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O. R. G.

MURE: Retreat from Truth


that it receives scarcely any explicit attention from philosophers, except

the Marxists). There, the modern doctrinal claims of historicism, laissezfaire, social-engineering, natural law, meet in the most acute and puzzling
fashion. Santillana glimpses the first, and perhaps the most brilliant,
moment of this great debate, when Galileo and Urban (then Maffeo
Barberini) walked and talked together. Alas, Santillana only thinks to
himself: "There is no problem there, naught but' weasel words '."
And hurries on again to his relatively futile speculations on Curial
Although we cannot say that Santillana has solved the problem
presented by Galileo, his work has the great merit that it does, if only
momentarily, put the real problem before us. No previous writers on
the Galileo affair have gone so far as even to glimpse the essence of
the matter.
University of Auckland, New Zealand


Retreat from Truth. By G. R. G. MURE. Oxford: Basil Blackwell,

1958. pp. 255. 31s. 6d.
9. Ethics and the Moral Life. By BERNARD MAYO. London: Macmillan,
1958. Pp. 238. 21s.
Mr. Mure, the Warden of Merton, does not conceal his entire lack
of sympathy with contemporary British, and particularly Oxford, philosophy. His last words are: "At present, if I had an intelligent son
coming up to Oxford, I should not regret it if he turned his face away
from all the three Honours Schools that include philosophy, even from
Greats." Such words are not lightly spoken by a man whose life has
been bound up with philosophy and with Oxford. He was University
lecturer in philosophy from 1929 to 1937, and has been Warden of
Merton since 1947. He has written two works on Aristotle and two
on Hegel: an Introduction to Hegel (1940) and A Study of Hegel's Logic
(1950). He obviously belongs, therefore, to a different generation and
a different philosophical world from that of contemporary Oxford
teachers of philosophy. Judging the latter by the standards of his own
generation and tradition, he finds their work devoid of all virtue or
The sentence of condemnation is extended beyond Oxford philosophy
to almost everything in "our dismal age ... of frustration and spiritual
infertility". "Modern poetry, modern architecture, all our non-practical
activities" are found "continually to deteriorate"; and, while science
and technology flourish and progress, they do so to the destruction of
humanism. The author tells us that his book" grew, slowly and intermittently, from a mood of deep depression." The mood is certainly
sincerely felt; but its expression can easily seem conceited and, at times,
even faintly ridiculous. Mr. Mure permits himself to wonder" whether, if
the human race should succeed in extinguishing itself, much would be
lost worth the keeping." He declares: "There is a darkness against
which even genius cannot shine." One has an impish urge to pencil
in the margin: "Not even Mr. Mure's!" The present reviewer is
reminded of reading Maritain's Anti-Moderne in a Paris library. Maritain



was lamenting the " weakening and general breakdown of the reason ",
the " diminution of the intelligence " in modern philosophy; and came
to a fine oratorical climax: "there is no longer anyone who thinks ... "
But a sharp Parisian pencil had noted in the margin: "Oh, but yes!
There is always Maritain!" One could not shake off the feeling that
that pencil had punctured a tyre.
Let it be remembered, however, that this Anti-Moderne was an early
book (1922). Maritain soon outlived" anti-modernity" and the laudatio
temporis actio In an article entitled "Cooperation philosophique et
justice intellectuelle", published in the Revue Thomiste, in 1946, he
wrote: "We must recognise that our contrary affirmations often bear
on different aspects of reality, and also that these are more important
than our mutual negations. Thus we will become capable of transcending
and dominating our own conceptual language ... so that, enriched by
the booty of other traditions, we may return to our own proper philosophical conceptualisation. . .. If we do not love the thought and
intellect of another as thought and as intellect, how will we take the
trouble to discover the truth amid its falsehood. The important thing
is to have respect for the intellect."
These are golden words. Mr. Mure would have written a far more
effective book had he written in their spirit. It shows little respect for
the thought and intellect of others to speak of contemporary British
analytical philosophy merely as a " Retreat from Truth "; as a " return
to our Humian vomit"; as" the return to a second childhood . . .
both otiose and tedious." J. B. Urmson in his Philosophical Analysis,
has written that "merely hostile criticism rarely has any effect in
philosophy"; and has shown that errors have been abandoned and
progress effected by analytic philosophers, not because of outside criticism but rather because of discussions within the movement. " The
objectors to analytic philosophy . . . were mostly too ignorant of the
precise doctrines of their opponents to put their objections in a form
which could have much effect upon them." Mr. Mure's polemic will
draw cheers only from his own ranks: the ranks of Tuscany will not
even understand the language. Instead of a philosophical discussion,
we have, as so often in modern philosophy, something more like a
slanging match. Philosophical discussion can take place only between
philosophers; in this case each disputant literally refuses to call the
other a philosopher; hence the dispute can only take the form of each
calling the other names.
It must, however, in fairness be granted that it was not Mr. Mure's
generation which first introduced anger into philosophical argument.
They were provoked by " angry young men" who persisted in drowning
their attempts at reasoning by ill-mannered shouts of" Nonsense". It
has been said (by Ayer himself) that the method of the Vienna Circle
"introduced a new spirit into philosophy, set a standard of logical
rigour and intellectual responsibility." But his critics have shown over
and over again that the notorious blunders of Language, Truth and Logic
were precisely logical blunders; and that its treatment of traditional
philosophy, of metaphysics, of theology and of ethics showed a quite
scandalous degree of intellectual irresponsibility. One main effect of

