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English Philosophy in the Fifties

English Philosophy
in the Fifties
Jonathan Ree

If you asked me when was the best time for philosophy in
England in the twentieth century-for professional, academic
philosophy, that is – I would answer: the fifties, without a
doubt. And: the fifties, alas. * Under the leadership of
Gilbert Ryle and f.L. Austin, the career philosophers ofthat
period had their fair share of bigotry and evasiveness of
course; but they also faced up honestly and resourcefully to
some large and abidingly important theoretical issues.

Their headquarters were at that bastion of snobbery and
reaction, Oxford University; and by today’s standards they
were shameless about their social selectness. They also
helped philosophy on its sad journey towards being an
exclusively universitarian activity. But still, many of them
tried to write seriously and unpatronisingly for a larger
public, and some of them did it with outstanding success.

And collectively they resisted the temptations ofsophisticated
specialisation – the twin troughs of a blinkered technical
expertise which apes the manners of a normal scientific
research discipline, and total immersion in the exposition
and advocacy of one or two favourite authors. Like any
other bunch of academics, they could of course be trivial,
arrogant, clubbish and boring; but under the banner of a
‘revolution in philosophy’ they generated a collective verve
and excitement in English professional philosophy which
has no rival in the twentieth century.

In whatfollows I have tried to piece together their story
from a range of social, institutional, political, personal,
cultural and theoretical materials. If I give less space than
I might to the most celebrated writings from the period, this
is not in order to foreground social context at the expense
of theoretical content. Nor is it that I think these books are
not worth reading. On the contrary: but it is because the
philosophical achievements ofthose years -as ofany other,
I expect – have as much to do with sets of social habits,

* This is an adapted translation of an article written for a
seminar on philosophy in the fifties held in Paris in March
1988. A bewilderingly truncated version was published in
the proceedings (Pierre Bourdieu et aI., Les enjeux
philosophiques des annees 50, Paris, Centre Georges
Pompidou, 1989), and a brief summary in the Times Higher
Education Supplement, 10 March 1989.

Radlca’ Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

possibly unconscious, as with the contents of the books
which were destined to become classics. For these reasons,
I have not engaged with the high-altitude synoptic critiques
– notably those ofMarc use andAnderson – to which Oxford
philosophy has been subjected, either.}
The story I tell is meant to be an argument as well as a
factual record. It shows that although the proponents of the
Oxford philosophical revolution prided themselves on their
clarity, they never managed to be clear about what their
revolution amounted to. In itself this is not remarkable,
perhaps; but what is strange is that they were not at all
bothered by what was, one might have thought, quite an
important failure. This nonchalance corresponded, I believe, to their public-school style – regressive, insiderish,
and disconcertingly frivolous. But the deliquescent social
and theoretical manner, repellant as some of us may find it,
was also able, it seems, to open out onto some of the alpine
intellectual vistas of philosophy at its best.

P

rom a commercial point of view, English philosophy in
the 1950s was dominated by a single book. In terms of
market success, coverage in the high-brow weeklies, and
fame in the popular media, it completely outclassed the
competition. The entire print-run of 5000 copies was sold
on publication day, 28 May 1956, and a further 15,000 in the
next six months. 2 According to the Daily Mail, it was
enjoying ‘the most rapturous reception of any book since
the war’.3 The Evening News headlined’ A Major Writerand He’s 24′. A new philosophical genius was about to
burst on the scene, and he was going to ‘shock the arid little
academic philosophers a good deal’ .4
The brilliant young man was sponsored by what may be
called the inheritors of the spirit of the Bloomsbury Group.

They were not academics, but – in imagination at least independent intellectuals, living off inherited wealth
supplemented by their writing. If they had had a university
education, they would boast of having learnt nothing from
it. They regarded professional erudition, and the trades of
teaching or research, as tedious and degrading. Above all,
they prided themselves on their commanding view of
international cultural modernity. In fact they could be
3

suspected of an inverted cultural nationalism. The idea of
‘English culture’ struck them as pretty laughable. As far as
they were concerned, culture meant Europe, and especially
France. And French culture, as they understood it, was
essentially philosophical, comprising large reflections on
the human condition, of a kind that English brains seemed
incapable of producing.

During the fifties, the Bloomsburys controlled most of
the machinery ofliterary reception in England, especially in
the Sunday papers, the literary periodicals (such as
Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender, and The London
Magazine,editedbyJohnLehmann),andtheTimesLiterary
Supplement. 5 And they all did what they could to support
their philosophical prodigy. His book was dedicated to
Angus Wilson, and Edith Sitwell wrote a pre-publication
puff for the ‘astonishing’ work of this ‘truly great writer’.

Cyril Connolly’s review spoke of ‘one of the most remarkable first books I have read for a long time’. Elizabeth
Bowen was ‘thunderstruck’ by the intelligence of the
‘brilliant’ new philosopher; V.S. Pritchett found the book
‘dashing, learned and exact’; and Kenneth Walker said it
was ‘masterly’ and ‘the most remarkable book on which the
reviewer has ever had to pass judgement’.6 Philip Toynbee
called it ‘an exhaustive and luminously intelligent study …

of a kind which is too rare in England’. It was the sort of
book, in fact, that you might expect in France; ‘and what
makes the book truly astounding is that its alarmingly wellread author is only twenty-four years 0Id’.7
It certainly was an unusual work. It gathered diverse
information about a range of real and fictional characters T.E. Lawrence, Nijinsky, van Gogh, Nietzsche, William
Blake, Bernard Shaw, and the protagonists of novels by
Barbusse, Sartre, Camus, Hemingway, Joyce, Hesse and
Dostoievsky – in order to construct a composite portrait of
the hero of our time: the exile, the stranger, the marginal. He
was the sort of man (and it was definitely a man’s world)
who insisted on posing deep questions, concerning ‘the
problem ofpattern or purpose in life’. He was ‘the man who
sees “too deep and too much”‘. He could not ‘consider his
own existence or anyone else’s necessary.’ He was a loner,
‘cut off from other people by an intelligence that ruthlessly
destroys their values’. In the past, sad to say, such heroes
had always been misunderstood, not only by others but also
by themselves. Today, however, it was at last possible to
penetrate the mysteries of their ‘religious existentialism’

and ‘anti-humanism’: ‘if they had known themselves as
well as we know them, their lives need not have been tragic’ .

From now on these spiritual exiles were destined to occupy
the centre of the cultural stage. 8
The author’s title for the book was The Pain Threshold,
but the publisher changed it to The Outsider, thus making an
adroit allusion to Camus, whose novel of 1942, L’ etranger,
had been published in English under the same title in 1946.

It was an astute choice, because outsider could serve as a
name for the type of hero depicted in the book, and a byword
for all those who wanted to identify with him.

The author of The Outsider was Colin Wilson. Wilson
was born into a poor family in Leicester in 1931, and had
4

little formal education. From the age of sixteen, he earned
his living as an unskilled factory worker. He kept a journal,
and spent all his spare time reading. He married young, and
dreamed of becoming a writer some day. Eventually he left
home and set out for London. At night, he slept on Hampstead Heath; by day, he laboured on his masterpiece in the
British Museum.

Wilson’s success was part of a larger media confection:

the phenomenon of the ‘angry young man’. The phrase,
which was launched six weeks after The Outsider was
published, began as part of the publicity for a flagging
production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at the
Royal Court Theatre. 9 It was picked up in the Evening
Standard, and then used by Osborne in a Panorama
programme on BBC TV on 9 July. It caught on as a label not
only for Wilson and Osborne, but also for the novelists
Kingsley Amis (Lucky J im, 1954) and John W ain (Hurry on
Down, 1953). The idea of the angry young man was that he
was born to a working-class family in the early 1930s; he
was too young to fight in the war, but he benefited not only
from the Welfare State instituted by the Labour Government
of 1945, but also from the system of Grammar Schools set
up under the Butler Education Act of 1944, offering free
academic education to children who passed an intelligence
test at the age of eleven. After Grammar School, the angry
young man would probably have gone to university, but
only a modern provincial ‘redbrick’, not Oxford or
Cambridge. 10
It could be no surprise to the Bloomsburys that such
young men were lazy, loutish, and vindictive. As early as
1948, T.S. Eliot had warned against the ‘headlong rush to
educate everybody’ which was ‘destroying our ancient
edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian
nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanised
caravans. ’11 It was the same sort of people who would
demonstrate against intervention at Suez in 1956, and who
formed the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958.

The angry young man seemed to have history on his side,
however. An American commentator envied him, saying

The Brains Trust, 1961.

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

that ‘the young British writer has the inestimable advantage
of representing a new class’. The angry young man was on
his way to taking over the ‘the culture of his country’ from
the old Bloomsburys with their ‘blend of homosexual
sensibility, upper class aloofness, liberal politics, and avantgarde literary devices’. He was in the process of liberating
literature ‘from the tyranny of a taste based on a world of
wealth and leisure which has become quite unreal’ . 12
The view from Bloomsbury connected the angry young
men with the moral fervour which F.R. Leavis had brought
to the teaching of English Literature at Cambridge University
since the 1930s, and which had created many of the most
influential teachers in the Grammar Schools: provincial,
sincere, laborious, and earnest. 13 These schoolmasters
knew nothing of ‘the continent’ – its languages, its opera
houses, its galleries, its wines, its cooking, its literatures, its
landscapes. They drank warm beer in squalid pubs, and
doted on dull English humanistic realism as if international
modernism had never happened. The angry young man, in
short, represented everything in the England of the fifties
which offended and alarmed the Bloomsburys.

Of course this imaginary sociology was quite inaccurate:

the Bloomsburys were not necessarily rich, and many of the
angry young men were prosperous enough, and had been
educated at public school and Oxbridge. It nevertheless
helped define some of the issues at stake in the cultural
controversies of the time. Participants could advertise their
allegiances by how they chose to eat, drink, dress, speak or
make love. The angry young man would have a loud, rough
voice with a regional accent, and he would prefer the Anglosaxon to the latinate parts of the English language. The
Bloomsburys, however, would speak in a soft, precise,
upper-class and melodious voice and they would bestrew
their discourse with bits of French. They saw themselves as
representatives of belles lettres; they were the ancien regime,
the ‘candelabra and wine rentier writers … wincing with
distaste … quivering with nuance’. 14 Evelyn Waugh
discovered belatedly that the Butler Education Act had
‘nothing at all to do with the training of male indoorservants’ but provided instead for ‘the free distribution of
university degrees to the deserving poor’. The ‘grim young
people’ of’ l’ ecole de Butler,’ as he called it, were’ coming
off the assembly lines in their hundreds every year’, and,
worst of all, they were now ‘finding employment as critics,
even as poets and novelists’. 15
In reality, a fascination with’ French culture’ was common
amongst the younger English writers of the fifties. Plenty of
recent French novels and plays were available in translation;
but the real focus of interest was philosophy, which meant
the work of the’ existentialists’ – especially Sartre, Simone
de Beauvoir, Camus and Merleau-Ponty. From the mid
forties onwards, there were plenty of breathless primers
about what Jean Wahl called ‘The Philosophical School of
Paris’ ,16 and numerous translations of serious works of
philosophy too. I? Several English novelists nourished
themselves on French philosophy – authors like Angus
Wilson, William Golding, Anthony Burgess, Muriel Spark,
and Iris Murdoch. It gave them the idea of writing about
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

fundamental and extreme human situations; and as Iris
Murdoch put it in 1950, in an article on the future of the
novel, it meant the death of ‘la litterature morale’ and the
dawn of the era of’ la litterature metaphysique’ .18
The Outsider pleased the Bloomsburys because it seemed
to prove that, despite their fears, the ecole de Butler included
true intellectuals who not only loved French philosophical
culture, but also, from the bottom of their hearts, scorned
English provincialism and English academic life. Colin
Wilson was a native outsider, a home-grown existentialist.

