|PHILOSOPHER: A KIND OF LIFE
narrative of the academic philosopher's perilous progress in and out of
including the thinking -- here are the first six sections of it. There
60 or so sections in the book published in the United States, Canada
England for 2001 -- Philosopher: A Kind of Life. The first five
make up a tour of a university philosopher's green summer. They raise a
of how he got there, and of the explanation of a life. The sixth
-- the very last free one, declares Routledge, my good but reasonably
publisher -- begins on the answers to those questions.
This now a place where I am alone, a small room of recesses and bays, bright at the window. It is made calm by the green palisade of trees against the sky at the bottom of the gardens, a backdrop waiting for the rest of the play. The room is freshly painted in its old colours, two light and just different blues on the walls, with the whiter one above the picture rail under the white ceiling. In the room there are now the things of only my own life, and only one kind of life. It is an orderly study again. A table in the window without clutter, a brass clock on it that gets attention. Watercolours and paintings, two of them large and emotional impressions of trees, framed by me. In place of women’s radio programmes, there is quiet Bach and Mozart, or silence except for the birds. In a recess, a framed announcement recalling my inaugural lecture, ‘The Mind, Neuroscience, and Life-Hopes,’ not certain to escape the eye of a visitor rightly seated.
Up the few steps from the study and along the hallway, past the undetaining watercolours, past the empty space from which the too detaining still-life departed with Jane, is the drawing room. I learned to call it by that name, a little resolutely. It is large enough to have held a few dozen friends and acquaintances who trooped in once more to the Christmas drinks, perhaps some of them a little resolutely too.
Through three good windows, their slender glazing bars as well preserved as those of the study, the drawing room also looks out to the palisade of trees. This room is still brighter than the study, being somewhat higher in the house. It has six sides, in two light and just different greens, the nearly white one above. Wainscot rail reinstated in very living memory. Older urns and swales in relief on the fireplace. Odd pillars of books on the tables and on the carpet, next to the wicker settee and chairs and the brown Victorian sofa. Flowers and candles, and some small brass vessels, nicely worked frowa caskets, brought back from visits as external examiner to the university in Ghana. Eleven small portraits in a line around the room, some of 18th Century gents in ruffs, several of Russian lads, the latter in memory of the Soviet Union I was too sensible or respectable or timid to support.
I see again that the room is a little contrived, perhaps a little comic. Even worse in the report of a guest of sceptical sensibility or with an eye for social aspiration? This does not much touch my simple pleasure in it. In particular, I do not follow persons of more rigorous taste who would exchange its decorous ease for, say, one of those white cells of the Palais Wittgenstein, those stern products of functional necessity and geometry, dutifully visited in Vienna the other week. The philosopher-architect, after arriving at the dimensions for his white shoeboxes, took more aesthetic thought only to conceal the central heating and to determine the right height for the door handles. They look pretty high to me.
The third of my more easeful rooms is through two facing doors from the drawing room. It too is in accord with the principle of decoration already noticed, owed to departed Janet: two just different yellows here. A good table and ten chairs. This dining room is heavy with more pictures, some above others, a motley but all in accord with another principle, my own. It is that the main value of art must surely have to do with its being true of something, and so it is better when we are not left wondering what that thing might be. Hence the reproduction of a portrait of Hume, patron saint of philosophers of my inclination, and also, Victorian or later, the still-lifes, studies of women and landscapes, etchings on wood of lion, tiger and fox, profile of the Spanish lieutenant and so on, and portrait of the host. There are French doors to a pretty balcony. Some later Juliet could lean against that white balustrade. An older and wiser one might be best.
What remains to be noted in Flat B, this first-floor setting of my life, is a bedroom. One large window of sixteen panes, looking into the boughs of a great tree at the front of the house. A smaller room, two pinks, more pictures. In a section of the bookcase are the books I have written. Those once brave hopes, still not extinguished. They are somewhat revived now by the growing company of their translations. There is space left for another two or three vols, including the one that will do the trick, at last guarantee me a future. I made the solid bed too. It is in a new position now, against a different wall. For a time I avert my eyes from it.
Out of the window and down below, in the garden between the house and the street, in the shadow of the chestnut boughs, connected to the house by stained-glass porch and perambulator store, is something else. It is The Studio, as it says on its door, and as it is named, its definite article intact, in five hundred letters about rent arrears and damp and keys. An artist’s studio of good size, added to the property, like the porch and pram store, by some Victorian. Good-enough brickwork, chimney, slate roof, broad skylight over a good working space and two galleries. In it is an adversary, the socialist landlord’s problem, the occupant who seized her moment and would succeed the tenant. Does my life have an adversary in it more often than others? Do I just make more of my ordinary allotment of adversaries than others do? Let me look away from that for a time too.
The narrow street takes its short way down from St. John’s Church at the top, cream and upstanding, to the shops and Hampstead Heath at the bottom. The street is still quiet enough, save for the morning cars. Its cited charm has not been too much touched by garden designers and by the determination of new residents to floodlight their Regency stucco, for purposes of night security as they say. Once Albion Grove, it now has a name not writ in water, Keats’s. In it, when it was a village path, he wrote and lived a part of his brief life, the best part and some of the rest. The nightingale in the garden, other odes, beauty and truth, love of Fanny, the drop of blood on the pillow, and the parting. I pedal past his house each morning to the other place of my life. Down the hill through Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Primrose Hill, Camden Town and Euston, to Bloomsbury and my other room.
It too can seem closer to being my life than just a setting of it, closer to being the stuff of my life than just a principal location of it. Can there be some sense in this, some plain truth? Some actual philosophy, some English philosophy, not only fancy and feeling or French performance?
The room is one of pride and success, history, work, many lectures and papers, fewer pleasures, argument in good temper and bad, strategies and alliances, beginnings and endings of careers, hurt and sad drama. The main hurt and sad drama was also a stabbing, some say. It is of a size owed to the good opinion that was had, by himself and others, of an earlier and larger Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College London. A. J. Ayer, Professor Sir Alfred, Freddie, known to me in all those roles, all attacked with practised panache. In the first, he wrote the book Language, Truth and Logic. It inspired my retorts to teachers of my late boyhood who tried to lead me into deep thinking. Along with the decency of the Welfare State, which lingers on far less well, and placenames, and the lure of a past, and not much susceptibility to the American way of life, the book brought me to England.
University College London, as resistant to the inclusion of a comma in its name as The Studio is to the loss of its definite article, stands as firmly and as godlessly in Gower St. as it did in 1828, when it first set out to awaken Oxford and Cambridge from their dogmatic slumbers. It was the original University of London. Its Corinthian portico and measured dome, partly paid for by the worthy Grote, welcomed atheists, Dissenters, Catholics, Utilitarians, Jews, women, and other lower orders. It was a breath of fresh air. It still is, despite being effectively a university itself, with some thousands of students and with a good sense of its achievements and of the worth of respectability. Such a breath was Jeremy Bentham himself, its presiding spirit and household god. The great Utilitarian also had self-regard, presumably even more than Freddie. His auto-icon, which is to say his mummified skeleton, remains with us in a college cloister, according to his instructions. The beadles unlock his box to tourists with moderate gravity.
My room is away from the portico and dome, on the other side of the college, in Gordon Square, where blue plaques recall the Bloomsbury past. In particular those Stracheys, Bells, Carringtons, Morrells and Woolfs, not quite immortal, officially committed to the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects. The room is large, L-shaped and suited to a worthy Victorian. It is all of the first floor of the house of the philosophers of the college, my colleagues, the Department of Philosophy. Six floors of Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers, working their way down from the attic or up from the basement by patience and publications.
In the settled scheme of things, the room is both the Grote’s own study and teaching room and also a place for other lectures, seminars and meetings. Thus it welcomes visiting philosophers, up from Oxford to do a turn on this metropolitan stage, or in from Berkeley to bring confident news of California and the future. The ring of soft armchairs and sofa, now green, has behind it rows of upright and serviceable chairs, 45 of them. Undergraduates or postgraduates hear about and may find themselves in only the company of only a philosophical subject-matter. Time and space, causation, possible worlds, the Redundancy Theory of Truth, modal logic, mind and brain, or Functionalism. Scepticism, Moral Realism, the values of art, the rationality of the free market, what it is like to be a bat, or, once in a long while, the proprietary doctrines of Aristotle, Kant and other greats of the past. No longer, I am pleased to say, Freud’s theory of sexuality, which, after an extended appearance, slipped off the curriculum.
The rest of life just comes to a stop for a while as various propositions are laid out and turned over by me or by the visitors, or by my departmental colleagues when they book my room in the hope that their own smaller rooms will be insufficient for their audience. But the room has long had another part to play in our lives as well. Here we have had our departmental meetings. Occasions for the sharing out of labours, the gathering of opinions on undergraduates, and the massed interviewing of candidates for lectureships. Who is to join us and who not? Very serious matter. Here too the Headship of the department has been our unofficial or official subject. That was the hurt and the sad drama, maybe a stabbing.
In a distant corner, a personal computer and a steamer trunk. The computer delivers my thoughts of yesterday back to me for further revision, and also the e-mail, often from my daughter in Princeton. My son, not having an ocean between us, preserves his independence more sternly. The steamer trunk has past in it. A thousand dated notes, many of self-mortification or self-justification, an official complaint or two of injustice, histories of academic struggles and transactions, and also very many letters, some of them sweet letters of love, desire and marriage. Safer here than in Hampstead. A small archive of the struggle.
I admit to the usual amount of interest in myself and my thinking, but am reassured that this self-interest may issue in something more general. My aim, of course, is not another autobiography. Who in my authorial situation does not promise more? The first of my two aims is to open up a kind of life. It is to make plain a kind of life by a good means, quite possibly the very best means. That is getting into view and telling the truth about a suitable instance or example of the thing. My life, although notable in parts, is not much more than middle-sized. I do not have the satisfaction and misfotunate of being a real individual, so impressively and uselessly different that to learn of me is to learn only of me.
The kind of life in question is that of a working, academic or university philosopher. Not real life, they say. Still, carried on quite as fully elsewhere as in studies, lecture rooms, common rooms and committee rooms. We do not leave our natures behind in leaving our places of work.
Of course this example of the full-time professional philosopher will be different from other examples of the kind, even greatly different, perhaps to their relief. But will it not be more enlightening as to the kind, nevertheless, than any general distillation, composite, constructed average member, survey, or group photo? Particularly if I really make use of my unique knowledge of the example from the inside, really try to tell the truth? Roussea left a lot out in his confessions, and not just the bit about baring his bum in the street in the hope of a spanking. May I, in this more confessional age, be different from him not only in being middle-sized but by leaving out less?
My second aim is explanation. How do I and my kind get to places like this? What explains the rest of what else needs saying of me in this green summer -- about my philosophical commitments and tendencies, my daily round, and my inner life? They say philosophy doesn't come from nowhere, summoned into being by pure reason and reading good books. Also, why did those non-philosophical things in the recent past happen as they did? Could it be that the philosophy and the habits in it explain more of the rest of my life than the rest of life explains them? Out of what prehistory did the philosophy and its habits and the rest of life come? But perhaps this aim of explanation is too brave -- even before it turns to trying to explain itself.
