International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 186 1st June 2014

Special Christopher Norris Issue


I. 'Poetry as (a Kind of) Philosophy: for Richard Rorty' by Christopher Norris

II. 'Hume A-Dying: notes from Boswell' by Christopher Norris

Pathways News

III. Academy of Romanian Scientists: Philosophy of Science Today 13-19 October 2014



I am delighted to have the opportunity to dedicate the bulk of this issue of Philosophy Pathways to the work of the philosopher and literary critic Christopher Norris, Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at Cardiff University.

According to Wikipedia, Christopher Norris is '... one of the world's leading scholars on deconstruction, and the work of Jacques Derrida. He has written numerous books and papers on literary theory, continental philosophy, philosophy of music, philosophy of language and philosophy of science. More recently, he has been focussing on the work of Alain Badiou in relation with both the analytic tradition (particularly analytic philosophy of mathematics) and with the philosophy of Derrida.'

Out of the blue, around three weeks ago, I received the following email from Christopher Norris:

     I am sending (by attachment) a poem -- actually a long
     verse-essay -- that you might wish to publish in a
     forthcoming number of Philosophy Pathways. I should perhaps
     explain that the piece originates in my various published
     exchanges with Rorty many years back, and that it responds
     to his challenge that philosophy should become more
     adventurous, exploratory, inventive, metaphorical, and --
     in short -- poetic. Hence my otherwise rather odd choice of
     verse as a medium in which to conduct philosophical debate.

I told Professor Norris that the issue was his to edit if he wanted it. Subsequently, he added a second, shorter poem, inspired by the famous visit of James Boswell, Dr Samuel Johnson's biographer, to the dying philosopher David Hume in Edinburgh on July 7th 1776.

The Rorty poem is preceded by an introduction in which Norris fills in the background of his discussions with the philosopher Richard Rorty, and talks about his somewhat unusual choice of the verse form. The Hume poem is preceded by a short extract which Norris has selected from Boswell's journals.

These two poems are instructive, not only about Richard Rorty and David Hume, but also about the literary art of verse writing in the tradition of Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and William Empson (1906-1984). They are also hugely enjoyable to read.

I have added an item of news about a conference organized by the Academy of Romanian Sciences, 'Philosophy of Science Today' which will take place at the Andrei Saguna University, Constanta, Romania 13th-19th October 2014. The item was submitted by ISFP member Narcis Zarnescu, PhD.

Geoffrey Klempner




This long poem (perhaps better called verse-essay) is one of a number that I've written over the past few years, most of them on philosophical, literary, musical, and cultural-historical themes. They are all composed in fairly strict rhyming iambic pentameter and use a variety of likewise regular stanza-schemes including (my favourite) terza rima and various permutations on the basic quatrain form. This one doubles up the quatrains into octaves (or octets) since the longer unit gives more leeway for internal variations of structure, emphasis, verse-rhythm, and devices like parallelism or grammatical inversion.

I should say straight off that I'm an unashamed formalist who greatly enjoys exploring these possibilities and who tends to assume that my readers will share that perhaps rather curious predilection. But of course such formal techniques are no use if they don't serve to point up, qualify, complicate, or at least fall square with the sense so I hope that's more often than not the case here. I should also say -- in a likewise cautionary way -- that I favour syntactically complex forms with sentences that almost always run over line-endings and often extend across several stanzas. Again, I shouldn't want to apologise too much for this, since one of the things I'm trying to do here and in other poems is to reinvent for contemporary uses the kind of argumentative verse-essay that seems to have 'come naturally' to many eighteenth-century poets but has disappeared almost completely in the wake of symbolism, imagism, modernism, and their anti-discursive offshoots. No doubt my day-job as a professional philosopher has influenced my thinking on these matters, as well as supplying more than a few of my topics. But on the literary side it is William Empson's example, as poet and critic, that has meant most to me over the years and that readers familiar with his work will not fail to notice at various points.

I should fill in some parts of the background picture for those who may otherwise be baffled on the one hand by various moderately 'technical' bits of discussion and on the other, especially toward the end, by the few personal or anecdotal passages. I met Richard Rorty on several occasions, mostly at conferences or seminars in the US and Britain. The context was usually a debate framed around the varied but associated issues of relativism, truth, pragmatism, critique, postmodernism, deconstruction, philosophy in relation to/conflict with literary theory, and the historical fortunes of the European enlightenment. He took a strongly pragmatist view which pretty much endorsed William James's laid-back characterization of truth (fiercely contested by Bertrand Russell) as what's by and large 'good in the way of belief', that is, what best serves to protect, preserve and promote the interests of human physical, moral, and cultural flourishing. At the same time he took a highly positive -- even quite exalted -- view of the US and its role as an ethically progressive force for good both in domestic social-political terms and as a matter of expanding global influence. His attachment to the American pragmatists, Dewey in particular, and their recasting of philosophy in the vernacular grain was very much a part of that outlook.

This all went along, for Rorty, with a naturalised but non-reductive since language-oriented and culture-responsive epistemology; a rejection of Kantian or other 'foundationalist' approaches; a consequent suspicion of 'enlightenment' values like truth and critique; a scepticism toward most of what passed for reputable or valid academic philosophy in the analytic mainstream; a growing preference for its sundry 'continental' alternatives; a strong-revisionist, i.e., non-truth-based conception of interpretative practice across all disciplines or areas of thought; and a view of hermeneutics -- along with cultural and literary criticism -- as what philosophy ought to look like once rid of its delusory pretensions of intellectual grandeur. He had no time for Kant-derived transcendental or condition-of-possibility arguments, regarding them as relics of old-style 'armchair' philosophising, although he did devote a good deal of time to explaining and defending his reasons for thinking so. In his later years Rorty tended to mix more with people in departments of English, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, and Ethnography rather than (at any rate analytically-inclined) Philosophy, a habit no doubt reinforced by his ex-colleagues' less than generous response to his perceived apostasy.

This makes it doubly ironic that I, with an early background in literary studies, and having hopped across the disciplines to philosophy via literary theory, should have ended up opposing his position on most of these points. Our disagreements get a versified repeat airing here, most prominently those having to do with truth, critique, relativism, transcendental arguments, and (in a pointedly different sense of the term) the transcendental or visionary strain in US social, political and cultural thought. I take a much less rosy view of US politics and its various social and cultural expressions, although -- to be fair -- Rorty himself was increasingly prone to doubts on that score after the election of George W. Bush and the advent of his 'war on terror'. Still I try to keep the tone fairly relaxed, even chatty at times, so as not to let this rehearsal of old quarrels get in the way of my admiring and affectionate memories of him as a wonderfully generous host when I visited Virginia. He was also a genial though resolute opponent in debate, a patient and kindly interlocutor in print, and a fine advertisement for those progressive values to which his home culture has so far not managed to live up.

Elsewhere I look back at our differing views about Heidegger and Derrida, the two 'continental' thinkers who -- along with Hegel -- were of greatest importance for Rorty's revisionist project, albeit on a suitably naturalised (or pragmatised) selective reading. As regards the vexed question of Heidegger's politics he thought that you could perfectly well drive a wedge between man and work and thereby hang on to the claim that Heidegger was a major thinker and source of vital new ideas while accepting, since the evidence left little choice, that he was also an unreconstructed 'Schwarzwald redneck'. In Derrida's case Rorty urged that we forget all the earnest philosophical stuff, especially the bits that people like me construed as 'negative transcendental' arguments or as couched in a 'conditions of impossibility' mode, and just enjoy those other, more 'literary' texts which gave free rein to his powers of metaphorical or fictive invention. I disagreed in both instances and hope that my reasons will be clear enough from the poem.