G. R. G.


Retreat from Truth


that book was to introduce a new spirit of bad temper and violence,
of partisanship and of propaganda, which have made the past twenty
years a period of exceptional and unedifying bitterness in British philosophy.
The contemporary philosopher may protest that he is not a logical
positivist, and may disarmingly claim that as G. J. Warnock put it:
"The restrictive iconoclasm of Logical Positivism is quite alien to the
spirit of philosophy to-day." Yet one is often forced to the conclusion
that' logical analyst' is only' logical positivist' speit differently. Far
too often the admittedly disproved and allegedly abandoned positions
of the positivist are maintained as demonstrated truths by the analyst,
particularly on non-professional occasions; and are represented to mass
audiences as the firm and agreed findings of "modern philosophy".
As David Pole has written, in his recent book, The Later Philosophy
of Wittgenstein: "Wittgensteinians and latter-day linguistic philosophers
are apt to relapse into the bad habits of their positivist childhood and
to fall back on (the Verification Principle) in an emergency." Conclusions are being affirmed as dogmatically as ever, even though the
arguments formerly advanced for them have been exploded long ago.
I t looks as though many modern philosophers are more interested in,
and more certain of, their conclusions than their arguments. They
could take to themselves a sentence of Russell: "The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy but special
pleading." Russell wrote this about St. Thomas Aquinas. He did not,
of course, know what Thomism was, nor could he be bothered to find
out. He had concluded in advance that traditional philosophy, and
particularly metaphysics, was nothing but "two millennia of muddleheadedness. "
One can sympathise with the mood of exasperation in which Mure
writes: "No age but ours could have taken Mr. Russell's account of
the great thinkers in his major pot-boiler, The History of Western
Philosophy, for serious historical scholarship." For one who has respect
for the history of thought and who knows the meaning of metaphysics,
nothing is so exasperating as the couldn't-care-less cartoons presented,
in much contemporary philosophical writing, as classical philosophy or
as metaphysics. Schoolroom stereotypes, called" Plato", " Descartes",
the "official doctrine" or the "classic philosophers" are put up for
smart undergraduates to knock down with the gaiety of schoolboys
playing skittles. 'Metaphysics' has become a bad word; 'classic' a
term of disrepute. A Pelican philosopher, writing on Hume, has recently
introduced his book to the great public as showing how" the huge and
fantastic edifice of Ancient Metaphysics was already crumbling when
Hume, with a few shrewd blows, demolished it." So the propaganda
campaign against traditional philosophy goes on; repeating, with the
artfulness of an advertising' plug', that metaphysics is muddle, meaningless, fantastic, lest any non-conforming undergraduate be tempted to
find out for himself what it really meant and means; and declaring, in
the spirit of Henry Ford, that the history of philosophy is bunk, so that
no student who wishes to be modern would waste his time on it.
Can we blame Mure, and other philosophers outside the contemporary



Oxford school for their irritation and indignation? Mure's language is

regrettably strong, but his strictures are entirely just, when he writesand the passages deserve to be quoted at length: "The concepts of the
great thinkers will not work for us in new contexts unless we have
already undetstood them in the contexts in which they were first conceived. To gain what the masters of philosophy have to give, a man
must first submerge himself in their major works. Happy to be in
contact with greatness, he must read with sympathy and with historical
imagination before he passes to the criticism which is the purpose of
his reading. He will merely lose his way if he attempts a short-cut
through text-book digests and conventional histories of philosophy ....
He will make less progress still if he does no more than tear (or get
torn for him by his teacher), famous dicta, or what may appear superficially to be self-contained arguments, from the contexts to which they
belong, and try to subject them to powerful logical techniques'. At
the beginning of this century, this would have seemed a commonplace
too trite to deserve mention in print. Every philosophical teacher gave
this warning once to his pupils and no more. But the fashion has
changed. Plato charged the Sophists with corrupting the young to evil
practices. No one could justly so accuse our respectable troglodyte
teachers of philosophy, but in the last few decades British philosophy
has become a major educational disaster, if only because it has been
fundamentally anti-historical. No study has a very high educational
value unless it compels critical but sympathetic contact with the great
masters of a great subject, teaching clever young men not only to think
but to be a little wise. . .. More than once in recent years the Greats
examiners have, with the queerest naivete, complained in their reports
that candidates have tended to treat the works of Plato and Aristotle
as of merely antiquarian interest. What but the purest intellectual
parochialism could be expected from the pupils of any but a tiny dissident minority. of Oxford's present-day teachers of philosophy? It was
Professor Ryle who coined the phrase' philosophical palaeontology' ... "
There is much more, however, in Mr. Mure's book than saeva
indignatio. There is a long examination and careful criticism of Russeil's
Logical Atomism, based largely on his Analysis of Mind. One could
object that there is insufficient awareness of the varieties and ambiguities
of Russell's philosophy or successive philosophies, but in so far as the
philosophy of the Analysis of Mind is concerned, it is here pitilessly
analysed, and made into mince-meat. The treatment of both the early
and the later Wittgenstein is not so successful. Mr. Mure too readily
concludes that Wittgenstein I was merely a positivist, and that Wittgenstein II was a linguistic phenomenalist. He has not thought through
Wittgenstein's problems with Wittgenstein; and has thus failed to
observe his own standards for the study of great thinkers. He dismisses
Hume's empiricism as pre-philosophical, indeed anti-philosophical; his
ethics as economics dressed up in the stolen clothes of morality. One
feels indeed that he does to Hume what many contemporaries do to
Plato or Descartes. He has not tried to understand Hume's doctrines
in the" contexts in which they were first conceived." Miss Anscombe
is surely juster when she writes: "(Many features of Hume's philosophy)

G. R. G. MURE: Retreat from Truth


would incline me to think that Hume was a mere-brilliant-sophist ... ;

