International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Special Issue number 172 9th June 2012


I. 'Gulliver', 'Dream' by Geoffrey Klempner

II. Interview with Geoffrey Klempner by Anonymous

III. 'Review of Naive Metaphysics: a commentary' by Geoffrey Klempner

IV. 'Response to A' by Geoffrey Klempner




     I am Gulliver
     In the land of Lilliput
     And you are
     The Little People
     Your squeaky
     Boos and cheers
     Are like the buzzing
     And chirping
     Of insects



     The world is a dream
     We are responsible for
     Everything that happens
     In the dream
     If anything good happens
     It is of no consequence
     If anything bad happens
     It is of no consequence

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012




Anon:  I'm glad we've had the chance to talk again, after our last discussion, in August 2010.[1] You told me that this is something about your book.[2] But that was years ago!

GK:  Just for the record, there is a more recent interview, with Jules Evans, 'Geoffrey Klempner on philosophy beyond academia'.[3]

Anon:  I saw that. In the interview, you said, 'The justification for doing philosophy is that you need it, you're gripped by its problems. It's not there to make your life better.' That's quite a slap in the face for philosophical practitioners and the whole philosophical counselling movement, isn't it?

GK:  I don't mean it to be. This is my personal credo. As I wrote in my article, 'Pathways to Philosophy: Seven Years On', 'I do not help my students with their personal problems, or even invite them to confide in me. I engage my students in philosophical dialogue. I send them material, they write back to me, and I respond to what they have written. The sole subject for our discussion is the problems of philosophy.'[4]

Anon:  In other words, for all your claims to be making a real difference to the world by promoting philosophy, you're really interested in philosophy for its own sake, not for its benefits?

GK:  That's basically correct. As it states on the ISFP web site: 'Our mission is to teach the world to philosophize.'[5] However, I do believe that doing philosophy 'for its own sake' has great practical benefits, and many of my students have told me the same thing.

Anon:  All right. So, what about your book, Naive Metaphysics? It was a stepping stone. You've more or less said so yourself. Getting the book out was necessary in order to clear the decks for Pathways. It also helped that you were a published author, didn't it?

GK:  The section on my book was one of the first features of the Pathways web site when it was launched on the University of Sheffield web site in August 1997. I was very proud of the flyer written by Professor David Hamlyn which talked about me in the same breath as Aristotle, Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer: 'Geoffrey Klempner has produced an essay in metaphysics which not only has great depth but also constitutes a vindication of the subject.'[6]

Anon:  The book was published in 1994. This was three years later. And yet, the only good thing you could find that had been written about your book was the publisher's blurb! Not exactly impressive.

GK:  I was too deeply involved with Pathways to worry too much about it. Over the two years after Pathways was launched in 1995, I wrote six new books, the six Pathways programs.[7] That consumed all my energy. The uppermost thing in my mind was making Pathways succeed as a money making concern, as it was in fact my only source of income. It would have been nice to get a reaction, any reaction, but nothing happened, and I shrugged it off.

Anon:  Frankly, I find that hard to believe.

GK:  There's a history to this, which goes further back, to the late 80s when I was trying to get articles published in academic journals. After just six rejections, I'd had enough. Looking back, I had no chance. I'd not made any serious attempt to engage with the work of other academic philosophers, so why should they take notice of me? My work was 'too distanced from the nitty gritty of academic debate', Simon Blackburn, then editor of Mind, wrote in response to my first article, 'In the Name of Metaphysics.' It was Blackburn's wife Angela Blackburn, who as Philosophy Editor for Oxford University Press, wrote to inform me that the original version of my book, First Philosophy would not be published, despite two very favourable reader's reports. A third anonymous reader was appointed, who judged it, 'too idiosyncratic to function as a good introductory book.'[8]

Anon:  Do you know who the readers were?