Beyond that I think there is nothing that really needs explaining except perhaps the bit toward the end about 'Trotsky and the Wild Orchids'. This was the title of an unusually self-revealing essay where Rorty discusses -- among other things -- his father's left-wing union activism and the somewhat Kierkegaardian tension in his own life and work between the call of commitment and the desire for aesthetic pleasures untroubled by such queasy issues of conscience. Writing the poem and re-living some of those debates made me very aware of how remarkably good-humoured he remained despite my lining up, as it must have seemed, with every hostile bunch in town. Anyway I trust that this poem will be read as an unfeigned tribute despite the one or two waspish passages when it comes to those touchy matters of politics.


     Hope you won't take it as a backhand kind
         Of compliment, or something even worse,
     Like old-score settling, if I try to find
         Some way to talk our issues through in verse.
     At best it might be something that combined
         Word-magic with your talent to rehearse
     Deep issues in philosophy of mind,
         Language, or logic and yet intersperse
     The expert stuff with writing of the sort
         That takes a larger readership on board
     And never sells them or its topic short
         Since your prose-style was one that could afford
     To mingle idioms, like modes of thought,
         Unworried as to how they might accord
     With all the protocols set up to thwart
         Such ventures into regions unexplored
     By the rule-sticklers. Yet, it may be said,
         Why rhyme and metre? when you stuck to prose,
     Albeit of a kind that's likely read
         More often by non-specialists than those
     Whose academic caution bids them tread
         A style-path narrower than the one you chose
     As the best route for anyone who'd head
         Off on a high-ground hike that might disclose
     Perspectives on the intellectual scene
         Unglimpsed and unimagined from inside
     The mind-world of philosophers who've been
         Trained on the low road and thereafter tried
     To take short views. But that's not what you mean,
         Not rhyme and metre, when you set aside
     The plain-prose indicators of routine
         Guild-membership or signs of bona-fide
     Professional allegiance and advise
         Your colleagues in the academic game
     That, everything considered, they'd be wise
         To give up warming over all the same
     Old chestnuts in a slightly different guise,
         Or seeking out new idioms to frame
     The fixed agenda of an enterprise
         Well past its prime. Then theirs would be the aim
     Of coming up with such inventive tropes,
         Such metaphors or narratives, as might,
     If not too late, redeem the lost life-hopes
         Of those who'd suffered the perennial blight
     Brought on by being forced to learn the ropes
         As tenure-track required. So they should write
     Not just, you said, the sort of prose that copes
        With getting the main points across in tight,
     Well-structured form but rather try to do
         What poets (and some novelists) do best,
     That is, discover senses to pursue
         Far out beyond the denotations stressed
     By literalists or those who would eschew
         Such verbal licence since it fails the test
     Of making sense or coming as true
         According to the strictest standards pressed
     So hard on other language-games by just
         Those house-trained intellects who'd brought about
     The trahison des clercs or breach of trust
         By which philosophers presume to flout
     The rule that says all living language must
         Transform itself by always trying out
     Fresh metaphors to live by. So the thrust
         Of how you wrote was mainly to cast doubt
     On the old kinds of metaphor that held
         Philosophy in their Cartesian grip,
     Or classic narratives whose upshot spelled
         The moral that each ephebe be a chip
     Off the old block and strike a pose that quelled
         All notions of creative authorship
     By a strict etiquette whose code compelled
         Unruly types to give their guide the slip
     Each time they fancied penning the odd phrase
         Where some non-standard idiom revealed
     Thoughts out of kilter with such proper ways
         Of monologic speech. What lay concealed,
     You let us know, in such communiques
         Between the lines from somewhere out left-field
     Was everything suppressed by the malaise
         Of a style degree zero that appealed
     Only to those in whom the wonder-struck
         Thaumazein where philosophy began
     For Socrates has somehow come unstuck
         And left them, tenure-seekers to a man,
     Resolved that prose of theirs should have no truck
         With poetry but uphold Plato's ban
     On metaphor, mimesis, and what luck
         Or inspiration offered to the clan
     Of rhapsodes and enthusiasts so lost
         In their wild, word-intoxicated state
     As to allow no reckoning of its cost
         To reason's soul or pause to estimate
     The civic harms poetically glossed
         As due to gods or muses. Still you'd rate
     This verse-epistle evidence of crossed
         Wires or cross-purposes since to equate
     Your idea that philosophy should take
         A more poetic form with the idea
     That rhyme and meter might between them make
         Some big improvement seems a case of clear
     Misapprehension. What you thought would break
         The spirit-wasting hold of that austere
     Style without style -- and thereby help to shake
         The sense that went along with it of sheer
     Necessity that certain things be done
         In certain ways as laid down by the code
     Of analytic practice -- involved none
         Of those verse-features that might grace an ode
     By Pindar, Keats & Co., but that you'd shun
         (I guess) if they turned up, as here, bestowed
     On writing of a kind that shouldn't run
         To formal structures apt to overload
     The powers of concentration rightly trained,
         By readers of a less indulgent bent,
     On more substantive issues. Point sustained:
         You still found room for reasoned argument,
     Not least while telling us what's to be gained
         By taking on the freedom to invent
     New language-games beyond the sorts ordained
         By fealty to some one line of descent
     Against all others. So we'd better think
         That when you told us poetry could save
     Philosophy, or pull it from the brink
         Of a not undeserved nor early grave,
     The price of having its choice public shrink
        To miniscule proportions, this meant they've
     Gone wrong, the current lot, in ways that link
        Way back to many another short-lived wave
     Of intellectual fashion. They should learn
         More from the poets about how to spin
     Fresh-minted metaphors, or how to turn
         A life-enhancing phrase, but not begin
     On any verse-led binge that bids us spurn
         All remnants of analysis and pin
     Our best hopes to those language-games that yearn
         For something more upliftingly akin
     To that which rhyme and meter put in place
        Of dullard reason. So let's not deny
     The obvious: when you suggest we face
         Philosophy's low prospects with an eye
     To poetry's high hopes it's not the case
         That you're just asking us to versify
     The same old topics. What you want's more space
         Between the words so language can supply
     The poetry that comes of hearing all
         The intertextual echoes that resound
     On cue to every signifier's call
         Or sundry connotations that surround
     Each letter, word and phrase when not in thrall
         To denotative sense but -- as you found
     With Derrida's best efforts to forestall
         The dead hand of the literal -- unbound
     From signified or referent. Thus freed,
         It takes the less thought-trodden path that winds
     Along whichever language-route may lead
         The Denker, like the Dichter, past what binds
     The intellect to some accustomed creed,
         Or idiolect to usage, for those minds
     Professionally groomed to meet the need
         That intellect conform to just the kinds
     Of usage certified to hold the line
         Against such vagrant thoughts. That's why you waged
     Ironic war on readings that, like mine,
         Took Derrida as one who still engaged
     With topics that the derriere-garde define
         As squarely philosophical since staged
     In just such terms as those that you'd consign
         To the scrap-heap of words that once assuaged
     Our craving for god-substitutes but now
         Should join the pile along with other such
     Time-honoured relics. These remind us how
         Hard we must struggle to escape the clutch
     Of outworn images or disavow
         Pythagorean echoes that still touch
     Some chord in us despite what we allow
         To be their false allure. The case was much
     The same -- your point again -- throughout the whole
         Unquestionably rich and varied tale
     Of Western metaphysics and the role
         Within it of those metaphors whose trail
     Leads back to the idea of mind or soul
         As glassy essence, taken to entail
     The message that philosophy's main goal
         Must be to see that clarity prevail,
     Mind apprehend that essence, and soul come,
         By constant mirror-polishing, to catch
     Its own reflection unimpaired by some
         Small imperfection or minutest scratch
     That might obstruct its gaze. Your rule of thumb
        With metaphors like this was: mix and match
     Them as a poet might till they succumb
         To ordinary usage, then dispatch
     Them to whatever limbo's set apart
         For tropes, as Nietzsche said, that masquerade
     As concepts or involve the subtle art
         (Amongst philosophers a stock-in-trade)
     Of un-remembering, as if by heart,
         Those metaphoric coinages that made
     Philosophy from Plato to Descartes
         And up to now a constant dress-parade
     Of figures that had undergone the shift
        From sensuous to abstract. This made sure
     Their advent as imagination's gift
         To thought was long forgotten and secure
     From prying intellects that gave short shrift
         To white mythologies in quest of pure
     Conceptual instruments by which to lift
         Themselves above the thought-distracting lure
     Of sensuous imagery and so attain
         Transcendent truths. Thus far one might agree
     And think you'd hit bang on a major strain
         Of self-delusion that might better be
     Put out of its long post-Cartesian pain
         By the shrewd mix of gentle mockery
     And counter-statement that you hoped would gain
         More converts than if tendered in a key
     Of odium scholasticum that left
         The opposition dug in deeper while,
     Merit aside, the case might seem bereft
         Of basic courtesies that civil style
     And decency should couple with the heft
         Of a good argument. The point that I'll
     Raise once again since, despite all your deft
         Rejoinders, it's the one I have on file
     Under 'unfinished business' is your use
         Of that word 'transcendental' to include
     Not only fictive entities like nous,
         Soul, spirit, mind, and all the abstract brood