I see from the philosophical quotations book of Jane and Freddie that it was Kierkegaard, gloomy sod that he was, who said that life must be understood backwards, but has to be lived forwards, and so it can never be understood at all. No moment can have the complete stillness needed for a real view backwards. But is that true? Or, before we get to that, there is that old reflex question. What does it actually mean that might be true? And if we have to be content with an answer about the reach of explanation, the extent to which a life and a kind of life can be explained, that in itself will be to find out something.
The philosophical furniture of my mind consists in fewer pieces than are in my rooms, heavier ones. Whatever their history, and whether they stand to love, beds, rent and adversaries as effects or causes or neither, they do not seem external to me, but internal. They are not goods for sale, for example, or means of getting on in the world, helpful though they have been. Do these pieces hang together themselves? They are certainly no three-piece suite. I have had a thought or two of adding and rearranging things, if not of getting rid of any. Well, maybe even getting rid of something.
One large item of my inner furniture is determinism, or rather one kind of thing that goes under that heavy name. I expound it to the first-year undergraduates who drift into my college room for their General Introduction to Philosophy, Mondays at 11, the more incredulous taking themselves to deserve the soft armchairs. We use the heavy name `determinism' in a certain way, for theories that say nothing about freedom or responsibility or hopes, but leave all that to later.
What the theories do say, very roughly, is that each of the actions in our lives and also the choosing and willing of it is an effect. It is the effect of a sequence of events or states or properties, each of these also being an effect. The sequence starts further back than any first thought or feeling about the action, let alone the choosing or willing of it. Indeed the sequence goes back to events that are not thoughts or feelings at all. Each effect is what it sounds like, something that had to happen. There was no other possibility. It wasn’t just probable, to any degree. If a story of this kind is clear enough to be true or false, and if it is true, then there is a sense in which everything is fixed or settled in advance, all choices and decisions and all actions, and thus a sense in which everything could have been predicted. All of it, if you subtract the mythology from the word, was fated.
I am the somewhat reluctant owner of such a theory, a philosophy of mind in itself, worked out in more detail than some of my fellow workers have valued. 644 pages of detail. Some people say it is clear enough, and many say that any such thing is false -- falsified by the physics of Einstein et al. They say Quantum Theory settles the matter. Determinism is now history, quite a good piece of history since it has Spinoza, Hume, Newton and indeed Einstein himself and most of science in it, but still history. The fact of the matter is that we now know there are things that happen that are not effects. Ask any physicist.
This has been hard for me to believe, partly because the interpretation of Quantum Theory, the understanding of what it comes to in terms of the world, is allowed by most of its users to be a mess. Certainly it is a mess, and has remained so for too long. Sometimes verbiage and enthusiasm conceals this, but not very much. What is the mathematics or formalism of the theory about? Certainly not particles or waves of matter in any ordinary or plain senses of the words, as is readily admitted, even celebrated. The fundamental question of what the theory is about goes without a decent answer. So another question arises. Are the things in the theory that are said not to be effects in fact things which we determinists say are effects? We only say events are effects. There are certainly things that are irrelevant to determinism, these being non-events in general, starting with numbers, propositions and locations. We don’t say 7 is an effect.
There is also some other trouble for the disprovers of determinism. Suppose, despite my sensible doubt, that we take up the common interpretation of Quantum Theory. Suppose there really are real events that are uncaused or random, truly unpredictable events, down where they are supposed to be, at the physicist’s micro-level of reality. They are so small as to be way below the level of ordinary things and events, including the electrochemical events in a brain that seem to go with choices and decisions. There is a troublesome question.
Do any random events at the micro-level translate upwards into events at the level with which determinism is concerned, the level of the brain events, choices, actions and so on? It is good sense to doubt it, for an excellent reason. It is that we encounter no random events at all in the world we experience. No planet leaves its orbit without explanation. No bicycle tire goes flat for no reason. No spoon ever levitates at breakfast. But then it seems that determinism may be unaffected by Quantum Theory even if the theory is interpreted in the common way. The small events of Quantum Theory are irrelevant.
Still, I am somewhat happier in having a view about something separate from the determinism problem. This is the problem of the consequences of determinism. If determinism is clear enough and true, what follows from it? What is its consequence or import for our lives. In my view not the heavy proposition that we are unfree. A regiment of philosophers has said that -- or rather that if determinism were true, which it isn't, we would be unfree. They have thought so on account of being convinced that freedom by definition consists in Free Will, daily miracles of true origination, mental events somehow under our control but uncaused. The regiment is wrong.
But it doesn’t seem to me either that if determinism is true, we nevertheless can still be fully free -- because determinism and freedom are wholly compatible propositions. Another regiment of philosophers has cheerily said that, being convinced that freedom consists just in being able to do what you want, which you can be even if everything is caused. It is a touch discomfiting that the blessed Hume is among them.
My own view is at least new. Professor Daniel Dennett of Tufts University, agreeably doughty though he is, did not endear himself to me when he let the readers of his review in The Times Literary Supplement suppose he had thought of it too. It is in part that freedom is not so simple as either regiment supposes, a matter of a right definition, but is about attitudes and feelings. If determinism is true, we lose some of what we want, but not everything. This, as you will hear later, is where the real problem of determinism starts. It is coming to terms with things, making the right response. Affirmation of a kind.
My second piece of philosophical furniture is a conviction about minds, which is to say mainly about consciousness. The two problems here are the nature of consciousness itself and the relation of this consciousness to the brain. My conviction is that conscious events, states or properties involve what it is easier to name than analyse, a fundamental subjectivity. That is their essential nature. They are not anything less. This conviction about subjectivity, much more so than determinism, has a fortifying history. It also has a majority of sympathizers among contemporary philosophers generally—albeit that some have been frightened into hiding by the brash public relations and clutter of technicalities on the other side.
The ideas on that other side derive partly from two things I share. One of these is a kind of naturalism. It is the outlook that the natural world, in some sense the physical world, is all that there is. Hence all there is can be studied by unmysterious methods, the main ones being science, cool philosophy, good sense, and an empirical kind of literature and art. The mind, then, whatever it is, must be natural or physical and open to such study. The second and more particular thing I share is our new realization of the closeness of mind and brain, of conscious and neural events. A demonstrated fact of psychoneural intimacy, as I was pleased to name it, is the gift of neuroscience to philosophy. A better gift, as it seems to me, than anything from muddled physics.
From such sources has come the brash idea, of no great history, that the mind is the brain, that they are one thing -- where this ambiguity is not taken to mean something innocuous, but that the mind has only the properties of the brain. Or rather, that our human minds have only the properties of our brains, which is to say electrochemical properties. Putting aside computers and other unlikely possessors of consciousness, consciousness is cells, those particular cells that are neurons. This idea gives a solution to the problem of the nature of consciousness that is also a quick solution of the problem of the mind-brain relation. The idea is in accord with naturalism all right. And it could not be more in accord with the fact of psychoneural intimacy. Nothing could make mind and brain more intimate than this particular way of making them identical. It is also an idea for those who are too averse to mystery, too frightened of it, too hooked on the sweet drug of simple clarity.
This identity idea takes a number of forms. The simplest version is indeed that consciousness is cells -- Eliminative Materialism. Except in Australia and Southern California, those places of strong sunlight where powers of belief are evidently greater, the pill is always sweetened. One sweetener is that despite what has just been reported, that our conscious events are just brain events, what they really are in their essences are something else. They are functional events, so-called. They are events that function in a certain way. That is to say nothing mysterious, indeed nothing more than that they are certain causes and certain effects. They come from input and they issue in output. This thought could have begun in, but gets out of sight of, certain truisms. One is that a good definition of a particular desire will include, but of course not only include, something about a thing perceived, say a glass of wine, and some resulting behaviour, say an arm-movement -- input and output. The thought also owes a lot to computers, those mesmerizing converters of input into output.
This imperfectly consistent story of the mind, then, is that the essential nature of our conscious events is not that they are just neural or material, although they are, but that they are things in the right causal relations. This is Functionalism boiled down or rather decluttered, which it cries out to be. Or, as you can also say, computerized philosophy of mind or cognitive science with philosophical ambition. As it has seemed to me, the coating doesn’t make the pill swallowable. I think of what I had a moment ago, an uneasy feeling about my past. The idea that it had only neural properties isn’t made better by the addition that it had causes and effects, and these were of the essence. There was a lot more essence to the feeling, which was its fundamental subjectivity. That is something easy to say, but a lot harder to say something clear about.
To admit the great difficulty is not to give up the truth that consciousness is other than neural properties in bare causal relations. As surely all must know? Nor is it to give up the conviction that conscious events are in intimate relation with neural events. Psychoneural intimacy. My own ultimate working out of that is that they are in a kind of union, as a matter of necessity or law. Or, rather, two different kinds of properties of ourselves go together in this way. And I haven’t given up naturalism. Conscious properties in their real subjectivity must also somehow be physical properties, despite not being neural ones. What else could they be? There aren’t ghosts, and there aren’t ghostly properties in the head either.
My daily round starts early. It begins almost every morning at five or six, not by alarm clock but by a habit of awakening and a little determination. There is always something in particular to be done. But the determination is also a general one, to make use of my time. I have sometimes half-wondered if it is owed to what also happens at some stage almost every day, including almost every cheerful day. That is the thought that my time will come to an end.
On reflection, though, my onward marching could be a lot more fundamental to my life than my anticipation of its dark end. It may well be that my active determination in the early morning and in the rest of my life is not owed to the thought of death at all. Isn’t it relevant that this determination is often happy, or anyway contented enough? It may not have roots in any thought at all, but be in a way primitive. And it may do some explaining itself, be more of a cause than an effect. Maybe a cause of my thinking about death?
At five or six, after coffee and the first dose of nicotine from the chewing gum I should have given up some years back, what happens has very much to do with what happened the evening before. If resolution did not fail and thus I did not exceed my daily ration of three quarters of a bottle of white wine, the early morning passes in happy work. The rest of life can just stop for philosophy. Philosophy can be time out, time away from the rest of life that is happening, and seemingly unconnected with it. This morning was that way. With a bit of luck, I will satisfy the anonymous cavillers who advise the editor of The American Philosophical Quarterly what articles to admit to its pages. With a bit of luck they will take ‘Consciousness, Neural Functionalism, Real Subjectivity’ as fit to print. I thought on looking it over that it was better than that, say measured but magnificent. It is a feeling I and my kind have had before.
Writing on these summer days of good hope, now that the college teaching terms are over for the year and the students are gone, can go on to lunchtime. Writing makes my life better. What a blessing to have a life in which the necessary work is engrossing. Piling up truths in solitude, or anyway goodish guesses, or at least things not obviously false. Doing the thing, making a future, rising over the past, escaping the problem of The Studio, getting my due. Nicotine is good, but work is wonderful.
I have read hardly a word of Marx, having shared the orthodox condescension of my analytical colleagues for his lumbering metaphysics of history. All that stuff about the dominion of matter over spirit through the several historical eras, got by reversing the unspeakable Hegel. Not to mention the economics. But lately a core of moral perception and feeling in Marx, owing nothing to Hegel, has seemed so true. I have been tempted towards his sinking ship, now abandoned not only by the rats but also by the theoreticians who used to be on the bridge. All market-Marxists now. One part of the moral core of Marx has to do with work. It is his proper accusation against the arrangers of bad lives for others, bad because these others are estranged from their work.