As Philip Toynbee put it, Wilson had beaten the French at
their own game, and made ‘a real contribution to our
understanding of our present predicament. ’19 The Evening
News alluded to fears that ‘the Welfare State has killed the
thoughtful man by too much kindness, seducing him from
the wholehearted pursuit of his meditative ideal’. The
success of The Outsider reassured them: ‘Thank God’ , they
said, ‘it hasn’t’. 20
The first book on this philosophical phenomenon of the
fifties appeared in 1958. In The Angry Decade, Kenneth
Allsop lamented the British inability to produce intellectual
heroes alafranqaise. Britain was ‘infuriatingly innocent of
the facts of life’, and ‘insulated’ from vital currents of
European thought. ‘By the time they reach Britain, ideas
and intellectual argument are muddied,’ Allsop said: ‘they
get too shaken up in transit’. But Colin Wilson had broken
this pattern: he had recognised the greatness of ‘men like
Sartre, Camus and Beckett, and the German Hermann
Hesse.’ He had ‘tasted the deep vein of continental nihilism
and pessimism’ .21 England’s own existentialist concurred:

in laying his plans for ‘the new anti-humanist epoch’ he had
to acknowledge that ‘England is totally unaware of these
problems; intellectually, we have always been the most
backward country in the world. ’22

T

he success of The 0 utsider did not last long. Perhaps his
Bloomsbury sponsors began to fear that Wilson’s
devotion to natural ‘leaders’ and his beliefthat the mentally
ill ought to be shot were not after all the dernier cri of
continental philosophical depth.23 Certainly they suspected
that the vulgar appeal of Wilson – the ‘literary Elvis
Presley’ and ‘philosophical Tommy Steele,’ with his band
of ‘Spotty Nietzscheans’ – was getting out of hand. 24
Still, the splash made by The Outsider proved that Colin
Wilson was right about one thing: English philosophical
culture must have been in a sorry state if such a clumsy book
could be acclaimed by the literary and intellectual elite. But
it is not necessary to invoke a national incapacity for
philosophy in order to explain this weakness. The political
organisations which had fostered a mass interest in
‘proletarian philosophy’ between the wars were moribund. 25
The British (later Royal) Institute of Philosophy, founded
by Lord Balfour in 1925 to encourage the popularisation of
an idealist political philosophy of ‘citizenship’, had only
thousand members, but they were mostly elderly and the
Institute’s activities had an air of pastness, which even the
great efforts of its president, Viscount Samuel – elder
5

statesman and philosophical amateur, author of Belief and
Action: An Everyday Philosophy (1937) – were unable to
remove. 26
After the second World War, English philosophy had
retreated more and more from civil society, to isolate itself
in educational institutions. 27 It had almost no presence in
secondary schools, however, and even in the universities which were peripheral in any case, educating less than 4per
cent of the age-group at the beginning of the fifties – it was
only a minor discipline. In 1952, the two professional
philosophical organisations – the Mind Association and the
Aristotelian Society – had world-wide memberships of 477
and 287 respectively.28
The philosophical faculty of Oxford University, however,
was an exception. With about fifty teachers in 1950,
distributed over some thirty colleges, it was by far the
largest in England. (It was, indeed, the largest in the British
Isles; but Scotland, Ireland, and, to some extent, Wales
maintained their own traditions, and my story is only about
England.) In 1950 there were about three hundred students
who did some philosophy in their BA exams at Oxford – one
candidate in six. None of them was a specialist however: the
only way Oxford undergraduates could study philosophy
was by following either the ‘Greats’ course, where they
would spend at least half their time on Greek and Latin
classics, or the PPE or PPP course (‘Modem Greats’),
where they spent at least half their time on Politics,
Economics, Psychology or Physiology. And there were
only about a dozen’ graduate students’ – mostly Americans
– studying philosophy for the new-fangled qualifications of
BPhil and DPhil. 29
Cambridge University had two professors of philosophy
in 1950, and four lecturers. Each year about six students
took the philosophy exam (Moral Sciences Part 11). In
addition there were, as at Oxford, about ten graduate students.

Six hundred students sat University of London exams in arts
subjects in 1951, but only eight specialised in philosophy.

(On the other hand, hundreds of student-teachers took the
unprestigious exam in Philosophy of Education.) Finally,
the nine independent ‘civic’ universities in England
(Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Reading and Sheffield) each had a
professor of philosophy, and two or three lecturers. 3o
There were therefore about two hundred philosophy
teachers in England at the beginning of the fifties (a quarter
of them in Oxford), and perhaps five hundred students a
year sitting exams with a significant amount of philosophy
in them. Postgraduate studies in philosophy hardly existed:

there was no need for them as Universities were prepared to
recruit new philosophy teachers on the basis of personal
acquaintance and a BA degree. As AJ. Ayer was to say:

‘Having a doctorate was nothing to be proud of, rather the
reverse, since it implied that you had not been good enough
to obtain an appointment’ -‘ at the worst to a post in some
red-brick university’ – ‘on the strength of of your first
degree’ Y Furthermore, the idea of philosophy as a field of
academic research, rather than undergraduate teaching, did
not command much support. If philosophy teachers wished
6

to pursue original inquiries, it would be as proud amateurs,
in their long vacations or in retirement, rather than as part of
their paid work.

s

o it is not surprising that the guardians of English high
culture in the fifties were poorly informed about
philosophy: it was not well represented even in the English
universities. Still, Colin Wilson and the ‘School of Paris’

were not the only philosophers who received recognition in
London literary circles; there were also a few English
professional philosophers with a public reputation.

There was A.J. Ayer, for example, who was a professor
in London at the time. He was born in 1910, and educated
at Eton and Oxford. But his intellectual and political style
made his peers suspicious of him. Like Colin Wilson, he
wrote his first and most successful book when he was
twenty-four. Language, Truth and Logic was published in
a cheap format by the left-wing trade publisher Gollancz in
1936, and has sold better than any other English work of
professional philosophy this century. Its doctrines were
those of the ‘Logical Positivists’ of the Vienna Circle.

Ayer’s opening sentence stated bluntly that ‘the traditional
disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted
as they are unfruitful.’ His conclusion was that ‘philosophy
must develop into the logic of science’ and that ‘it is
necessary for a philosopher to become a scientist … if he is
to make any substantial contribution towards the growth of
human knowledge’. 32
Language, Truth and Logic was not liked by the
philosophical establishment. HJ. Paton, Professor of Moral
Philosophy at Oxford, said that Ayer had ” exposed the
nature of Logical Positivism, if I may so express myself, in
all its naked horror.’ Even twenty years later, he would
‘hesitate to repeat in print some of the things said about him
at the time’ .33 However, Ayer managed to make a vivid if
imprecise impression on a wider public, who applauded
him as a champion of modem scientific knowledge, and
even of the oppressed social classes, against the deadly
complacency of English cultural conservatism.

Visibly and audibly, Ayer modelled himself on Bertrand
Russell. Russell was born in 1872 into the highest ranks of
the English aristocracy, educated at home and then at
Cambridge University. He wrote (with A.N. Whitehead)
the most imposing English work of philosophy of the
century, thePrincipia Mathematica (1910-13). His politics
were openly radical: he was an atheist, a feminist, a partisan
in theory and practice of free divorce, and creator of an
experimental primary school. His pacifism cost him his job
at Cambridge in 1916, and six months in prison in 1918.

After that, he did not teach again in England except for
lecturing in Cambridge from 1944 to 1949. But he wrote
prolifically, always acting the part of the courageous nonconformist who has the nerve to ask a simple question, and
so puncture the pompous bluster which shields social
injustice from political criticism. The priggish cheek of the
introduction to his Sceptical Essays – which ‘captivated’

the young Ayer in 1928 – is typical of him:

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable
consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear
wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in
question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a
proposition when there is no ground whatever for
supposing it true. 34
In 1950, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature,
and throughout the following decade he continued to
publicise his radicalism, especially following his
participation in the creation of CND, which, in 1961, led to
his second period in an English prison, this time at the age
of89.

of Leftism’ .37
Ayer’s public fame as an iconoclastic radical clearthinker from the same mould as Russell was secured by his
participation in the BBC’s Brains Trust programme,
broadcast weekly first on radio, then on TV. In this capacity
he also replaced the third English public professional
philosopher of the post-war period, C.E.M. Joad. Joad was
born in 1891, son of a provincial university teacher. He was
educated at Oxford, entered the civil service, but left in 1930
to become head of the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck
College, which gave evening courses to part-time students
leading to London University degrees. Through his teaching
there, and numerous plain and unintimidating books, Joad
introduced hundreds of people to Plato, Aristotle and Russell,
and to general metaphysics conceived as a justification for
mildly progressive politics and a protection against nihilistic
scepticism. During the 1940s his work on the radio version
of the Brains Trust, with his celebrated catch-phrase ‘it
depends what you mean by … ‘ gave many listeners their
only inkling of the procedures of professional philosophy.

But Joad was not respected by his colleagues. He was
proud of his doctorate, and liked to be called ‘Dr J oad’ ,
which excited their humorous contempt. He naturally
preferred to be called ‘Professor’, though he had no right to
the title. People said he took all his ideas and phrases from
Russell, who is reported to have refused to review his books
because ‘modesty forbids.’ Russell despised him anyway,
and deliberately mispronounced his name as ‘Jo-ad’, with
two syllables, as ifhe were an old testament prophet. 38 Like
the rest of the philosophical establishment, he was amused
when, in 1948, the self-righteous Joad was convicted for
travelling by train without a ticket – a disgrace which, in
those days, precluded any further work for the BBC.

R
A.J. Ayer in the early 1950s.

Ayer shared some of Russell’s radicalism. He was
divorced, and enjoyed a reputation as a womaniser. He
advertised his atheism, his hatred of the Tories, and his
active support for Labour in politics and Spurs in football.

He played an important part in the Campaign for Homosexual
Law Reform, though always keen to emphasise that he had
no personal stake in the issue. He was naturally asked for his
verdict on The 0 utsider, and was one of the few to be critical
of it. 35 To the Bloomsburys, therefore, Ayer could be seen,
with Leavis, as a pioneer of the conscientious gracelessness
of the new generation. 36 In an anonymous leading article in
1957, the Times Literary Supplement tried to reassure its
readers that Ayer’s hostility to metaphysics was part of the
now withered ‘Leftist tendencies’ of the thirties. In those
days, thanks to Language, Truth and Logic, ‘logical
positivism successfully carried the red flag into the citadel
of Oxford philosophy.’ (And readers would recall that
‘Marx himselfhad been a great enemy of metaphysics’ too.)
But now, at last, ‘philosophy has been purged of any taint
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

ussell, Ayer and Joad were by far the best-known
English philosophers of the fifties – apart from Colin
Wilson, that is. But Russell was already very old, and Joad
had become ridiculous well before his death in 1953. Thus
it became the common opinion that English philosophy was
dominated by scientistic Logical Positivism, and that the
‘school of English philosopers’ as Colin Wilson put it, was
‘led by Professor Ayer’ .39 In fact, though, nearly all the
energy of English academic philosophy in the fifties came
from Oxford, where attitudes to Positivism and A.J. Ayer
were cool, to say the least.

The dominant philosophical journal of the time was
Mind, and at the end of 1947 the editorship was transferred
from G .E. Moore, professor of philosophy at Cambridge, to
Gilbert Ryle, who had been teaching at Oxford since 1924,
and became a professor there in 1945. In the Oxford of the
thirties, Ryle was the only teacher who kept in touch with
contemporary European philosophy, and he criticised the
broad idealism of R.G. Collingwood as hopelessly oldfashioned. Ryle was initially a follower of Croce, and in
1929 he published a perceptive essay on Heidegger’ s Being
and Time – which, he claimed, ‘marks a big advance in the
application of the “Phenomenological Method” – though I
7

may say at once that I suspect that this advance is an advance
towards disaster’ .40 Ryle also introduced his students to the
work of Wittgenstein, who was then unknown in Oxford,
and Jean Nicod; in 1932, it was Ryle who advised his
student A.J. Ayer to go and study in Vienna. 41
Once installed as editor of Mind, Ryle launched what
looks in retrospect like a systematic campaign to conquer
the commanding heights of philosophy in England and its
cultural colonies. He gathered together about twenty
colleagues in Oxford, all considerably younger than
himself. 42 By galvanising them into writing, especially
about each other, in the pages of Mind, he gave English
academic philosophy in the fifties an energy and sense of
purpose such as it has never had before or since.

One ofRyle’s main lieutenants was P.F. Strawson, who
was to look back over the decade with extraordinary
wistfulness. In an anonymous lead article in the Times
Literary Supplement in 1960, he recalled that the late forties
and early fifties had brought with them ‘a new method, a
new idea, in English philosophy’. The new technique
opened up ‘a whole world of infinite subtlety and diversity’

and ‘captured the imaginations’ of many students just as
university life was starting up again after the war. The
revolutionary ‘linguistic method’ meant that’ a new level of
refinement and accuracy in conceptual awareness’ had
become attainable. It seemed likely that all the problems of
philosophy would soon be definitively solved, and people
debated how long it would take to ‘finish off’ the subject
completely. Philosophy at the beginning of the fifties was,
in short, in ‘a revolutionary situation in which every new
move was delightfully subversive and liberating’ .43 One
fine summer’s day, in fact, a young man who was strolling
down Turl Street in Oxford with the elderly Professor Paton
was inspired to exclaim: ‘Never has there been such a
blooming of philosophy in the whole history of the world’ .

