose as sense of proportion. To suppress the endura was no more persecution than the suppression of suttee in India by the British. Church and State in the thirteenth century fought not mere abstract principles but a vigorous propaganda for practices incompatible with the peace and welfare of mankind.

The Need of a Philosophy (1923)

From The Philosopher Autumn edition, 1923


By G. K. Chesterton

2000 - the Editor adds:

In this early paper from the Journal, delivered orally, as was the early fashion, the sometimes lightly described 'Philosopher of fun', produces a powerful attack on two modern 'isms' that he accuses of being profoundly un-philosophical. If utilitarianism, ('brutalitrianism',) and relativism are allowed to become the modern way, "It means full steam in the darkness with lights out." 

Report of a lecture , given at the Lyceum Club, March 7th 1923 

The Lecturer prefaced his subject by an excuse for speaking to a philosophical society on Philosophy and described himself as "a little more of a charlatan than usual" yet, he went on to say, he did not intend to use the word in its academic sense, that is as it stands for a definite class of studies concerned with the relation of ideas to each other and the ultimate abstractions behind nature of things.

Mr. Chesterton illustrated his meaning with an example. There existed at one time at Oxford a man who was so impressed by the sound of the word qua that he proposed writing a book which should be called qua, qua, qua," in other words it might be termed the "As such in relation to the as suchness." Here we have a true illustration of pure philosophy. The lecturer repudiated for himself any such sort of quackery.

"I will not now speak of the word in its metaphysical sense," he said, "but will rather take it as a working philosophy - a practical view of life. There was a famous American who said that England had no weather, only samples. That is true today of modern views about life. They are scrappy. Now what is excellent as regards weather is not excellent as regards the things of the mind. Modern England has no thinking, only thoughts. Thoughts can be brilliant and suggestive - journalism, literature and fiction are full of random thoughts on human life - but thinking is something different and it is extraordinarily rare. Some people, especially those who do not think, imagine that thinking is a painful process, but to my mind it is the best game in the world, and connected thinking of some kind - knowing what you mean and not following catchwords - is necessary for us all.

"To summarise," continued the lecturer, "what began as free thought has now developed into freedom from thought. All through history, there have been broad conceptions of the aims of life, tests of morality which masses of men have held and applied with certainty; but in the modern,world these various systems have been abandoned and what is left of them is nothing but debris - a collection of broken bits, the ruins of past philosophies. There are some, like myself, who hold a mystical philosophy, a belief that behind human experience there are realities, powers of good and evil, and the final test for things is their influence for good or evil. The good power intends us to be happy and we are justified in being happy, but the real question is not whether we are happy, but whether, behind the things wherein we seek our happiness lies the, power of good. Are they parts of the good or of the evil?

"To take a typical case: that of Nero. It is possible to condemn him on merely social and practical grounds, burning people is a disintegrating element. Here is a good case for an utilitarian test. Nero was a nuisance. But there is the other point of view which holds that he was possessed with a positive passion for hurting people and that was not only an evil on account of what it produced, but was an evil in itself. It was not relative, not negative, but a positive poisonous thing in the soul of man that was in itself wholly evil. You may insist, in the Language of modern popular science that Nero was mad - what some of us would rather call possessed with a devil- but to say that such a state of mind is madness does not decide the issue. The ego in man in that condition,is evil in itself. It is akin to demonology. It is incidentally bad because it corrupts society but the harm done from that point of view is only a symbol, for it is really bad because it is related to evil realities that exist behind our life. It is not true to say that cruelty is bad because it destroys a community, it is rather true to say that it destroys because it is bad.

"Fragments of this philosophy remain in our minds and will not be expelled. We are surprised to find we do believe in the devil and that this is one of those philosophies that still lurks within us and has not yet been thrust out.

"For a while. in the 18th century. after the eclipse of the mystical Philosophy in the Western world, minds tended towards utilitarian views. Broadly speaking things were to be judged by their utility. 1. myself, think that this test fails. Yet it has produced two ideas which have remained tangled up with modern thought and have done little good. Some extreme utilitarians have maintained t theory that self-interest is identical with the interest of the community, contending that what is best for the individual is best for society at large. They have set themselves to prove this.