     They fathered mainly as a poor excuse
         To smuggle God back in, but things that you'd
     Deem just as bad, like all claims to deduce,
         From certain basic principles construed
     As a priori warranted or backed
         By reasonings in a transcendental form,
     Such truths as otherwise we should have lacked
         The means to justify. This was a norm,
     You thought, that held up merely through the fact
         That dumping it would kick up such a storm
     Amongst philosophers who'd made their pact
         To play along that sticking with the swarm
     Seemed, on the face of it, a better bet
         Than opting out of their protective guild,
     Unlearning all the codes and passwords set
         For members, cancelling thought-routines instilled
     Through years of work, and striving to forget
         The job-security that came with skilled
     Observance of the local etiquette
         Requiring that the expert types fulfilled
     Conditions on sound usage of such big
         Load-bearing terms as 'transcendental' which,
     If downed in your way with a hefty swig
         Of irony, say you're about to ditch
     The whole caboodle and help that lot twig
         How they'd been taken in. The only hitch
     With this fine plan of yours was how to rig
         The grand exposure so as not to stitch
     The thing up so completely that there's no
         Room left for anything remotely like
     The discipline you practised years ago,
         One that -- an observation apt to strike
     Shrewd readers -- still engaged you even though
         You came to treat its bi-millennial Reich
As more a kind of vaudeville roadshow  
         With some enticing bits put in to spike
     The guns of those who'd say: let's just call time
         On the whole thing, cut funding where it hurts,
     And block philosophy's attempt to mime
         The natural sciences. Your view converts
     To a slight variant on this paradigm
         And (hard not to conclude) distinctly flirts
     With sceptic types who take it as their prime
         Objective to undo what disconcerts
     The currency of downright commonsense
         (For which read 'ideology') and try
     To rouse the populace in its defence
         By methods that more fittingly apply
     In contexts where the arguments dispense
         With protocols of reason. A far cry
     From the plain pragmatism you condense,
         In Jamesian style, as wanting to get by
     On a truth-notion that at last comes down
         To what's good as a matter of belief,
     Or what works out as the best game in town
         With 'good' and 'best' defined (to keep it brief)
     As tending by whatever means to crown
         Our efforts with success, or bring relief
     At other times when fortune seems to frown
         On our endeavours. Or -- for you a chief
     Plus-point -- it fits in with the pragmatist
         Desire to keep our truth-talk within reach
     Of practicalities too soon dismissed
         By those, like Kant, who much prefer to preach
     From the high moral ground and so enlist
         Some abstract universal rule for each
     New case-in-hand which then becomes more grist
         For the slow-grinding mill where every breach
     Of its strict regulations either throws
         A case-shaped spanner in the works or churns
     Out some case-crushing judgment to impose
         Its sovereign law. Agreed, your thinking earns
     High marks in this department since it goes
         So far toward showing what the Kantian learns,
     If ever, then most often at the close
         Of a rule-governed moral life that turns
     Out, with the unaccustomed gift of long-
         Range reckoning, to exhibit all the signs
     Of having gone life-damagingly wrong
         At just those points where circumstance confines
     The range of choice to seizing either prong
        Of some dilemma where instinct inclines
     To kindly acts and answers like a gong
         At nature's call, while reason undermines
     All that, decrees that precept substitute
         For practice, and demands that instinct grant
     Law's reason-based imperative to suit
         Mere inclination to its rule as Kant
     Sadistically enjoined. Such absolute
         Conceptions of the moral good got scant
     Respect from you since lying at the root
         Of all bad creeds whose technique is to plant
     Abstraction in the place where those to whom
         Such thoughts appeal had better cultivate
     Breadth of acquaintance as advised by Hume,
         Make reason slave to passion, and sedate
     Through social intercourse the will to doom
         All absolutes but theirs to the same fate
     Reserved for infidels by tribes with room
         For no gods but their own. At any rate
     Your laidback style does nothing to promote
         Such moralising and reminds us, when
     We're tempted by it, of how well you wrote
         About the need to stand back, now and then,
     From our most cherished values and devote
         Some uptime to imagining again,
     Like a good novelist, how to keep afloat
         In these high seas or, like the finest, pen
     Inventive variations on the way
         Your liberal ironist might come to view
     The issue from all sides and not betray
         That purpose by a sneaky will to skew
     The moral compass-points and so convey
         Home-truths as universal. Still, if you
     Think back a bit, you'll know I've kept at bay
         A bunch of issues that ensured we two
     Were seldom in accord beyond what I've
         Set out as valid warrant just enough
     For my verse-aided efforts to contrive
         This late rapprochement. Where the seas got rough
     On previous trips was when we took a dive
         Into that choppy 'transcendental' stuff
     And you said that the best way to survive
         The maelstrom was to call Poseidon's bluff,
     Go with the flow and take it all in stride,
         As pragmatists commend, by holding fast
     To something large and light enough to ride
         The storm out -- empty barrel, chunk of mast,
     Your choice -- since centrifugued out to the side
         And buoyed up high as all the rest streamed past,
     Then corkscrewed down. Most likely I've applied
         This metaphor in ways that must be classed
     Pedestrian or frankly bottom-grade
         For creativity when set against
     The scale you drew up as a reader's aid
         For sorting texts conservatively fenced
     Around with the exclusion-signs displayed
         By faithful exegetes, from texts that sensed
     Quite other possibilities but strayed
         Only so far, and then texts that dispensed
     With the whole rule-book drawn up just to vex
         Free spirits -- poets, critics, novelists,
     Philosophers, all those who long to flex
         Creative muscles -- since the book insists
     They not relax the standard range of checks
         That help to straighten out the teasing twists
     Of connotation that can so perplex
         Plain readers. It's the transcendentalist
     Gene-sequence in your DNA, I'd guess,
         That evokes Blake and Wordsworth, maybe Keats,
     With Shelley, Byron, and -- by more or less
         Predestined westward passage -- what completes
     Their project in the visionary sagesse
    Of Emerson and Thoreau, then retreats
     (If that's the word) to an downtown address
         In pragmatism's stroller-friendly streets.
     That's the back-story that has most to tell
         About the two ways 'transcendental' went,
     The Kantian way that cast its lingering spell
         On each new cohort in the regiment
     Of armchair ruminants whom it befell
         Like Noah's curse, the other what you meant
     By telling us they go together well,
         The canny pragmatist and those whose bent
     Runs more to the imaginative heights
         Of a sublime whose transcendental modes
     Would stretch the power of reason that unites
         Our faculties until the thing explodes,
     Except that even in its furthest flights
         Of streamlined uplift still the mind bears loads
     That keep it tending earthward since, by rights,
         Its journey's end is that of all the roads
     You said converged on the one truth-shaped thing
         Worth seeking. This was how to keep the charm
     Of fantasy alive, and maybe bring
         Its wish to pass, yet let it not do harm
     As you thought every fine utopian fling
         So far had done, and thus helped to rearm
     The thought-crusade of those who sought to swing
         Opinion round by sounding the alarm
     And tarring liberals with McCarthy's brush.
         The trouble is, this fell in all too pat
     With something very like that same old rush
         To judgement, and too comfortably sat
     With what you took as freedom's cause: to push,
         If not all things American, then that
     Transcendent form of them that, at first blush,
         Might seem a fine thing to be aiming at,
     Yet loses something of its first appeal
         When thoughts of all that's happened in the name
     Of those high sentiments begin to steal
         Upon us and suggest that we reframe
     Our notions of how real world and ideal
         Should properly relate. Then what's to blame,
     In large part, for the regular raw deal
         Inflicted on the losers in this game,
     Misfits or rogue-states, is that very knack
         Of managing to mix the highest-toned
     Professions of intent with a laid-back
         Or downright cynic outlook that condoned,
     As fit for its good purposes, a stack
         Of wrongs, home and abroad, that you disowned
     Only in passing. It's that curious lack
         Of joined-up thought by which a double-zoned
     Philosophy -- the transcendental linked
         With a pragmatic view of things that veered,
     At times, way off the moral path and winked
         At motes and beams alike -- adroitly cleared
     Its conscience, though the issues stood distinct,
         By a well-practised trick of thought that steered
     A zigzag course from high to low and blinked
         At just the moments when its pilot feared
     Too close a view of what might else have posed
         A real and present danger to its hard-
     Won sense of certain moral truths disclosed
         Only to some choice few. The message jarred,
     As you found out, not just on folk disposed
         By hopes long disappointed to regard
     The holdout hopers from a mindset closed
         Against them, or on those too deeply scarred
     By various gods that failed, but on a bunch
         Of new-left radicals, like us, who shared
     A lot of your beliefs but had this hunch,
         Quite early on, that we should be prepared
     To work out why, when it came to the crunch
         Of prime allegiance openly declared,
     You'd count the US-bashers out-to-lunch
         And start to say more plainly that we'd erred
     By thinking its high beacon might be crazed,
         Cracked, and its beams distorted so that we
     Could best do a repair-job on the glazed
         Top dome by calculating the degree
     To which its beams were incorrectly phased
         With more enlightened thoughts. Then we might see
     Clean through the ideology that dazed
         Believers in that old 'land of the free'-
     Type spirit-raising stuff cooked up to fool
         Us into swallowing the usual lies
     Put out by those whose most effective tool
         For mind-manipulation in the guise