(‘ An almost lyrical remark’ , as Paton commented, and one
with which he heartily disagreed.)44
The golden age of Oxford philosophy opened with the
publication ofRyle’ s The Concept ofMind in 1949, and was
maintained until 1959, which saw the publication of
Strawson’s Individuals, and· Thought and Action by Stuart
Hampshire. But though the organisational leadership was
provided by Ryle, the intellectual inspiration came from
someone else – J.L. Austin, who was born in 1910. The
happy period closed with his sudden death in February
1960. By that time, as Strawson put it, ‘the revolutionary
ferment had quite subsided’ .45
At the time of his death, the bibliography of Austin’s
works comprised – apart from a few reviews and a translation
of Frege – just three lectures and four symposium papers,
published over a period of twenty years. All were written in
the shiniest prose, rhythmically ingratiating, mannered, and
not afraid of seeming pleased with itself. (One lecture
begins, for example: ‘Are cans constitutionally iffy?

Whenever, that is, we say that we can do something, is there
an ifin the offing – suppressed, it may be, but due nevertheless
to appear when we set out our sentence in full or when we
give an explanation of its meaning? ’46) Their arguments are
8

cryptic, however, and their conclusions elusive, so a reader
is liable to end up unsure what Austin was really trying to
say. Buthe was, in his way, a powerful lecturer-on account,
paradoxically, of his asperity, and his complete lack of
animation and humour. The journalist Ved Mehta attended
one of his lectures, ‘just out of curiosity,’ and was’ entranced
by his performance. ‘

To look at, he was a tall and thin man, a sort of parody
on the dessicated don. His face suggested an osprey.

His voice was flat and metallic, and seemed to be
stuck on a note of disillusion. It sounded like a
telephone speaking by itself. The day I was present,
he opened his lecture by reading aloud a page from
Ayer’s The Problem of Knowledge. He read it in a
convincing way, and then he began taking it to bits:

‘What does he mean by this?’ … I was told that Austin
performed like this every day, mocking, ridiculing,
caricaturing, exaggerating, never flagging in his work
of demolition, while the sceptical undergraduates
watched, amused and bemused, for behind the
performance – the legend – there was the voice of
distilled intelligence. 47
For his disciple G.J. Warnock, Austin was a genius, even
though he might not live up to the popular idea of one.

Nevertheless, he did succeed in haunting most of the
philosophers in England, and to his colleagues it
seemed that his terrifying intelligence was never at
rest. Many of them used to wake up in the night with
a vision of the stringy, wiry Austin standing over
their pillow like a bird of prey. Their daylight hours
were no better. They would write some philosophical
sentences and then read them over as Austin might,
in an expressionless, frigid voice, and their blood
would run cold. Some of them were so intimidated by
the mere fact of his existence that they weren’t able
to publish a single article during his lifetime’ .48

L

ike the Logical Positivists, the Oxford philosophers
were united by a conviction that ‘traditional
metaphysics’ was thoroughly misconceived. Ryle’s The
Concept of Mind embodied this approach by arguing that
metaphysical positions such as Idealism and Materialism
were based on a failure to see that mental words should be
analysed in terms of’ dispositional’ or hypothetical sentences
as opposed to categorical ones. This analysis, which was
supposed to dispose of the ‘mythical’ idea of the mind as ‘a
ghost in the machine, ‘ provided the starting point for one of
the central preoccupations of Oxford philosophy:

‘Philosophy of Mind’ or ‘Philosophical Psychology.’

But the Oxfordians were also concerned with ethics (or
rather meta-ethics, as some ofthem called it, since what was
at stake was the status of ethical thinking in general, rather
than any specific questions of right and wrong). Here the
canonical text was R.M. Hare’s The Language of Morals
(1952). Hare maintained that, while the positivists were
right to reject the idea that moral judgements could be
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

objectively true or false, they were wrong to conclude that
moral principles were no more than projected private
emotions. They had neglected the ‘logic’ of moral choice.

According to Hare, moral discourse consisted in
‘prescriptions’ . What differentiated moral prescriptions
from ordinary ones was that they were ‘universalisable’:

you had to apply them to everyone, including yourself. The
beauty of this theory was that it combined a disillusionment
with the idea of objective ethical values, with a belief in
inescapable norms of behaviour. In fact Hare’s theory was
worked out while he was a prisoner of war in Singapore and
Thailand: it was in this ‘constantly disintegrating situation,’

as he recalled, that he reached the conclusion that it was
pointless and dangerous to look for a foundation for values
in the facts of society or nature. 49 And his proposal had a
distinctly progressivist aspect, since it was meant to destroy
the metaphysical prejudices which encouraged people to
‘rest content with their society’s way of life’.50 Hare’s
argument, however, drew not on endlessly debatable matters
of prior political allegiance, but on sharp, dry considerations
about the logic of moral language.

If there was a single dominant theme in English high
culture in the fifties, it was a taste for austerity, and dislike
of ‘romantic reaction’ Y The rejection of metaphysics by
the Oxford philosophers participated in the same puritanical
mood. J.L. Austin called Ryle as ‘a philosophe terrible’,
and Stuart Hampshire noticed that The Concept of Mind
expressed ‘a sharply personal and definite view of the
world: a world of solid and manageable objects, without
hidden recesses, each visibly functioning in its own
appropriate pattern. ’52 Iris Murdoch described Hare’s Language ofMorals as ‘expressing the current position’ because
of its’ elimination of metaphysics from ethics’. It presented
us, as she said with a certain awe, with’ a stripped and empty
scene’ .53 These same attitudes could be detected, if one
cared to look for them, in the Festival of Britain, the
architecture of the Royal Festival Hall, and in Benjamin
Britten’s Billy Budd, the sculptures of Henry Moore, the
paintings of Ben Nicholson, and the work of ‘Movement’

poets such as Phi lip Larkin. 54
The theme of austerity links the Oxford philosophers not
only with Logical Positivism but also with the
‘existentialism’ that excited Colin Wilson and his admirers:

in Ry le, as in Sartre, there was a rejection of the’ cartesian’

conception of a cozy innet world of private subjectivity; in
Hare, as in Camus, an affirmation of moral responsibility
despite the collapse in the credibility of any metaphysical
foundations for morals.

These similarities did not fail to strike Dr Joad, who in
his last years became a Christian and felt obliged, as a
consequence, to defend ‘metaphysics’ from the atheism,
immoralism, nihilism and vulgarity which he saw spreading
all around him. In 1948, he contributed a pseudonymous
attack on Oxford philosophy to the New Statesman. In
Oxford, he claimed, Language, Truth and Logic had
‘acquired almost the status of a philosophic Bible’. This
was fostering ‘anti -aesthetic Philistinism,’ and – though
there might be ‘no direct connection between Logical
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

Positivism and Fascism’ – Joad expected that Fascism
would soon come in to fill up ‘the vacuum left by an absence
of concern with fundamental human values’.

Ayer – who was more accustomed to accusations of
Bolshevism than of Fascism – pointed out in reply that
Fascists tended to favour metaphysics, but Joad responded
by calling on philosophers to return to their traditional duty
of ‘revealing truth and increasing virtue’. If Ayer was right,
he concluded dolefully, ‘philosophy has no wisdom to offer
the young and no light or leading to give to the times’ .55 In
a book designed to substantiate his accusations, J oad argued
that the tendency of Logical Positivism was to pull down all
the barriers that ought to prevent a person from leading ‘that
life which Plato called “democratic” – a Bohemian in art, a
Laodicean in affairs, a sceptic in philosophy and religion, an
inconstant in love and a dilettante in life. ’56
But the adoption of attitudes for or against ‘metaphysics’ ,
‘romanticism’ and ‘virtue’ may not have had much to do
with the real springs of initiative in English professional
philosophy in the fifties. The Oxford philosophers were
certainly opposed to metaphysics, but they were also, and
more vehemently, opposed to positivism. Indeed Joad
himself referred to ‘a well-known Oxford historian’ who
claimed that Oxford philosophy spent all its time’ debating
whether it was once correct to describe it as logical
positivism’.57 If Oxford philosophers advised their students
to read Language , TruthandLogic, itwas for its prose rather
than its doctrines. Austin devoted several of his lecture
courses to the destruction of Ayer, and G.J. Warnock fell
into the language of defendants before McCarthy’s
Unamerican Activities Committee when he affirmed ‘I
would like to say in very plain terms that I am not, nor is any
philosopher of my acquaintance, a Logical Positivist’ .58
A.J. Ayer himself would claim that – ‘in a way’ – Logical
Positivism was’ a thing of the past’. 59 In 1959 he was at last
given a Professorship at Oxford. Ryle openly told him that
he had opposed the appointment; but Austin was not so
frank. Hostility to luxuriant metaphysics was not, on its
own, the secret of the Oxfordian revolution. 60

W

hat the Oxford revolutionaries prided themselves on
was not their hostility to metaphysics – which they
shared with Logical Positivism and Existentialism – but the
special kind of precaution they took against it: the’ linguistic’

method. The idea was that metaphysics arose from
misunderstandings of ‘ordinary language’. The remedy
would be to get a clearer picture of how ‘ordinary language’

really functions; and the only way to do this was through the
techniques developed, above all, by J.L. Austin.

During the fifties, Austin presided over an informal
seminar, the’ Saturday mornings’ , attended by a dozen or so
of his younger colleagues (Ryle was thus excluded).

Sometimes Austin led the discussion, and on other occasions
they read together – Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Frege, MerleauPonty, Chomsky. Or rather they read brief passages, for
Geoffrey Wamock recalled that’ Austin’s favoured unit of
discussion in such cases was the sentence, – not the paragraph
9

Peter Strawson, Oxford, 1975.

or chapter, still less the book as a whole’. His assumption
was that books should be read ‘by taking the sentences one
at a time, thoroughly settling the sense (or hash) of each
before proceeding to the next one’. (This method of
reading, as Warnock admits, ‘naturally worked out rather
slowly’.) They also used to make lists of English words and
phrases and try to discriminate their meanings: for example,
disposition, trait, propensity, characteristic, habit,
inclination, and tendency; or tool, instrument, implement,
utensil, appliance, equipment, apparatus, gear, kit, device,
and gimmick; or highly, and very. The idea was to reveal the
intellectual riches that were sedimented in natural languages:

‘How clever language is!’ as H.P. Grice exclaimed. 61 The
Oxford philosophers would turn these riches to theoretical
use, so confounding the traditional metaphysicians, who
had not been aware of the pearls spread before them, and
spurning the Logical Positivists too, who had turned away
from ordinary language towards the false gods of science
and formal logic.

The Austinian method was soon transformed, at Oxford,
into a new discipline, Philosophical Logic, which formed
the third part of Oxford philosophy, alongside Philosophy
of Mind and Ethics. Its architect was P.F. Strawson, who
defined its principles in an essay which appeared in Mind in
1950. It was meant as a demolition of Russell, but it
concluded with a bold dismissal of the claims of formal
logic in general. ‘Neither Aristotelian nor Russellian rules’,
Strawson says, ‘give the exact logic of any expression of

10

ordinary language; for ordinary language has no exact
logic’.62 This argument was blatantly question-begging of
course: if formal logic and ordinary language diverge, it
cannot be assumed that the fault lies with formal logic. But
perhaps what the Oxfordians objected to in Russell was not
his preference for formal logic over ordinary language, but
– as Warnock was to put it – his Procrustean attempt to
‘impose the neat simplicities of logic upon the troublesome
complexities of language’. 63 This too might seem
inconclusive: the Russellians could argue that logic described
not the vagaries of surface grammar, but the immovable
structures of valid reasoning as such. But in that case, the
Oxfordians could reply, in a phrase of Iris Murdoch’s:

‘there may be no deep structure’ .64
The affection of the Oxford philosophers for ordinary
language was open to another obvious objection: even if
ordinary language does embody some subtle distinctions,
they may not be particularly intelligent ones. Russell had
already pointed this out in 1914 when he spoke of the ‘the
prehistoric metaphysicians to whom common sense is due’ .65
And he restated it forty years later when retaliating against
attacks from the Oxfordians. He described them as ‘the
“Philosophy-Without-Tears” School, so named because it
makes philosophy very much easier than it has ever been
before: in order to be a competent philosopher, it is only
necessary to study Fowler’s Modern English Usage’. Oxford
philosophy was concerned, Russell said, ‘not with the
world and our relation to it, but only with the different ways
in which silly people can say silly things. ’66
‘I don’t like Oxford philosophers’, he told Ved Mehta.

