Weekend at Universi t..L..£.f2 ent ,
first, insofar as its ‘problems’ arc emplr ~~l’: _ l,rohlems
(knowledge of the external world, causality, other minJ~,
personal identity, etc.), and secondly, insofar as it retain
the same ideological orientation as classical empiricism.
Epistemology is by its very nature prescriptive; it is for
some claims to knowledge and against others. This aspect of
contemporary epistemology has become mystified, but it remains
covertly prescriptive; in practice it is for the natural
sciences, against psychoanalysis and Marxism on the grounds
that they are ‘unverifiable’ or ‘unfalsifiable’. But whereas
the classical empiricists were in close touch with the sciences
and were in reaction against academicism and scholasticism,
contemporary philosophy has become the “New Scholasticism”.
It has cut itself off from concrete bodies of knowledge and
thereby condemned itself to sterility, declaring itself
concerned solely with ‘language’ or ‘concepts’; this is the
rationale of academicism.
Plans for the formation of the Radical Philosophy Group
originated at a small and informal discussion weekend which
,.:.5 held in June last year.
We are here reprinting a report
011 that meeting which wa<; circulated afterwards..
Tt Sh01tld be
emphasised that this summary presents the discussion~ in a very
~’Jb:;eviated form; thus the views whieh were expressed and the
conclusions which ‘1ere formed are ;1ere abstracted from much of
their supporting arguments _ Nevertheless \e thL,k that the
report may Le of interest as i&dicating the kinds of issue that
rriday evening’s dj scussion cenrred on a paper lJy Ton)
Sidllen in which he examine:l the non–theoretica1 determinants
of molern English (and especially Oxford) philosophy.. His th(~sis
~as that its poverty was not a function of a false theory
(Er.:pirici srn, for exa:nple). Rather, there was no powerful or
~igurous theoretical tradit~on at all in England.
;;hilosophical activity was dominated by its institutional and
social Setting. He referred to an artide by R.M.Hr.re (“A
School for P;’lilosophers” Ratio V 3), and argued that Hare
emdttingly re’veals the way in which the wor;’; of the
“pr.)fe5sic nal philosopher” and his whale idea of philosophr is
.,flared hy J1is activity a3 a prepr.rer of future bUTeaucrats for
the Examination School~. Although these factors obviously
.)pc-rac6 in oT.her subjects, they a-Zfect philosophy to a special
der:,ree, since it has l’ecome almost entirely an acade~dc,teaching
disc:iplinc for specialists. Thus he o:ought to explain not only
‘J1e conformist CO!1ten t of English phi losopily but al so its pieceiileal parcelled-up character, its formalistic stress on “moves”
and “tech:1iques” of linguistic analysis, and its isolation from
reality and living thought – forcing it to feed on itself.
Richard argued that it was misleading to attack
contemporary philosophy for being ‘linguistic’.
The distinction between ‘questions about language’ and ‘questions
about the world’ is itself a false dichotomy, and therefore
one cannot effectively characterise contemporary philosophy by
saying that it is concerned with language. Moreover,philosophical arguments may legitimately appeal to ‘what we say’; and in
particular cases the philosophical nature of a question may
often be brought out by saying that it is ‘conceptual’ or
‘second-order’. Wllat is really characteristic of contemporary
philosophy, and leads to charges of ‘quibbling about words’, is
its piecemeal nature. This is itself intrinsically connected
with the empiricist view of knowledge and experience. Richard
thus agreed with Sean that the important thing to concentrate
on is the empiricist basis of contemporary philosophy, and he
suggested that possihle lines of approach might be:
to challenge the dichotomy of ‘Epistemology’ and ‘Ethics’
as the two separate bases of university philosophy courses;
the division between the two perpetuates and is -perpetuated by
the fact/value dichotomy and the empiricist view of
to attack the prevaUing conception of the history of
philosophy; the Kant revival should be seen as a way into Hegel
and Marx – but these, as also the philosopheis in the phenomeno10gical tradition, should not just be studied as alternative
interests but should be used to combat the assumptions of
Tun), quoted an arL-cle ::y Mark Pattison in Mind, 18i6,
showing how, from the very beginning of the modern academic
p,,,rioJ, philosophy at Oxford was constricted by t:1C demand
that teachers spend !liOSt 0’£ their time teaching for examinations.