Lunch at University College comes in several varieties and places. All the world’s in the Lower Refectory, all colours feeding at close quarters on fish and cannelloni. The Senior Common Room, with good pictures from our Slade School of Fine Art, brings together my college colleagues with an inclination to the genteel, or a desire to get away from students. Or an ongoing interest in the college committees and an ear for the Provost’s new thinking on top-up fees, senior promotions, the decline of the library, and the outrageous idea of selling Bentham’s manuscripts in order to finance the project of editing them. I had an interest in the committees for a while. This college is no cut-throat place, but it is a good idea for a Head of Department to keep in touch. Once an insane Bursar had a look over the Grote’s room, and ventured thoughts about the fuller utilization of space by partitioning, so to have two or three philosophers thinking where one thought before.
My lunch, whether in Lower Refectory or Senior Common Room, is usually solitary, partly because we philosophers of University College do not usually congregate. Maybe we are less in need of reassuring company than the physicists stuck with their Quantum Theory. There are other reasons for my solitude. One is shyness. I have had practice in breaking out of it, often into badinage and knock-about, but practice hasn’t made perfect.
My daily round in the college teaching terms, most of the year, cannot be just the writing. Monday has an hour given over to devising a decent sequence of propositions for the lecture at ll, the week’s instalment of the General Introduction to Philosophy for undergraduates just come up from their schools. The lecture is not new-minted, not thought up just before or in the hour. Why quarrel with success, even moderate success? The subjects are mainly my main interests of the past, determinism and the mind and so on. They are new to my listeners, even provocations to them. I do not have to try hard to get audience-participation, to prompt the philosophizing from the soft armchairs.
My two other regular classes of the week are post-graduate seminars, also in my room. When I became Grote Professor, the Senior Seminar at 5 on Mondays was the focus of my teaching ambitions. I remembered it from my own postgraduate years, as Freddie used to give it, a weekly colloseum in which mortal challenge was offered. The Thesis Seminar, at 5 on Thursdays, is for postgraduates not only from University College but also from those other colleges of the University of London in which philosophy flourishes. The seminar is conducted by me and another professor or two, our dignity not wholly concealed by our bonhomie. They come from King’s College down in the Strand, founded as a reproach to the godless college in Gower Street, where the philosophy of religion has since succumbed to the logical paradoxes and the philosophy of psychology, or from the London School of Economics, whose philosophers breathe easier now that they have escaped the long shadow of Karl Popper.
He who had no doubt that he had solved the problem of induction and discovered the nature of science, and appointed lecturers inclined to propagate these two truths, the first being, if you will let me to speak with my customary force of conviction, such that nothing is falser. The problem of induction, you can say, is the problem of explaining how a limited amount of evidence somehow does give rational support to the unlimited conclusion that all ordinary hen’s eggs break when hit by heavy hammers, without the evidence logically entailing the conclusion. Plainly there isn't such an entailment between the two things as between `Kant was a bachelor' and `Kant was unmarried' or `2+2 =' and `4'. The problem is not solved by some bumble including the idea that we do not really believe the unlimited conclusion. Half-believing it, saying it's tentatively corroborated, conjecturing it, even just guessing it, which science is supposed to do, is enough to make for the very same problem.
The Thesis Seminar is for a postgraduate’s reading out of a part of his or her thesis, or, more often, work in the direction of a thesis. My professorial colleagues and I do not join battle among ourselves in the discussion, in order to preserve decorum and out of an apprehensive sense that knowledge is diversely distributed among us. I have no love for Formal Logic, and enjoy the certainty that it has not solved or advanced any philosophical problem, and so I have not learned a lot. I am not always restrained by my ignorance, but mostly take care to sit back when others depend on their knowledge. Students discover that a thesis chapter is not impregnable, and provide me with materials, noted down, for the letters of reference to be written to try to get them jobs. In these I am generous, rather than given to severe standards of assessment.
That is the story too at those annual gatherings of the philosophers of the University of London, the meetings to settle the classes of B.A. degrees to be awarded to undergraduates. There was one the other day. I argue that our massed judgement is not so acute that that it is clear that this borderline candidate or that can confidently be sent down into the Upper Seconds or the Lower Seconds or the Thirds. The fact of the matter, not congenial to me in every way, is that I identify with those being judged. Certainly I am known for my want of academic principle, as others are known for the opposite. It is my university colleagues whose politics are Rightward who consistently are able to discern muddle and failure. I speculate that they themselves were disappointed, and do not want too many Firsts around, but I do not check up.
To the Monday lecture and the two seminars are added other teaching duties more time-consuming but as tolerable. Unlike my philosophical colleagues at University College, and not in perfect accord with each of their senses of justice, I as Grote escape the weekly grind of giving undergraduate tutorials, on subjects fixed by curriculum. That is the repetitive labour, rightly named the tutorial load, which is also familiar to the Fellows of colleges in Oxford, and leads them to say in passing, but more than once, that they might think about moving to a London chair. On the evidence of recent migrations, they must also have thought, in passing, of Chapel Hill in North Carolina, Geneva, and Pittsburgh.
In place of undergraduate tutorials, I give postgraduate supervisions. These higher things have their name because, officially, they are more a matter of talking about and advising on work being carried forward independently. They are fortnightly meetings with my own students, aspiring to the M.A., the M.Phil or the Ph.D. They are encouraged to come with some philosophy got down on paper, since it seems to me that one learns most by the discipline of writing. Sections of thesis are better than thoughts on the wing. Not all graduate students have been well prepared for our local ways by their undergraduate years in Athens, Toronto, or literary Cambridge. I work hard with them, but better on some days than others. I am compensated by being instructed, the receiver of goods rather than the imparter, by others of my fortnightly visitors, those who have done more reading than me. On the whole they are amiable about this reversal of roles. For my part, I own up easily. I am not so open or so perfectly composed when they are cleverer than I.
We all get on pretty well, or all of us who have a proper sense of our intellectual line of life. That is required for good temper. Philosophy is not any of linguistics, psychology, cognitive science or any other science. To its credit or discredit, there is hardly any Philosophy of Life in it, not much on the meaning of life, hardly any consolation. It is not the history of ideas, morality, religion, politics or political theory. It is not wisdom, the deep, classical scholarship, dead languages, literature, literary theory or feminism. If it is not logic in any narrow sense, certainly not formal logic, you can't read the stuff like a novel, drift through it. You have to think on the way.
As for ongoing philosophy’s relation to its own past, to the history of philosophy well and charmingly laid out in the best-seller Sophie's World, that is complicated. There is complication, anyway, with respect to ongoing philosophy in the English language. It does not quite slough off its past as science does, become new in more than its skin. But, except in the piety of historically-minded practitioners and of classicists, our ongoing philosophy does not take its past to be a proper part of itself either. The philosophical past, for almost all of us, is a source of strong expressions of inevitable and inevitably contested views that interest us. That in seeing a cup or any other perceiving, each of us is aware of only private data, not a public thing, or that society somehow rests on a contract that saves us from a state of nature, and so on. For most philosophers, these strong expressions of views are in fact teaching aids. The philosophers of the past are rarely discussed for themselves in the foremost journals.
My students and I do not reflect a lot on this or on what our line of life actually is. Rather, having seemed to wake up in it, we get on with it. It is, some others say, the line of life owed to a certain impulse. That is the impulse to reduce to clarity and thereby get a systematic and comprehensive hold on the nature of one or two of the fundamental parts of reality, including human reality. The various fundamental parts, of which you have already heard something, include physical objects, effects, time, propositions, minds, the sources of
action, sense perception, reasoning, responsibility, justice, and art. Such parts, some say, some together into three broad categories, having to do with what things exist, knowing about them, and what things are good. It is added that given this impulse of philosophy, getting a clarified hold on a fundamental part or two of reality, it must necessarily ask general questions. There is no alternative to this if you are to be true to the impulse. Nothing large comes into focus close up.
But pause a bit. All of that raises a question or two. It seems to make philosophy in its first broad category of concerns, about what exists, more or less indistinguishable from science generally. And does not the second category, about the acquisition of knowledge, make philosophy at least something like part of psychology and a good deal else in mathematics and science? And the third, about value, much the same as morality, religion, and politics? It would be too arrogant to suppose that these various disciplines do not aspire to systematic and comprehensive holds on their subject-matters, and it would be mistaken to suppose they do not ask general questions in addition to particular ones. In any case, there is no want of particularity in philosophy, for all its generality. You can’t see the wood for the trees in a lot of philosophy, some of it about determinism and subjectivity.
I suspect the truth is that our line of life is different in that it concentrates more on something. It concentrates more on good thinking about the facts as against getting or using the facts, and good thinking about methods of knowing as against getting or using the methods, and good thinking about convictions as to what is good rather than embracing them. Good thinking in getting a clear hold. That is the real impulse in philosophy. As I say, you can wake up in it one day.
To put the main point again, as the diligent lecturer will, there is a kind of division of labour between philosophy and its rivals. Philosophy’s initial and its subsequent questions are peculiarly well-formed, only formed after presuppositions have been examined, and its answers aspire more to clarity, completeness, and above all consistency and other logical relations. In a very general sense of the word, logic is the core of it. Philosophy in comparison with morality, religion and politics is more committed to independence from desire and hope. Philosophy in comparison with science certainly does less grubbing of particular facts, but that is far from saying that it is unempirical if that means it rides over facts or is not about the world. It doesn't aways ride over subjectivity.
These generalities may make you forgetful of something already implied in passing. Hardly any philosopher has as his line of life a concern with all of present philosophy, or even just one of the three broad categories, let alone this and all of its past. We're not in Sophie's world. The panoramic historians among working philosophers are odd exceptions, maybe even suspect. Are they bunking off? What we try to do in our kind of life is the good thinking about just one or two or a few of the fundamental parts of reality. The strength of our ambition restricts our fields of operation.
Seminar over or postgraduate despatched, I cycle off from Gordon Square, usually up the hill to Hampstead for the television news at 7 in the study and my daily wine. So begins, often enough, a solitary evening. That is now the story two or three evenings out of seven in this summer. If I am inclined to reduce the number to zero, and will do so if I run true to past form, this solitude is no pain to me, but near enough a pleasure. Company and talk, save for the intimate kind which seems nearly half of life itself, has always had two sides for me. One is everything good about it. The other is the obligation to perform, at least to measure up.
I try to keep the goods in mind. The happy flare of talk or the rollick, amiability or instruction of it. Also the consolation of it and the credit of being trusted. In anticipation of one or another of these, I am diligent about arranging dinners. Down the street to South End Green and the Tandoori Paradise with someone of my present or past. Almost always with a woman, sometimes Pauline, the mother of my children. The Tandoori Paradise is half-price, since it faces hard competition, and they treat me well there. I do not mind saving a pound or two, whatever the real need.
On other evenings I go elsewhere. To parties of friends and acquaintances, once recently to Cheyne Walk where Ken Follett of the novels flourishes, as sagely cocky now as in those past tutorials in the attic at 19 Gordon Square. Or I take myself to the Garrick Club, from which fortuitously I did not resign the other year when the membership rose up to deny the passage of time and affirm that women will not be admitted to membership. The club was founded to be a resort of actors and writers, and remains something of that, despite the influx of judges and politicians and titled persons looking for better company.