     Of soul-perfection came straight from a school
         Where the all-round achiever's annual prize
     Went to the firmest sticker to that rule
         Which said: give them the transcendental highs
     Once in a while and then there'd be no end
         To the stuff they'd put up with when required,
     Or benefit of doubt they'd soon extend
         When principle and circumstance conspired
     To make sure any principle would bend
         As circumstance decreed. No doubt you tired
     Of having all the while to dodge and fend
         Off brickbats from a bunch of people fired
     By social passions you'd have thought in tune,
         At least on all the basic points, with your
     Idea of how our best selves might commune
         In a pragmatic way that knew the score
     And saw small chance of any big change soon,
         Yet still had social hopes worth living for
     Since neither prone nor yet auto-immune
         To disappointment. They said: don't ignore
     The history of failures and the sad
         Track-record, most especially, of calls
     For social transformation that went bad
         Or came to naught but rather seek what falls
     Within the range of upgrades we can add
         Without the plane becoming one stalls
     Because its rate of climb's more than a tad
         Too rapid. Yet if their response still galls
     You now, the types (like me) who started out
         Your backers in the literary camp
     But later found increasing room for doubt,
         Then maybe it's because they saw the stamp
     Of ideals turned ironically about
         And so deployed first shrewdly to revamp
     Those social hopes, then as a way to scout
         Their proper limits and, if need be, cramp
     Their militant or rebel-rousing style
         By timely inculcation of the taste
     For solvent ironies that bid us smile
         With fond indulgence on that chronic waste
     Of energies. All this, remember, while
         Us lefties, whether Brits or US-based,
     Saw their beliefs chucked on the rubbish-pile
         By neocons who cynically embraced
     High-minded and hard-headed in the clinch
         That an old pragmatist like William James
     Could still keep more than decent at a pinch,
         And even turned right round against the aims
     Of warhawk palaeocons -- men every inch
         The dark precursors of the bunch whose names
     I'll spare you now -- since not a man to flinch
         At chronicling his nation's sins and shames
     Along with better aspects. Let's be clear:
         There's nothing in the least ad hominem
About the issues I've been raising here,
         Or nothing that would please the likes of them,
     Those analytic types who chose to sneer
         At your supposed apostasy, condemn
     Your style as an affront to their austere
         Word-habits, and avoid a more ad rem
Engagement with your work. Thus nod and wink
         Implied that you'd now given up the sort
     Of real tough-minded stuff they wouldn't blink
        At and elected rather to hold court
     In the soft company of such as think
         Philosophy's an intertextual sport
     Or just one more excuse for spilling ink
         In literary ways that won't support
     Close scrutiny of the analytic kind
         That tells which arguments have hit the mark,
     At least for colleagues of a kindred mind.
         Thus it presents, or so they'd say, a stark
     Memento of the world you left behind
         When, mid-career, you opted to embark
     On a more wayward course and then fly blind
         Since the payback of that free-as-a-lark
     Or giddy aerobatic stuff's to leave
         You looping wildly just when their technique
     Of concept-parsing might have helped retrieve
         Terrestrial reference-points by which to seek
     Familiar landmarks. Talk like that would peeve
         A saint at length, so you did well to tweak
     Their verbal dress-codes now and then, or weave
         New styles around them, rather than critique
     The enterprise head-on since then you'd just
         Be falling back on something like the ruse --
     As you perceived it -- that the Kantians trust
         As a good fall-back strategy to use,
     Either when momentarily nonplussed
        Or else when there's some point too big to lose
     So that the game-plan says: just go for bust
         With transcendental back-up and j'accuse
As set refrain. No question: you emerge
         Much better placed on all the tick-box counts
     Of moral decency than those who'd urge
         We read your work in readiness to pounce
     On anything that might invite the scourge
         Applied so vigorously to denounce
     That work, and you, as teetering on the verge
         Of 'continental', or -- what this amounts
     To in their language-game -- far out beyond
         The intellectual pale. Thus devotees
     Of Kant are just as likely to respond
         That way as all those others prone to seize
     Their every chance to reinforce the bond
         Of guild-endorsed philosophers and squeeze
     Out all such dwellers in the demi-monde
         Of disrepute where hard-won expertise
     Like theirs sells at a discount while the price
         Of shares in Continentals Inc is chalked
     Sky-high and sure to double in a trice
         (They grumble) when some current fad gets talked
     Up in a hybrid style that lets you splice
         The chat with old philosophemes that stalked
     Mind's corridors till Ockham's fine device
         Henceforth ensured that all sound thinkers balked
     At such scholastic garbage. Let's accept
         That they were wrong, that you were far from sold  
     On all things continental, that you kept
        Close ties within the analytic fold,
     And -- above all -- that you were too adept
         At finding subtler ways to break the mould
     Than to wish their whole culture might be swept
         Away and so give them good cause to scold
     Your Jacobin designs. Then there's the deep
         And not just anecdotal link between
     The various sides of you that often leap
         Together off the page -- the sense of keen
     Yet gentle irony, the will to keep
         All aspects of the intellectual scene
     Somewhere in view, the scintillating sweep
         Of Ideengeschichte that could glean
     So much from a review of past ideas,
         Like Hegel pragmatised, the root belief
     That we do best to hold a course that steers
         As far as can be from the moral reef
     Marked 'cruelty to others', the two-cheers-
         For-reason outlook that takes half a leaf
     From Hume the sceptic's book, and then the fears
         That thought too closely tied to the motif
     Of sovereign Truth might readily be pressed
         Into the routine service of some Grand
     Inquisitor whose idea of the test
         For truthfulness will certainly not stand
     Much scrutiny when tried against the best
         Of your unholy virtues. This I'd planned
     To bring out all along, but then (you guessed!)
         The argument got somewhat out of hand
     Or (more like) tended to revert to type
         And re-stage quarrels that are running still
     In quarters where they've not absorbed the hype
         About how everyone's now had their fill
     Of truth-talk and forgotten the old gripe
         That Socrates once aimed at those whose skill
     In speaking well enabled them to pipe
         Such pleasing tunes that they subdued the will
     To truth in their rapt auditors. It's more,
         For me, the snag that comes up every time
     We want to find some intimate rapport,
         Some near-equivalent of perfect rhyme,
     Between a thinker's predilection for
         The one thought-ladder that could help them climb
     Above their own life-indurated store
         Of prejudices, and (the point that I'm
     Now keen to make in case I've seemed to pick
         Too many bones) all those integral traits
     Of mind and character -- what made you tick,
         In short -- which, present orthodoxy states,
     May have their proper role in any thick
         Description or biography that rates
     Them on their proven tendency to click
         With readers, but a stricter code dictates
     Can shed no further light. The only place
         You really take a line on this is where
     You talk about a different sort of case --
         Flat opposite to yours -- and say that there
     Can be no valid reason to embrace
         A creed that has us solemnly declare,
     As touching on the amply-vouched disgrace,
         Political and moral, of one Herr
     Professor Heidegger, the need to take
         Account of man and work viewed in the round
     And therefore not permit ourselves to make
         Exceptions from the rule for such renowned
     Philosophers, if only for the sake
         Of hanging on to some last common ground
     Where intellect and ethics hope to stake
         Their claim of being each-to-other bound
     In virtue's cause. You didn't go for that
         High-minded but, you thought, misguided brand
     Of earnest moralising since the flat
         Refusal, among some, to understand
     How great minds might just not know where it's at,
         Ethically speaking, or have morals and
     Behaviour like those of an alley-cat,
         Was too apt to promote the sort of bland
     Consensual thinking currently the most
         Conspicuous trademark of a discipline
     That's raised conformity to a high boast
         And used group-feeling as its means to pin
     A 'Steer well clear of this one!' sign or post
         A 'Keep off!' notice, then proceed to bin
     The offending work. For readers over-dosed
         On warnings, you advised: give it a spin,
     Give him a hearing, and allow (since it's
         Now pretty much beyond dispute) that there's
     Another label that quite aptly fits
         The thinker in whose work the logos shares
     Deep truths unplumbed by all the sharpest wits
         From Plato down, and that's the one he bears
     In your phrase 'Schwarzwald redneck'. So the bits
         In Heidegger worth saving for the heirs
     Of Western metaphysics can be cut
         And pasted so as to produce a script
     Less vibrant with the call of Being but
         Much likelier to chime with those who've skipped
     A lot of that historic stuff and shut
         The book on Dasein's epic. What this stripped-
     Down version also skimps is how the hut
         He famously hung out in, though equipped
     With stove and other basics, put across
         The same old tale incessantly rehearsed
     Throughout his lucubrations on the loss
         Of truth's authentic voice, as in the worst
     Of those texts that the faithful try to gloss
         As aberrations but which readers versed
     In his life-history won't be apt to toss
         So blithely out of court. Granted, my first
     Intention here (remember?) was to press,
         Despite your offstage ironies, the need
     That thinking hold its nerve and not regress
         To the idea that arguments succeed
     By suasive force alone (since what's success,
         You might ask, if not getting folk agreed
     To see things our way?) or that answering 'yes,
         That notion fits in very well indeed
     With my belief-set' adds up to a good
         Or half-way adequate account of what
     Most rightly is -- or should be -- understood
         When words like 'truth' or 'knowledge' fill a slot
     That 'best belief' won't fill. I said it would