GK:  Yes. At least, the first two. I can take an intelligent guess at the third. It is against protocol, but I'm happy to state them here. The first reader was Jonathan Barnes, author of The Presocratic Philosophers.[9] I think he was chosen because the first version of my book had material on the Presocratic philosophers. The second reader was Dorothy Edgington, who had been my tutor when I was an undergraduate at Birkbeck College, London. My guess at the third reader, the one who rejected the book, would be Simon Blackburn. It's easy, when you've got a philosopher sitting opposite you at the breakfast table, to say, 'Will you take a look at this darling and tell me what you think?' I'm just guessing, as I said. If I'm wrong, I apologize.

Anon:  You must have been hurt.

GK:  I will always be grateful for what Barnes and Edgington said. Barnes, alluding to Isaiah Berlin's famous essay, 'The Hedgehog and the Fox'[10], wrote, 'The fox, according to Archilochus, knows many things while the hedgehog knows one big thing; in these terms Klempner is a hedgehog. The big thing is, in the words of the Dedication, that 'the world is and will always remain something absolutely other than I'.' Edgington described my book as 'remarkable'.

Anon:  You could have approached other publishers.

GK:  I decided that the only way forward was to rewrite the book as a monograph, rather than present it as an introduction, and try to get reactions from other academic philosophers. So I did something rather unusual, though some would say typical for me. I sent a mailout to every academic philosopher in the UK, with copies of the reader's reports, advertising the new version of the manuscript, now entitled Naive Metaphysics, in A4 format, for 20 Pounds. I received around 30 book orders in total, and a handful of recipients sent me their comments, although no-one was prepared to make the thoroughgoing critique I'd hoped for.

Anon:  And then?

GK:  I approached Routledge. They weren't interested. That was it, I wasn't going to go through any more heartache. Avebury and the Mellon Press were suggested to me as possible routes to get the book published, and I chose Avebury. The rest you know.

Anon:  We were in 1997, at the time of the launch of the Pathways web site. A couple of years later, you started the Glass House Philosopher[11], and expanded and redesigned the Pathways site with 'Ask a Philosopher', the 'How-to-do-it Guide', 'Pathways Essays' and 'Letters to My Students'. On the front page of Glass House Philosopher, you provocatively described yourself as an 'Internet Sophist'. 'I believe the university departments have had their day. Time has come for a more democratic arrangement. The world wide web offers a paradigm for a radically new approach to teaching and publishing.' -- Fighting talk!

GK:  Or a retreat. 'Don't bother about me, I'm not a philosopher, just an internet sophist plying my trade.' That's not how I thought about it at the time, of course. My blood was up. I was full of high hopes, which to some extent have been realized. But behind the bombastic pronouncements was a secret.

Anon:  Which is why we are here today.

GK:  Several important things happened, the year before, in 1998. My father died. The University of Sheffield asked to see all the Pathways materials, after I had placed an advertisement in The Big Issue magazine which seemed to imply that Pathways was a course run by Sheffield University. Professors David Bell and Peter Carruthers pronounced themselves fully satisfied -- although I've often wondered how much of the six book-length programs they actually read. David Bell subsequently joined the Board of the ISFP, and Peter Carruthers wrote a very nice testimonial for the Pathways web site.[12]

Anon:  And...?

GK:  Now comes the difficult part. Searching on the internet for the title of my book, I came across a reference to a review which had appeared in the Times Higher Education Supplement in June 1995.[13] I was totally shocked. Why hadn't anyone told me? Academic philosophers I'd talked to subsequently must have known. Was it just too embarrassing to mention? I emailed the author asking for a copy. He wrote back that he'd be happy to send me a copy, 'but I must warn you that my review was not complimentary, so you may not want to look at it.' I headed straight for the microfilm section of the Sheffield University Library, and printed the article off. Not wanting to give the author the satisfaction, I emailed back the next day, 'Thanks for the email. I shall take your advice.'

Anon:  Was it so bad? People get bad reviews. It happens.