(but), although he reaches his conclusions . . . by sophistical methods,
his considerations constantly open up very deep and important problems.
It is often the case that in the act of exhibiting the sophistry one finds
oneself noticing matters which need a lot of exploring: the obvious
stands in need of investigation as a result of the points that Hume
pretends to have made. . .. Hence Hume is a very profound and great
philosopher, in spite of his sophistry."
Many modern philosophers, too will feel that Mure is as unfair to
the living as he accuses them of being to the dead. It is not helpful
to argue about who started the unfairness. Nobody can make a useful
contribution to discussion in or about analytical philosophy unless he
tries to find out what is the contemporary state of the question, what
are the present positions and directions of movement of the participants.
Mr. Mure will not convince the analysts that he has made this effort.
He sees the whole contemporary trend too exclusively as a movement
away from truth, as a betrayal of philosophy. He finds empiricism
devoid of all philosophical merit: "empiricism can only be called
philosophical by a courtesy with which it is perhaps almost time to
dispense." But surely if the mountain of logical positivism produced
any fruit at all, it was the (entirely superfluous) mouse, that metaphysical
statements must have some sense-experience" relevant to the determination of their truth or falsehood." The' classic' metaphysicians have
all recognised this in some measure. The great metaphysicians have all
been empiricist, in the sense that they have been trying to describe
adequately and to render intelligible (or at least save from unintelligibility)
the total content of experience. St. Thomas's philosophical revolution,
for example, was deliberately a return to empiricism. Metaphysics is
not an alternative to, but an implication and completion of empiricism.
Mr. Mure's own idealist Metaphysics itself, of course, claims to be
the interpretation of experience. It is a pity that he should seem to
suggest that it has nothing to do with the facts of the empiricists. It
is, however, largely a matter of language. Empiricists deal in facts as
if they were" sterilised sensa ", void of value. Mure's metaphysics-grounding experience is of persons encountering value in facts and
experiencing their own aspiration beyond particular values and their
own finite selves toward transcendent, infinite value. His metaphysics
is rooted in experience: "Of any infinite immanent in the finite a
philosopher has no right to say anything for which he does not find
the ground in human experience." He would have been more convincing
if he had recognised the partial legitimacy and indeed necessity of a
certain empiricism; and had then shown the inadequacy of positivistic
empiricism to account for human experience as a whole.
In general, the weakness of Mr. Mure's exposition of his own philosophy is that he has not succeeded in translating it into ordinary
" unembarrassed" English or relating it to ordinary "unprivileged"
experience-to use two words of the contemporary jargon. He is indeed
modest about it; he writes: "I readily admit that there is plenty to
be said against the rough-and-ready exposition of idealism and transcendeDce with which I have filled the last four chapters." There is too



much Hegelian pompousness and obscurity about the language. There

is a certain archaism about the style. This is a great pity, because Mr.
Mure has extremely important things to say. He has reiterated some of
the central and now widely neglected truths of the great spiritualist
tradition of philosophy. He has pleaded impressively for a return to
the philosophy of humanism, which since the convention came in of
damning, without reading, idealism has been almost totally disregarded
in Britain. He has added strength to the slowly growing feeling that
idealism needs to be read and taken seriously again. Dr. Milne, of
Queen's University, pleaded somewhat similarly, at the Irish Philosophical Club last May, for a reassessment of " a humanist version of
idealism ".
Mr. Mure remarks that "idealism had its proximate source in the
minds of much greater thinkers than this country has hitherto produced,
and its ultimate roots in the philosophy of the Greeks, without whom
European man would scarcely have had a mind at all." The scurvy
treatment given to idealist philosophy by most analysts is part symptom
and part cause of the insular parochialism of Oxford philosophy to-day,
cut off as it is both from the historical tradition in philosophy and from
the styles of philosophising of all contemporary Europeans outside
Britain. Oxford philosophy to-day is philosophy without a tradition,
indeed against all tradition. Such a philosophy is impatient with perennial problems. It will have no truck except with problems that can be
decided and disposed of by the appropriate" decision-procedure". As
Mr. Mure puts it: "]n science problems can be solved and done with
but in philosophy they cannot, and to bring philosophy into line with
science in this respect, it has to be assumed that most of its problems
never really existed".
It is in respect of the philosophy of man, the philosophy of psychology,
the philosophy of action, the philosophy of will, the philosophy of the
person and personal relations, that British philosophy is most paralysed
and inarticulate to-day. Analytic philosophers largely avoid these
subjects, perhaps because they instinctively feel that their method cannot
cope with them. Those among them who have returned to these subjects
have become more and more restless in their linguistic and analytic
occupations. Mr. Mure puts his finger on the decisive issues when he
discusses the notions of truth, of transcendence, of intrinsic value and
of rational will. He shows that all these are connected with one another
and are all radicated in the experience we have of ourselves as finite
persons. Here is the reef on which all positivist empiricism, all antimetaphysics founders. Here is the permanent and common core of
truth in all versions of spiritualist and theist metaphysics.
The outlook for a rediscovery of these truths in British philosophy
is brighter to-day than it has been for two decades. Not merely is there
the Gifford Foundation, which has never forgotten these themes or
aIIowed them to be forgotten; and which has given us in recent years
Professor Macmurray's The Self as Agent and Professor Polanyi's Personal
Knowledge. There is the rediscovery of actions, as distinct from data
or words, in analytical philosophy, leading, e.g., to J. L. Austin's study
of "performatory words". There is much reflection on the activity



Ethics and the Moral Life


which is philosophising, leading such philosophers as D. F. Pears, F.

Waisman, and Stuart Hampshire to recognise the genuineness of the
problems which only metaphysicians have hitherto faced, and thereby
to recognise at least the metaphysical passion in the human condition.
There is the severe criticism by P. F. Strawson, G. J. Warnock and
others of logical atomism, the naming theory of meaning, the correspondence theory of truth. When we hear talk, as we did from D. F.
Pears some years ago about" the true metaphysician who is in all of us ",
and" the Protean metaphysical urge to transcend language", it is as
a bell tolling, not yet for the death, but for the agony of a positivist.
Mr. Mure could have found some glimmer of light to lighten for
him the darkness of post-war Britain if he had studied contemporary
philosophers somewhat more patiently and more sympathetically. He
would have made his own philosophical positions more intelligible and
less off-putting to his opponents if he had tried to find the points of
insertion for them in the language and problematic and "the thought
and intellect" of the analysts. He himself notes that" the great systems
of the past cannot serve us as they stand; they can only provide us with
weapons for a fresh battle with the human dilemma." Surely the analysts
too know and feel something of the human dilemma as it presents itself
in this generation; and it would be more prol1table to talk with them
than to exchange abuse across a wall. Mr. Mure would surely expect
that, if his own philosophy is true, no intelligent and sincere thinker
would be wholly alien to it, or entirely immune from its influence.
Truth, as he himself nobly elucidates it, is a unitive and constructive,
not a divisive and destructive force. It makes for peace, not war: looks
for friends not enemies. Actually Mr. Mure has friends where he least
expects to find them, among the analysts; and their number will grow.
He would be surprised, and pleased, to tlnd the Editor of Analysis
entitling part III of a new book on Ethics: "Towards a New Humanism";
and saying that ethics can be properly studied only within the context
of a wider study, the philosophy of human nature.