‘Don’t like them. They have made trivial sQmething very
great. Don’t think much of their apostle Ryle. He’s just
another clever man’ .67 Ryle, he wrote on another occasion,
‘seems to believe that a philosopher need not know anything
scientific beyond what was known in the time of our
ancestors when they died themselves with woad. ’68
The Oxford philosophers were curiously unperturbed by
this criticism. A lecture Austin gave in 1956 contained one
of their few attempts at a methodological manifesto, and it
was hardly a rallying-cry. ‘To proceed from “ordinary
language” , that is, by examining what we should say when’

is, Austin claims, ‘at least one philosophical method’. In
response to Russell’s disparagement of ‘the metaphysics of
the Stone Age’ Austin observed that
our common stock of words embodies all the
distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the
connexions they have found worth marking, in the
lifetimes of many generations: these surely are likely
to be more numerous, more sound, since they have
stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest,
and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably
practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to
think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon – the most
favoured alternative method.

But if this defence should fail, Austin added that, since
‘words are our tools’, it must be a good idea to try to ‘prise

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

them off the world’ if only in order to ‘realize their
inadequacies and arbitrariness’, and ‘forearm ourselves
against the traps that language sets us’. This is a fair precept,
no doubt; but as a response to Russell’s criticisms, it seems
wilfully feeble. Austin said he was not seeking for ‘the Last
Word … if there is such a thing’, as though he found it
impertinent to ask what was special about the supposedly
revolutionary philosophical school of which he was the
intellectual leader. ‘So much for the cackle’ – that is how
Austin concluded his methodological manifesto for ordinary
language philosophy. 69

I

t was as if the Oxford philosophers could not bear to
discuss the new method which was supposed to set them
apart from their predecessors. It may be indeed that what
distinguished them from the Positivists and the Russellians
and indeed the Existentialists was not any methodological
programme, but something which belonged to what might
be called their collective institutional unconscious. R.M.

Hare brought some of its features to light in a lecture
designed to explain’ Philosophy in Great Britain’ to German
audiences. He suggested that the revolution he represented
was based not so much on a theory of philosophical method
as on the pedagogical practices of Oxford University. ‘We
have seen’ , he said, ‘what monstrous philosophical edifices
have been erected by slipping, surreptitiously, from the
ordinary uses of words to extraordinary uses which are
never explained; we spend most of our working time
explaining our own uses of words to our pupils’. 70 This
peculiar behaviour took place in the individual tutorials
which had typified Oxford education since the middle of the
nineteenth century. The student would visit a tutor’s room
once a week and read out an essay. Tutors might reciprocate
with helpful information; but often they would respond
with the simple but petrifying question, ‘what exactly do
you mean by this word?’ Or sometimes, like the great
Victorian tutor Benjamin Jowett, they would maintain a
menacing gloomy silence until finally their trembling young
charge was dismissed.

The effect of the system on both students and teachers
was, as Hare observed, quite profound.

I

The student is very soon made to realize that
everything that he says in an essay has to be justified
before a highly skilled and usually merciless critic,
not only in respect of its truth, but also in respect of
relevance, accuracy, significance and clarity.

Anything that is put in to fill in space, or which is
ambiguous or vague or pretentious, or which contains
more sound than significance, or whose object is
anything else but to express genuine thought, is
ruthlessly exposed for what it is …. What the tutor can
do is to teach his pupil to think effectively; to express
his thought clearly to himself and to others; to make
distinctions where there are distinctions to be made,
and thus avoid unnecessary confusion – and not to
use long words (or short ones) without being able to
explain what they mean.71

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

For students, the educational value of tutorials was that they
frightened them into internalising some rigorous norms of
intellectual or at least verbal continence. (And perhaps for
the Oxford philosophy tutors of that time, they also had the
psychical function of discharging the terror inspired in them
by Austin.)
Tutorials could be described as providing an arena for
exercises in translation and paraphrase. Ever since the
Renaissance, after all, humanistic education had centered
on translating between ancient and modern languages, so as
to make linguistic sensibilities more supple and self-aware.

In the twentieth century, the same benefits were looked for
within a single language. The educational advantages of
intra-linguistic translation had been theorised in England in
the twenties and thirties by the followers of Bentham and
Nietzsche who supported the cause of Basic English – an
artificial dialect which was supposed to be able to
communicate almost any conceivable message, using only
a very simple vocabulary of 850 words.72 It is well-known
that – thanks especially to LA. Richards and William
Empson – Basic English had a lasting effect on the formation
of English Literature as an academic discipline; but it
probably had just as much bearing on the development of
English philosophy. For, though it may have advertised
itself as proposing a philosophical theory of language and
a linguistic theory of philosophy, in reality what it offered
was a linguistic, and primarily oral, practice of
philosophising. English philosophy became an infinite
practice of translation – most especially, the translation of
vague, figurative, confused or metaphysical expressions
into the simplest and most austere language that could be
devised. (For the Russellians, the target larigmige was
formal logic; for the Oxfordians, it was plain-style English.)
Those who had been drilled in it would for ever after
respond to questions by re-phrasing them; only then (if
ever) would they proceed to an answer. Philosophy in this
context was not a set of texts or theories, but a habit of
prophylactic paraphrase, based on Rylean ‘anti-nonsense
rules’.73 Its aim was to promote mental hygiene and prevent
the development of what Austin called ‘chuckleheadedness’ .74
In principle, tutorials could be the vehicle for all sorts of
theoretical messages; but for the Oxford philosophers the
form of the tutorial defined the content and goals of their
discipline too. Tutors found themselves obliged to invent a
new type of exam question to test the effectiveness of their
work: questions calling for quick-witted reflection on
linguistic forms, rather than the exposition or criticism of
established bodies of theory. A typical new-style question
from Ryle might be: ‘Why cannot a traveller reach London
gradually?’ Austin would prefer ‘Why is ‘I warn you … ‘the
beginning of a warning, but “I insult you … ” not the beginning
of an insult? ’75

H

istorical and textual scholarship were not a high
priority for the Oxford philosophers. ‘On the whole

11

we share Plato’s attitude towards the written word; it is apis
aller,’ as Hare put it.

British philosophers, by and large, will not be bothered
with a philosophical thesis which is not stated briefly
and in clear terms …. So on the whole we do not write
long or difficult books; if our ideas are understood by
our colleagues in the course of verbal discussion, that
is enough for us …. We do not think it a duty to write
books; still less do we think it a duty to read more than
a few of the books which others write. 76
But despite their cultivated indifference to historical
scholarship, the Oxford philosophers had a clear sense of
history and their place in it. ‘The wise rambler’, as Ryle put
it, must occasionally ‘look back over his shoulder in order
to link up the place he has got to with the country through
which he has recently passed.’ The ‘revolution in
philosophy,’ he believed, was connected with the’ laicizing
of our culture’ on the one hand, and the ‘professionalizing
of philosophy’ on the other. As an undergraduate in the
1920s, he had found that philosophy had already lost all
connection with theology, and the agonies of faith and
doubt; since then it had developed into’ a separate academic
subject, ‘ and, whether they liked it or not, ‘philosophers had
now to be philosophers’ philosophers’. 77
‘Ontologising is out, ‘ said Ry le; philosophy’s only future
was as ‘a second-order business’ , whose proper domain was
not reality itself, but the words and concepts with which
people try to pin it down.78 At the beginning of the fifties,
Strawson had promised that with the new philosophical
logic he was ‘on the way to solving a number of ancient
logical and metaphysical puzzles’ ,79 and R.M. Hare found
that progress in ethical theory was so rapid that a book
would become out of date between composition and
publication. 80 One of the enthusiasts – an unidentified
‘lady’ – is said to have opened an argument with the phrase,
‘now that we have escaped from the age of error’ .81
Afterwards, Strawson recalled people assuming that all the
‘ancient rubbish’ would soon be carted away and that ‘the
total dissolution’ of all the old problems and the ‘final
extinction’ of metaphysics were ‘foreseeably near’ .82
The Oxford revolutionaries accepted that they had some
debts to the past however. On its publication in 1949, Stuart
Hampshire hailed The Concept of Mind as the culmination
of a development of certain ‘methods oflinguistic analysis’

of which there had been ‘many guarded adumbrations and
esoteric hints in British philosophy in the last fifteen years. ’83
At the same time, recognition was given to the achievements
of an earlier revolution – the ‘revolution against idealism’

which had been carried out, or so they supposed, by G.E.

Moore and Bertrand Russell in about 1900, in Cambridge.

(Very slowly, though, it came to be acknowledged that
some of the credit for creating modem ‘philosophical logic ‘

should be passed further back, and over the channel, to
Gottlob Frege.)84
As the Oxfordians saw it, the post-idealist settlement
divided into two wings, one loyal to Russell, the other to
Moore. Russell’s wing was called philosophical analysis,
12

and was boosted by the adherence of the young
Wittgenstein. 85 Russell and Wittgenstein tried to get behind
what they regarded as the messy forms of everyday thought,
in order to discover a structural skeleton of formal logic,
based on a foundation of incontrovertible empirical
knowledge. But, from the Oxfordian point of view, their
project was ill-conceived. The Russellians aimed to avoid
metaphysics, but they failed to see that natural science and
formal logic were themselves metaphysical. 86 Formal logic,
moreover – as opposed to the ‘informal’ or ‘philosophical’

variety being developed by Strawson – was of no more
relevance to philosophy than any other branch of
mathematics. 87 Scientistic philosophers might be brilliant
at ‘formal demonstrations and derivations’ , but that did not
save their ‘philosophising’ from being hopelessly poor.88
The revolutionaries felt more affinity with Moore’ s side
of the post-idealist settlement. Moore’ s writings made a
virtue of proceeding very, very slowly, clinging desperately
to the intuitions of common sense for fear of being blown
away by gusty speculation, and Oxford philosophy can be
seen as a linguistified version of Moorean caution. 89 The
Oxfordians were sorry that Moore viewed moral values as
objective qualities, and that to this extent he was ‘not wholly
of the modem time’ .90 B ut they forgave him because of his
exemplary philosophical courage – a ‘courage to seem
naive’, which found expression not so much in Moore’ s
writings as in his conversation, and indeed in his celebrated
seraphic silences. 91 Repeatedly, Moore was compared to
the child in Hans Christian Andersen’ s tale, who had the
courage to say that the emperor had no clothes. Andersen’ s
brave little boy was a model with which all the Oxford
philosophers liked to identify.92
. .

But Moore was eclipsed by another figure, far more
exotic and controversial, and the only person in twentiethcentury English philosophy who conducted himself in a
way that corresponded to the popular idea of a tormented
genius. At the beginning of 1950, in the introduction to the
first anthology representing the new philosophical school,
Antony Flew asserted that all those associated with it
‘would wish to acknowledge their debt to the genius of one
man above all’. He was referring to someone ‘whose name
is almost unknown outside the world of academic
philosophy,’ although ‘everyone who belongs to that world
will see throughout this volume marks of the enormous
influence, direct and indirect, of the oral teachings of
Professor Wittgenstein’ .93
For the purposes of the Oxford philosophers, it was
necessary to make a sharp distinction between two
Wittgensteins. The early Wittgenstein, comrade-in-arms of
Bertrand Russell, gave up philosophy after completing the
Tractatus, and went back to his native Austria to lead a
simple life. But in 1929, a second Wittgenstein, who had
abandoned the ‘analytic’ dogmatism of the first, became a
Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge. Ten years later he
succeeded to Moore’ s chair, but he resigned in 1947,
fearing that his teaching was having a bad influence on
students. He published nothing except a brief article in 1929
which he immediately disowned. But he gave informal
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

lectures, and copies of notes which he dictated to his
students between 1933 and 1935 were circulated widely.94
Wittgenstein’s warnings about the folly of attempting to
deal with philosophical problems in the way science does
(‘this tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads
the philosopher into complete darkness ‘) were alleged to
have devastated the project of Philosophical Analysis, as
Russell and the first Wittgenstein had envisaged it. 95 Two
Wittgensteinian slogans – ‘Don’t ask for the meaning, ask
for the use’ , and’ Every statement has its own logic’ – were
regarded by the Oxford philosophers as essential clues to
correct philosophical method. 96
But Wittgenstein died in April 1951. His Philosophical
Investigations were published, in German but with an
English translation on facing pages, in 1953. However, their
lack of systematic, paraphrasable argumentation, and their
explicit repudiation of ‘any kind of theory’ and ‘all
explanation ’97 were not particularly congenial to many of
those who till then had thought of themselves as his followers.