GK:  The editor of the Reviews page had evidently felt the review wasn't bad enough, and decided to pep it up with a cartoon illustration by the artist Stuart Helm, whose meaning was all-too clear.[14] The cartoon depicts a worried man peering over a wall, with a question mark on his cheek. The top of his skull has been removed and a labourer with a wheelbarrow is shovelling material into the cavity. As the review concludes, 'one is advised to look elsewhere for metaphysical instruction.'

Anon:  You were hurt but you kept this bottled up. I don't think I could do that. I would go somewhere for help, ask someone. Not just do nothing.

GK:  I made the correct business decision, which was to ignore it. Carry on smiling and act as if nothing had happened. I told no-one. You can hardly start a debate about a review written four years previously. Anyway, I couldn't assume that anyone would support me. I was too ashamed to talk to Hamlyn. However, I resisted the impulse to destroy the printout. I'm glad I kept it, as the online version has the illustration missing. Something else. On the very same page of the THES there is a review by Simon Blackburn. Coincidence?

Anon:  So now it's time for the reckoning. Are you sure you want to do this?

GK:  Yes. There's a lot that I still don't know. Let's see what crawls out of the woodwork. I wouldn't like to speculate. I am not going to state anything that I don't know. Anyone can make guesses. What I do know, from all the positive reactions I have received to my book over the years, is that no-one who was prepared to engage with the arguments, who had not already decided in advance that this wasn't worth grappling with 'the opacity and interminability of his text', in fact no-one with a shred of intellectual integrity would have written the vile rubbish that appeared in the THES, which effectively killed the book stone dead so far as the world of academic philosophy is concerned.

Anon:  Thank you.



1.  Interview with Geoffrey Klempner: August 6 2010


2.  Naive Metaphysics: about my book


3.  Jules Evans 'Geoffrey Klempner: on philosophy beyond academia'


3.  'Pathways to Philosophy: Seven Years On'


5.   ISFP Mission Statement


6.  Naive Metaphysics: Avebury flyer


7.  Pathways to Philosophy: choose from six pathways


8.  Naive Metaphysics: Preface


9.   Jonathan Barnes The Presocratic Philosophers. London, Routledge 1982

10. Isaiah Berlin The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1953

11. The glass house philosopher - a philosophical notebook


12.  "The Pathways materials are excellent, and the whole
     idea is a very good one, for which there is an obvious
     need. I believe Pathways will provide a route into
     degree-level work in philosophy which is both rigorous and
     exciting. Dr Klempner taught in the Philosophy Dept at
     Sheffield University at a variety of levels for many years
     and student feedback was always very positive. He has a
     real talent for communicating — whether it be
     information, enthusiasm, or core reasoning skills. I am
     confident that students following one of Dr Klempner's
     Pathways will receive an excellent, carefully structured,
     grounding in philosophy." (7th September 1998)

13. 'What a wonderful world it could be'. Times Higher Education Supplement. 23.6.95, p.23
14. Illustration by Stuart Helm


(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012




What a wonderful world it could be Times Higher Education Supplement David S. Oderberg 23 June 1995

I will not comment on the title, except to say that it has forever spoiled one of my favourite songs.

     What kind of world exists? And why does it exist? To answer
     these and other foundational questions of existence is to
     practise what Geoffrey Klempner calls 'naive metaphysics'.

This seems innocent enough. The author is here conforming to the accepted style guide for book reviews, offering a general statement of the author's aim and purpose, to be elaborated on in what follows.

The only problem is, as so stated, it is evidently false, even allowing for the penumbra of acceptable inaccuracy in a summary statement.

The topic or talking point of the book is naive metaphysics, which is defined as the 'state of mind which questions the existence of the world' (Ch.1, third paragraph of sec.1). In the previous paragraph, I state that, 'Taking our stand, then, in an ultimately illogical universe, we shall not ask why our world exists, or indeed why there is any world. Still, if there is no explaining contingent existence, nor even accounting for its inexplicability, there remains the modest but important task of definition.'