Bernard Mayo, one of the most brilliant of the younger Oxonian

philosophers (he is only 38 and has already written The Logic of Personality and many articles), is proof that all is not mere rottenness in the
state of Oxford philosophy and that to be taught by its "respectable
troglodyte teachers" is not exclusively a " major educational disaster."
Now lecturer in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, Mr. Mayo
is also Editor of the journal Analysis. He is not, therefore, a lone
sparrow; and, though he does not make a summer, he does herald an
improvement in the weather of Oxford moral philosophy. The very
title of the book is an advance on the prevalent titles for English books
on ethics, which seem to assume that ethics is a study of the special
sort of language which is the language of morals, or of the special sort
of logic which is the logic of moral words. Mr. Mayo's book is part
of the by now massive pressure which is being mounted against the
established British doctrine of the autonomy of ethics.
Mr. Mayo has made an important advance beyond familiar positions
in Oxford moral philosophy, The defects of his book come from the



fact that there are stilI too many Oxford cliches which he has not yet
begun to criticise. The most important of these, one which is presupposed to much of his argument, is his conception of philosophy as having
" no destinations". "Philosophy is travel, but not arrival; search, but
not discovery; enquiry but not knowledge." This is not to be taken
in any dramatic existentialist sense, of philosophy as fa pensee interrogative, or as the metaphysical passion of man pour qui, dans son Etre,
if est question du Neant de son Etre. It has, instead, the tedious meaning
that philosophy deals only with "meta-questions"; that is to say,
philosophy does not arrive at knowledge, discover truths, utter propositions nor answer questions; it only dissolves the" problems and puzzles"
that arise when non-philosophers claim to have knowledge or to establish
truths, propositions and answers. "Philosophy has no subject-matter."
This is the currently agreed interpretation of Wittgenstein's dictum
that" philosophy is not a theory but an activity." It is to be hoped
that Wittgenstein meant something not quite so shallow. This is, anyhow, one of the most unquestioned of Oxford beliefs. It has the curious
sequel that Oxford philosophers contend that philosophy has no beliefs
and has no tendency to support or to disprove any" first-order" beliefs.
Philosophy, we are told, is "ideologically neutral". G. J. Warnock
has made one of the latest apologies for this point of view, in English
Philosophy since 1900. He has a sentence which deserves fame: "For
my own part I am inclined to think that they only need feel strongly
hostile to contemporary philosophy who have cause to fear or to dislike
a clear intellectual air and a low temperature of argument". When
this sentence is graven in appropriate bronze, let it have added, in lieu
of date, the words: "Published twelve months precisely after the controversy which followed Miss G. E. M. Anscombe's broadcast: 'Does
Oxford Moral Philosophy Corrupt Youth?' ". Perhaps, however, the
clear air and cool temperature are available only for "their sort" of
It is time that the claim of ideological neutrality was dropped. It
has long since been shatteringly refuted. As Mr. Stuart Hampshire said
in a symposium on "Philosophy and Beliefs" in The Twentieth Century,
in June 1955: "If you deal with a religious opponent by saying 'We
can't argue this, we are just made differently '-or if you say, 'We must
settle all moral questions for ourselves' -to assert or accept these as
truisms is itself a challenge to certain moral principles and religious
beliefs. . .. If we say, 'There is philosophy on the one side: my
attitudes on the other', we make philosophy a private game, or part
of the syllabus, and at the same time we trivialise our beliefs by calling
them' attitudes '."
Particularly untenable, in the light of recent discussion, is the claim,
which Mr. Mayo reiterates, that moral philosophy does not enunciate
moral principles nor affect moral practice. Moral philosophers, according
to his jargon, are doing top-tier thinking about moral problems;
moralists, who guide conduct, are middle-tier thinkers about morality;
moral agents, who perform morally, are too busy doing morals to think
about it at all. Moral-philosophical thinking is, therefore, twice removed
from moral reality. Was it Russell who spoke of " an idea so foolish