The Investigations were welcomed by Strawson in a
magisterial review in Mind, as the work of ‘the first
philosopher of the age’. Although he had some reservations
– Strawson himself was dreaming of ‘a purged kind of
metaphysics, with more modest and le~s disreputable claims
than the old’ – he concluded with satisfaction that the
publication of the Investigations would ‘consolidate the
philosophical revolution for which, more than anyone else,
its author was responsible’ .98
During the fifties, the problem of the significance of
Wittgenstein became more and more agonising for the
Oxford revolutionaries. To some commentators, it appeared
that the works of Ryle, Austin, and the rest of those who
discussed each other’s work in Mind were nothing but
watered-down summaries of the late Wittgenstein. Bertrand
Russell, now in his eighties, was displeased at being
‘superseded in the opinion of many British philosophers’ by
his former student. He continued to admire the Tractatus,
but not the Investigations, which he thought contained
nothing but ‘suave evasion of paradoxes’ .99
In Oxford too, there was increasing wariness about
Wittgenstein, and mockery of the physical and verbal
mannerisms of his ‘disciples’ – especially Elizabeth
Anscombe, his executor and translator. Ryle regarded
Wittgenstein as ‘a genius and a friend’, but was so revolted
by the’ incontinent’ veneration with which he was surrounded
in Cambridge that he pointedly strove to avoid being his
‘echo’ . 100 Austin did not take Wittgenstein very seriously
either, and was famously rude to Anscombe. Warnock
recalled that he would sometimes read passages from
Wittgenstein in his lectures, with a view to demonstrating
‘how incomprehensible and obscure the Austrian
philosopher was. ‘101 There was something about the Austrian
which made Oxford philosophers uneasy.

he Oxford revolutionaries saw little philosophical point
in studying the history of philosophy, though the
college system obliged most of them to teach Plato and

T

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

Aristotle, as well as ‘modem philosophy’, meaning the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Descartes to Kant.

Nineteenth-century thinkers – especially Hegel and such
anti-Hegelians as Kierkegaard, Marx and Nietzsche – were
scarcely mentioned at all. This rather dull picture was
brightened, however, by a streak of patriotism. When it
came to the ‘British Empiricists’ – Locke, Berkeley and
Hume – the Oxford philosophers were willing to admit that
the ‘revolution’ carried out by Russell and Moore had not
been ‘the thunderbolt that it is popularly supposed to be’. 102
Ayer edited an anthology of British Empirical Philosophers
to make the national tradition more available to students. 103
And Iris Murdoch went so far as to describe the Oxford
school as the ‘present-day version of our traditional
empiricism’ . 104
The Oxford philosophers’ confidence in the category of
‘British Empiricism’ is surprising in many ways. As a
theoretical proposal, the very idea of philosophical national
characters is, one might have thought, severely compromised
by dubious presuppositions of a metaphysical, idealistic
and Hegelian kind. As a matter of historical record, too, it
could be more appropriate to see Britain as the home of
idealism, from the Cambridge Platonists through the civic
humanists and Coleridge to the Christian idealists led by
T.H. Green and their successors in the Royal Institute of
Philosophy; or of irrationalism and emotionalism, starting
with Duns Scotus, and continuing in Burke, Blake, Carlyle,
Ruskin and successive generations of British Nietzscheans.

There was also the difficulty of defining Britishness. Of
Ayer’s five empirical philosophers, only Locke was English:

Berkeley was Irish, and Hume, Reid and ryliU were all
Scottish. Nevertheless, the concept of British Empiricism
was peculiarly Anglo-centric, and helped to cover up the
fact that philosophy had deeper roots and wider resonance
in Ireland, Scotland and Wales than in England. 105
Nevertheless, the concept of British Empiricism was
called on to do a task which was of considerable importance
to the Oxford philosophers. It enabled them to define
themselves in contrast with a hated rival, which came to be
known, in the course of the decade, by the title of’ continental
philosophy’ . Continental philosophy, to the Oxfordians,
was the epitome ofthe intellectual habits that their revolution
was meant to eradicate: excessive interest in the history of
philosophy, failure to respect the gap between philosophy
and science, and above all a self-indulgent use of language.

The continentals, it was insinuated, followed fashions, not
arguments, and if literary intellectuals· were attracted to
them, this was only because of their skin-deep sex-appeal.

Oxfordian attacks on ‘continental philosophy’ were
aggressive, even sadistic. ‘The thing wrong with the
Existentialists and the other Continental philosophers’, as
Hare put it, ‘is that they haven’t had their noses rubbed in the
necessity of saying exactly what they mean. I sometimes
think it’s because they don’t have a tutorial system’ .106 The
reviews section of Mind tried to keep readers informed
about the antics of the foreign colleagues. Every work of
continental philosophy turned out, upon careful examination, to be pretentious rubbish: some faith perhaps, but not
13

enough hope, and a complete lack of clarity. Reviewing a
German book on relativism in 1951, T.D. Weldon could
hardly get past the author’s ‘fatal liking for long abstract and
hyphenated words of which no explanation is offered’ – a
proclivity which he knew ‘philosophers in this country’

would find intolerable. The German philosopher would not
make any progress, Weldon said, ‘until he pays less attention
to high-sounding abstractions and devotes some time to the
more mundane study of ordinary discourse’ .107 A year later,
C.A. Mace amused himself at the expense of Sartre. The
Frenchman might be of some interest to ‘those who entertain
the hypothesis that philosophical reflexion may not
infrequently serve as a medium through which personal
emotional problems find their expression’, Mace said. But
still it was clear that’ a rough count would be sufficient to
show that only a small number of philosophers actually feel
sick when they contemplate the contingency of the existent’ .

The only existential problem raised by Sartre was how
anyone could count him as a philosopher. 108 Isaiah Berlin
too gazed into the huge gulf which divided philosophers in
most of ‘the continent of Europe’ from those in ‘the AngloAmerican world’. The chasm was so deep that ‘philosophers
on one side of it can scarcely bring themselves to think of
those on the other as being occupied with the same subject
as themselves.’ And the reason for the difference was clear:

intellectual progress had passed the continentals by. Philosophers from ‘the Latin countries’ had ‘lived through the
great logico-philosophical revolution of the last half-century,
initiated by Frege and Russell- perhaps the most complete
transformation of thought in this field since the seventeenth
century – without being noticeably affected by it.’ 109
Reassurance was offered by P.F. Strawson, reviewing a
French work on Virginia Woolf: ‘Mr Chastaing places
Virginia Woolfwhere she, no doubt, belongs: in the British
Empiricist tradition. ‘110
AJ. Ayer, too – though disdainful of the provincialism
of Mind and proud of his cosmopolitanism, his affinity for
French culture, and his friendships with Wahl, Camus and
Merleau-Ponty -liked to join his Oxford colleagues when
it came to making fun of the continentals. Complaining
about the poor reception of Language, Truth and Logic in
France, he commented that’ one of Descartes’ s least happy
legacies to France has been the belief that empirical questions
can be decided a priori, and one of these a priori judgements
is that among foreign philosophers only the Germans need
be taken seriously.’ III And German philosophy was actually
even worse than French, since it was dominated by Heidegger
the Nazi – whose work, though it might raise ‘some points
of psychological interest,’ was altogether bogus in its
‘pretensions to philosophical profundity.’ 112 A story from
early in the decade shows, however, that Ayer knew how to
put the Heideggerians in their place.

I remember an occasion on which an official of the
British Council asked me to lunch with a German
professor, said to be a leading phenomenologist,
whom the Council had invited on a tour of British
universities. Neither the professor’s English nor my

14

colloquial German was very fluent; our host was selfeffacing and conversation languished. There seemed
nothing for it but to resort to talking shop. ‘What are
you working on now?’ I asked the professor. ‘It is
complicated’, he replied, ‘but I will give an example
of the kind of problem I am trying to solve. What is
the essence of a glass?’ On the whole I counted
myself an opponent of the type oflinguistic philosophy
that was coming into fashion at Oxford, but here it
seemed to me to meet the case. ‘Surely’, I said, ‘there
is nothing very perplexing about the way in which the
word ‘glass’ and its counterparts in other languages
are ordinarily used.’ He looked at me with contempt.

‘I will give you the answer,’ he said. ‘The essence of
the glass is to be empty.’ I made a sign to our host who
filled our glasses. This did not please the professor
who remarked irritably that the essence of a glass
with wine was not the same as the essence of a glass
without wine. ‘But’, he went on, ‘I will put to you a
deeper question. What is the essence of emptiness?

(Was ist das Wesen von del’ Leere?)’ ‘Ah’, I said,
‘that really is deep’, and I went on to talk about the
universities that he had visited. I 13
The Oxford philosophers evidently enjoyed telling each
other funny stories about foreigners. This is how R.M. Hare,
for example, would describe what happened ‘whena typical
Oxford philosopher meets a typical German philosopher in
a philosophical discussion.’

The German philosopher will say something relating
to his own philosophical views; the British philosopher
will then say that he cannot understand what has been
said, and will ask for an elucidation. The German will
take this, the first time that it happens to him, for an
encouragement, and will go on expounding his views;
but he will be disappointed by the reaction. What was
desired, it turns out, was not more of the same sort of
thing; what the British philosopher wanted was to
take just one sentence that the German had uttered say the first sentence – or perhaps, for a start, just one
word in this sentence; and he wanted an explanation
given of the way in which this word was being used ….

Nothing pleases us so much as to sit back and have a
German metaphysician explain to us, if he can, how
he is going to get his metaphysical system started.

And as he is usually unable to do this, the discussion
never gets on to what he thinks of as the meat of the
theory. This is a great disappointment to him …. 114
The poor German might have started to retaliate by grilling
Hare over his failure to distinguish between the word
‘Britain’ and the word’ Oxford’; but in the end it was agame
the foreigners were bound to lose. If they agreed to translate
themselves into a language acceptable to their hosts, they
would have conceded that they had nothing un-Oxfordian to
say; but if they refused, they would have condemned
themselves as deliberate obfuscators.

In 1958 a small platoon of Oxford philosophers attended

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

the fourth philosophical conference at Royaumaunt, which
their French colleagues had organised in the hope of
informing themselves about the state of’ analytic philosophy’

in Britain and America. I IS It was hardly a meeting of minds:

the French hosts manifested a respectful curiosity about
‘Anglo-saxon philosophy’, and ‘the Oxford School’, but
the ‘chorus of Oxford analysts’ huddled together in selfdefence, as if they feared some kind of intellectual infection
from the over-friendly continentals. 116 In a session on
‘Phenomenology versus The Concept of Mind’, Ryle
attributed ‘the wide gulf that has existed for three quarters
of a century between Anglo-Saxon and Continental
philosophy’ to the fact that the Continentals were unaware
of ‘the massive developments of our logical theory’. He
accused his hosts of being stuck with the discredited
procedures of Husserlian phenomenology which – with
flamboyant inaccuracy – he described as ‘Platonised
Cartesianism’. Husserl, according to Ryle, had been
‘bewitched by the Platonic idea that conceptual inquiries
were scrutinies of the super-objects that he called
“Essences’ , ” and this had led him to the arrogant idea that
philosophy was ‘the Mistress Science’. The British could
never make such a mistake:

I guess that our thinkers have been immunised against
the idea of philosophy as the Mistress Science by the
fact that their daily lives in Cambridge and Oxford
Colleges have kept them in personal contact with real
scientists. Claims to Ftihrership vanish when
postprandial joking begins. Husserl wrote as ifhe had
never met a scientist – or a joke. 117
Despite Ryle’ s reproaches against anyone who read Husserl
‘too assiduously’, Herman van Breda attempted to set Ryle
right about Husserl’ s relation to Platonism, though he did
have to concede that Husserl had not enjoyed ‘the
distinguished privilege of living within the community of a
“college”.’ Father van Breda also gently deprecated Ryle’s
phrase about the philosophical Fiihrer, and suggested, with
some justice, that if anyone was ‘hypostatising concepts
and words’, it was Ryle: ‘the Oxford analysts are great
Platonists, but Husserl was not’ .118
Ryle brushed this aside by saying that he did not care
what Husserl happened to think – which was rather impolite
considering that he had raised the subject in the first place.

Austin also gave offence by saying he had no faith in any
philosophical methods at all, most especially those ‘which
are currently in vogue on the continent.’ Ayer earned
gratitude for making it clear to van Breda that he was
wasting his time: analytical philosophy as a whole, he
explained, had a ‘negative attitude … towards all
philosophical work on the continent’ .119 When MerleauPonty asked Ry le whether he thought that’ correctness’ was
the’ cardinal virtue of thinking,’ or whether there was not a
different and more demanding value, that of truth, Ryle
responded quite obtusely by saying that he had no interest
in the trivialities of grammar. Merleau-Ponty, howeverwho had read Ryle, a courtesy which was not reciprocated
– said that Ryle ‘s work was ‘not so strange to us, and that the
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

distance, if there is a distance, is one that he puts between us
rather than one I find there’ .120
uring the fi~ties, the ~oung revolutionaries of Ryle’s
army establIshed a vIrtual monopoly over university
philosophy in England. They managed to contain the
influence of all other potential philosophical power-brokers
– most notably Karl Popper at the London School of
Economics. 121 Buttheir take-over remained almost unknown
outside the world of academic philosophy, at least until the
end of 1959; and when fame came, it was not in a form that
pleased them. On 5 November, The Times published a letter
from Bertrand Russell complaining that Mind would not
review a book which attempted a systematic demolition of
Oxford philosophy.