In the discussion Tony’s suggestion that any opposition
movement i,l philosophy would have “to combat these distortlr,g
influe:1ces was generally accepted. But there “as disagreement
about the importance of insti tutiona:l force~, especially
examinations. It emerged that it ,,’as important to distinguish
the historical importance of examinations in shaping academic
pU losophy’ s development in England from their present importance
in maintaining the status que in philosophy.
to develop positively the anti-empiricist elements in
Wittgenstein’s later philosophy.
There was some disagreement as to how far Wittgenstein
could be used in this way. What was seen to be important was
his recognition of the intrinsic connections between understanding and a) agency, b) social relations; on both points,
there are affinities with Hegel and Marx. But there was
disagreement as to whether Wittgenstein had really said anything
very positive or useful about the nature of these connections.
Contemporary British Philosophy as Theory
Saturday’s discussion was mainly an attempt to situate
conte;nporary Bri t j sh philosophy theor,~tically. The discussion
was ir.itiated by a paper on epistemology which Sean Sayers read,
and by some further comments from Richard Norman. The main
points to emerge were:-
Another point of disagreement which emerged in
discussion was the nature of the relation between philosophy
and particular sciences or bodies of knOWledge. There was a
general acceptance of Sean’s point that the scholasticism of
contemporary philosophy consists in its cutting itself off
from concrete areas of knowledge, and an agreement on the need
to reject the dualistic view that “science investigates reality,
philosophy investigates language/concepts”. But some of us
were inclined to accept the first-order/second-order distinction,
and to say that philosophy does not attempt to answer the same
questions as are confronted within the specific disciplines;
others argued that it was not d matter of first order as against
second order, but one of degree of generality and depth of
Sean argued that contemporary epistemology is still
basically empiricist. He examined the relationship between it
and classical empiricism, using the latter term to mean not just
the idea that knowledge 1s based on experience, but also a
particular interpretation of ‘experience’ wi thir. a particular
tradition. He traced the progressive impoverishment of the
concept of experience, from Bacon to the colour-patches of
sense-datum theorists. Linguistic epistemology is a new phase
of empiricism. Though less explicitly so, it remains empiricist,
How should we interpret Marx’ s own attitude to philosophy? What
is meant by his talk of abolishing philosophy through practice?
What precisely did Marx himself contribute of importance to
philosophy? How should we evaluate the main tendencies in
Marxism since Marx?
(Chris identified two basic traditions,
the positivistic, and the neo-Hegelian, and suggested that
though the former had made useful contributions to limited
historical problems, the latter was likely to prove philosophicaUy the more fruitful; he added that it would be valuable to
compi’1’e annotated bibliographies of the most important Marxist
writings since Marx). In what areas has Marxism made progress,
and in what areas does the really important work remain to be
(Chris suggested that concrete sociological and
historical analyses came into the first category, epistemOlogy
and ethics into the second. He himself was doing some work on
Marxist ethics; he gave a brief review of the existing literature, none of which could be held to be satisfactory. Similarly
with epistemOlogy: there had been useful work on the sociology
of knowledge but, as with bourgeois sociology of knowledge,
there had been no satisfactory treatment of the status of the
theory itself and the question how it could be anything other
than just another ideology.
question – so that it should be recognised that philosophical
questions arise in any field and that great scientists have
been forced, through their work, to tackle philosophical
The central theme that emerged from the discussion
was a hostility to ’empiricism’.
This did not go unquestioned.
Tony was particularly unhappy with the idea of an anti-empiricist
“party line”. Chris Arthur asked whether we should be so ready
to let the term ’empiricist’ be appropriated by a particular
philosophical tradition; was it not a term which, to signify the
grounding of knowledge in experience, we should wish to retain?
It was generally felt, however, that the term had hecome inseparable from the specific tradition, and that an urgent task for
an opposition movement in philosophy would be to re-examine the
whole concept of ‘experience’, to rescue it from ’empiricist’
distortions, and to re-present it as essentially practical and
The Relevance of Marxism
A brief discussion of Marxism was introduced by Chris
Arthur, who fel t that the questions raised so far had tended to
be mainly negative and that we ought to consider how far Marxism
was capable of providing a positive perspective which we could
aim to develop.
He suggested that the following were the main
questions demanding attention; unfortunately the discussion did
not really get beyond an acceptance of the importance of the
questions ….. .
Practical and organisational matters were also discussed.