Ethics and the Moral



that only a philosopher could have thought of it "? What baffies in

this case is how the idea can be maintained at this date. Apart from her
famous broadcast, in February, 1957, Miss Anscombe has dealt devastatingly with this claim in her article, "Modem Moral Philosophy", in
Philosophy, January 1958. After declaring that modem moral philosophers really derive their standards from those "current in (their)
society or circle ", she goes on: "It has in fact been the mark of all
these philosophers that they have been extremely conventional; they
have nothing in them by which to revolt against the conventional
standards of their sort of people; it is impossible that they should be
profound." People who have been reading professorial contributions,
in the New Statesman and elsewhere, to the Wolfenden debate, will have
seen how predictably conventional they are, for this sort of set, and
how unprofound. Somewhat similarly, Miss Iris Murdoch, in the B.B.e.
and Oxford symposium, The Nature of Metaphysics, described Oxford
moral philosophy as "on the whole a satisfactory representation of the
morality most commonly held in England . . . roughly a Protestant,
and less roughly a Liberal type of view." She says that, despite their
protests to the contrary, British moral philosophers do "moralise",
only they do their moralising unconsciously instead of consciously.
Another and related respect in which Mr. Mayo is still too much a
chip of the Oxford block is in his championship of ethical relativism.
" Absolutism ", he declares, "has its roots in tribal morality. Relativism
represents the dawn of self-criticism, the achievement of an intellectual
detachment. ... Relativism rejects an uncritical acceptance of customary
morality." There is no need of an absolute standard to evaluate moral
progress, or to determine the relative merits of conflicting standards.
" All that matters is that I should adopt (a standard)-that it should
be my code of ethics-and that I should stand by it. All that is needed,
for me to judge that one moral code is better than another is that I
myself should have a moral code, not that there should be an ' absolute'
code as well."
Now here is the whole and sole reason why Miss Anscombe has
been fighting her brave and lonely battle against Oxford moral philosophy. In the article above cited, she calls the doctrine consequentialism,
and pronounces it common to all English academic moral philosophers
since Sidgwick. They have put out, she continues, "a philosophy
according to which, e.g., it is not possible to hold that it cannot be
right to kill the innocent as a means to any end whatsoever and that
someone who thinks otherwise is in error. (I have to mention both
points; because Mr. Hare, for example, while teaching a philosophy
which would encourage a person to judge that killing the innocent would
be what he "ought" to choose for over-riding purposes would also
teach, I think, that if a man chooses to make avoiding killing the innocent
for any purpose his "supreme practical principle", he cannot be
impugned for error: that just is his principle . . .). Now this is a
significant thing: for it means that all these philosophies are quite
incompatible with the Hebrew-Christian ethic. For it has been characteristic of that ethic to teach that there are certain things forbidden whatever consequences threaten, such as: choosing to kill the innocent for



any purpose, however good; vicarious punishment; treachery . . .,

idolatry; sodomy; adultery; making a false profession of faith. The
prohibition of certain things simply in virtue of their description as
such-and-such identifiable kinds of action, regardless of any further
consequences, is certainly not the whole of the Hebrew-Christian ethic;
but it is a noteworthy feature of it; and if every academic philosopher
since Sidgwick has written in such a way as to exclude this ethic, it
would argue a certain provinciality of mind not to see this incompatibility as the most important fact about these philosophers and the
differences between them as somewhat trifling by comparison."
She concludes the article with this paragraph: "' It is left to modern
moral philosophy . . . to construct systems according to which the man
who says" We need such-and-such, and will only get it this way",
may be a virtuous character: that is to say, it is left open to debate
whether such a procedure as the judicial punishment of the innocent
may not in some circumstances be the "right" one to adopt; and
though the present Oxford moral philosophers would accord a man
permission to "make it his principle" not to do such a thing, they
teach a philosophy according to which the particular consequences of
such an action could" morally" be taken into account by a man who
was debating what to do; and if they were such as to conflict with his
" ends ", it might be a step in his moral education to frame a moral
principle under which he "managed" (to use Mr. Nowell-Smith's
phrase) to bring the action; or it might be a new" decision of principle "
making which was an advance in the formation of his moral thinking
(to adapt Mr. Hare's conception), to decide: in such and such circumstances one ought to procure the judicial condemnation of the innocent.
And that is my complaint ".
These long quotations are, we believe, justified because there is no
better statement of what really is the issue in the debate with Oxford
moral philosophers. It is, in fact, the question which used to be put
in the form: does the end justify the means? may one do evil if good
consequences will result? The real issue in morals to-day is the question:
are there any actions absolutely evil in themselves, so that it could never
be morally right to do them for any reason? Oxford moralists, like
the scientiflc humanists, the Marxists and, in general, the "morality
most commonly held in England", agree that there are no such actions.
" It all depends . . . ."
Curiously, they claim that relativism is the morally superior attitude:
" absolutist" ethics, such as religious, metaphysical, and in particular,
Christian ethics is uncritical, prohibitory, conformist, intolerant, fanatical.
This is a remarkably pervasive belief: Miss Murdoch, much though she
criticises Oxford moral philosophers, seems to share their fear that
" moral degeneration through lack of reflexion " will result from absolutist and metaphysical views of ethics. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir
notoriously share the same view. It is an important part of the ethic
of liberalism. Modern British moralists continue to be influenced by
Mill's classic statement of it, in his Essay on Liberty.
If liberal moral philosophers were less conformist and conventional,
they might lift their eyes from Mill and look for themselves at Christian



Ethics and the Moral Life


" absolutist" ethics. If they did, it is hard to see how they could quote
and endorse, as Mr. Mayo does, these words of Mill: "Christian
morality (so-called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is in great
part a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than
positive; passive rather than active; innocence rather than nobleness;
abstinence from evil rather than energetic pursuit of the Good; in its
precepts (as has been well said) 'Thou shalt not' predominates unduly
over 'Thou shalt ' .. " Whatever exists of magnanimity, highmindedness, personal dignity, even the sense of honour, is derived from the
purely human, not the religious part of our education, and never could
have grown out of a standard of ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognised, is that of obedience".
Mill is, unfortunately, not the last to have played the dodge of taking
all that is un-Christian in the lives of Christian people, calling this
Christianity, and condenming Christianity because of it; and, on the
other hand, selecting all that humanity has learned from Christianity
of "magnanimity, highmindedness, personal dignity and honour",
labelling this human, and claiming it for humanism against Christianity.
(Mrs. Margaret Knight is the latest example of this, claiming, in effect,
that Christianity should be scrapped and people should begin, instead,
to love one another!). How could Mill have been ignorant of the fact
that the precept of Christian ethics is the positive precept: "Thou shalt
love thy neighbour as thyself". How could modern liberals permit
themselves to say that observance of this precept is unreflective routine,
static conformism? The Sermon on the Mount will stand for all time
as a paradigm of moral progress, as compared with Jewish interpretation
of the Decalogue. It contains within itself the conditions of all conceivable moral progress, because it shows that the prohibitions of the
Decalogue are all founded on the positive precepts: Thou shalt love
thy neighbour as a brother in God; thou shalt respect him as a person,
an absolute value, with absolute rights, and thou shalt never do him
injustice or evil for any cause whatever. By no amount of moral progress will men ever come to the end of loving their fellow-men as they
love themselves. Absolutism in ethics is the very definition and condition
of moral progressivism.
If Mr. Mayo and others can speak of "absolutist morality" as
"tribal morality" and unreflecting conformism, it is because they are
misled by their long habit of representing morality as "keeping the
rules ", and of understanding moral rules as like the rules of a university
or club, the rules of the road or the rules of games. They forget that
every moral rule is, or is connected with a rule which enjoins love of
other persons; and therefore one can't keep moral rules passively,.
unreflectingly, effortlessly. Mr. Mayo is surely very mistaken when he
says that the good man conforms to moral principles without needing
to think of them; and that" moral principles operate only when they
are thought about, which is to say that they are either created or recreated by reflection on certain special occasions". We cannot attend
to persons without thought-that is what thoughtfulness means-and
every moral principle is referable to attending to persons. In that sense:
every moral action is a "special occasion". Nor can" absolutist"