D

I now learn that Professor Ryle, the editor of Mind,
has written to Messrs Gollancz [the publishers]
refusing to have this book reviewed in Mind on the
ground that it is abusive …. If all books that do not
endorse Professor Ryle’ s opinions are to be boycotted
in the pages of Mind, that hitherto respected periodical
will sink to the level of a mutual admiration organ of
a coterie. 122
The book Russell was supporting was Words and Things by
Ernest Gellner, a young man who had himself escaped from
Oxford philosophy (he had even written for Mind in the
early fifties) in order to become an anthropologist at the
London School of Economics. Gellner had got to know
Austin at Oxford, and learned to detest him deeply: ‘I had
an impression of someone very strongly obsessed with
never being wrong, and using all kinds of dialectical
devices to avoid being wrong’. His lectures had been like
‘a creeping barrage, going into endless detail in a very slow
and fumbling way’. By this method, Austin used to
‘browbeat people into acceptance; it was a kind of brainwashing’ .123
In Words and Things Gellner offered a sarcastic but
brilliant summary of Oxford philosophy – that ‘strange
love-child of Wittgenstein’ s messianism and Oxonian
complacency’, as he called it. He even contrived to present
the characteristic dialectical manoeuvres of the Oxford
philosophers in a diagram, and explained how readers
could become Oxford philosophers simply by playing
parlour games based upon it. The object of the game was to
avoid having to confront any serious theoretical issues. Just
as thought was muzzled in Orwell’ s Nineteen Eighty-Four
by Newspeak, so it was muzzled in Ryle’s Oxford by
Oldspeak. Because of their apparently populist idea that
anything worth saying could be expressed in ordinary
English, Gellner called Ryle’s troops ‘the Narodniks of
North Oxford’. At the same time the Conspicuous Triviality
of their conversational routines was just an example of the
Conspicuous Waste characteristic of a leisure class; and
while it made social sense for the upper classes in Oxford,
it would become grotesque when offered to poorer students
at the redbrick universities. 124

15

Gellner’s sociology was not implausible. For a start, the
pages of Who’ s Who show that ofthe twenty leading figures
in Oxford philosophy in the fifties, there was only one who
did not come from a high-bourgeois family. Similarly, there
were only four who did not receive their secondary education
in a famous boys’ school- they were the four women. And
there was only one who was not an undergraduate at Oxford
– he went to Cambridge instead. Even at Oxford there can
hardly have been a discipline whose staff were drawn from
a narrower social base. 125
To some extent, the Oxford philosophers could be aligned
with the remnants of Bloomsbury: certainly they spoke with
the same accents; they liked to make use of French phrases;
and – as Russell observed – they were’ gentlemanly’ in their
aversion from taking things too seriously.126 This placed a
distance between them and the ‘proletentious’ world of the
Angry Young Men: only A.J. Ayer, always anxious to be a
London intellectual rather than an Oxford don, was at ease
with them. 127
However, the Oxford philosophers were a generation
younger than the Bloomsburys, and their presentation of
themselves as plain-speaking revolutionaries identified them
with the post-war settlement to which their seniors refused
to be reconciled. They complained that they were deliberateIy
cold-shouldered by the London intellectual world, which after Sartre, Camus and Colin Wilson – was interested only
in Ayer, Russell, and Popper. They may indeed have had a
point: if you count up all the philosophical books reviewed
in the Times Literary Supplement, only twenty – two a year,
or 6per cent – represented the Oxfordian line, whereas four
times that number came from their’ continental’ rivals. 128
The plain prose-style cultivated by the Oxford
philosophers was itself enough to offend their cultured
elders. The review of The Concept of Mind in the Times
Literary Supplement was favourable – not surprisingly,
since it was by J.L. Austin. Austin commented on Ryle’s
sensitivity to “the nuances of words” and his ‘refreshingly
wide choice of words, especially of polysyllables’. The
excellence of this revolutionary book was a matter of its
style, according to Austin, and ‘le style, c’ est Ryle’. 129
However, in its survey of ‘The Philosophy of 1951,’ the TLS
was not so sympathetic. The anonymous author picked on
the then President of the Aristotelian Society, who was
‘completely the beau ideal of the contemporary young
philosopher’. This paragon was John Wisdom, the
Cambridge prophet of the Oxford revolution. 13o ‘Dr
Wisdom’s mode of writing’ , according to the TLS, ‘suggests
a man self-righteously denying himself many of the resources
and all the graces of a literary use of language, as if they
were temptations to lure him away from his austere pursuit
of an unsullied clarity’. The result was a ‘flat colloquialism’

with hardly a word of more than two syllables, except
‘every’ (a word which, of course, only the classiest speakers
would put three syllables into anyway).131 In Mind itself, a
representative of the old school lamented that it was
becoming rare for philosophy to be written ‘in the language
of a gentleman and a scholar’. There had been a disastrous
lurch towards ‘that vulgar colloquialism which nervously
16

shuns every word and phrase which would not naturally
occur in the conversation of one’s bedmaker or one’s
bookmaker’ .132 Back in the TLS, Antony Flew was arraigned
for his ‘derisive and bumptious manner’, and for prose
which was unreadable because of ‘that unhappy style, at
once “blokey” and elaborate, which a number of young
Oxford philosophers, all more or less scuola di Ryle … have
made so self-consciously their own’. 133
Thus the Oxford philosophers could not be quite so
confident in their social standing as Gellner alleged. But
their consequent defensiveness did nothing to disconfirm
his analysis of their intellectual position. They did not
respond to him any more than they did to Russell or Joad,
or to later left-wing critics like Marcuse and Anderson. All
outsiders were bound to miss the point of what they stood
for. You could not understand Oxford philosophy in general,
or Austin in particular, if you were only interested in
detachable methods or doctrines. It was necessary, as
Wamock put it, to attend to those who ‘had the advantage
of, so to speak, observing at close quarters Austin in action,
and of having themselves inhabited, in some cases for many
years, the philosophical scene in which he was himself so
conspicuous a figure’ .134 This response is not just a sign of
excessive sensitivity to criticism, though. The Oxford
philosophers were equally unreceptive to friendly offers to
systematise and summarise the intellectual goals that held
them together. 135 Attempts to develop Austin’s concept of
speech-acts in the direction of systematic linguistics, or to
extend it in the direction of general social theory, 136 though
they might have pleased Austin himself, were unwelcome
to most of his colleagues. The Oxfordian conception of
philosophy could not recognise itself apart from its social
style.

O

utsiders who try to comment on the ordinary language
philosophers, whether in admiration or hostility, always
run into vertiginous difficulties. Three things are clear: they
believed they had a revolutionary mission; they held that
this was based on a new’ linguistic’ technique, summarisable
in the slogan ‘Don’t ask for the meaning, ask for the use’;
and they were implacably opposed to evasiveness or
imprecision. But these three propositions did not add up.

When asked for a clear definition of their new method,
Oxfordians treated the request as inept, and never came up
with a straightforward answer.

These inconsistent attitudes had serious theoretical
motives, however. The central idea to which the Oxford
philosophers were committed – the importance of trying to
give lucid translations of concepts or expressions which are
confused, misleading, or contaminated with prejudice or
folly – is an admirable one, undeniably. This kind of
linguistic consciousness-raising should play a part in all
kinds of education, at every level. In fact it probably does.

So to take it as marking a breakthrough into a new theoretical
discipline – ‘philosophical analysis’ perhaps, or ‘linguistic
philosophy’ – is implausible, and indeed paradoxical. Ryle
had articulated the difficulty as early as 1932, in an article
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

which is often regarded as prophetic of the 1950s:

Sometimes philosophers say that they are analysing
or clarifying the ‘concepts’ which are embodied in
the ‘judgements’ of the plain man or of the scientist,
historian, artist, or who-not. … But the whole procedure
is very odd. For if the expressions under consideration are intelligently used, their employers must
already know what they mean and do not need the aid
or admonition of philosophers before they can
understand what they are saying …. Certainly it is
often the case that expressions are not being
intelligently used and to that extent their authors are
just gabbling parrot-wise. But then it is obviously
fruitless to ask what the expressions really mean. For
there is no reason to suppose that they mean anything.

It would not be mere gabbling if there was any such
reason. And if the philosopher cares to ask what these
expressions would mean if a rational man were using
them, the only answer would be that they would mean
what they would then mean. Understanding them
would be enough, and that could be done by any
reasonable listener. Philosophizing could not help
him …. It seems, then, that if an expression can be
understood, then it is already known in that
understanding what the expression means. So there is
no darkness present and no illumination required or
possible.1 37
In the fifties, this apparent contradiction was widely
discussed under the heading ‘the paradox of analysis.’ If
you accepted that philosophy’s task was to analyse ordinary
language, then you were in a dilemma. The philosophical
translation might have the same sense as the original
expression; or alternatively it might not. But if it did, then
the analysis would be pointless; and if it didn’t, then it
would be false. 138
The paradox is indeed catastrophic for the idea that the
Oxford philosophers had devised a technique for making
progressively more accurate representations of what ordinary
people actually mean. 139 But they carried on regardless.

Despite his earlier sharpness on the matter, Ryle relapsed
into presenting The Concept of Mind as if it were a purely
descriptive attempt to ‘determine the logical geography of
concepts’ .140 It is not surprising that some readers thought
that Ryle was treating concepts (for instance, the concept of
mind) as if they were ‘super-objects’ -the very vice which
he attributed to ‘continental philosophers’ as a whole.

Moreover, as Stuart Hampshire pointed out when he
reviewed the book in Mind, Ryle’s description of his method
was acutely puzzling. Ordinary language is stacked with
phrases which treat the psyche as an inner world: you burst
with emotion, keep your opinions to yourself, or reveal
unexpected depths of feeling, for instance. In arguing
against ‘cartesian dualism’, therefore, Ryle was not so
much correcting a mistaken map of ordinary language, as
calling for a re-shaping of the linguistic terrain itself. He
was protesting, as Hampshire pointed out, at ‘a universal
feature of ordinary language itself’. If ordinary language
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

was his master, then Ryle had no authority to dismiss the
ghost in the machine. 141
Though Ryle was stoical, it became more and more clear
that there was a deep flaw in his revolutionary programme.

But Ryle’s army soldiered on, if in an increasingly prickly
state of self-protective irony. Ryle had long ago sniffed out
a weakness for ‘nursery’ words in Heidegger’s Being and
Time. 142 It was a surprising observation, perhaps; but in the
whole matter of baby-talk, Ryle and his colleagues were
certainly on familiar ground. Their jokiness ensured that
their special method, if they had one, would appear
completely different to insiders than to earnest critics or
adulators on the outside.

Gilbert Ryle in the mid1920s.

The Concept ofMind itself cultivates a knowing naivety
of language which recalls, if not Heidegger, then at least
Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, A.A. Milne and John Betjeman.

Austin employed the same artful regressiveness: you need
only think ofthe titles of some of his most celebrated works:

‘How to do things with words’, ‘Three Ways of Spilling
Ink’, ‘A Plea for Excuses’, ‘Ifs and Cans’, ‘The Meaning of
a Word’, ‘How to Talk: Some Simple Ways’. They all have
a tone of making philosophy available to infants; but woe
betide anyone who fails to hear in them, as well, the voice
of a severe and tricky professor. It is common for public
school boys to use babyish nicknames for their teachers,and
to keep using them throughout their lives. The habit may
have its charm; but when Austin responded to a remark from
an earnest American student by saying ‘Let’s see what
Witters has to say about that’ ,he was not only demonstrating
his doubts about Wittgenstein, but also derailing an outsider
and putting him in his place. 143 The French hosts at
Royaumont received a similar rebuff when, after they had
17

spent a week trying to discover the secret of the Oxford
revolution, Austin assured them that there was no such
thing. The Oxford School had no particular conception of
philosophy, except perhaps that it was all ‘a pretty fair
mess’, he said. l44 As for his own special method – the
revolutionary secret of the Oxford school – Austin at last
agreed to sum it up and put it in a nutshell. ‘What my creed
boils down to, on the whole’, he said, ‘is excusing myself
from having to do what I have no intention of doing’. 145
Don’t ask for the meaning, as they liked to say: ask for the
use.

Ritchie, Success Stories, p. 181.