"But the thesis breaks down when a man's happiness is supposed to the good of the community. A man who is to be hanged for the good of society, if offered a chance to escape, will not argue that it is for his own advantage to be hanged because it is good for the rest of the world. Even apart from the powerful motive of self-interest in such a case, the only morality this philosophy has to offer is of a mean and timid nature. The argument is operative against generous and heroic action. The overthrow of some social convention for an ideal would, does not come within the scope of its doctrine and therefore the theory that every man benefits himself most as he helps his fellows falls to pieces. Yet the theory still hangs in the air.

"The second point in the utilitarian theory considered as 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number', would have much to be said for it, if it could be regarded as a clear-headed statement. But the question remains - Are you free to produce an intense amount of happiness for the few rather than a moderate happiness for the greatest number? The test fails philosophically although it still remains with us as a fragment from the past, for the theory has been invaded by the doctrine of evolution and of universalism, and these would make us ask -happiness for what? Fleas, cats, dogs, elephants?

"The utilitarians did assume that man had a special duty to man but the modern view is different - modern duties must now be equally guided by our relations to animals. The rights of animals is the subject of much controversy and discussion on the point is undetermined. Some people'' will eat fish and not meat. There was a man who would eat lobster sauce because it was at the cost of only one life, while he would not eat shrimp sauce because that was a holocaust. In any case it has been well put, that if animals have no rights man has duties to them.

The theory which corresponds with the Darwinian epoch, greatly upset the utilitarian philosophy, for it brought a greater unity between man and the animals. It did more than produce humanitarianism, it produced brutalitarianism. One of the popular results of the Darwinian epoch was to bring in a new theory of aristocracy; of the few above the many as a victory of the best. But, in the general inconsistency, this theory exists along's side with the others. It is not sorted out. The utilitarian might be asked with regard to the greatest happiness not only of what, but when? Is the sacrifice of the present,. good to be made for the sake of unborn millions in the future?

"Further the influence of evolution has produced all the nonsense talked about the superman. It was taken quite seriously some time ago. This theory became a cult. Nero was actually regarded as the forerunner of a race of giants - one man had his hair cut to imitate Nero. Man was to regard himself, not as a monkey to become in time a man, but as mud out of which a glorious idol was in be shaped. This was mere sophistry. It is not a true social utilitarian test but something impossible to apply. The question being: not is Nero serving hell or being a danger to society, but is he behaving as if he were the great-great-great-grand-father of the superman? Yet the philosophy hovers in our minds - 'Yes,' we say, 'it may be bad now, but a new generation brought up differently may judge otherwise.'

"Broadly speaking, the series of ideas - the old Christian idea of good and evil outside man, the utilitarian idea and the evolutionary idea of growth have none of them been definitely repudiated and abandoned, but neither have they been made into a definite philosophy. If you like you can take from each and form your own theory but they are not co-ordinated into a clear scheme of thought. There is a hubbub among them but no consistent view of the aim of life for ordinary purposes -[how?] education for instance - can be gained from them.

"I think the philosophy of growth is a sham. Bernard Shaw in 'Man and Superman' and Wells in 'Food for the gods' have put the extreme view forward. A race of giants is to be developed who, when it comes, will have a thin time, but will be able to comfort itself with the thought that it does not exist for happiness but for the growth of the future -for the yet greater giants who will follow.

"Men are weary of these views and presently a new philosophy will arise with some new test of right and wrong - fat things versus thin or some other way of dividing light from darkness. But it will still be a hotch-potch philosophy, it will not help the world for so far as modern society is moral it is living on the momentum of the past. Do not think that a purely evolutionary philosophy can be produced that will have men as large as churches in substitution for a church.

"it is necessary therefore for each of us to arrange an order in our thinking" and if you decide to accept these beliefs you must be able to explain why you believe them and how, and within what limitations. Without some such consecutive philosophy, society will become a monster without a brain. It means full steam in the darkness with lights out."

Inaugural Address of the Philosophical Society (1926)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXVIII No. 1 Special History Issue

Inaugural Address of the Philosophical Society, 1926

by Mr. G. K. Chesterton

Originally printed in The Philosopher,Volume. IV No. 3 .July-September 1927.

Account of the GENERAL MEETING on June 2nd, 1926, of the Philosophical Society, at the Lyceum Club, 138, Piccadilly.

The Rev. Elphinstone Rivers opened the meeting. Following a brief summary of the Annual Report and after alluding with satisfaction to the Society's progress during 1925, he mentioned 'one special cause for congratulation' - the election of Mr. G. K. Chesterton to the Presidentship. The inaugural address of the new President was reproduced in the Journal as below, inline with the convention of those early issues. (1999) The Editor adds: We may note the distinctive blend of spirituality, 'common sense' and good humour that the Society has continued to endorse for over three quarters of a century.