The membership committee at the Garrick does not look so kindly on applicants as I look on candidates for the B.A. Why, if I am a member at all, am I not sharp and superior with the reactionary and misogynist novelist or the pushy peer? Instead I try to hold up my end companionably and amiably. In fact I have not looked too closely into the question of whether being in this exclusive and self-approving crew is consistent with my principles. I do remember a line from my undergraduate days. It was that the argument for revolution is in part not the superiority of common culture, the moral grandeur of the working class, but the awfulness of that culture and class. True or false, I would not deliver the line now.
On yet other evenings, a few, I give a dinner in Hampstead. A little Boswell-like, and hardened against the charge of snob, I have in admiration sought out several who come. One is Michael Foot from up the hill. He knows how to sing for his supper. Would that the working class had risen over its unspeakable newspapers and elected him Prime Minister. Our local beggar Alan Cook might not be on the bench outside the church, but have a job, and our library might be open oftener. My dinners in Keats Grove are not short on drink, and those who come are organized into general conversation. I am in practice from the seminars, and, comic or not, do not plan to give up. I would do otherwise to suit my son if he would come, but usually he won’t.
Some of that brings to mind a third philosophical conviction of mine, the Principle of Equality. It is not one of your lawyer’s or sensible philosopher’s or closet Conservative’s principles of justice. It is not hung with weights of respect for the world as it is. It is not a petty principle of no more than equal respect for persons, which comes to nothing much until turned into something else. Nor is it the famous principle about the distribution of primary goods owed to the goodly if doctrinally-burdened liberal of Harvard, Professor Rawls, a principle whose upshot is uncertain, and leaves politicians of any party able to add it to their talk. The Principle of Equality, in brief, is that we should not be distracted or detained in any way from trying to make well-off in a certain sense all those who are badly-off. That is the solution to the problem of justice.
This third philosophical conviction of mine is also a moral conviction, and so cannot have the kind of support of the first two, about determinism and subjectivity—the support of fact. Perhaps that is why I have held on to it tenaciously. It has needed allies. It would be fine, of course, to be able to agree with a handful of philosophers who have lately become bored with the orthodoxy about the nature of moral judgements -- that all moral convictions are personal feelings. They have revived the earlier piety that moral convictions can be true . True, they say, in roughly the same way that it is now true that the trees I am looking at are green. We human perceivers contribute something in both cases, by way of our particular perceptual or other personal equipment, but value is as much a fact of the world as colour. They call this Moral Realism. How estimable and how merely audacious the idea is. Too good to be true. So much stands in its way, beginning with the intractable fact that we agree about what is green but not about what is right.
The Principle of Equality, when spelled out, stipulates what it is to be well-off or badly-off -- in terms of the satisfaction or frustration of fundamental human desires. These six desires are for a decent length of life, material goods that give a quality to life, freedom and power, respect and self-respect, closer and wider relationships with others, and the goods of culture. The ways in which we are not to be distracted or detained from making people well-off are many. We are not to be unnecessarily concerned with incentive-rewards for those who contribute something to economic progress. We are not to be unnecessarily concerned either with improving the lot of those who are already well-off, or with any of deserts, special liberties, rights and privileges, duties to be done despite bad consequences, truth to oneself, or ties of loyalty and blood.
You will notice, close reader, that according to the principle there is to be no unnecessary concern with those things, which is not to say no concern at all. You may suspect, suspicious reader, that the principle is really not so brave. Not so brave in intent as that deceptive but in fact pregnant sentence of the English Revolution uttered by Col. Rainborowe in the Army Debates at Putney. ‘The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he.’ Well, it is certainly true that the principle is not out of sight of all other morality. It does not require overturning the world to the extent that might be supposed. There is the point too that it has not yet reduced me myself to penury, that I remain in the class not of champagne socialists but certainly prosecco.
On the braveness of the the principle, one thing to be said is that it would be irrational not to adopt the various means to its end when they are really necessary, including the means of certain incentive-rewards and the resulting inequality. But note also that these will be means to its end, the reduction of the number of the badly-off, rather than the end of some self-serving economic progress, say an increase in total economic goods in a society. Further, and very importantly, the principle is to be so understood as enjoining us to work at reducing the incentive-demands of contributors to the goal. I have not been so alarmed as the amiable Lord Quinton, reviewer of a book of mine in The Times , by the idea of the need for re-education of the profiting classes.
With respect to the prosecco socialism, I do confess that in the disposition of my salary, I have not been very true to the Principle of Equality. What follows about me from this failure? Quite a lot. I may turn out to have no justification for myself, but only a thing or two to say in mitigation. Is it not better to be a self-preserving or even self-advertising advocate of a human principle than a more consistent advocate of an inhuman one? Something else is more important. What follows about the worth of the principle from my failure to act on it as I ought? Not much, as it still seems to me easy to say. Is a principle put into question by a failure to live up to it? This would be embarrassing not for one morality, but for many, maybe for all things that can claim the name of moralities. ‘Do as I say, not as I have done’, whatever it tells you of the sayer, may be exactly the right instruction.
Another conviction in this particular philosopher's bundle, a fifth if you do not count the one against Moral Realism, is about the problem of political means-to-ends and in particular political violence. It is that there is something rightly called democratic violence, something that has enough of the recommendation of democracy itself to deserve the name. Does it have a moral justification? Well, certainly no more automatically than the result of a democratic election is automatically right. But let me put aside for a while this item and some others related to it. They need slower handling.
Another conviction has not been put on paper before now, and is less worked out. It is yet more relevant to what follows in this book. The question of personal identity as philosophers ordinarily understand it is the question of what makes a person at a later time numerically identical with a person at an earlier time. What makes you today one and the same person as some boy or girl of the past? One bad answer now put aside by philosophers is an enduring inner self of an extraordinary kind, a voyaging thing in a person, different from both a flow of experiences and the continuation of a body. One better answer is that the later and earlier persons involve one body, one continuing organism. Another better answer, in essence, is that you today remember experiences of the boy or girl. My own philosophical conviction is not that one of those two better answers is right. It is that we are missing what is most important in this neighbourhood if we ask the ordinary question of what makes a later person identical with an earlier.
What do we have personal and moral attitudes to? In the ordinary course of life, what is it that we admire or hold responsible when we admire a woman or hold her responsible for something? The answer appears to be the person she is. That is not something which is the same as or includes the girl she was. We admire or morally disapprove of something to which certain facts are integral, say style or intolerance, which facts may have been no part of the girl she was. To express the point in a philosopher’s way, our fundamental attitudes to others are to person-stages. Our attitudes are to a stage in the existence of a person, this being importantly a matter of two connected things, dispositions and conduct. We may also have lesser and more passive attitudes to a past person-stage, of course, a person someone was.
The thought has to do not only with our attitudes to others, but our attitudes to ourselves. I, in being concerned with myself, am concerned with a person-stage, the person I am or a person I was. Suppose the two are different, and in particular that I have become more honourable. There is a sense, obviously, in which I cannot hold myself responsible for the dishonourable past or be shamed by it. The person I am is not dishonourable. Certainly we sometimes feel this way about other people. To be convinced that a man is reformed, which is not easy, is necessarily not to hold responsible the person he is for what happened in the past.
This thought in the direction of exculpation is not the only thought there is in this neighbourhood. If it were, then if I really did know I was reformed, everything would be rosy. I could contemplate my past not only in a passive but in a detached or dispassionate way. But could I? Even if I knew I was reformed, surely I might remain troubled or even tormented about my past. How can this be? If I were to believe in an inner self sailing through all my person-stages, that would seem like the beginning of an explanation. But I don’t believe in an inner self. Thus my fifth philosophical conviction, to describe it again, is that the crucial questions of personal identity do not have to do with identity over time but with the persons we are, the persons we have been, and the connections between them.
This survey of my convictions might now turn in the direction of the question of the nature of truth. It seems to me a real question. It did not go up in smoke when the Cambridge philosopher Ramsey noticed in the 1920’s that ‘It’s true that it’s raining’ seems to come to no more than ‘It’s raining’, and thereby had the idea that philosophical talk of truth is redundant. Despite rediscovery of Ramsey’s discovery by my new and esteemed colleague Professor Horwich, there is a question of the nature of truth, of the general condition under which a factual statement is true, and the answer, somehow or other, still seems to be some kind of correspondence to things in the world. Or the survey might turn to the problem of the nature of sense perception -- seeing and the like, mentioned in passing some way back. Here there is now more allegiance to the reassuring proposition that the objects of our experience, the things each of us is aware of, are not private to the person in question and fleeting, but public and more or less enduring. Not sense-data of trees, but trees.
Or we might turn to the analysis of desert, or of what it is to argue that someone deserves punishment in particular. Take the second. My persistent proposal has been that it is really to argue that punishing him will give satisfaction to people, satisfaction in exactly the distress or suffering of others. That is what talk of desert comes to with the institution of punishment. Many have disagreed. They think better of it, and of us. They want more moral tone in their solution to the problem of the justification of punishment.
Or, something might be said of the nature of time. Does it amount only to relations? To things being before other things, simultaneous with them, and after them? If so, what of the facts of past, present, and future? Can it be that saying something is present is just saying it is simultaneous with the saying? And that saying something is past is saying it is before the saying? And that saying it is future is saying that it is after the saying? Many who like neatness have thought so. But let me leave all of that, and end this tour with more political philosophy, near to politics.
More of my political convictions, like the Principle of Equality, have in them a feeling that issues in rant and insult and sometimes seems what it never turns out to be, ungovernable. It is the feeling, certainly not unique to me, of the awfulness of the conditions of existence of so many people. For a start, so many are deprived of what almost all of us want above all, a living-time of decent length. With the 21st Century begun, what is to be said of any political tradition or party that does not embarrass itself by shame or rage about societies where humans exist as if they were a lower species? I have in mind societies of half-lives, where an average life-expectancy is not about 72 years, as in the societies we know better, but about 40. This grisly fact about lifetimes in other places has smaller replicas at home, still awful enough, about the bottom socio-economic classes in Britain, America, and the like.
The feeling of shame and rage, in so far as it issues in political convictions, issues first in convictions about our democracies – those systems about which some of us are so morally reassured by the fall of Communism. These democracies, which we now propose to teach to all the world, make a signal contribution to deprivations in living-time at home and abroad, and to other deprivations as terrible. Given this fact and some others, how are we to understand our democracies?
The annual Conway Memorial Lecture had been given 68 times before I got my turn some months ago. I was mightily pleased to get it, not least because Bertrand Russell was among the figures in the list of my predecessors. My title told all in advance. ‘Hierarchic Democracy and the Necessity of Mass Civil Disobedience’. Given the kind of democracy we have, mass civil disobedience is a rational and necessary supplement to it. This advice, you may say, is utopian. Well, utopianism is a right of philosophy, a right which has served us all very well. And I am not sure the advice is utopian. It was easier to be sure about that before the fall of Communism, before the civil disobedience that precipitated that once-impossible thing.
Still, was my confidence in laying out the two convictions of my lecture reduced by something other than the fact that Conway Hall was less than full? That the audience, true to the venue, seemed to consist mainly in the good autodidactic atheists of London? I think so. The prospect of laying out my footnotes to Rainborowe, Rousseau, Tom Paine, R. H. Tawney, Russell, and I suppose Marx, was less than a happy one. And still I believe my footnotes, or so it seems.