         Be better for philosophy (and not
     Just so as to provide a livelihood
         Or timely academic booster-shot
     For tired philosophers) if it hung on
         To the most basic item in the stock
     Of brand-name goods you thought had long since gone
         The way of all such woefully adhoc
     Contrivances or strategies to con
         The laggards into putting up a mock
     Display of expertise whereby to don
         The robes of science. This means, pace Locke,
     Still searching for some last sine qua non
    Of true philosophy, that is, the mode
     Of transcendental reasoning that alone --
         Or so its adepts claim -- offers a road
     To a priori truths that can be known
         For sure and quite aside from knowledge owed
     To mere sense-certainty. Although we've grown
         Suspicious of ideas like this that load
     (As you'd say) such a deal of otiose
         Conceptual baggage on the heaven-hook
     Left dangling from the days of grandiose
         High-flying metaphysics, still the book
     May not be shut or epilogue be close
         In that long thought-adventure that it took
     For Geist to bid a first brave adios
         To myth or criticism cock a snook
     At custom-bound belief. I'd say that we've
         A middle course to steer that won't just tip
     This way or that and resolutely cleave
         To 'honest Uncle Kant' or simply flip,
     Like you, the other way, resolve to heave
         That stuff clean overboard, and thereby clip
     Pure reason's wings. That is, we'd best conceive
         Some way that reason can retain its grip
     On our beliefs yet, so as not to yield
         Straight off to the assorted booby-traps
     You laid down for it, come prepared to wield
         The kind of argument that fills the gaps
     In any concept-system vacuum-sealed
         On a priori grounds against a lapse
     Of knowledge with the sorts of truth revealed
         By opting to revise the mental maps
     That drew such clear-cut demarcation lines
         Between the twin imperia of Hume's
     'Matters of fact' and 'truths of reason'. Mine's
         Not the conclusion everyone assumes
     Must follow if one takes the force of Quine's
         'Two Dogmas' as an argument that dooms
     All such distinctions or that undermines
         Thought's last defence against the threat that looms
     (Although of course you'd find the claim absurd)
         When the whole question as to what's a sound,
     Truth-apt, or reputable case fit to be heard
         And acted on, and what's with justice found
     Deficient on that count, goes by the word
         Of those best placed to put the word around
     Amongst those likewise placed. So it gets blurred,
         The precept most philosophers felt bound
     To honour until recently, that truth
         May come apart from any of its near
     (Or not-so-near) replacement terms for sooth-
         Saying generally, or -- lest this appear
     A choice of phrase offensive or uncouth --
         Those sundry substitutes for the idea
     Of truth sans phrase. These the Sherlockian sleuth
         Would deem defective since designed to steer
     Far wide of any thought that 'truth' defined
         As 'best belief', or even as what stands
     At journey's end for those brave souls inclined
         To seek it, cannot all the same join hands
     With truth in the objective sense assigned
        To word and concept by the strict demands
     Of those whose compasses remain aligned
         With true magnetic North and point to lands
     As yet unreachable by any routes
         Marked on our atlases. So there's the nub
     Of all I've said: that this, like most disputes
         That periodically disturb the club
     Of old philosophy's new-found recruits,
         Is one where both belligerents could rub
     Along quite well if those false absolutes,
         Like truth and reason, that you'd have us scrub
     From our vocabularies don't reside
         Above, beyond, or in a realm remote
     From the mundane contingencies you tried
         To make us see were all that underwrote
     The shape and meaning that events supplied
         To lives whose genre was the anecdote,
     Not grand recit, and whose narrators vied
         One with another not just to promote
     Their own-brand truths but more in hope to lend
         A new spin to the old roman a fleuve
Of braided story-lines. This then might bend
         The talk toward new topics that could serve
     At last to knock away all those dead-end
         Delusion-props that helped supply the nerve
     For spirit's age-old hankering to transcend
         Necessity's iron grip without the swerve
     Of hooked Lucretian atoms whose slight nudge
         This way or that did nothing to assuage
     Such all-too-human yearnings. Though you'd judge
         It merely a reversion to the stage
     Of Kantian tutelage or a hopeless fudge,
         Still we need some thought-instrument to gauge
     Just what philosophy can do to budge
         Our stubborn preconceptions or engage
     Creatively yet critically with ways
         Of story-telling that may strike a chord
     So sympathetic as to gain straight A's
         From everyone or get them all on board
     And yet, by some unlooked-for turn of phrase
         Or stray plot-detail, show how they'd ignored
     The one thing that, when hit upon, betrays
         How many of the reasons why it scored
     So high in their consensus really came
         Down chiefly to group-pressure plus a touch
     Of wishful thinking and the need to frame
         A tale around all this that bears no such
     Unwelcome implications as to shame
         Our better selves. No doubt we'll often clutch
     At straws, or straw-polls, so as to disclaim
         All thought of leaning on the feeble crutch
     Of self-reliance that the poor old moi
uses to fend off the gibes
     Aimed at it by the crowd whose guiding star
         Is one whose kindly light gives back the tribe's
     Own predilections, whether such as are
         Reliably adjusted to the vibes
     Of a whole culture and its thought-bazaar,
         Or else the sort the specialist imbibes
     Once they're inducted (by all the techniques
         Of guild-recruitment you exposed to view
     As an ex-member) into various cliques
         Or expert subdivisions like the crew
     Of trained philosophers. Yet this bespeaks
         Another requisite that maybe you
     Don't emphasise enough: that any tweaks
         To their consensus not go in for too
     Much talk of how philosophy has run its course,
         Run out of steam, run all its rivers dry,
     And so forth, since this might seem to endorse
         A narrative denouement that would fly
     Clean in the face of your big plan: to force,
         Or better yet persuade, that lot to try
     Some way around the guild-approved divorce
         Between what lets the tenured types get by
     With least risk and what lets those with a yen
         For certain riskier, more inventive 'kinds
     Of writing' claim entitlement to pen
         Texts of the sort no rule of genre binds,
     Or no such rule as served, time and again,
         To house-train undomesticated minds
     And save them from their own devices when
         Some tell-tale touch of metaphor yet finds
     Their weakness out. That's how you seem to treat
         The two types as flat opposite, as if
     Inventiveness were something so offbeat,
         So apt to run a syncopating riff
     On thought's four-in-a-bar, that a complete
         Exclusion-rule (or else another tiff
     Like Plato's with the rhapsode) must defeat
         All efforts to remove the lingering whiff
     Of scandal that attaches to topoi
    Such as -- think Nietzsche/Derrida -- the role
     Of figural devices they employ,
         Those concept-frontiersmen, whilst on patrol
     To make sure nothing like the fate of Troy
         Befall philosophy should that old mole,
     Horse-shaped or metaphoric, redeploy
         Within its city limits. What this whole
     Verse-colloquy has tried to do is state
         The case (I hope not too perverse a slant
     On things) that all your arguments relate
         Both ways, that is, to concepts that transplant
     By metaphoric means or conjugate
         'Poetically' and metaphors that can't
     Be subject to exchange at some low rate
         Arrived at through our willingness to grant
     'Poetic licence'. Curious, then, that it's
         Avowedly your one great aim to coax
     Us off all versions of the creed that splits
         Apart the unity our mind evokes
     When not compelled to test its native wits
         Against a thought-predicament that pokes
     Up only if the intellect permits
         Itself to perpetrate a crafty hoax
     Of just that sort. I trust your genial shade
         Won't take it ill that I've seen fit to nag
     Once more at issues you'd hoped to persuade
         Us we'd do best at this late stage to tag
     'Cut-price old stock', or just allow to fade
         From view like those (as Hegel said) that lag
     Behind the Zeitgeist in a dull parade
         Called by the Owl of Minerva to drag
     Out their sad afterlives. Then there's the now
         Far off yet vivid memory of a walk
     With you round Monticello and of how,
         Predictably enough perhaps, the talk
     Turned toward Jefferson (no sacred cow
         For you but better than the tales they hawk
     About him currently), his splendid vow
         Against all tyrants, and -- where our paths fork,
     Now as back then -- your faith (that seems an apt
         Word here) that 'our America', though yet
     To be achieved, was the sole nation mapped
         By dream-cartographers with compass set
     For gorgeous palaces and towers cloud-capped,
         To me a baseless fabric though a threat
     Should it materialise beyond such rapt
         Imagining, to you the unpaid debt
     Thought owes to hope. Truth is, although I try
         To sort out man from work, or get a fix
     On how far hopes like that may underlie
         (Let's not say 'undermine') the various tricks
     Of your old trade you'd later re-apply
         To non-trade purposes, the effort sticks
     Each time around at the same point where I
         Can't manage to disintricate the mix
     Of reasons, motives, causes, temperament,
         (Let's say it) ideology, effects
     Of US academe on one whose bent
         Ran counter, and what any eye detects,
     In 'Trotsky and Wild Orchids', as intent
         To make amends as well as pay respects
     To him, your father-activist, who'd spent
         His life (a self-reproach your piece deflects
     But can't quite lay to rest) in ways that went
         To further emphasise the disconnects
     So keenly felt in yours. Yet you present,
         As well, a case for writing that neglects
     ('On its own time') that duty to augment
         The public good and, in its place, elects
     To cherish private virtues and invent
         New styles of self-description that the sects
     May do with as they wish. But, since you've lent
         My verse a lot more time than it expects,
     Best if I now let go (or 'circumvent' --
         Your favourite word) these issues one suspects
     You never had much time for and content
         My quibbling soul with what it recollects
     Of welcoming the Rorty text-event
         As most benign of modern grapholects.
(c) Christopher Norris 2014