Mr. Chesterton began his remarks with an apology for being nearly an hour late owing to the disorganisation of the train service in his neighbourhood. I do not know with what philosophical sports you have entertained yourselves in the interval, said Mr. Chesterton, but I do know very well that at this time of day, it should be my duty ,s President rather to wind up than to open the meeting. I am somewhat in the position of the 'idiot' or, having regard to my present abode, I would say 'the village idiot,' unless you prefer the Greek word with its very different meaning, the [Mr Chesterton uses some impressive looking Greek Squiggles here - 'idiwthz' - that do not reproduce well these days] that ordinary, everyday private person who did not pretend to be a philosopher, at least, not in the really technical sense. I am that sort of person, and I share with the idiot the great quality of impartiality.

This afternoon I had to wait for the train for nearly three-quarters of an hour. While waiting, I looked around me at the others who were likewise waiting, and I need not emphasise that it was an occasion for philosophy. I do not know if the comments of my fellow travellers could be defined in terms of philosophy, but some of their language partook somewhat of the nature of theology, though it was mainly, I regret to say, referring to the lower rather than to the higher gods.

It set me thinking of the popular use of the term 'philosophy' which, in this case, was keeping one's temper when the train was late. It would not be an uninteresting subject for discussion - that of the philosophy of the large mass of the people in facing the various problems of life.

It is not the same as our own, that is, of members of such societies as ours. (Here I hasten to say that I am not condemning or contemptuous). I also was waiting far a train. I may claim also that I was following a philosophic train of thought. I love waiting for trains. Such philosophies as I have, I have often evolved while waiting at 'Clapham Junction'. I am one of those shameless beings who enjoy having nothing to do, but, unfortunately, it must be poor sport to have to wait for a train to those persons, and they seem to be in the majority, who have a positive dislike of having nothing to do.

I wish to acquit myself of the charge of contemptuousness. All my life I have endeavoured to explain that my sympathies are entirely with the mass of people in their ordinary instincts. I am not a highbrow. I realise that it i' this mass of normal people which keeps the world straight and that, without them, the world would soon qualify for a lunatic asylum.

For instance, when the German philosophic theory was expounded that God had committed suicide and the debris is ourselves flowing through space, I know very well that no great number of haberdashers, grocers or crossing sweepers would adopt that philosophy and I am certain that that scepticism and the refusal to accept such monstrous theories have been the preservation of civilisation.

So I am not speaking today at all contemptuously of my fellow-idiots, but I am, on this occasion, considering them in the light of their needs and how we can best render them assistance.

First of all, I would like to point out that most people who are interested in philosophical things are under some illusion as to what ordinary folk believe. We are inclined to think that people are a great deal more inspired by ideas, such as that the world grows better by continual social effort, that all men and nations, when they come to understand each other, will be as brothers. All such ideals are a sort of atmosphere which we philosophers take for granted. They are the air we breathe - sunlight, gaslight, moonshine, what you will.

But you will find that the greater part of human beings have an attitude of mistrust of the Universe and Humanity, their thinking is certainly not that of the 'hilarious highbrow.' If you talk to keepers of shops, to travellers, women who have to work very hard all their lives, you find that, though many of them are strong believers in orthodox religion, it is not too much to say that the majority have a melancholy and sad view of life, quite pagan in its fatalism. The general condition of stoical philosophy is chequered with other curious elements. There is generally a tinge of sadness. The belief in luck, for instance, generally bad luck. A man would probably not say 'I am a favourite of the gods,' but much more probably 'just like my luck.' It is the belief of the old heathen world as expressed in the great heathen religions through the ages. In all rude and simple tribes, the people do not feel safe with their gods: they will sometimes do you a good turn, but they are not to be trusted. Behind the gods there is something fixed, and immutable, Fate itself. This is not perhaps how the ordinary man of today waiting at Clapham Junction would put it.