To seek to define the world, as metaphysicians do, as Aristotle did, is not naive metaphysics. It is what philosophers do. I am writing as a philosopher. My point is that we, as philosophers and would-be metaphysicians, should take the existence of naive metaphysics, as I have defined it, as a datum. As Wittgenstein would put it, this is 'raw material' for philosophical investigation, not a theory, not a position that a philosopher would defend.

Why is it important to take account of this 'datum'? Because, as I claim, when naive metaphysics raises the question of existence, there are two questions not one: Why is there the world? Why is there my world? That's the challenge: to explain, or explain away, this intuition.

     In fact such questions belong to metaphysics pure and
     simple, but Klempner is presumably reacting to modern
     scepticism about the meaningfulness of the discipline by
     regarding such questions as manifesting the entirely
     reasonable, indeed inevitable, childlike wonder that human
     beings reflectively have about the world.

How can I be arguing that the questions of naive metaphysics are 'entirely reasonable' when I have just stated that we are not going to make any attempt to answer them? We are not going there because we cannot. 'Logically, the world ought not to exist.' You can't raise 'reasonable' questions about why the universe exists.

As a would-be metaphysician, of course I am concerned with 'modern scepticism about the meaningfulness of the discipline'. But no-one seriously reading this book would think that talking of naive metaphysics is intended as a response to that scepticism. My response to the scepticism is pragmatic. Metaphysics is concerned with the task of description, with 'accounting' for all there is, as an accountant takes note of all income and expenditure.

My case is that this task, the task of giving a complete account which leaves nothing out, is much more difficult than philosophers have hitherto conceived it to be. This is connected with the point about illogicality. A careful reader would grasp the point.

     The task Klempner sets himself is not a modest one.

This is, in a sense, correct. The task we are undertaking is a very big task, bigger than you have ever imagined. But in that case, why did I state that 'there remains the modest but important task of definition'?

     He proposes an entire worldview which, he believes, can
     account for traditional metaphysical problems such as those
     of mind and body, free will, time and tense, the existence
     of the external world, among others.

Evidently, we need a definition of 'modest'. Traditional 'immodest' metaphysics, of the kind that seeks to account for the existence of the world -- typically by proving the necessary existence of God -- is no longer possible. To be 'modest', in this sense, is to renounce the question 'Why?' and concentrate on the question, 'What?'

However, in another sense, the aims of my book are not 'modest'. In not dissimilar way to Thomas Nagel, I believe that a significant number of traditional problems in philosophy are connected with the subjective and objective standpoints. The interesting question, which the reviewer could have posed, is how my theory differs from Nagel's. The point is that it is entirely respectable to be 'immodest' in this, latter sense.

     And the central theme of this worldview is that it is, as
     it were, a two-worldview.

I checked with the original, which had 'two-world-view', with 'view' on the next line of the blocked text. This is important because I suspect the author is having a little joke. I am not proposing a worldview, I am proposing a 'two-worldview'! This is a novelty. Anyone who thought it was possible to have a 'worldview', as such, is wrong. Because every time you try to look at the world, as such, you end up seeing double.

     There are subjective and objective worlds, they are
     'metaphysically contradictory', and neither can be
     disregarded without losing the conceptual equipment needed
     for a complete description of what there is.

     But what are these two worlds, exactly? Klempner's account
     begins in such a way that it seems fairly easy to
     comprehend them: the objective world is reality seen from
     the third-person point of view, the reality of facts and
     things, reality as describable by means of judgements; and
     the subjective world is reality seen from the first-person
     point of view, from the 'inside-out', or from my privileged
     position as an observer with a unique perspective. As the
     book progresses, however, the waters are increasingly
     muddied, so that by the end the reader is unlikely to have
     any idea what it is Klempner is talking about.