21

Kenneth Allsop, The Angry Decade, pp. 200, 179.

22

Col in Wilson, The Outsider, p. 293; and ‘Postscript’ (1967), p.

309.

23

See Ritchie, Success Stories, p. 172.

24

The phrases come from Kenneth Allsop (Daily Mail, 26 February 1957), Keith Waterhouse (Tribune, 1 November 1957), and
Peter Green (‘Child’s Guide to the AYMs’, Time and Tide, 2
November 1957); cited in Ritchie, Success Stories, pp. 172, 157.

25

See Jonathan Ree, Proletarian Philosophers, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1984.

26

Viscount Samuel, Memoirs, London, Cresset Press, 1945, pp.

248-9; see also the letter from Viscount Samuel, W.D. Ross and
Lord Lindsay of Birker, Mind LV, 219, July 1946, p. 287.

See the chapter on ‘The triumph of positive thinking’ in Herbert
Marcuse, One Dimensional M an, London, Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1964, and Perry Anderson, ‘Components of the National
Culture,’ New Left Review 50, May-June 1968.

27

On the earlier history of university philosophy, see Jonathan
Ree, ‘Philosophy as an academic discipline: the changing place
of philosophy in an arts education’, Studies in Higher Education
3,1,1978,pp.5-23.

2

Kenneth Allsop, The Angry Decade, London, Peter Owen, 1958,
p.150.

28

3

Daniel Farson, Daily Mail, 13 July 1956, cited in Harry Ritchie,
Success Stories: Literature and the Media in England, 19501959, London, Faber, 1988, p.145.

4

John Connell, Evening News, 26 May 1956, cited in Ritchie, p.

144.

See Donald MacKinnon, ‘The Teaching of Philosophy in the
United Kingdom’ , in Georges Canguilhem, ed., The Teaching of
Philosophy: an International Inquiry, Paris, UNESCO, 1953, p.

127. Numbers increased steadily with the elevation of several
colleges to University status: Southampton (1952), Hull (1954),
Exeter (1955), and Leicester (1957).

29

5

See F.W. Bateson, ‘Organs of Critical Opinion IV: The Times
Literary Supplement’, Essays in Criticism VII, 4, October 1957.

Ritchie, Success Stories, pp. 144, 145.

See H.H. Price, ‘The Study of Philosophy at Oxford’, in
Canguilhem, ed., The Teaching of Philosophy, pp. 128-9.

30

See C.D. Broad, ‘Notes on the Teaching of Philosophy at
Cambridge’, in Canguilhem, ed., The Teaching of Philosophy,
pp. 130-2; see also the reports on London and the civic universities, pp. 134, 135.

31

‘Before the war it was rare for aspiring philosophers to work for
doctorates. If they had made their mark as undergraduates, and
had done reasonably well in their examinations for a bachelor’s
degree, they were directly appointed to lectureships or even
fellowships in an Oxford college, or at the worst to a post in some
red-brick university from which they might hope eventually to
transfer to an Oxford or Cambridge fellowship.’ A.J .Ayer, More
of My Life, London, CoIlins, 1984, p. 180.

Notes

6

7
8

Philip Toynbee, The Observer, 27 May 1956, p. 13.

Colin Wilson, The Outsider (London, Gollancz, 1956), second
edition, 1967, new impression, London, Picador, 1978, pp. 93,
82.

9

See Harry Ritchie, Success Stories, pp. 26-7.

10

See Robert Hewison, In Anger, Culture in the Cold War 194560, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981, ch. 2.

11

T.S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, London,
Faber and Faber, 1948, p. 108.

32

12

Leslie Fiedler, ‘The Un-angry young men’, Encounter 52,
January 1958, pp. 3-12.

AJ. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, London, Gollancz, 1936,
second edition, 1946, pp. 33, 153.

33

13

See Francis Mulhern, The Moment of ‘Scrutiny’, London, New
Left Books, 1979.

H.J. Paton, ‘Fifty Years of Philosophy’, in H.D. Lewis, ed.,
Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements, London, George AlIen and Unwin, 1956, p. 346.

14

Kenneth Allsop, The Angry Decade, p. 10.

34

15

Evelyn Waugh, ‘An Open Letter on a Very Serious Subject’,
Encounter 27, December 1955, pp. 11-16.

Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays, London, AlIen and Unwin,
1928, p. 11; see also A.J. Ayer, Part of my Llfe, pp. 53–4.

35

16

See for example Guido de Ruggiero, Existentialism, London,
Secker and Warburg, 1946; Jean Wahl, A Short History of
Existentialism, New York, Philosophical Library, 1949; Herbert
Read, Existentialism Marxism and Anarchism, London, Freedom Press, 1949, H.J.Blackham, Six Existentialist Thinkers,
London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952.

A.J. Ayer, Encounter 36, September 1956, pp. 75-77; More of
my Life, p. 124. One of the other negative reviews of The
Outsider was by Raymond Williams in Essays in Criticism, VII,
4, October 1957.

See WaIter AlIen’s review of Lucky Jim, New Statesman, 30
January 1955; cf. Ritchie, Success Stories, p. 68.

17

18

Sartre, The Transcendance of the Ego (1936), 1937; Sketchfor
a Theory of the Emotions (1938), 1948; The Psychology of
Imagination (L’imaginaire) (1940),1956; Being and Nothingness (1943), 1956; Existentialism and Humanism (1947), 1948;
What is Literature? (1947), 1949. Weil, The Need for Roots
(1949), 1952. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), 1955; The
Rebel (L’ homme revolte) (1951),1953. de Beauvoir, The Ethics
of Ambiguity (1947) 1948; The Second Sex (1949),1953.

Iris Murdoch, ‘The Novelist as Metaphysician’, The Listener, 16
March 1950, pp. 473-6. Cf. Alistair Davies and Peter Saunders,
‘Literature, Politics and Society’, in Alan Sinfield, ed., Society
and Literature 1945-1970, London, Methuen, 1983.

19

Philip Toynbee, The Obsverver, 27 May 1956, p. 13.

20

David Wainwright, Evening News, 26 May 1956, cited in

18

36
37

Anon., Times Literary Supplement, 13 December 1957, p. 757.

38

See A.J. Ayer, Part of my Life, pp. 301-2.

39

Colin Wilson, ‘Postscript’ (1967) to The Outsider, p. 300.

40

Gilbert Ryle, review of Sein und Zeit, Mind XXXVIII, 151, July
1929, pp. 355-370, reprinted in Michael Murray, ed., Heidegger
and Modern Philosophy, New Haven, Yale University Press,
1978, pp. 53-64. See also Gilbert Ryle, ‘Phenomenology’,
Proceedings ofthe Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume
IX, 1932, pp. 68-83.

41

Gilbert Ryle, ‘Autobiographical’, in Oscar P. Wood and George
Pitcher, eds, Ryle, London, Macmillan, 1971, pp. 8-9; A.J. Ayer,
Part of my Life, p. 121.

42

Ryle’s army included – apart from himself (1900-1976) Elizabeth Anscombe (1919- ), J.L. Austin (1911-1960), Isaiah

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

Berlin (1909- ), Michael Dummett (1925- ), A.G.N. Flew
(1923), PhillipaFoot (born Bosanquet) (1920), StuartHampshire
(1914), RM. Hare (1919- ), H.L.A. Hart (1907-1992), Iris
Murdoch (1919-), P.H. Nowell-Smith (1914- ), David Pears
(1921- ), Anthony Quinton (1925-), P.F. Strawson (1919),
Stephen Toulmin(1922- ),J.O. Urmson(1915- ),G.J. Warnock
(1923), Mary Warnock (born Wilson) (1925- ), and Bernard
Williams (1929- ).

43

44
45
46

47
48
49
50
51

52

53
54

55

56

57

58

59
60
61

62
63

64

Anon. (in fact P.F. Strawson – see Ved Mehta, The Fly and the
Fly-bottle: Encounters with British Intellectuals, London,
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963, p. 58), ‘The Post-Lingustic
Thaw’, Times Literary Supplement, 9 September 1960, p.lx.

The young man was Richard Robinson; the incident is recorded
in H.J. Paton, ‘Fifty Years of Philosophy’, p. 351.

‘The Post-Lingustic Thaw’, p. Ix.

J.L. Austin, ‘Ifs and Cans’ (1956), in Philosophical Papers,
edited by J.O. Urmson and G.J. Warnock, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1961, p. 152.

Ved Mehta, The Fly and the Fly-bottle, pp. 51-2.

G.J. Warnock, interviewed by Ved Mehta, The Fly and the Flybottle, pp. 53-4.

RM. Hare, interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and the Flybottle, p. 46.

R.M. Hare, review of Lepley, ed., Value, a Co-operative Inquiry, Mind LX, 239, July 1951, pp 430-432.

Opposition to ‘the ubiquitous romantic reaction’ was part ofthe
programme of the review Polemic, which appeared in eight
issues from 1945 to 1947. It was edited by Humphrey Slater, and
contributors included A.J. Ayer, Geoffrey Grigson, Ben
Nicholson, George Orwell, Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, Adrian
Stokes, and Edgar Wind.

Anon. (infactJ.L. Austin),review of The Concept ofMind, Times
Literary Supplement, 7 April 1950, p. xi; Stuart Hampshire,
review of The Concept of Mind, Mind LIX, 234, April 1950, p.

255. Both these reviews are reprinted in Wood and Pitcher, eds,
Ryle.

Iris Murdoch, ‘Metaphysics and Ethics’, in D.F. Pears, ed., The
Nature of Metaphysics, London, Macmillan, 1957, p. 105.

See Michael Frayn, ‘Festival’, in Michael Sissons and Philip
France, eds, The Age ofAusterity, London, Hodder and Stoughton,
1963, pp. 319-338.

Oxonian (in fact C.E.M. Joad), ‘A Visit to Oxford’, New
Statesman, 26 June 1948, pp. 518-9; A.J. Ayer, New Statesman,
10 July 1948, p. 30; Joad, New Statesman, 31 July 1948, p. 91.

C.E.M. Joad,A Critique ofLogical Positivism, London, Gollancz,
1950, p. 145; see also the review by R.J. Spilsbury, Mind, LX,
238, April 1951, p. 276.

C.E.M. Joad, A Critique of Logical Positivism, p. 16. See also
anon. (load?), ‘The Philosophy of 1951’, Times Literary Supplement, 24 August 1951, p. x.

G.J. Warnock, ‘Analysis and Imagination’, in Gilbert Ryle, ed.,
The Revolution in Philosophy, London, Macmillan, 1956, p.

124.

A.J. Ayer, ‘The Vienna Circle’, in Ryle, ed., The Revolution in
Philosophy, p. 73.

A.J.Ayer, More of My Life, p. 162.

G.J. Warnock, ‘Saturday Mornings,’ in Isaiah Berlin et al.,
Essays on 1.L. Austin, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1973,
pp. 36-7, 39.

P.F. Strawson, ‘On Referring’, Mind LIX, 235, July 1950, p.

344.

G.J. Warnock, ‘Metaphysics in Logic’, in A.G.N. Flew, ed.,
Essays in Conceptual Analysis, London, Macmillan, 1956, p.

76.

Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics and Ethics, p. 120.

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

65

66

67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80

81
82
83

84

85

86
87

88
89

90
91

Bertrand Russell, ‘The Relation of Sense-data to Physics’ (1914),
in Mysticism and Logic (1918), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1953,
p.148.

Bertrand Russell, ‘Logic and Ontology’ and ‘Philosophical
Analysis’, in My PhilosophIcal Development, London, George
Allen and Unwin, 1959, pp. 231, 230.

Bertrand Russell, interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and the
Fly-bottle, p. 41.

Bertrand Russell, ‘What is Mind?’, My Philosophical Development, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1959, p. 250.

J.L. Austin, ‘A Plea for Excuses’ (1956), in Philosophical
Papers, pp. 129-137.

R.M. Hare, ‘A School for Philosophers’, Ratio, II, 2, February
1960,p.115.

‘A School for Philosophers’, p. 109.

See Andrew Large, The Artificial Language Movement, Oxford,
Blackwell, 1985, pp. 162-173.

Gilbert Ryle, ‘Autobiographical’, p. 15.

Isaiah Berlin, ‘Austin and the Early Beginnings of Oxford
Philosophy’, in Isaiah Berlin et al., Essays on 1.L. Austin, p. 1.

Gilbert Ryle, ‘Autobiographical’, p. 15.

‘A School for Philosophers’ , pp. 113-4.

See Ryle’s introduction to Gilbert Ryle et al., The Revolution in
Philosophy, London, Macmillan, 1956, pp. 1-4.

Gilbert Ryle in David Pears, ed., The Nature of Metaphysics, p.

150.