ethics permit of, much less cause-as Sartre never ceases to accuse it
of causing-smugness and self-righteousness: it is never possible to feel
that one has perfectly done justice to another as a person. Neither
can" absolutism" engender fanaticism: its spirit enjoins humility at
one's own failures, sympathy at the failures of others. The" rule" of
Christian ethics is a " golden rule ", which can never just be "kept ",
but can and must be always better kept. The essence of Christian
ethics-an absolutist and metaphysical ethics par excellence-is contained in the formula: "the moral rule is: Be ye perfect". How far
Mr. Mayo is from understanding moral rules is shown by this sentence:
"What do we mean by saying that the rule has been observed? I
suggest that we merely mean that it has not been broken".
One of the greatest defects of his ethics is that love has no place in
it, either as a precept or as a virtue. Love is indeed emplicitly excluded
from it: "Love is a personal relation which has nothing to do with
reasons. Morality has everything to do with reasons." Personal relations generally have nothing to do with morality: "they cannot be
controlled by morality because they cannot be controlled at all. . . .
They exist or occur; they are lived, experienced and they change; but
they are not controlled ". The term " personal relations " seems to be
employed in an unusual sense; but, if we were to protest that this
doctrine is frankly immoral, we are forestalled: immoral consequences
could not follow from a philosophical statement. And why?-Because
" it follows from Hume's principle (No moral conclusion can be drawn
from non-moral premises) that an analysis of morality cannot itself have
moral consequences, and cannot therefore have immoral ones either."
Which only proves that people who merely reproduce Hume, without
critically reflecting on the problems concealed by his sophistry, are, what
Miss Anscombe says Hume seems, "mere sophists ".
Many modern moral philosophers, both analysts and existentialists,
seem to regard the morality of rules as a " closed morality" in Bergson's
sense, which can become an " open morality" only by brave and above
all " sincere" "commitment" to new, anti-traditional, and yet "more
moral" rules. The situation has changed since A. D. Lindsay wrote
The Two Moralities (1940), contrasting the morality of " my station and
its duties", with the morality of " the challenge to perfection, or the
morality of grace, or ... the Sermon on the Mount." Nowadays perfection and grace are" metaphysical ", and the Sermon on the Mount
is "myth"; and the only hope for a "higher morality" is to
" transcend" "my station and its duties" towards, e.g., the higher
fidelity, which is adultery, the purer personal relationship, which is
homosexuality, the more perfect parenthood, which is artificial insemination, the more abounding mercy, which is mercy-killing.
The whole thing is a great muddle and a noxious form of cant.
Bergson does not plead for ouverture outside and beyond traditional
morality, but for an ouverture in or to traditional morality. No saint
or mystic ever got "outside" or "beyond" loving his neighbour as
himself. The saints and the mystics have realised "the challenge to
perfection" within" their station and its duties". There is only one
morality, and it is ouverture, opening the door of the ego towards other



Ethics and the Moral Life


persons. Christian morality and metaphysics hold that this cannot be

done without opening the door to God. But Mr. Mayo has not begun
to think about the meaning of the terms 'metaphysics' and 'metaphysical '. He uses them mechanically, as most analytic philosophers
do, for polite "tut-tut" words. It is to be hoped that he will come
to see that metaphysics is the old humanism, which is also the new
humanism he is seeking; that it could be defined, in Macmurray's
Gifford Lecture phrase, as the effort "to discover or to construct the
intellectual form of the personal"; and that genuine metaphysical ethics
is personalist ethics.
One of Mr. Mayo's main contributions to ethical discussion is his
thesis that the specific differentia of morality is " hypothetical dissensus ".
" The incidence of ethical disputes", he holds, " is the whole of ethics".
"People's moral views just are the ways in which their holders are
committed to act or argue in possible controversies." Morality is
"taking sides on moral issues". He does not give any indication of
having read Professor Gallie's paper, " Essentially Contested Concepts ,.
(Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Vol. LVI, 1955-6), and this is a
pity, for Professor Gallie's argument resembles, but is much superior
to, Mr. Mayo's. It is an attempt to elucidate" the logic of conversion",
and therefore, in effect, is a re-examination of Newman's problem of
informal inference and real assent. Professor Gallie shows that argu
ments in ethics, politics, art, religion can be seen to have logical force
even by those whom they entirely fail to convince or persuade
"Conversion . . . can be seen to be justifiable-not simply expectable
in the light of known relevant psychological or social laws".
The assimilation of moral conviction to "conversion" is apt, for
having a moral conviction is surely a reasoned recognition of the objective claim on me of a person or a value or a truth. Mr. Mayo is, by
contrast, superfIcial in seeming to make morality a more or less arbitrary
decision to take sides or make" a stance without demonstrably adequate
grounds". "There are ", he says, "some beliefs such that we are not
committed to them by anything else, we just commit ourselves to them,'"
This is surely a mistake. A moral belief is the recognition that we must
commit ourselves because a value has a claim on us. Good has a claim
to be done by us, because it is good. What can be the meaning of all
the modern talk about "choosing our values", adopting moral
principles", "moral rules which we adopt as authoritative" (Mayo)?
Surely our moral values, principles and rules command and control
and measure us, impose themselves authoritatively on us, judge and
condemn us. How could they have the qualities they do have if they
derived their force from our "just committing ourselves to them"?
The truth in Professor Gallie's and Mr. Mayo's arguments is that
morality is not science and is not mathematics. It proceeds by discussion, and not by experiment or demonstration. But that is not to say,
with Gallie, that its propositions are essentialfy contested and its disputes
"inevitably endless"; or with Mayo, that ethics is dispute and that
moral questions are not decidable and are incompatible with universal
consensus. There seems to be a confusion in Mayo's argument: is it
bein2 suggested that because it is I who decide and act morally, there-