My inner life, as you will have gathered from my daily round, is in one large part exertion. It is my trying to do some of that good thinking and arrive at some of those high-quality questions and answers, the stuff of philosophy. But in my case, as with many of my fellows, this is not so elevated an activity as might be supposed from an abstract description. Even if philosophy alternates with the rest of life, switches it off for a while, it is not what might be called the project of pure inquiry. The activity is directed towards truth, but also towards truth got down on paper or anyway into the external world. Would I understand more if I were higher-minded, less concerned with output? More Cambridge, as Cambridge once prissily conceived itself? I doubt it. I suspect I would understand less without the pressure of my own and other people’s deadlines. As a result of them, I may go out of this fallen world knowing more.
There is another kind of inner life, perhaps inner life proper. I have a lot of it. It is reflection and feeling not aimed at expression and other action. Its owners may keep it to themselves, even forever. Since it is not shaped or coloured by the intention of speaking or acting, not so much constrained by convention, prudence or principle, it may have more truth in it. It may not conceal hurts or try to talk up a reputation. But there is another side to the coin. Since this reflection and feeling is also not constrained by the scrutiny and judgement of others, by public tests, it may have less truth in it. So if inner lives can have less hypocrisy and calculation, they can also have less sense and realism. I have reason to remind myself of both points.
Inner lives of this second kind can have various concerns. There is the long spiritual but more intellectual than religious tradition, to me glowing in its aspiration, of those taken up with what they take to be true reality. Something better behind the appearances. Ingrid, lately sent by Plato to remind me that naturalism is not the only possible human condition, and that atheism is not identical with rationality, contemplates the Form of the Good and related matters. She presses on me a sentence from Iris Murdoch -- ‘Good represents the reality of which God is the dream.’
Attracted as I am, partly because of that fact of being a little death-minded, I feel the impulse at moments to try to join the glowing tradition. I resist cavilling about whether Iris’s sentence should not have ‘is’ in places of ‘represents’. I wonder again if there could be a kind of hope that in some way is true. It would still be hope, since it could not possibly be ordinarily-supported belief. But it would be hope somehow partaking of truth. My last mother-in-law liked me more for the idea. It doesn’t really come into focus. So I do not succeed in the impulse to join the glowing tradition. There is too much metaphysical mist.
Some take the line, of course, that despite the mist, you can have some sense of something. Although it is disputed by his less damp admirers, Wittgenstein seems to have been inclined this way. ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ It was Ramsey who in this case made what has seemed the right reply. ‘What you can’t say, you can’t say, and you can’t whistle it either.’ It is right, isn't it? As for religion itself, or more literal religion, including plain immortality, that is unthinkable. Surely the autodidacts in Conway Hall are right about that. For me to turn to religion would be cowardice. It would be to hide from truth. Sad or terrible truth, but truth. I go to concerts in churches, and not only for the music, but I do not believe or, really, want to believe. You can only want what there is some chance of having.
The little I have been able to do along these lines is to affirm to myself that despite my failings I have a vicarious membership card in a moral struggle, a great struggle in politics that will certainly outlast me. It seems at moments to have outlasted the Labour Party that we used to have. It will last as long as there is desire and there is reason. Reason will always see through pomp and sham and nonsense to the need for real fairness in the satisfaction of desire. I can identify with the struggle sometimes, be reassured by the thought of it going on after me. I have once or twice succeeded in thinking of it as holy.
To those several feelings are to be added some that can flow from a theory of determinism. The theory is hard to believe, and what has seemed the right response to it is hard to sustain, since our culture runs against it. Mothers, those first agents of culture, set us against this response. Rae Laura Armstrong Honderich was good at that, in no need of support from John William Honderich.
From time to time, I have the consolation of personal success, the kind that matters most. That is personal success by one’s own present test. I wanted to be a professor and then the Grote. It has sometimes been my story that academic ambition was at first pressed upon me, that the asp was put into my breast by others. In whatever way it happened, and that is something to look into, I came to have the desire. On some days its being fulfilled is still worth something. I see from the phone book that some of my fellow professors announce their standing in their entry and some do not. Professor Wiggins of course does, and Professor Papineau does not. I do. Maybe I should take it out, but I think I won’t. My life has something in it I like, and am willing to advertise. But perhaps I should fill out the entry. ‘No sage, not so clever as could be, too quick to declaim truth rather than argue for it, shrewd, sticks to subject, has got one or two things right, more than most competitors, does not always make enough distinctions to satisfy former teachers, has a good sense of unnecessary distinctions.’
Another of my consolations is the happy contemplation of other minds when they are on view, and other bodies. I am never long in that bleak mood where all humankind are a bore. Seeing a happy couple swinging along downhill is a fine thing that can cure the mood. So is seeing a kiss. Hampstead High Street does very nicely for the purposes of this respectable voyeurism. I recommend it, and am pleased on occasion to be part of the cure for others.
The pleasure of seeing happy couples has to do with something larger in both the contemplative part of my inner life and the part that issues in action. That is love or affection for a woman together with desire and its satisfaction. I have been a man of many women, if that uncertain description is taken to mean a man who has been for a longish time with each of many women, a succession of them. Here my life has been a bit more than middle-sized. I have been a libertine too, if one of those goes on being free from convention, and does not go in for much concealment of his freedom. Not often a womanizer, if one of those is deceitfully unfaithful in his relations.
My relationships, certainly, have not been with bodies -- with someone in terms of more than their bodily attributes strictly speaking, presumably, but not enough of the rest. My relationships have been more ordinary. They have been with persons, and, to the extent that the distinction can be made, have had more to do with qualities that give rise to affection or love or maybe admiration than with qualities that give rise directly to desire. At the very least my connections have been friendships. Our lives have been connected.
It is a perhaps prim to say so, and suggestive of more restraint with women than has been the case, but I have been with a prostitute only once. She knocked on the door of my room one afternoon, and was pretty and drunk. That was Regent Square, not far from college. I was not in my quiet state, thinking of truth and ambition. We bargained a bit, and I, not wanting to be lost, which I would have been by giving her money, said I had only cigarettes. She performed a lesser act, only later dignified by the American presidency. Sometimes I have drifted into thinking that it was only on that occasion that my activity was not made respectable to myself by at least an illusion of something else, some future. That is not true. But it is not far from true. I have not been among those who have seen, no doubt truly, that sex can be a thing that is good in itself.
The fact that I have been a man of many women sits in my mind as something about which I am a little rueful but it is not a large fact or a stigma. I care about it, and keep quiet about the number of my lovers, and how far I am ahead of Russell and lag behind Freddie and some energetic lesser lights in our way of life. But I care less than about having not taken the philosophical world by storm. I would not subtract one connection from my past, and I feel or can summon a fondness at the very least for each of them. I feel some of that traditional pride, the pride of having done what many other men have wanted to do but not done. I have on a few occasions, encouraged by another’s curiosity or prurience, in a way boasted of it.
For the most part in my relationships, or so it has seemed, I have never strayed far from truth for long. I have with an exception or two been faithful until near the ending of each settled relationship in which faithfulness was the policy. Almost all my relationships have indeed begun with a hope of futurity in them. I intended not to be one of Donne’s dull, sublunary lovers. There was a time when I could say, and did, that I wanted only to go to bed with a woman whose company I would want in the end, in dying. I guess I say it still. I am a little tired of the long quest, a little worn out, but I have not abandoned that best of hopes.
Defending myself in passing against the charge of having been with too many women brings me to a last large part of my inner life. I remain more uncertain about my general moral standing than my defence in connection with women suggests. That defence is not confident, but argumentative or speculative, and it is put in partly for the reason that nobody ever found his way to truth about himself by collapsing. I need to hear both sides, one of which is mine. I have heard something of the other side before now. Jane took up that brief on behalf of the sisterhood. But hearing from myself and remembering my critics has not answered the question of my human standing. The uncertainty does not have to do only with women, but also with my son and daughter, and maybe my academic progress down from the attic in Gorden Square, and my politics seeming to be inconsistent with other things.
The nature of morality is no easy matter, but clearly one’s standing is not in itself the question of whether a particular action or a kind of action or a habit was right. That is the question of whether it ought to have been done or engaged in, given the best judgement and knowledge at the time, maybe not one's own. Many have done right things by mistake or in ignorance or out of bad motives, and hence got no credit. Many have done wrong things out of innocent ignorance or misjudgement, and earned no condemnation. Nor is the question of standing just about the judgements, beliefs, feelings and motives of a person with respect to a particular action, kind of action or maybe habit -- about the person’s moral credit or moral responsibility for that particular thing.
The question of general human standing, rather, is about a person’s general decency in a whole stage of a lifetime or maybe all of it. This general decency or want of it is something like the the sum of one’s good and bad records in the particular cases of this action and that -- the pluses and minuses of moral credit and moral responsibility. This general standing is one thing to worry about, as I do. Another, to revert to actions, is about whether mine were right. Whatever my beliefs and motives and the rest, and however things turned out, did I act rightly? It is very possible to think differently later. That the matter is not merely historical or theoretical, but troubling, suggests some doubt about my separating right actions from the matter of standing. But it can hardly be that one counts as bad just because one did the wrong thing -- there are honest mistakes and there is ignorance.
Whatever the truth of all that, the questions of my standing and of whether I did the right things seem always in the offing. They are so hard. Partly they are hard because of the problems mentioned earlier, having to do with the person I am and the persons I was. There is also the problem of self-deception in one’s struggles to see one’s standing and whether one did right. Nietzsche, one hopes, was not yet mad, but merely being provocative, in writing his lines to the effect that in such struggles self-deception will always carry the day. `"I have done that" says my memory. "I cannot have done that" says my pride. At last—memory yields.' It doesn’t always. It doesn’t with me. Memory may see to it that self-deception does not put a happy end to the struggle.
Conscious self-deception. to introduce some useful detail, presumably does not consist in what people often suppose -- the paradoxical feat of consciously believing opposite things at the same time. It isn’t one’s ordinary self or consciousness being two, the first believing X but successfully deceiving the second into believing Y. By my lights conscious self-deception consists in one single self maintaining itself in uncertainty, keeping a question open, taking care not to look closely at what might turn out to be evidence against what it wants to believe.
That is something we can do. Self-deception is essentially having the desire to look away from possible evidence, and this desire’s resisting the pull to truth. If we think this way about self-deception, Nietzsche’s thought turns into the somewhat different thought that we will always succeed in not looking at what might be unhappy evidence. Surely it isn’t true. Evidence can raise its head, arm the inclination to truth, unsettle the strategy. I fear there is some in the archive of my steamer trunk.
Person-stages and self-deception are not the only problems. Do I bring a general and distorting guilt to my reflections, a predisposition to judge against myself? There are some thoughts that give me reason to wonder. They have to do with the effect on me of the gentle rightousness or anyway virtuousness of Rae Laura Armstrong Honderich. Or, on the other hand, do I take a necessary arrogance too far? If I will not find my way to truth about myself or anything else by collapsing, there is also the real danger of being too tough-minded.
To remember my critics, of whom I have a sufficient number, what is to be said about something else, the fact of mixed motivation? It has not been paid much attention by moral philosophers, who have mainly been content to think of purer cases. Much of my life has come out of both respectable and not so respectable thoughts and feelings. Judgement cannot be quick in this neighbourhood. Sometimes it seems that it can’t be slow either. An ex-colleague of whom you will hear comes to mind, and the alleged stabbing in the Grote's room, and the thought that true rage can have calculation in it or going with it.