     On Sunday forenoon the 7 of July 1776, being too late for
     church, I went to see Mr David Hume, who was returned from
     London and Bath, just a-dying... I asked him if the thought
     of annihilation never gave him any uneasiness. He said not
     the least; no more than the thought that he had not been,
     as Lucretius observes. 'Well,' said I, 'Mr Hume, I hope to
     triumph over you when I meet you in a future state; and
     remember you are not to pretend that you was joking with
     all this infidelity.' 'No, no,' said he. 'But I shall have
     been so long there before you come that it will be nothing
     new.' In this style of good humour and levity did I conduct
     the conversation. Perhaps it was wrong on so awful a
     subject. But as nobody was present, I thought it could have
     no bad effect. I however felt a degree of horror, mixed with
     a sort of wild, strange, hurrying recollection of my
     excellent mother's pious instructions, of Dr. Johnson's
     noble lessons, and of my religious sentiments and
     affections during the course of my life. I was like a man
     in sudden danger eagerly seeking his defensive arms; and I
     could not but be assailed by momentary doubts while I had
     actually before me a man of such strong abilities and
     extensive inquiry dying in the persuasion of being
     (from James Boswell, 'An Account of my Last Interview with
     David Hume, Esq., partly recorded in my journal, partly
     enlarged from memory', 3 March 1777)