fore moral decisions are idiosyncratically personal? (This, at least,

seems to be the hub of Alisdair MacIntyre's argument, in his article
"What Morality is not ", in Philosophy, Vol. XXXII, October, 1957.)
But surely the person who makes a moral decision believes, not just
that he can do no other, but that anyone who saw the truth and
recognised the value that he sees and recognises could do no other.
And, by his decision and action, he hopes to testify to that truth and
value and thereby serve to secure their recognition by all. The martyr
does not just say 'This is my stance and I stand by it'; he bears
witness to the truth by his death and he dies that others may see the
same truth. The parallel with religious conversion is telling: no man
is more passionately demanding of universal consensus in his truth than
the convert. But he loves truth and the intellect too much to want to
coerce the non-consenting. Moral, like religious conversion, comes by
persuasion, not coercion; and, like all rational discussion, it presupposes
the possibility and desirability of universal consensus. As David Pole
has written, in his book on Wittgenstein: "It is what we may call the
postulate of rationality that ideally agreement is possible. . .. That
there are conclusions to be reached, which are also those that ought to
be reached-this, not merely existing conformity, is what is presupposed
in the possibility of discourse."
M r. Mayo rejects universal agreement, not on theoretical grounds
but because of " its dangerous implications": "it smacks", he thinks,
" of intolerance". Here, we may say in passing, is another instance
of how modern moral philosophy in Britain is loaded with the ideology
of liberalism. But the liberals have insufficiently reflected on what
genuine consensus in ethics would be, and how it would differ from
tribal conformism or totalitarian thought-control. Intolerance comes,
not from people's agreement in moral principles, but from their agreement in wrong moral principles, or disagreement with right ones. It
is not inappropriate to quote here from a recent broadcast by Professor
J. V. Langmead Casserley. He spoke of " the terrible consequence of
combining a relative view of ethics with an absolutist view of politics."
" A good illustration of this is the prevalence of persecution and cruelty
in modern political life from the terror of 1793 during the French
Revolution up to modern political persecution under Fascism and
Communism. In all episodes of this kind, we find ourselves confronted
with people, often idealistic ones, who are more certain that their particular political programme is absolutely right than they are convinced
that it is always wrong to kill and to oppress."
Mr. Mayo is undoubtedly as opposed to Fascism and to Communism
as Professor Langmead Casserley; but he is disastrously mistaken in
thinking that the protection against them is ethical relativism or ethical
dissensus. His conclusion "that all criteria of truth, validity, moral
rightness and so on, are functions of the degree of agreement among
classes of human beings ", is surely a curious relapse into socioiogism,
if not Gallup Pollstering. It seems incompatible with the principle of
universalisability, which is agreed to be inseparable from ethics. Mr.
Mayo himself says: "In ethics . . . there is no minding your own
business: both action and judgment, performance and criticism, must



Ethics and the Moral Life


be referred to a set of principles which are taken as applying universally".

Mr. Hare has urged that 'the principle of impartiality' is part of the
meaning of duty; that is to say, the reasons for duty can never be
peculiar to particular persons or classes of persons, but must in princ pIe
apply to all persons in similar situations. Morality must be "open"
towards men, not as my tribesmen or countrymen, but as men; and
therefore must be " open" towards mankind. Every great moral teacher
has addressed the message to mankind. All moral progress has been
a transcending of bars and barriers of tribe and class and race and colour
towards a unity of all men in truth and goodness and love. Mr. Mayo
would certainly give no moral marks to the "hypothetical dissenters"
of Little Rock! He speaks of the difference between the factual statement, ' Hitler persecuted the Jews'; and the moral statement, 'Hitler
was wrong to persecute the Jews'; and suggests that the former is
decidable by evidence on which all must agree; while the latter is not
similarly decidable and is not susceptible of universal agreement. We
submit, however, that we are just as sure of the truth of the moral as
of the' factual' statement; that it is just as factual, objective, real and
true as the 'factual' statement; and just as susceptible of universal
agreement. " Dissensus" would be, not just a mistake, but also
immoral. There is still much work to be done in British ethical discussion on the differences between morality and science, between moral
truth and scientific truth: but the cause is not advanced by so defining
'truth', 'fact', etc., that moral judgments could not be true or factual.
We have taken so much space to express dissent from Mr. Mayo
that there is not enough left to express adequately our consensus with
and welcome for much of his contribution. We can only briefly refer
to some of the features which make this book, in our opinion, so much
better than most modern books in British ethics. Mr. Mayo disposes
of the long-popular fallacy that ethical judgments are commands: "A
simple grammatical imperative, ' Do so-and-so " is never a moral utterance; commands, so far from providing the basic pattern of a moral
judgment, are just one of the things a moral judgment never is."
Ethical judgments are always the application of standards, principles,
reasons. Mr. Mayo calls for a reinstatement in ethics of the role of
great moral exemplars-the' Hero' and the 'Saint'. He recognises
the 'enormous complexity' of the moral life and the one-sidedness of
many current philosophical theories of it. He effectually reacts against
the remoteness from reality, the lack of contact with the ordinary life
of man, the use of banal or fantastic examples, which have made much
recent ethical writing seem so unimportant, tedious and trivialising.
One of the best features of Mr. Mayo's book is his plea for the
integration of ethics with "a wider study, the philosophy of human
nature". " Ethics", he writes, "is not a self-contained discipline."
This, it is to be hoped, may be the epitaph on a cherished Oxford
doctrine dating proximately from a cardinal article of 1912, by H. A.
Prichard, entitled, 'Does Moral Philosophy rest on a mistake?' In
rejecting this doctrine, Mr. Mayo has good company in Mr. Mure and
Miss Anscombe. Mr. Mure concludes a decisive criticism of Prichard's
theory of autonomous "oughtness" by the words: "Absolute moral