Coming towards the end of this tour of the interior, I see that I have left out so large a fact, my moods. Like my feelings focussed on or directed at persons and other things, which include rage, my moods are strong. My good ones are close to exuberance, my darker ones on the way to despair. These all-encompassing things have sometimes seemed to me in a way not prompted by events in my outer life at all, not to successes or failures, good luck or bad, or the contributions of others. That cannot be right. But it does seem true that my state of body, that large inner fact, ordinarily has more to do with the cast of my world. Depression is tiredness, I used to say, and I still find some sense in that false proposition.
So much, so little, for my inner life as I think about it, but one thing remains. Some doctrinalists of the self and personality say my inner life as I am aware of it is only part of the story, the smaller part. In a way they are absolutely right. I have an unconscious mind. Being human, I must have. It has been said about all of us so often. ‘...the absence of a conscious perception is no proof of the absence of mental activity.’ There are ‘processes in the soul of which we are unaware....’ ‘Our human souls are not always conscious of whatever they have in them....’ ‘consciousness and unconsciousness are like warp and weft.’ ‘...ideas and matters of fact...lie by for use, till some fortuitous circumstance makes the information dart into the mind....’ ‘Consciousness only touches the surface.... The great basic activity is unconscious.’
The six sentences are not Sigmund Freud’s, of course, but come from a small selection of his predecessors. Plotinus in the 3rd Century A.D., Aquinas in the 13th, Cudworth in the 19th, and then Goethe, Wollstonecraft, and Nietzsche. The total number of Freud’s predecessors, I suppose, were all the reflective members of the human race before him. It is no surprise to me that through known history the truism has been recorded that our lives have in them ongoing mental facts of which we are conscious only sometimes. One of mine, although not breathtaking, is my belief that my name on my birth certificate is Edgar Dawn Ross Honderich.
Philosophers have long given these ongoing mental facts the name of being dispositions. Dispositional beliefs and dispositional desires mainly. They are, as I sensibly see it, not items that are conscious in a second sense, items in a dimly-lit or even pitch-black level or part of the mind separate from the ordinary conscious mind. What they are is neural facts, standing causes that may or may not issue in the only consciousness there is. It is convenient to use the language of ordinary consciousness on them, to speak of them as beliefs and the like, as it is convenient to talk about the rest of the natural world and machines in terms of goals and the like. Missiles seek targets. But let us not turn convenience into mystery. We have enough levels of reality already.
Freudians are inclined to let the innocent
suppose that the large fact of the unconscious was discovered a while
ago in Vienna. They are inclined, too, to let the truism that it exists
work in recommending something entirely different from it. I have an
to that different thing and to the stratagems used in its defence. My
I confess, is such that while there was time in my itinerary in Vienna,
the Palais Wittgenstein, to see the university staircase where the
shot the Logical Positivist, there was not quite enough time to get to
house where Freud lived. The thing different from the fact of the
is a special theory of it, a theory of what is in it. At bottom this is
colourful if now somewhat faded story that what each of us mainly has
our unconscious is sexual desires somehow left over from earlier on.
in the theory, were for Rae Laura, tired and other-worldly as she was.
my powers of belief are weak. Test the idea, if you want, or astrology,
the narrative that now begins.
The Anabaptists were the Left Wing of the Protestant Reformation. They shared the view, too reasonable for the 16th Century and indeed for Luther, that true baptism into the church cannot be of infants, but needs to be a commitment by adults who know what they are doing. ‘The Christian life is not child’s play.’ They added to this view a strong distinction between the unworldly and the worldly, an avowal of the necessity of separating church from state, an aversion to hierarchy, and a refusal to bear arms or swear oaths. Some were burned and others drowned for their heresy—at bottom, as seems to me likely, for standing up a little against the world’s injustice by way of their religion.
Among the Anabaptists were the Mennonites. They were still unpopular and migratory at the beginning of the 19th Century. Unlike some of their earlier brethren, they were not looking for a place in which to practice community of goods and women, but only for a less radical religious freedom and quiet lives in good farming country. Among them were Christian and Margaret Honderich, who emigrated from South Germany to Canada in 1825. They cleared virgin forest near what would afterward be the villages of Baden and New Hamburg in a Germanic township of the province of Ontario. Their son, to be the Rev. John Honderich, was, as his tombstone says, ‘the first male white child born in Wilmot Township’.
My ancestors in Canada on my mother’s side of the family tree also came as pioneers. Those on her mother’s side came in 1831, to what subsequently were predominantly English and Scottish townships. Here the villages were to be Kincardine, Kinloss, and Lucknow. The original ancestral pair were Richard William Haldenby and his wife Hannah, he of an unprosperous generation of an old and well-connected Yorkshire and East Anglia family. Thus our family geneologists have been happy to prove that we share a past with Lady Diana Spencer as she was, she who was to have been Queen of England.
To the Haldenby or English line, there was subsequently an admixture of Irish, no doubt useful. County Armagh. I have not yet informed myself about our first Canadian ancestors on my mother’s father’s side, the Scottish side, or their ancestors in the border country, although research by others is well forward. Still, I have been pleased enough to count myself as not only coming from German, English, and Irish stock, but also of the Armstrong clan. True to my Anabaptist forebears, I left it until coming to my maturity to elect a nationality. Born a sixth-generation Canadian, British I became, at any rate by passport.
The church of the Reformed Mennonites were more liberal than some, the women not being confined to bonnets nor the men to hooks and eyes in place of the ornament of buttons. They were not paradigms of toleration, however. Their doctrine did not allow them to hear other religion. My grandfather and father on an occasion took themselves to hear False Gospel in another church, although, as will transpire, the verb ‘to hear’ is not quite right. They would not recant their visit, and were formally excommunicated from the Reformed Mennonites. Thereafter, other members of their own family, on meeting them, could not shake hands, but were permitted a grasp of the shoulder as a sign of affection. A lesser martyrdom.
Rae Laura Armstrong was a school teacher, her father being an officer of the court in Bruce County, and her mother, so it was afterward said, being a reader of books rather than a keeper of a house in punctilious good order. Rae Laura was finding Anglicanism and the like insufficient to her soul’s impulses, and was yet more engaged in the spiritual search than my father. They met on a train to a religious gathering. Perhaps it was early on that my father undertook with her, as at some stage he did, to devote their lives to being missionaries. In any case it was a spiritual side to him which overcame what he also possessed, a distinct shortcoming. He was profoundly deaf, the victim of a childhood sickness. He had learned to lip-read, but, because he was not expert in this, she was to learn sign-language.
They married within a year, he 29 and she 25. It was she, it seems, who brought character and invention to the naming of several of their six children: Ruth Laura, Loine Christian, Beland Hugh, Robert Wayne, Mary Jean Kathleen, and Edgar Dawn Ross. I, last of the six, was born on 30 January 1933 in my grandfather’s house, to which we had succeeded. My mother was several weeks short of being 45.
Much later, in England, my accent having been worn down and also somewhat improved, ‘going to mass on Sundays’ having been made indistinguishable from ‘going to moss on Sundays,’ the curious sometimes touched delicately on the matter of my antecedents. I sometimes responded with a weak jocularity. It was that I was born in a filthy peasant village. One aim of the jocularity, which I have given up, was to get in first with some superiority. It also conveyed another fact, a vestige of resentment. Do I feel it still? Is there something to be said for my unkind description of this place that seemed to be my life?
Baden in 1933 and into the 1940’s had a population of about 700, very many of them bearing German names. Basts, Gingerichs, Naumanns, Schwartzentrubers, Webers, and Zehrs. They supplemented the English language with a German dialect. The village looked beyond itself, in so far as it looked anywhere, only to the county town, ten miles away. This had been named Berlin until the First World War. Then soldiers of English descent made trouble, throwing the Kaiser’s statue into a lake, and it was thought wise to rename the town. It became Kitchener, which it still is. Baden, having no soldiery and no statue, saved its name.
In its twelve unnamed streets were about 165 houses, township hall, churches for Mennonites, Lutherans and Presbyterians, two hotels, school, bank, butcher, baker, cobbler, post office and four other shops. Also two declining blacksmiths, three garages, a foundry, mills for flour, linseed oil, wood and cider, places for the waxing of turnips and the making of Limburger cheese and electric fences for cattle. Railway station, volunteer fire hall, undertaker cum seed-merchant, softball diamond and two tennis courts, a stream, two dams. And, remembered in fullest detail, a telephone exchange.
I enumerate these partly to indicate that the village of 700 was sufficient unto itself. Partly because of this, it was a community, something with a membership. From the start, I seemed to myself not a full member. There was not only the reason of my family’s excommunication from a respectable and conscientious local tradition of religion. That was a first cause of another fact. An unspoken breach eventually opened between us and the farming Honderichs, who would otherwise have been my allies of blood. My cousins, to my mind, were on that other side. We did not speak much at the softball games. There were also larger things that stood in the way of my being a full member of my village.
My father was odd, first on account of his deafness. When I became aware of him, he had already gone into his private world of silence. Certainly he made affectionate excursions from it, which I loved, and occasionally raging ones, but mostly he was in that other place, in which he was not unhappy. It would be wrong to say that the village was such that many in it made mock of him for his affliction and his departure from local space and time. But a few did, or at any rate included it in the roster of his shortcomings.
Chief among these was his lack of the principal virtue. He was not a good provider for his family. He had inherited a large house on the death of my grandfather, but also a decent amount of capital, and had founded a number of newspapers, one being The Baden Sun. It is difficult to see these and similar endeavours as manifesting a commercial realism. Nor was there great evidence of such an attribute when, as you might say, we met our Waterloo, more particularly the Waterloo Trust Co. It threatened to foreclose on a mortgage he had taken out on the house. His response was to circulate a petition on our behalf among the villagers, against the iniquity of the Waterloo Trust. This did not greatly detain it. He took his family to lodgings and then to a lesser habitation at the edge of the village. He did not learn to make ends meet.
Rae Laura no doubt rejoiced, as certainly she did on other occasions later, when the Almighty worked in a mysterious way. The post of village telephone operator fell vacant. With it went a proper house, the telephone exchange. Thereafter there were considerable hours of paid work at home. It was she who was the principal and steady provider for those of the family who had not taken wing, quite soon only I. I did most of my growing up in the telephone house, aware that we had come down in the world.
The eight rooms behind its front verandah included one for the telephone switchboard and an adjacent bedroom for my mother, to whose operating of the switchboard for much of the day was added night-duty. My father paid visits from his bedroom upstairs. These were never explicitly connected by me with a side of life about which neither he nor Mother ever uttered a word to me, save for a later and inexplicit aspiration, by Mother, that I would come as a Christian to my wife. The house was not inferior to some others, and neat in seven of its eight rooms, but various reflections were to reduce its desirability for me as a residence.
We did not own it, and our having it was dependent on my mother’s labours. There was the further fact of the hand pump in the kitchen, which drew water from a well. This did not compare with the gleaming taps in the kitchen of our neighbours the Kuhns, financed by the making of electric fences. There was also the outhouse or privy, attached to the nearer of the two small wooden barns in the long back garden.