Further meetings were held at the University of Kent at the
beginning of September 1971, and at Birkbeck College London on
25 September, as a resul t of which it was decided to go ahead
with the formation of a Group and the production of the present
The Oxford Branch of the Radical Philosophy Group was formed
We have been feeling our way rather hesitantly
but we have found considerable sympathy and
support. Next term we will be a proper university society,
which means we will have a paying membership and money to spend
on our activities. So far we have about thirty definite
supporters, and many possible supporters seem to he biding
their time to see if the Radical Philosophy Group isn’t a flash
in the pan. Unlike other local groups, we have received no
support or encouragement from the sixty or so teachers of
philosophy in the university.
Our first general meeting took place at the end of
October with about 50 present from colleges all over London.
We decided that, rather than have a formal paper/reply
situation, which would encourage the usual hole-picking
competi tion, we would have a loosely structured meeting to
enable the co-operative articulation of diverse ideas and
attitudes. We hoped this would be a model for the way of
working we would be trying to develop in the study and
Sean Sayers led the discussion with some brief remarks
about the contemporary situation in Philosophy. As it turned
out the discussion was diffuse, inevitably perhaps given the
widely ranging differences over the state of English philosophy
and what needed to be done. Some defended the “status quo”
but most welcomed the Radical Philosophy Group. At the end of
the meeting sixteen suggestions for study groups were put up.
We have a twofold programme of activities: open meetings and
small closed groups.
The small groups are meant to meet regularly to discuss
philosophical questions or to work through difficult books.
The aim is to give people the opportunity for free and open
discussion in an uncompetitive atmosphere free from the narrow
formalities of academic philosphy. We think the best way of
achieving this is to keep numbers small (about eight) and
membership constant: a member of a small group has to take
his membership quite seriously, and non members are not
normally admitted to small group meetings. Small groups have
been set up on: The Mind; Concrete Moral Problems; and on Hegel.
Next term there should be groups on Social Science, Morality and
Society and Wittgenstein.
The special problem of philosophy in London is that there
are a large number of people and institutions spread all over
the place. Contact is difficult. Hopefully the London groups
will help break this isolation down.
Following the meeting, several study groups have actually
formed and have been successful in varying degrees.
historical materialism group has met three times, with about
The individualism group has met six times with
numbers and composition varying a lot. Other going groups are
one on education and one on Hegel. We expect other groups to
be formed next term.
We also run open meetings where people give talks on philosophy,
and where we co-ordinate other activities such as the small
groups scheme. We had three meetings this term, and in spite
of difficulties in advertising them, we attracted up to 80
people. Next term, we will have four open meetings, mostly with
speakers from outside Oxford. We will be the only University
philosophy society which invites speakers from outside Oxford;
and I think we will have achieved something if we get Oxford
philosophers to realise that Oxford isn’t the centre of the
The formation of these groups raises a number of
important and difficult questions of organization. It is
obviously no easy task for philosophers to liberate themselves
from academicism and its attendant evils. One thing is clear:
that there is going to be a fairly permanent tension in the
groups between the concerns of people who are primarily
“radicals” and people who are primarily “philosophers”.
Inevitably there will also be a degree of “tourism”. But we
do not see these tensions as unhealthy or as, at least at this
stage, producing anything like an organizational crisis.
In the last few years, many Oxford philosophers, especially
Strawson and Hare, have come to think that linguistics is the’
most important part of philosophy.
A special post in linguistics
was set up two years ago; and there are proposals to introduce an
option~l linguistics paper in a philosophy BA course (PPP) and in
the phIlosophy graduate course (B.Phil).
(in association with the Philadelphia Association)
J.M. Heaton M.A.,M.B.,B.Chir.
H. Crawford M. B. ,Ch. B. ,C.R.C.P. CC) .
R.D. Laing M.B.,Ch.B.,D.P.M.
The Course consists of:
The importance of developing linguistics in Oxford has been
given as a reason for not expanding in other directions. For
instance, it will soon be possible to take a joint BA course in
modern languages and philosophy, but no courses will be offered
i~ continental philosophy since Kant.
When student representatIves expressed their astonishment about this at a meeting of a
staff-graduate student consultative committee in November, the
representatives of the philosophy staff said they hadn’t the
teaching personnel to offer such a course. Asked why they didn’t
try to do something about this someone said it would endanger
their plans for linguistics; others said there was nothing they
could do to affect appointments in this ramshackle university;
and someone else said that since there weren’t yet any Oxford
graduates in Modern Languages and Philosophy, they couldn’t
expect any decent applicants for posts in Modern Continental
philosophy. (There was some embarrassment when a student
pointed out that there were foreign universities and also about
fifty British universities besides Oxford.)