     It seemed a chance too splendid to be missed.
         Johnson sent Boswell up there to report,
     From Edinburgh, how the atheist
         And sceptic Hume would finally resort
     To God in his last hours. That he'd resist
         And spurn such comfort the good Doctor thought
     A crass conjecture so far down the list
         Of likelihoods that nothing now could thwart
     The godly folk in their intent to spin
         Hume's long awaited death-bed change of heart
     As showing both how 'the wages of sin
         Is death' and how divine grace can impart
     Such nick-of-time redemption. Thus they'd win
         The whole debate despite that dodgy start
     When faith's best intellects had failed to pin
         Down where the errors lay in all his smart
     Yet manifestly false (so faith decreed)
         Attempts to prove that miracles were just
     The joint effect of priest-craft and our need
         For fictive consolation. Then our trust
     In revelation was a sign that we'd
         Been hoodwinked and -- his clincher -- that we must,
     If capable of reason, pay no heed
         To schoolmen-books best left to gather dust
     Since stuffed with metaphysics and the kind
         Of reasoning fit for fools. So Boswell took
     Off speedily, perhaps in hopes to find
         A death-bed convert (though it doesn't look
     The sort of mission he'd have most in mind,
         That reprobate), but maybe just to book
     A bedside place amongst the others lined
         Up there as witnesses of how it shook
     Hume's atheist creed, and then to take away,
         For his (not Johnson's) benefit, a nod,
     Wink, jest, or anything that might convey,
         To minds alert, that he'd no time for God,
     Now or in that mere emptiness that lay
         Just hours ahead. This meant the death-watch squad
     Could carry off the pious fraud that they
         Came solely to promote while his long plod
     All the way up from London hadn't been
         A waste of time since he'd be well supplied
     With thoughts of that un-melancholy scene
         Whenever Johnson hit his moral stride,
     Found some new sign that Boswell was unclean
         In thought or deed, and seized the chance to chide
     His loyal yet wayward sidekick, caught between
         All those conflicting impulses that vied
     In him for some brief moment of control
         Over what Hume would call the seamless flow
     Of sentiments and Johnson the wracked soul
         Enslaved to its desires. Yet even so,
     When the last act began, the leading role
         Was one the dramaturge would not let go
     Since, despite all their stratagems, what stole
         A march on them along with the whole show
     Was quite in character and went as Hume
         Intended, rather than the way they'd planned,
     Whether the God-fixated lot with whom
         He'd long since learned to deal like an old hand
     Or those, like Boswell, predisposed to plume
         Themselves on membership of that small band
     Of fellow-ironists with mental room
         For any hint by which to understand
     His subtler drift. Truth is, both parties went
         Astray along their preferential lines
     In pretty much the different ways he'd meant
        Them each to go as readers of the signs,
     The Christian lot ignoring his intent
         Since focused purely on their own designs
     To make the very most of this event
         For godly purposes, while what defines
     The Boswell error has far more to do
         With how interpretations tend to veer
     Off course when the sophisticated crew
         Of secular decoders choose to steer
     A privy course known only to the few.
         Thus they suppose that any meaning clear
     Enough to twig without a cryptic clue
         Must be construed either as insincere
     Or else as calling for the kind of gloss --
         Ironic, polysemic, hedged about
     With queasy qualifiers -- that would toss
         All notions of the simple message out
     In quest of other codes that cut across
         That message and so license them to flout
     The basic speech-act maxims. Any loss
         Of mutual understanding brought about
     By this infraction of the normal modes
         Of human intercourse would then be more
     Than compensated by the way such codes,
         Once brought to notice, prove an open door
     Through which the literal sense of things explodes --
         To use the sort of hybrid metaphor
     Much favoured in this context -- till the nodes
         Of stable usage lose their guarantor,
     Authorial or divine, and meaning spills
         Out on all sides. Absurd to saddle him,
     Poor Boswell, with promoting all the ills
         That follow when the merest verbal whim,
     Once joined to certain dialectic skills,
         Enable the interpreter to skim-
     Read with a fine dexterity that thrills
         The more for going way out on a limb
     Of hermeneutic licence. Let's recall
         Hume's point about the Jesuits, how they said
     One thing but thought another, or how all
         Their words and outward show could be misread
     At any time since, as at a masked ball,
         Put on in order that the talking head
     Belie the man within, or guile forestall
         The aim of those who'd surely see him dead
     Did he but speak his mind. The point's best made
         By picturing the scene as he conversed
     With friends on all the usual topics, played
         Another game of cards, calmly rehearsed
     The practical arrangements, and conveyed
         His Epicurean message: that the worst
     Of death's privations was no worse than they'd
         Non-suffered through for aeons before they first
     Drew breath. Not (vide Larkin) quite the knock-
         Down argument it seems, but still the chief
     Reason, I'd guess, that he could gently mock
         The pious lot who thought he'd take a leaf
     From some book in the ever-ready stock
         Of edifying tales whose main motif
     Was Faust redeemed or how, just as the clock
         Struck twelve, and to the infinite relief
     Of all beholders, the lost sheep was found
         Or (if we cross to Graham-Greeneland) saved
     Midway 'between the stirrup and the ground'.
         Yet he foiled all their projects and behaved
     With such accustomed grace that all were bound
         To deem him neither pious nor depraved
     But perfectly himself and still of sound
         Mind enough to perceive just what they craved
     And turn it to ironic use despite
         The many clashing hopes and wishes pinned
     To him by those who'd thought to overwrite
         His preferred script. They ended up chagrined
     To find their crafty strategies played right
         Off the game-field by his good humour twinned
     With a shrewd sense of how the whole thing might,
         In future, get believers to rescind
     Their fideist allegiance rather than
         The atheists and sceptics to resile
     From the beliefs by which their leading man
         Showed more adeptly how to hit the style
     That might in time persuade those who began
         Their vigil wishing solely to revile
     His vita ante acta that their plan
         For its last scene was a non-starter, while
     His civilizing irony eschewed
         Such sentiments and added just a touch
     More wit to make its point. They might well brood,
         Like Johnson, on the consequence of such
     Subversive thinking should it be pursued
         Beyond those Scots (who didn't count for much,
     In the good Doctor's book) to what ensued
         Whenever folly kicked away the crutch
     Of faith and -- the catastrophe that loomed
         So fearful in the not-so-distant past --
     Left social order and religion doomed
         To civil strife since nothing could hold fast,
     It seemed, unless our inner lives assumed
         The providential shape that their lot classed
     Mere superstition. That's just why he fumed
         So much at Milton: God's decrees miscast
     As politics became the very bane
         Of any soul, like his, resolved to seek
     Its own salvation far from the profane
         Arena of a millenarian clique
     Whose vaunted freedoms gestured to the reign
         Of Christ on earth but reached their devilish peak
     (He thought) when there was nothing to restrain
         The sceptics' final push. Let's not critique
     His view of all this from a standpoint based
         On Humean principles but try to think
     Just how a soul, like Johnson's, firmly braced
         Against its private demons came to link
     That psychomachia with the terrors faced
         By a whole nation standing on the brink
     Of what, they feared, would in a moment waste
         All their brave efforts to remove the kink
     Of prejudice that drove the strongest minds
         To self-destructive zeal. What flipped their stance
     From high to low was the same force that binds
         Affect to intellect and may enhance
     The power of thought yet regularly blinds
         The self to all those motives that may chance
     To spur it into thought. If Hume then finds
         No choreographer behind the dance
     Of streaming atoms jolted in the void
         And randomly assembling into some
     Configuration soon to be destroyed
         By whatsoever clinamen might come
     To break their fragile shape, it needs no Freud
         To figure out why he'd choose to keep mum
     About all that as death approached, avoid
         The wished-for showdown, and prefer to thumb
     His nose at all the pious brethren not
         By some shrewdly premeditated coup
     De grace
but more with reference to what,
         By grace of sceptic intellect, he knew
     Would later on ensure the other lot
         Belonged to unlamented temps perdu
And so in good time grant the genial Scot
         (No thanks to Johnson) all that should accrue
     To mankind's benefactors. It's a tale
         Of how Hume's civil irony induced
     A major shake-up on the Richter scale
         Of values, and -- since I've just cited Proust --
     How subtle shifts of feeling may prevail
         At length against the value-codes we're used
     To holding sacrosanct and so derail
         Those one-track rulers of the moral roost
     Who'd certainly have counted Boswell mad
         For any sceptic wavering he confessed
     To after the event although he'd had
         To keep them well concealed at the behest
     Of his great master. Plus, they said, his bad
         Past conduct was itself a manifest
     And cautionary token of how glad
         He should be to embrace this as a test
     Of his devotion to the truth of those
         Same doctrines Hume professed to hold in scorn
     Yet surely must have clung to in the throes
         Of his last sickness. Scarcely to be borne,
     By them at least, the idea that he chose
         Quite simply not to let himself be worn
     Down by their constant rubbing of his nose
         In their bleak view of 'human nature' torn
     From the worst bits of that pernicious text
         They took as holy writ, but to enact,
     In dying, the humanity that vexed
         Those pious scandal-mongers since it lacked
     All sense of what so mightily perplexed
         Poor Boswell, let alone what terrors racked
     His friend and mentor waiting for the next
         And last report. For Johnson, the mere fact
     Of Hume's demise would also bring such news
         As either served more deeply to inure
     His mind to self-assault or turned the screws
         Down hard and let him know he'd now endure
     The utmost of its powers to disabuse
         His stricken faith of all that might procure
     Brief respite till some new vicarious ruse
         Of sceptic doubt regained its old allure.
(c) Christopher Norris 2014