The eighth room of the house, the one that was not neat, was the inner domain of my father, a sweet place of my early memories. It contained, above all, his printing press. Out of its slow breathing when the flywheel was sustained by the foot treadle, breathing unheard by him but listened to by me, came his pamphlets. Several of them, as I was to know later, were arguments for religious toleration. They were, to say the least, not widely circulated, but no doubt copies found their way to the Reformed Mennonites.
That Father was a pamphleteer in a small way may suggest that the household was at a high level of reflective and cultural activity. Well, he was concerned with ideas and, as it seemed, turned them over in a somewhat leisurely fashion in the silent world, but he was not burdened with learning. Nor did the printing press produce only pamphlets. From it came labels for his products, the last of these being VIM, a patent soap of some fierceness.
Mother and Father discussed religion, and argued peacefully about it, sometimes a little enlivened by the strongest drink in the house, which was Pepsi-Cola. But she was not of a persistent intellectual bent. Although she never lacked her school teacher’s resolution that I be educated, she did not take on the task herself. I think she was worn down, not only by the switchboard but also by life’s not having gone according to its high plan. They were, as I have said, to be missionaries. On many days she glorified God to me, but she never visited a foreign field to do so to those less familiar with the experience. My parents could not now divert dollars to enlarging the household library. It was meagre, containing such items as a volume of Byron, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, and The Boy’s Own Annual, insufficient antidotes to the Bibles, hymnals and tracts. Still, the little collection existed, and was read through by me several times.
Thus the uncertainty of my membership in my village, and the part the village played in this, were owed not only to the old fact of excommunication, the casting-off by cousins, the deafness, Father’s lack of the principal virtue, and the telephone house. We were also unique in the reflective and cultural activity, such as it was, undramatic and mainly religious. The meaning of life was not much considered elsewhere in the village, or the difficulty of justifying God’s ways to man. Moreover, this activity and in fact the whole of our family life were rightly perceived as English and Scottish in timbre rather than Germanic. Father had in a way defected to Mother’s side, perhaps in a way been overcome by her. If I did not do so then, it is hard to resist assigning a philistinism to my village. Baden was unprepared for us. You will find no public library in my list of its utilities.
Still, you may wonder if there is room for a question. My brother Bee may wonder. Was the uncertainty of my membership only in my own small head? Herb Miller lounged against the window of his corner shop, within range of a five-year-old and his tricycle. When I passed, I and he alone at that bare corner, or I and he with his crony, a foot of his would find its way under one of my rear wheels. My five-year-old falls to the pavement must have pleased him. Perhaps as much as his name for the Edgar I was. It was Ga-Ga, whose mockery served him well until I went to school and was discovered to need spectacles, after which time Four Eyes served him well. He was not deranged or defective. While not the most highly estimated of the 700, he was not excluded by them or notorious. Others took up his usages, but it is he who would come to mind first now if I were to try to excuse my later epithet for my birthplace.
At least once after having been deemed to have attained that first level of personal responsibility to which all are called, I did not hold to it by making my way to the privy behind the first small barn. Rather, I produced a small brown pile, still nicely formed in my mind’s eye today, behind the stove in the shadowy kitchen. The result was remonstration, and guilt. The guilt was deep. In that way of families, a place had been prepared for it. I was not punished, nor, so far as I can remember, ever punished thereafter by my parents, for anything whatever. It would be agreeable to say that the pain of guilt was really the pain of withdrawal of love. That, I think, was not so. It was not the felt nature of the thing. As philosophers say, that was not the phenomenology of the feeling. I did consistently have, as it seemed to me, what affection Mother could muster, and more from my untroubled father. But guilt was a weight in itself, not to be avoided on account of something else, not made greatly heavier by what accompanied it by way of the feelings of others. No doubt it was sin.
School began when I was six, in 1939, the year of the Royal Train. I began my education more impressively than it went on thereafter. My E’s for Excellence from the Misses Martinson and Taylor perhaps owed something to a want of academic principle like my own as an examiner later on, or to a comparison with the unbookishness of the Mennonites. In fact I did not shine. Nor have I often shone since. Clever I have wanted to be, but not often been. If I am sometimes quick enough in thought, often ahead of others, I have not regularly been adroit or dexterous. I am no nimble inventor of speculations, and am not often good at retorts or quick escapes. My intellectual virtues, fully awakened only later, have from the beginning been more in the way of an involuntary interest in the very facts of things, scepticism, some judgement, orderliness, and an unwillingness to give up a campaign towards truth because of a little local difficulty. I value these duller virtues, and can say, if slightly morosely, that I might have chosen them.
Florence Ferguson, I fancy, had some of the same virtues. She had arrived in the first class before me, and was deputed to teach me my numbers. Subsequently she sharply put me right about words I had read but not mastered. ‘Antique’ was not to be pronounced, she said, so as to rhyme with something that might have been part of billards, the anti-cue. She did well in her instruction of me, and has my gratitude, but is remembered for herself. She was the first of the girls. Tall, fair, and of a proud family. Scots among the Mennonites.
A year or two later, she was succeeded in my contemplations by Marjorie Miller, dark ringlets and composure, whose books I carried silently out of the village and up the Baden Hill to her door. Her family always seemed to be calling her away. They were not, so far as I know, related to the impediment to my tricycle. But I was adding a walk of two or three miles to the obligatory mile or two to follow, these later ones being my round of delivering the village’s copies of The Kitchener Daily Record, and so they may have deemed me ardent. I had no words for this attachment, any more than for its predecessor, and would need to struggle to find some now. I thought first of Marjorie Miller some decades later, on first hearing a line from Goethe, no doubt mistranslated or misunderstood: Stay with me awhile, you are so beautiful.
My contemplations of girls, whatever desire may have been under them in my nature, in fact had nothing much explicit in them that would have dismayed Rae Laura. In this, perhaps, they were ordinary. Their explicit content was pure enough, and had to do with good looks and with respectable events. Still, and rightly, the very existence of these contemplations would not have reassured my mother. She may have had intimations. To school, and to religious homilies at home, having to do exclusively with the spirit rather than the loins, she added Presbyterian Sunday School. Then Mennonite Bible School during several weeks of my summer vacations. I went unwillingly.
That I came early to my resistance to the promise of Eternal Life presumably had to do with Father. His amicable discussions of religion with Mother continued, but in my time he never darkened a church door. He had for a time a postal relationship with the Church of Unity, presumably an institution not stiff with doctrine. He was, I suspect, following that line of personal religious development familiar in the English 19th Century and indeed since. Its culmination, while having piety and eloquence in it, is very little religious belief indeed. Conway Hall might have suited him for his final inquiries.
By the time I was about seven, all my siblings had departed. Ruth in the direction of good causes, and in particular the publicizing of them. Loine to learn to preach, as he never after failed to do. Bee was beginning his ascent from reporter for the Kitchener Daily Record. Lovely handsome Bob, best of black sheep, was incomprehensibly a chef in a restaurant in Kitchener. Mary was following her mother in the religious quest, wife to another preacher. All would reappear for short visits, bearing their new credentials as knowers of a wider world.
Bob returned smoking Sweet Caporal cigarettes, and, in the back garden, he painted metal signs in the shape of shields, and told me something about them. He proposed to go round inspecting the kitchens of restaurants and their menus. If they were up to scratch, the restaurants would be enrolled in his association, and get a shield to hang outside. It is an old idea now, but was not then, in Baden in 1940. Loine came back too, as from the dead. En route to the Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, there had been an awful car crash. News came that of the four young men in the car, three were dead, Loine among them. Was there some uncertainty in the message? Mother would not believe it, had faith, and prayed. In a day or two another message came, followed in due course by my brother, scarred and without some fingers, but in no way deterred from his mission.
On one of his returns, Bee took a first and maybe a reasonable step in exerting a worldly authority over me. He was, later, to succeed my father. I had wheedled the purchase of a toy truck out of Mother. Very likely the money came from Bee’s subsidy to us. The truck had to be returned to the shop, the money got back. More guilt, whatever its efficacy, and some beginning of insubordination.
There followed two other larger events of my earlier boyhood. I gathered the reality of the first when I was eight, in 1941. Loine, Bee and I made a car journey through snow to a reformatory. Bob was in it, aged 20, found guilty on account of the restaurant shields. I did not see him, as my brothers did, but helped to hide a roast chicken for him in a farm building attached to the institution. Was he a victim of a judicial system not ready for the age of guides to restaurants and their certification? Did some of the restaurants pay their fee for their inspection, and pass, and then not get their shields? Was it worse? The matter has not been researched. It has to be said for my peasant village that no one ever spoke to me of it. Somehow subject to morality, I did not defend my brother to myself, but loved him more, and thought of his audacity, and perhaps of following him in a safer audacity.
Nor has the matter of his release from the reformatory been researched. I wonder if it came early, on the understanding that he fight for the King and his Dominions, which he did. He was in the RCAF by February of 1942. I read of the war in the Record before delivering it, and studied the few letters that came back from his flying school in Quebec, and then from a base in England. He was rapidly promoted. I study now his log book. ‘1943, Aug 19, convoy escort west.’ ‘1944, Jan 5, Cairo-Wadi.’ ‘1944, Mar 13, Scram. Investigate A/O.’ He was killed on active service in April of 1944, at age 22.
I cannot say I was devastated, as was my mother. It was not like losing a son. His death, despite my love, had not enough reality. Children, as evolution has ordained, are saved from being destroyed by some bad things. I marched around my paper round, and first looked at myself from outside, a boy with lowered eyes, and doubted myself for this show.
So far, I have not much gilded my boyhood, recalled it as an idyll. This too is necessary. Certainly I was not wholly taken up with not being a full member of my village, or with any other discomfort or darkness. I was a boy among boys, sometimes leader, never far behind. I learned the possibility of happiness, even the expectation of it, conceivably too great an expectation. Together with James Nesbit, Douglas Kuhn, Glen Schwartzentruber, the older Kenneth and Robert Knoll, I climbed by stages towards 14, not always primly.
Some, it seems, awaken in philosophy early. Such, it seems, was the good fortune of my later acquaintance in another world, Bryan Magee, Member of Parliament and of the Garrick, veteran of broadcasting. Author not only of such diverse works as Go West Young Man, The Television Interviewer, To Live in Danger, Towards 2000 and Aspects of Wagner, but also of Confessions of a Philosopher. We learn from the latter work that each night as a boy of 5 he approached a thought about falling asleep that Wittgenstein himself had about dying, that by definition we cannot experience it. At 7 or 8 he was entranced by how willing such an action as bending a finger is possible, and well on his way to the falsehood of determinism and the truth of Free Will. Between 9 and 12 he came on his own to contemplate Zeno's paradox of the arrow -- at any instant of its flight, it is moving or at rest? If you try to say the first, how can it possibly move at an instant? If you say the second, how can it ever be moving?
The young Bryan went further, to reflect on the problem of fatalism that whatever is going to happen tomorrow is of course true now, and therefore is settled already. He was also upset to realize, without the help of Hume, that he was aware only of his own sense impressions of the world, not the world in itself. Sense-data of trees, not trees. Since he also reflected on the antinomy that space must surely have an end but that there must also be space on the other side, he grew up no less than a natural Kantian, as he reports.