This is not an acceptable standard for a philosophy book review. 'The waters are increasingly muddied.' These casual words save the author from any effort to grasp or reckon with the arguments. 'I didn't understand it,' is all he is saying. The implication is, 'I didn't understand it, and if I can't understand something then you can be sure there's nothing there to be understood.'

     The subjective world is associated with (it is hard to be
     more specific than this) the 'incommunicable sense of my
     own existence', and with the 'thisness of this', the
     'nowness of now' and the 'I-ness of I'. It is, however,
     'indescribable in language'.

We could have a field day, with any philosopher, quoting phrases out of context. Let me just state the point in simple terms. The subjective world contains the very same objects as the objective world. The difference is that these objects are conceived as positioned in relation to a given spatio-temporal position: where I am, now. It's a point that has been made before, by Thomas Nagel. As I explain in the text, in my view Nagel fails adequately to address the question that he himself has raised, concerning the meaning of, 'I am TN.'    

     One might be forgiven for thinking initially that the
     subjective standpoint was that of the persisting self, the
     'I' which is in a privileged relationship with the rest of
     reality. But, Klempner tells us, this is not at all what
     the subjective standpoint is about. There is no persisting
     self which unifies the subjective standpoint: 'All that can
     be said about my subjective world, as a reality distinct
     from the objective, is that it is this. If I were to go on
     to say that the this existed one second ago, I should be
     saying more than one is logically permitted to say...'. But
     then what does unify the subjective standpoint? The answer
     is not clear. We are told that the 'most fundamental
     condition for being my subjective world is to be the world
     of a being who exists for the objective standpoint'. The
     problem here is that such a being precisely is a persisting
     person or self, so it is hard to see how Klempner can
     extract himself from this contradictory morass.

It's not that difficult to state what unifies the subjective world. Because we are only talking about a moment in time, the indexical 'I-now'. The subjective world is simply the objective world conceived from this momentary perspective. The subjective world inherits its unity from the objective world, plus one extra ingredient, the momentary perspective, or double indexical, 'I-now'.

     The 'metaphysical contradiction' between the subjective and
     objective worlds is, for Klempner, inescapable, in which
     case he might not object to the logical tensions strewn
     throughout his book.

In other words, 'I am too lazy to sort through all this.'

     His system is indeed rich, rich enough to embrace
     contradictions, and perhaps that is all that needs to be

A pathetic comment.

     But it is the philosopher's duty not to rest easy with
     paradox, and to try to make sense of the world. Klempner's
     approach, however, casts more shade than light. He tackles
     the freedom of the will, but has very little to say that is
     easily grasped, and what there is makes precious little
     contribution to the debate.

A pity that the reader of the review is given no chance to judge for themself.

     On personal identity he plays around with recent important
     discussions and theories, again getting nowhere. The puzzle
     case of fission prompts a passing endorsement of the
     so-called 'multiple occupancy' view, whose implausibility
     (despite recent thought-provoking defences) escapes
     Klempner's attention, let alone its conflicting with his
     non-endorsement of an 'absolute I'.

Lazy and disingenuous.

     Klempner is to be admired for seeing the worth of
     system-building, but the opacity and interminability of his
     text subvert the effort required to make even minimal sense
     of it. Coupled with the lack of an index (an unforgivable
     oversight for such a book) and the inflated price tag, one
     is advised to look elsewhere for metaphysical instruction.

No. You were too lazy to make any real effort. You had pre-judged the book before you even read it. When you realized that it would actually require you to think, you gave up, safe in the knowledge that your colleagues would nod their heads in approval at your hatchet job.

The truth is, you and your cosseted, arrogant associates, in fact everyone connected with the Times Higher Education Supplement, should bow their heads in shame.

As should all those who knew me as a philosopher, who read the review, and said nothing. Save for one single individual. At the only academic interview I ever attended, at Liverpool University, Stephen Clark remarked to me that, 'Your book is not that bad.' He'd seen the review, I hadn't. He didn't know that, of course. I could go on about its faults, at much greater length than I have done here, but I accept that it was the best I could do at the time. It deserved better than the reception it received.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012




Dear A,

I am grateful to you for your questions. You are of course right to me ask for more information, rather than just offering a knee-jerk response.