If we are to popularise philosophy, which is one of the aims of this Society, it is important to know what the attitude of the mass of the people really is. We are not a propagandist Society (although I am personally always a propagandist), but it would be a great gain if we could show such people where these nebulous ideas would lead them, and if we could ask them, does the outcome satisfy them? You know, there is still a mystery about the religion of the ancient heathen world. It produced some of the greatest men that ever lived, who devoted themselves with a glorious and painstaking exactitude to the study of Philosophy, which has never been equalled, but it is very difficult for modern people to understand their attitude towards their gods. Far it is a peculiarity of the ancient world that religion and philosophy had nothing to do with each other. They moved in quite different spheres of thought. Their Philosophy was wonderfully clear - there is nothing in the least obscure about Plato and Aristotle. indeed what they taught seems at times astonishingly modern. Plato even sounds occasionally something like Bernard Shaw.

But when we consider what these old pagans thought about religion it is all wrapped in impenetrable mystery. How the old philosophers felt about their gods; how far some primitive truths and principles of piety and virtues clung round the altars to the very last; how far people were afraid of the gods, is I think extraordinarily difficult to understand. It is all utterly confused, and, although I am the last person to call myself a scholar, a true scholar would be reluctant to claim that he was able to solve such a problem.

For the vast mass of the people, religion was resignation, not joy; and that was combined with a sort of half-flippant, half superstitious belief in the notions of luck, or omens, of tricks and symbols.

Then came that great event, about which no man can impartial. It altered the entire realm of thought. Then, first in Christian tradition, philosophy and religion went hand in hand. In the pre-Christian era, there were believers who refused to study philosophy because of its complete severance from religion. The modern man equally refuses to study philosophy as it existed during that long period that stretches from Anno Domini up to the fall of mediaeval ideals, a period when philosophy and religion were interdependent studies. Thus, if you attempt to follow the history of ideas, about which the old Greeks would have discoursed for hours, you will inevitably fall into some mediaeval definition, yet to the modern mind, the opinions of thinkers and philosophers during this great period before the upheaval were only the hair-splittings of sectarians.

At the beginning of our era there were those who said 'We have now a sure theology, why bother about philosophy? Get rid of it. It is simply hair-splitting.' But these philosophies were never really killed, and it was their continual revival which was one of the causes of the conflicts and heresies of the Middle Ages. Because of the violent quarrels at the time of the Reformation, and because of the subsequent revolt against the whole of religion itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there has fallen a great indifference and silence concerning these historical facts. It has been very difficult to find out the story of human progress during the last two thousand years, when such facts have been dismissed as mere sectarian problems. All philosophy down to Voltaire was relegated to theological discussion.

In modern times we have Mr. H. G. Wells asking whether there is anything which is actually a thing, if it is not only in the act of becoming. Aristotle discussed the same question. The question would make a good parlour game and, incidentally, you would find yourself in the midst of the company of the mediaeval schoolmen and students. When I say, '1 saw an elephant,' I saw an elephant. When I say 'Give me an elephant, I want no other,' I take it that the actual thing has a nature of its own, is really an elephant, possessing body, not in the act of becoming one. Wells would maintain that there was no such thing as an elephant. 1, on the other hand, am a strong champion of the existence of the elephant. All human thinking in the main depends on the consciousness that we have of the thing in the mind. The tact that the form of an elephant exists in the mind is a proof of its existence. That is how the unbiased man in the street would put it, although the question is a game for philosophers.

If you would discuss fate or free will; if you would really learn about the history of thought, and how the human intellect has dealt with such problems in the past you will find yourself back in the turmoil of the middle ages, siding sooner or later with St. Augustine, or perhaps even in the company of Calvin. The religious history of the world during this great past must enter into any attempt at the popularisation of philosophy. In that great epoch before the upheaval, thought was not unintelligible, it was not a mass of superstition, its history has been covered by a cloud. Systematic popular study of its system and its teaching will oblige the modern man to be less prejudiced towards what is termed the squabbles of persons. He goes step by step through Greek history up to this immensely important age, and then stops dead until the seventeenth century, because he believes the interval is merely sectarian. But reason which refuses to cut off from the proper investigation of human thinking beyond a prescribed limit will acquire a wider outlook into the history of Christendom. The mass of our fellow citizens should not be robbed of knowledge by a kind of stale and vulgar secularism. There was something more in it than the history of Crusades and the terrors of the inquisition.

You will not popularise good abstract thinking by merely discussing concrete events, the personalities of sages and saints, and the quarrels of kings. I suggest to you that something should be done on the lines of Wells' 'Outlines of History' (only more correct). We should have a real outline of philosophy, but, in order to make it complete, we must not suppress the whole philosophic history of mediaevalism, one of the most intense and interesting epochs of civilisation in the history of mankind.