Finally a motion
was put which said, amongst other things, that in Oxford ‘post
Hegel ian continental phi losophy’ didn’t get as much attention
as it ought to.
1. Training analysis
2. Weekly seminars
3. Weekly supervision when patients are being treated.
.The seminars are addressed to the problems of the therapist
In hIS development. The emphasis throughout is on helping the
participants to understand and develop their own experience’of
therapy. The phenomenological method seems ideally suited for
this, reflecting a philosophy of the world as lived not as
The following themes are covered:
The basic theory and classical texts of phenomenology.
The phenomenology of the life world, i. e. how persons
experience themselves in space and time, their bodies,
feelings, emotions, other people etc.
Hermeneutics and the study of symbols, dreams, myths.
Language, including rhetoric, poetics and wit.
The dynamics of small groups e.g. families.
Dialectic e.g. Socratic, Hegelian and Marxist.
The presentation of case histories and interviews.
The representatives of the philosophy staff saw a bolt hole,
and applied the famous Oxford argument from Oxford ignorance:
according to the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting, ‘Mr.Taylor
pointed out that he, and perhaps others present, would have to
abstain on this motion because knowing little about the philosophy in question, he did not know how much it ought to be
studied.’ The motion was passed, 6 votes for, 2 votes against,
and 6 abstentions.
No formal qual ifications in psychotherapy are awarded.
The course aims to give psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and others working in the field of psychotherapy a
basic competence in phenomenology.
“The universities are old, and they have the faults of
old age: that is to say, they are hardly able to
correct themselves. Can one hope that the professors
will give up what they believe themselves to know, in
order to I earn what they are ignorant about?
. they admit that their lessons teach nothing, or
nothing useful? No: like schoolboys, they will carry
on going to school to fulfil their task.”
Cours d’Etudes, Histoire Moderne
from £11.00 per week
£ 1.00 per seminar
from £ 5.50 per week
“I am not always such a linguistic philosopher; but when
I am faced wi th the psychologist, with his masses of
empirical data, then I have to have something to fall back
(G.N.A. Vesey at Philosophy of
Psychology Conference, Kent, 1971.)
The Philosophy Group at Sussex University are proposing to
Introduce “streaming” of graduate course-work, in an attempt to
break a,;”ay from estah1 ished formulae in British uni versi ties. The
c~nventIo~al co~rse, now called “Central Philosophical Issues”,
wlll. remaIn avaIlable. There will be four new options based on
the Interests of Sussex specialists in the fields.
alternative includes four course units, two per term.
“But does not the use of physical methods (for example,
ECT) on patients by orthodox psychiatr sts involve the
infliction of ‘violence’ on a patient? And is this not
morally unjustifiable? If we confine ourselves to talking
the ~een’s English, then it is just false to say that the
physIcal methods of orthodox psychiatry involve the infliction of violence. But these existentialists do not confine
themsel ves within the bounds of the Queen’s English.”
(B.A. Farrell on “The Logic of
(a) Aristotle’s ~fetaphysics
(b) Idealism and its Critics
Cc) A ~etaphys i ca-I Sys tern
Cd) Nature of Hetaphysical Thinking
2. Phi Iosophy, Psychology and Linguistics
Ca) Introduction to Linguistics
Cb) Philosophy of Language
Cc) Philosophical Psychology
(d) Cognition and Representation
(a) ~farxist Social and Political Philosophy I
(b) Option (e.g. Harxist theory of knowledge)
(c) Marxist Social and Political Philosophy II
(d) Philosophical Trends in the 20th century
4. Modern European Philosophy
(a) Phenomenology and Existentialism I
Cb) Option (e.g. phenomenological aesthetics)
(c) Phenomenology and Existentialism 11
(d) Philosophical Trends in the 20th century
(joint unit with the Marxism course)
If the proposal is accepted these courses will be available
Sussex in 1972-73.
I~ state authority is monopolized indefinitely by a group
wIth one set of values, the state will seem a poor umpire
to men with different values. If they feel that their
l:gitimate interests are consistently disregarded they
WIll b: morally dissatisfied. If they are powerful enough,
they WIll try to change the constitution to secure more
favourable umpires. Revolutions are made and resisted in
a spirit of righteous indignation: The state will remain
at peace only if the government’s policy is morally intelligible at least to the more powerful interests that it affects.
We shall argue later that one of the virtues of liberal
democracy is that it tends to produce governments which
share the moral attitudes of at least the strongest groups
within the community
(Benn & Peters: Social Principles and
The Democratic State)