P.F. Strawson, ‘On Referring’, Mind LIX, 235, July 1950, p.

335.

RM. Hare, review of Stephen Toulmin, An Examination of the
Place of Reason in Ethics, Philosophical Quarterly I, 4, July
1951, pp. 372-5.

The remark is reported with some dismay in H.J. Paton, ‘Fifty
Years of Philosophy’, p. 351.

P.F. Strawson, ‘The Post-Linguistic Thaw’, p.lx ..

Stuart Hampshire, review of The Concept of Mind, Mind LIX,
234, April 1950, p. 238, reprinted in Wood and Pitcher, Ryle, p.

18.

Frege (1848-1925) was hardly mentioned in Urmson’s Philosophical Analysis (1956), but acknowledgement grew as a result
of the efforts of Michael Dummett, for instance in his article on
Frege in The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and
Philosophers, edited by J.O. Urmson, London, 1960. See also
Antony Flew, ed.,Logic and Language, Oxford, Blackwell, 1951,
p. 10, n. 1.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung
(1918), translated into English by C.K. Ogden, the inventor of
Basic English, under the unfortunate title – suggested by G.E.

Moore-ofTractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London, Routledge,
1922.

See D.F. Pears, ‘Logical Atomism’, in Gilbert Ryle et aI., The
Revolution in Philosophy.

See J.O. Urmson, Philosophical Analysis: its Development
between the two World Wars, Oxford, Oxford University Press,
1956.

Stephen Toulmin, review of Rudolph Carnap, Logical F oundations of Probability, Mind LXII, 245, January 1953, p. 99.

G.E. Moore (1873-1958) explained some of this programme in
his essay’ A Defence of Common Sense’ (1923), reprinted in the
posthumous Philosophical Papers, London, Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1959.

Iris Murdoch, ‘Metaphysics and Ethics’, p. 100.

G.A. Paul, ‘G.E. Moore: Analysis, Common Usage, and Common Sense’ , in Gilbert Ry le et al., The Revolution in Philosophy,
pp. 67, 69; on Moore’s ‘famous taciturnity’ see Quentin Bell,

19

Virginia WoolJ, London, Hogarth, 1972, II, 215.

92

93

A.1. Ayer, Part of my Life, London, Collins, 1977, p. 150. Ayer
refers here to G .E. Moore, and the same comparison with the
little boy is to be found, for example, in C.D. Broad, ‘The Local
Background of Contemporary Cambridge Philosophy’, in C.A.

Mace, ed., British Philosophy in the Mid -Century: a Cambridge
Symposium, London, George AlIen and Unwin, 1957, p. 51.

Antony Flew, ed., Logic and Language, p. 10.

116

117

(1959), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, p. 242, n. 1, which
rules out 1960, which has been given elsewhere.

Leslie Beck, Jean Wahl, et al., La philosophie analytique,
Cahiers de Royaumont, Philosophie, IV, Paris, Minuit, 1962, p.

230.

Gilbert Ryle, ‘La phenomenologie contre The Concept ofMind,’

La ph ilosophie analytique, pp. 67-68. The text quoted here is the
English original, published in his Philosophical Papers, London, Hutchinson, 1971, pp. 180-182.

La philosophie analytique, pp. 85-7.

94

They were eventually published as The Blue and Brown Books,
Oxford, Blackwell, 1958.

118

95
96

The Blue and Brown Books, p. 18.

See J.O. Urmson, Philosophical Analysis, pp. 169-182.

119
120

97
98

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 109.

P.F. Strawson, review of Philosophical Investigations, Mind
LXIII, 249, January 1954, pp. 78, 99.

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, p. 214.

La philosophie analytique, pp. 87, 375, 344.

La philosophie analytique, pp. 93–4, 99. A translation of this
exchange is available in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Texts and
Dialogues, edited by Hugh J. Silverman and James Barry, New
Jersey, Humanities Press, 1992, pp. 65-6, 71.

121

Karl Popper (1902) came to the LSE in 1947, having spent ten
years in New Zealand after leaving his native Austria. His The
Open Society and its Enemies (1945) was well-received (see for
example Ryle’s review in Mind LVI, 222, April 1947, pp. 16772), but he was isolated as a result of his implacable hostility to
‘Wittgenstein and his school’ with their belief that ‘genuine
philosophical problems do not exist’. (Karl Popper, ‘Philosophy
of Science: A Personal Report,’ in C.A. Mace,B ritish Philosophy
in the Mid-Century, p 183, reprinted in Popper’s Conjectures
and Refutations, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, p.

44.) Popper remained truculent: ‘I claim that there are
philosophical problems; and even that I have solved them’.

(Unended Quest, an IntellectualAutobiography, London, Collins
Fontana, 1976, p. 124.)

122

The Times, 5 November 1959, p. 13.

Ernest Gellner (1925-), interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and
the Fly-bottle, p. 36.

Ernest Gellner, Words and Things, with an introduction by
Bertrand Russell, (1959), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, pp.

288-9,176,257,249,264-5,272-3.

99
100
101
102
103
104
105

106
107
108
109
110
111
112

113

114
115

20

Gilbert Ryle, ‘Autobiographical’, p. 11.

G.J. Warnock, interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and the Flybottle, p. 55.

D.F. Pears, ‘Logical Atomism’, in The Revolution in Philosophy, pp. 54-5.

AJ. Ayer and Raymond Winch, eds, British Empirical Philosophers, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952.

Iris Murdoch, ‘Metaphysics and Ethics’, in The Nature of
Metaphysics, p. 99.

In Ireland, apart from the work of the protestant Trinity College
Dublin, catholic priests maintained an unbroken tradition of
scholasticism, though it had no academic base until the foundation of Queen’s University in Belfast in 1845. In Wales, the
colleges which formed the University of Wales at the end of the
nineteenth century required a philosophical training in nearly all
their arts students. In 1952, there was even a philosophical
journal in Welsh. (See H.D. Lewis, ‘The Position of Philosophy
in the University of Wales’, in Canguilhem, ed., The Teaching
ofPhilosophy, pp. 137–40.) And in the three ancient universities
of Scotland, there was a continuous tradition of compulsory
moral philosophy. The English versions of many philosophical
classics were due to Scots translators. Mind itself began as a
Scottish journal, and its first issue said that there were as yet no
professional philosophers south of the border. By 1900 however
the Scots began to feel they were being taken over by the English.

(See Norman Kemp Smith, ‘The Scots Philosophical Club’,
Philosophical Quarterly I, 1, October 1950, pp. 1–4.)
RM. Hare, interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and the Flybottle, p. 47.

T.D. Weldon, review of Hermann Wein, Das Problem des
Relativismus, Mind LX, 240, October 1951, p. 567.

C.A. Mace, review of P.J.R Dempsey, The Psychology of
Sartre, Mind LXI, 243, July 1952, pp. 425–427.

Isaiah Berlin, review of Benedetto Croce, My Philosophy, Mind
LXI, 244, October 1952, pp. 574-575.

P.F. Strawson, review of Maxime Chastaing, La ph ilosophie de
Virginia WoolJ, Mind LXIII, 252, October 1954, pp. 574-575.

A.J. Ayer, Part of my Life, pp. 284-5,299.

A.J. Ayer, More of My Life, pp. 28-9; see also ‘Reflections on
Existentialism’ (1966), in A.J. Ayer, Metaphysics and Common
Sense, London, Macmillan, 1969, pp. 203-218.

AJ. Ayer,More ofMy Life, pp. 26–7. Perhaps the reference was
to the discussion of the emptiness of a jug in Heidegger’s essay
‘The Thing’ (1950), translated by Albert Hofstadter in Martin
Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, New York, Harper and
Row 1971.

RM. Hare, ‘A School for Philosophers’, pp. 114-5.

The date of 1958 is given in Ernest Gellner, Words and Things,

123
124

125

126
127

Elizabeth Anscombe, Sydenham High and St. Hugh’s; J.L.

Austin, Shrewsbury and Balliol; Isaiah Berlin, St Paul’s and
Corpus; Michael Dummett, Winchester and Christ Church;
AG.N. Flew, Kingswood and St. John’s; Phillipa Foot, privately and Somerville; Stuart Hampshire, Repton and Balliol;
RM. Hare, Rugby and Balliol; H.L.A Hart, Cheltenham College, Bradford Grammar School, New; Iris Murdoch, Badminton and Somerville; P.H. Nowell-Smith, Winchester and New;
David Pears, Westminster and BaIliol; Anthony Quinton, Stowe
and Christchurch; Gilbert Ryle, Brighton College and Queen’s;
P .F. Strawson, Christ’s College Finchley and St John’s; Stephen
Toulmin, Oundle and King’s, Cambridge; J.O. Urmson,
Kingswood and Corpus; G.J. Warnock, Winchester and New;
Mary Warnock, St Swithun’s Winchester and Lady Margaret
Hall; Bernard Williams, Chigwell and Balliol.

Bertrand Russell, interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and the
Fly-bottle, p. 40.

‘Perhaps this explains why I find London much more exciting
than Oxford’ , AJ. Ayer, interviewed in Ved Mehta, The Fly and
the Fly-bottle, p. 69.

128

Of the 340 philosophy books, mostly in English but some in
foreign languages, which were reviewed in the TLS in the fifties,
20 (less than 6 per cent) were Oxfordian; 46 (14 per cent) were
analytic in the old style ofRussell; 83 (24 per cent) were idealist;
and no less than 79 (23 per cent) were ‘continental,’mostly
existentialist. The remaining 112 (33 per cent) do not fit any of
these categories.

129

Anon. (in fact J.L. Austin), review of The Concept of Mind,
Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1950, reprinted in Wood and
Pitcher, eds, Ryle. pp. 45-51.

130

John Wisdom (1904- ), who taught at Cambridge, had been a
colleague of Wittgenstein, but was never suspected of being a

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

‘disciple’. He was an adherent of the Basic English movement
(see his Interpretation and Analysis in Relation to Bentham’s
Theory of Definition, Psyche Miniatures, London, Kegan Paul,
Trench, Trubner, 1931). His paper ‘Philosophical Perplexity’

(Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, XXXVII, 1936-7,
reprinted in his Philosophy and Psycho-Analysis, Oxford,
Blackwell, 1953) was for many years taken to be the closest
statement of Wittgenstein’ s later, unpublished doctrines, and is
described by Urmson as ‘the first manifesto of a new way of
doing philosophy’ (Philosophical Analysis, p. 178).

131

‘The Philosophy of 1951’, Times Literary Supplement, 24
August 1951, p. x.

132

C.D. Broad, review of H.H. Price, Thinking and Experience,
Mind LXIII, 251, July 1954, p. 403.

Anon., review of Antony Flew, ed., Essays in Conceptual
Analysis, Times Literary Supplement, 8 March 1957, p. 149.

G.J. Wamock, foreword to Isaiah Berlin et aI., Essays on 1.L.

Austin, p. v.

See for example Friedrich Waismann, The Principles of Linguistic Philosophy, edited by Rom Harn~, London, Macmillan,
1965.

See for example John Searle, Speech Acts, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969; Stephen C. Levinson, Pragmatics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983; Jilrgen
Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action (1981), translated
by Thomas McCarthy, 2 vols, Boston, Beacon Press, 1984.

133
134

135

136

137

Gilbert Ryle, ‘Systematically misleading expressions’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, XXXII, 1931-2, reprinted
in A.G.N. Flew, ed., Logic and Language, pp. 11-12.

138

C.H. Langford, ‘The Notion of Analysis in Moore’s Philosophy,’ in P.A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy ofG E. Moore, La Salle,
Illinois, Open Court, p. 323.

139

The criticism was made very cogently by W.V.O. Quineparticularly in his ‘Mr Strawson on Logical Theory’, Mind LXII, 248,
October 1953, reprinted in The Ways of Paradox, New York,
Random House, 1966.

140

Gilbert Ry le, The Concept of Mind, London, Hutchinson, 1949,
p.lO.

141

Stuart Hampshire, review of The Concept of Mind, Mind LIX,
234, April 1950, pp. 239-241, reprinted in Wood and Pitcher,
eds, Ryle, pp. 20-23.

142

Gilbert Ryle, review of Se in und Zeit, Mind XXXVIII, 151, July
1929, p. 364; reprinted in Murray, ed., Heidegger and Modern
Philosophy, p. 57.

143

George Pitcher, ‘Austin: a personal memoir’, in Isaiah Berlin et
aI., Essays on 1.L. Austin, p. 24.

144

J.L. Austin in La philosophie analytique, p. 292.

145

‘Mon credo se ramene en gros a m’ excuser de ne pas faire ce
qu’il n’entre nullementen mon propos de faire’, La philosophie
analytique, p. 375.

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