Of course, it is important to me how an audience will take this. I'm not just venting my spleen regardless of the consequences. Even when I completely let myself go, or let rip -- as I have done on more than one occasion in the pages of my Glass House notebook -- I always have half an eye on the effect of my words. At least I am not a 'sophist' (on Plato's excessively negative characterization) to the extent of always wanting to please people. I'm quite happy to cause upset, or even extreme upset, if upset is required.

I am not upset, just to clarify matters. I'm actually in a good mood, clearer than I have ever been. However, I have reached a point of frustration, a plateau, or perhaps a the outer wall of my capacious estate. The thing about Pathways is that it requires me to do the same thing, over and over again, with dependable regularity. Issues of the e-journals, letters to my students, web site updates. I do all this work, in the face of considerable apathy (present company excepted). It is quite rare for me to receive any response, at all, when an issue of Philosophy Pathways goes out (to well over a thousand recipients!).

The Wikipedia article was the catalyst, because it forced me to think about certain aspects of my life. Like the fact that my ideas have made no impression on philosophical debate. This is important, in Wikipedia terms, because it means that I am not 'notable'. I don't deserve an article on myself, and I'm happy with that. The problem is that I am, and have always been, gripped by a sense of mission. I have a task to perform in this world.

Before writing to you, I penned an email to one of my students, who has just started the Philosophy of Language program. My one paid task for the day. It isn't enough, to be 'churning out a thousand words an hour of philosopher-speak' (Glass House notebook 1, page 1). Hence, the other notebooks: Hedgehog Philosopher (which ground to a halt in the nick of time), Camera Dreamer (maybe I should be taking photos rather than doing this?), Tentative Answers (good while it lasted), and now Zero RAM.

To get to the point. What I realized, in my plateau wandering, is that everything I have done has a reason, a cause, which stems back to the book. I made a decision, or a series of decisions, which took me on a path to here. You are right to call attention to this 'sudden awareness'. How could that happen? I asked myself certain questions. I probed. I did the Socrates thing. And the result was a revelation. I have been living a lie. There is no other way to state it.

The first interview with Anon talks a lot about irony. Irony is the place where you take refuge, when you can't face up to the truth. The good writer knows that irony is just one of the colours in the palette. I know, or have known, no other colour.

The THES review was a bad thing. But it wasn't just one thing in isolation. I am responsible for putting myself in that position in the first place. I lost interest in the world of academic philosophy long before the series of events which I recount took place. I realized that that wasn't what I wanted to be. Why would I think that academic philosophers would still be interested in what I had to say? I was on the track of the truth, as I saw it. Everyone who is a philosopher wants to know the truth, don't they?!

Why publish this now.

Maybe I just needed to write it, get one person to read it, get this off my chest. But that would be cowardice. Now that I have woken up to the lie, now that I see it for what it is, and can't pretend any longer that it is something other than it is, it seems as if I have no choice. But of course I have a choice. If I thought that this would destroy Pathways as a 'business', take away my livelihood, my ability to support myself and my family financially, then to publish would be unforgivable.

All these things could happen. If you take pot shots at prominent people or institutions you have to assume their capacity to shoot back. Am I ready for that? I want to see 'what crawls out of the woodwork'. I do want to upset certain people. But not too many people. If I get a few angry emails, I can deal with that.

The THES review is out there, on the internet. People searching for my name in Google will find it. More will find it when the Wikipedia article appears. I could do nothing, or something different from this, or just this. On my not very reliable calculation, this will help more than it harms my cause, and the cause of Pathways. Some of my audience will be wincing. I'll get some sympathy, though that's not what I'm looking for. I want people to say, 'Right on!' Will they?

That's about it. I hope I haven't taxed your patience.

All the best,


(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012


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