International Conference Philosophy of Science Today: Concepts, Paradigms and Trends

Bucharest University Faculty of Philosophy

Andrei Saguna University Constanta

With the support of the Division of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (DLMPS) of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS)

13-19 October 2014 Constanta



* To introduce participants to concepts, theories and trends of philosophy of science, mind philosophy, law philosophy, communication philosophy

* To investigate topics of cognitivism, epistemological pluralism, scientific knowledge

* To discuss today's subjects of philosophy of science and religion

* To promote networks of young scholars and officials of the field


Who should attend?

* Participants are university staff and researchers of all degrees, personalities of the field, young scholars, and students.

* The members and collaborators of the Section of Philosophy, Psychology, Theology and Journalism of the Academy of Romanian Scientists.

* World-known personalities from abroad: France, USA, England, Finland, Germany, China, Austria etc.


Section Topics

1. Historical Aspects of Philosophy of Science

2. The New Philosophy of Science: T. Kuhn, St. Toulmin, P. Feyerabend, I. Lakatos and others

3. French Representatives of Contemporary Epistemology: Canguilhem, Koyre, Bachelard, Gilles Gaston Granger and others

4. Ancient Chinese philosophy and the holistic and syncretistic philosophy of science

5. Romanian Philosophy: Aspects of Epistemology (at C. Radulescu-Motru, I. Petrovici, M. Florian, L. Blaga, C. Noica

6. Mind Philosophy

7. Philosophy of Law

8. Philosophy of Communication


Round tables

* Science and Religion

* DLMPS Congresses: Over 40 Years Since the 4th Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (Bucharest 1971)


Books and journals presentations

* Thomas Kuhn: On Revolution and Paradigm in the Development of Science (Book)

* Journals and reviews on philosophy of science (foreign and Romanian)


Programme management


Professor Angela Botez, PhD, President of the Section of Philosophy, Psychology, Theology and Journalism, ASR

Professor Aurel Papari, PhD, President of Andrei Saguna University Constanta, MT, ASR


Henrieta Serban, PhD, MC, ASR

Associate researcher

Oana Vasilescu PhD, editor ASR


Ing. Mihai Carutasu



The conference will take place at the University Andrei Saguna in Constanta.

Access ways

* By plane to Bucharest

* By car E 60, E 70, E 81, E 87

* By train: the railway station Constanta

CITY INFORMATION: Pleasant weather, delightful landscape with large orchards and vineyards. Interesting remnants of ancient town(s) from Hellenic, Roman and Ottoman civilizations.


General Conference Information

The working language is English and French.

Participation fee is 100 Euro.

The most interesting contributions shall be published in Annals of Philosophy ASR, Proceedings and the volume of the conference, for maximum dissemination.

There will be conducted a tour of Constanta city, Roman poet Ovidius' monument and surroundings, the Danube Delta, the sacred places of the Saint Andrew, and Andrei Saguna's, Aromanian Metropolitan Bishop


Application Form

If you wish to join in the programme, please copy and fill in the following application form:

Name and academic position........

Mailing address........

Telephone and email........

Topic of the paper........


Payment of registration fee of 100 Euro, including printed materials, and attendance fee.

Accommodation and meals are partially sponsored. In cash at arrival 150 Euro or by bank transfer one month in advance.

Please send the filled in application by the 1st of September 2014 to programme coordinators.

© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020