I was not so fully conscious, but I and my comrades did other things. We brought back wild flowers from the black loam in the woods, played Run Sheep Run on summer evenings, reflected again on the heat which had bent the iron stanchions in the two barns burned down on two nights by the jealous brother who left his footprints in the snow. We carved flat arrows from pine shingles and slung them for distance with stick and string, and bravely came within a few yards of Depression hoboes camping beside the railway track. We set booby traps for my deaf father in his small barn in the long back garden, frustrated the invisible trapper by springing his muskrat traps in the stream, and fished for carp in the dam where once Jews had been seen. I was not always cowed by ‘Take off your glasses’, but fought, except with the Knolls.
We rafted on Brubacher’s dam, shot at one another with BB guns from the willows and the crow’s nest in the tree, hoped to unsettle householders at 10 p.m. by the moaning that comes from the end of a long thread tacked to an outside window when the other end is rubbed with resin. We ate from the watermelon patch on the Baden Hill and then, two of us, stamped on a dozen or two, leaving in me the shame of having been a complicit witness. We got a better idea of death when Glen Schwartzentruber was not careful in driving a tractor over the railway track.
Alone enough too, I had a full if lethargic sense of myself and my world, this place of existence. I was king of the apple tree beside the first barn, got matches and lit small wooden pyres in the outhouse, wrote the initials EDRH in wet concrete, ruminated during the paper round from which Mother would never release me, lay in the grass having a half-idea about the reality of it. I was alone too in the crime of turning off the school’s electricity by the outside switch on a winter Sunday, thereby cancelling Monday morning’s classes, and in exploding a .22 cartridge with the lead removed at the last Halloween party, making an impression on the party and also the impression that remains on my knuckle. If being out of school was better, I took a little pride in being left by a teacher to read by myself in some classes, and got more entangled with language.
In one way I was precocious. Paragraphs of mine, news of Baden, were appearing in The Kitchener Record when I was 13. Mother had had this commission, and also Bee. I sang of car crashes and the burning down of the flour mill, and clipped out these unsigned threnodies. I was most impressed by my manner of bringing the news of a victory of our grown-up village softball team over another village. The Baden Pirates, I wrote, had won the trophy emblematic of championship of the league. It was the ‘emblematic’ that made me wonderfully proud. It was Homeric.
The Record supplied scorecards for softball games, and I became scorekeeper to the village team, as official a scorekeeper as it ever had, with a seat on the players’ bench, and, necessarily, a place in the truck that transported the team to its games in other villages. The departure from outside Stiffelmeyer’s Hotel was itself a ritual which drew an audience. If Glen Honderich of my farming cousins was a third baseman whose hand was quicker than the eye, my humbler role was a satisfaction to me, no doubt an evident satisfaction.
In a late inning of one of our home games, an uncertainty arose about the score. A Pirate or two took one view, favouring the Pirates. The adult scorekeeper on the visitors’ side took another, favouring the visitors. I agreed with the other scorekeeper. Was I subject to truth rather than overawed? A fortnight passed without forewarning, and I presented myself outside Stiffelmeyer’s Hotel. The great Lloyd Miller, first base and manager, barred my way onto the truck, wordlessly dismissing me from my humble role and summoning a more loyal scorekeeper. I am uncertain if he was a Miller related to the impediment to my tricycle, but I am certain the hurt was greater. At 13 one knows disgrace. I cried at home. Mother said I should not be bothered by the ignorant. I was not bothered, but bleeding.
In the summer of the year when I was 13, I went to join Father, who, having found VIM no money-spinner, and bee-keeping no better, would take himself off in the summers to pick peaches and cherries in what was called the fruit belt of our Province of Ontario. We lived contentedly in a hut, and laboured together in the trees happily, our peace ruffled only by the effect on the farmer of my remarking to him that I would pick cherries faster if I were getting the profit on them.
In another summer Father lived in a tent in the fruit belt, and may have offered a pamphlet of his to someone. It is my recollection, as I have remarked, that his works were not limited to the subject of religious toleration, and that at least one was of a more seditious character. More particularly, as I seem to recollect, it was devoted to the propositions that Christianity is true Communism, and Communism true Christianity. Both propositions are needed, as logic will tell you, to secure a perfect equivalence. My recollection has some support from an undoubted fact, that Father and his tent were visited by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for the purpose of looking over the literature. These Mounties were vigilant early, since the miasma of McCarthyism south of the border was still to come. They thought Father no immediate danger to the security of the State. Perhaps they discerned he had probably read no word of Marx.
In March of 1947, when I was 14, winter brought life to a halt. There was a great blizzard. After it, we gathered in the schoolyard at the railway fence to wait for the two engines and the immense plough, They had backed up two miles in order to gain momentum to clear snow 15 feet deep from the cutting. They succeeded mightily, and threw up a deluge over the fence. Finding myself under three feet of snow, with time left before losing consciousness, I prayed in earnest, for the first and last time. We were dug out and I set to work. It was gratifying to read the next day’s Record. BOY TELLS HIS OWN STORY OF BEING BURIED IN SNOW. By EDGAR HONDERICH. Nor did I much mind the little interview with Mother about this first piece of writing identified as mine. ‘Mrs. Honderich said this morning it took him three hours to write it—he was that sincere about doing a good job.’ Count on Rae Laura to find in this early breast-baring some moral responsibility.
She was much concerned with a religious form of it, and is somehow to be credited with what she would have taken to be a particular achievement in this connection. My first contemplations of girls, as I have reported, were restricted to a kind of respectable content, perhaps with some slight addition no more definable today than then. Subsequently, more content was made available to me. The two destroyers of the watermelons on the Baden Hill were the informants of me and my comrades as to another side of life, and its intransitive and transitive verbs. They also went beyond language, to the very demonstration of reality.
They spoke of jerking off, thereby providing me both with a new verb and, so to speak, with my first piece of carnal knowledge. For our instruction, they had competitions in jerking off, in the sunlight at the edge of Brubacher’s Dam. The white spurts out into the water were mesmerizing. They did more, with amazingly compliant girls, proud to help. As we watched closely, they felt them up, in the course of a kind of dancing in front of the ice-cream counter in Roth’s Garage, and while lying down with them in snow-houses. My second verb and piece of carnal knowledge.
Look and learn is what we did, but in my case the knowledge remained inert. It remained so despite my audacity in other respects, and despite the warm and inspiriting feeling produced in me when the rim of the drinking fountain at school pressed against my flies. I appreciated the feeling, but I never put my first piece of carnal knowledge into action until university, and then only experimentally, and after I had acquired a third. That I should act on the second, touch a girl there, was beyond all conception, not something in any possible world. This paralysis on my part was that particular achievement of Rae Laura of which I spoke a moment ago. It presumably had to do with her expressed aspiration that I would come as a Christian to my wife. I seemed to myself unimpressed by it, as by her other yet more general exhortations to virtue. As it seems, their efficacy did not depend on my seeming impressed.
I seemed still less impressed by the last of my religious experiences, and in this case it had none of its intended effect. Rae Laura, having exhausted the resources of the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, had found her way not to something more mystical but to something more substantial. Not for her the Church of Unity. In what I think were her sorrows, she became a fundamentalist, a Pentecostal, and was able to take with her two of my siblings, Loine and Mary. She succeeded in taking me to the Pentecostal Tabernacle in Kitchener a time or two.
There, on one Sunday, I was saved. This enrolment in the army of the Lord was worked on my 15-year-old soul by emotion and ululation, and perhaps by speaking in tongues, and by my being led from the tabernacle to a side room for the coup de grace. I gave in to some urgent adult, and loathed myself and him for it on the way back to Baden. My conversion did not take, and was the late stimulus to my atheism. It was soon to find its plainer tongue, and to separate me from my religious brother and sister for too long thereafter.
My formal and other education in Baden completed, I became a pupil of the Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute, the high school of Kitchener and the adjacent town of Waterloo. Very few if any of my village classmates ascended to a secondary school. I had no great inclination. Although my boyhood had contained no exhortations to success, but only to goodness, and would not change in this respect, my parents arranged that Grey Coach Lines would take me the ten miles to Kitchener each morning. I was less a scholar than earlier, and more attracted to urban life than to Latin. I doubt whether my want of commitment had much to do with another fact of membership. Again I was not a full member. I was a village boy in Kitchener. Its boys had English names, doctors for mothers, fathers with Buicks, shoes and haircuts of an ordained mode, and played hardball. They went to summer cottages on islands, presumably were not told by a dentist that another filling was needed but they should not come back except with money in hand, and they could dance.
This second experience of being outside a world, not owed to any intention of those inside, was no distress. Perhaps, sometimes after coming to know disgrace, one starts on the way to learning that always and for ever there is something of which one is not a member. Would that I had learned the lesson better. In fact, I was in a way beckoned inside Kitchener. Girls liked me, perhaps for some independence, pride, and lazy intelligence. Helen Geiger was one, as comely as she was serious. It was not rejection that kept me from the Christmas Prom, but, despite those mentioned strengths of mine, a temporary lack of nerve.
My boyhood moved towards a certain ending in tranquillity, owed in part to something’s being kept from me. School went on uneventfully and I achieved no great distinction and did not kiss girls. Nor did I distinguish myself in jobs each summer. I learned the dreariness of the life of a factory labourer, in a Kitchener textile mill, and did not learn to do well at minding the machines. Another job, at 16, was working on the railway, with men of Baden. Having learned to drive in spikes, I tired of the labour, but had not the face to show myself and announce my resignation in advance of the agreed time, at the beginning of the school term. Mother saw the foreman at my suggestion, and to my disgrace. If I censured her in my mind for not minding her appearance enough, and more particularly for not arranging to support her bosom, and resented her for these failures, I did not hesitate to make use of her unfailing resolution on my behalf.
It had to be told me in the end, when I was approaching 17, that she was not only tired and disappointed. Something else was wrong. She would go to Toronto, where Ruth and Bee now lived, to a nursing home. Father, for reasons not wholly clear to me, would go to friends in Kitchener. The telephone house was at a sudden end, as was Baden. I would go to Toronto too, to live first with my sister and then with my brother.
It is too early for me, and may be too early for you, really to set about explaining me. There seems to me insufficient reason for a certain orthodoxy. It is the giving of greatest weight, in understanding the later or mature part of a life, to what came first. As it seems to me, what forms the later part and the person in it may be more recent. Certainly the middle, the time of youth, cannot simply be left out. Life does not consist in (1) childhood followed by (2) nothing much followed by (3) what is to be explained. Later life is not a large and remarkable case of action at a distance. So I shall wait a bit to think about any serious explaining.
With an eye on that, though, a summary of my
boyhood is worth trying. My sense of membership and standing was small,
which fact, to add a further thought, may have made me in some ways
rule-governed. The rules were the rules of others. My tendency to
was large, and, if it now seems I was not fully awake, I was not
in some pride and boldness. Places were much to me. I had the affection
my parents, and in different ways returned it, but with insufficient
to the parent to whom I was closer, in fact my mother. I was aware of
taking a moral view of things before any other, and of their morality’s
being decent. It was not selfishness. But, affected in my feelings as I
this morality did not paralyze me. Perhaps it only kept me from acting
my inclination to girls, by whom I was always taken. As against all
I was often sweetly happy out of school, and at least content in
I was no cradle philosopher. I never fell easily into belief, without
effort took things in, was never touched by religion, was kept at work
far as that was possible, and did not fail to learn to fight sometimes.