Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bryan Magee

"After a lot of puzzling about this I began to think that perhaps my key mistake was to suppose that what I couldn't concieve of couldn't be. Perhaps there was a difference between what I could think and what could be the case." (Confessions of a Philosopher, 1997)

"To none of these [philisophical] questions would the existence of a God have constituted an answer, and I never felt any inclination, no matter as how young a child, to believe in one... The postulation of a God seemed to me a cop-out, a refusal to take serious problems seriously; a facile, groundless and above all evasive response to deeply disturbing difficulties: it welcomed the self-comforting delusion that we know what we do not know, and have answers that we do not have, thereby denying the true mysteriousness, indeed miraculousness, of what is." (ibid)

"In it [Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery] there were many criticisms of logical positivism...but its central and most devestating one was that logical positivism claimed to be first and foremost a scientific view of the world, and yet its central tenet, the Verification Principle, wiped out the whole of science. This criticism, if clinched--and few people today would deny that Popper' book pretty well clinched it--spelled total shipwreck for logical positivism...The only thing that discussion of the meaning of words extends our understanding of is the meaning of words: it does nothing, or next to nothing, to extend our understanding of non-linguistic reality. ..He saw that although unrestrictedly general empirical statements are not verifiable they are falsifiable...This means that scientific laws, although not verifiable, are falsifiable, and that means they can be tested... To count as scientific, a theory must be empirically testable, and since the only form of testing that is logically possible is falsification this means that only statements that are empirically falsifiable can have scientific status. Empirical falsifiability, he concluded, was the criterion of demarcation between science and non-science." (ibid)

"Wishful thinking is incompatible with serious thinking, and anyone who goes in for it is refusing to take part in the pursuit of truth." (ibid)

"As an education in the ways of the world, especially in the more brutal of life's realities, there is no book to surpass it [Machiavelli's The Prince]." (ibid)

"Most of Das Kapital is a history of the Industrial Revolution in England; but it is an argued history, expounding to make a case. I did not emerge a from my reading of it a Marxist: I saw straight away that the Labour Theory of Value, which Marx himself makes foundational to his system, was a metaphysical concept without any real content; and I also rejected from the beginning his belief in the scientific predictability of historical change. Nevertheless my thinking was greatly influenced by Marx; and although that influence diminished the more I thought about his work, it has never disappeared--and nor would I wish it to, for in my opinion he offers insights which are of permanent value. He is also a magnificent writer, full of character--if overly judgmental, Jehovah-like in his wrath and judgment...The world is a different place because of him, not only objectively but also in the way we look at it." (ibid)

"...the unfortunate truth is that all but a handful of people are narrowly provincial in time." (ibid)

"At that level it [quality philosophy] does, I now believe, stand close to great art among the most valuable and important of human concerns, and for a similar reason: both are truth-seeking activities pursued at the deepest level that human beings are capable of penetrating to. Both are trying to see into the ultimate nature of things, the ultimate mystery of existence; and if they fail it is only at the limits of human understanding that they fail. As Schopenhauer put it, the philosopher is doing in abstracto what the artist is doing in concreto." (ibid)

"The greatest gift a formal education can bestow is to develop in us a conception of the world that is not merely an enlargement of our own viewz and attitudes and interests and assumptions; and in the nature of the case we are not able to do this without help from others who are free of our limitations. But from this, alas, it follows that the self-educated can never be more than half-educated, a regrettable but inescapable fact." (ibid)

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