is not a human attribute." The theory, of course,
has origins more remote than Prichard, and is already latent in " Hume'iil
principle". Miss Anscombe finds the theory of rootless " oughtness "
the cause of most of the muddle and error in British moral philosophy
since Hume. As the term" morally ought" is used by modem moral
philosophers, it suggests that an action, over and above the complete
factual description of it, must have some additional, special, moral
(non-factual) quality before we can call it " morally wrong" (or right).
This is why we can have such absurdities as Mr. Mayo's looking for
reasons to prove that it was " wrong" for Hitler to persecute the Jews.
It is as though " moral wrongness " had to be specially proved over and
above plain "wrongness". This is why Miss Anscombe bluntly urges
that, in the interests of clarity, the words" morally wrong ", etc. should
be banished provisionally from ethical discussion. "It would be a
great improvement", she says, "if, instead of 'morally wrong' one
always named a genus such as 'untruthful', 'unchaste', 'unjust '. We
should no longer ask whether doing something was 'wrong', passing
directly from some description of an action to this notion; we should
ask whether, e.g., it was unjust; and the answer would sometimes be
clear at once."
This correlates interestingly with Mr. Mayo's plea for the reintroduction into ethical language of" disposition-words" or, simply, the names
of virtues and vices. Because of the exclusion of these, much recent
ethics, he says, has proceeded as though morality was concerned only
with what one does, not with what one is; and as though" people
might well have no moral qualities at all except the possession of
principles and the will (and capacity) to act accordingly". This is an
interesting return to Aristotelian ethical concepts: it is interesting that
Prichard had "an extreme sense of dissatisfaction" with Aristotle's
Mr. Mayo introduces these concepts in the precise context of the
, classic' problem of how 'Reason' can control 'Passion'. (The
inverted commas are by Mayo and are an unmistakable sign that he
has been Ryled.) His treatment has merits, but is marred by the shallow
way in which he dismisses the alleged "obsolete metaphysics" of soul
which has been read into the experience of moral struggle. After Ryle,
he distinguishes two types of metaphysical 'myth': the Parts of the
Soul or 'para-political myth' of Plato; and the' para-mechanical myth'
of the Cartesians. He dismisses them both in favour of 'perfectly
unembarrassed' language, which in effect is a statement of the experience
of moral struggle with a refusal to give any account of the nature of
man who has this experience. Of the whole section, the kindest thing
we can say is that the Ryle treatment has made it virtually impossible
for Ryle's pupils ever to see Plato or Descartes 'straight' again, or to
think responsibly about the problems Plato or Descartes wrestled with.
But let us give Mr. Mayo credit for the sub-heading: "Towards a
New Humanism ", and the chapter-title: "Moral Principles and Moral
Man"; and indeed for the whole approach of his Part III. Mr. Mayo,
the analyst, and Mr. Mure, the idealist, both conclude that what is
lacking in current ethics is a doctrine of practical intell~ct or rational

B. MAYO: Ethics and the Moral Life


will. Mr. Mayo writes: "We must be able to show that (a moral
theory) can answer the double question: How can morality have an
intellectual aspect? and, How can morality have a practical, dynamic
aspect?" A Thomist cannot refrain from pointing out that St. Thomas
has a vital contribution to make here and that Thomism can help
contemporary philosophers to fill this lack.
The rediscovery by Mr. Mayo of traditional themes, spurned since
the damnatio memoriae of the idealists, is quite remarkable. It is an
event in British philosophy when a writer on ethics declares: "Ethical
theories both influence, and are influenced by, other ways of thinking
and, in particular, the way in which philosophers of a particular school
or generation tend to think about human beings-their way of answering
the old-fashioned but perennial question: 'What is the nature of man
and what is man's place in the Universe?' " . . . "Morality is something that satisfies the human predicament. We cannot live except by
principles. "
The last time we heard that in English was from the so-long-laughed-at
Idealists. F. H. Bradley, in Ethical Studies (1876) wrote: "If I am
asked why I am to be moral, I can say no more than this, that what I
can not doubt is my own being now, and that, since in that being is
involved a self, which is to be here and now, and yet in this here and
now is not, I therefore can not doubt that there is an end which I am
to make real; and morality, if not equivalent to, is at all events included
in this making real of myself. If it is absurd to ask for the further
reason of my knowing and willing my own existence, then it is equally
absurd to ask for the further reason of what is involved therein. The
only rational question here is, not Why? but What? What is the self
that I know and will? What is its true nature and what is implied
therein?" As Mr. Mure has shown, this is, in essence, the ethical
doctrine of "incomplete self-transcendence" of Plato and especially
Aristotle. We may compare Miss Anscombe's remark that, between
Plato and Aristotle and to-day, "philosophically there is a huge gap,
at present unfillable as far as we are concerned, which needs to be filled
in by an account of human nature, human action, the type of characteristic a virtue is and above all of human' flourishing '."
One can understand her pessimism. For the gap is " metaphysics"
and metaphysics is now a word for closuring enquiry and discussion.
The way of most analytic philosophers with metaphysical problems is
to look them squarely in the face, call them "metaphysical" in a
reproving tone of voice, and pass on to another subject. Professor
D. J. O'Connor, in his The Philosophy of Education, last year told
"students of education in universities and training colleges who would
otherwise have no formal contact with philosophy" that philosophy
" though it does not give us the answer (to the question of' the meaning
of life' or ' the meaning of existence ') does give us a reason for ceasing
to ask the question." So the Revolution in Philosophy, like so many
revolutions, has turned into a Restoration; in this case the Restoration
of the Pre-Socratics; or is it the Sophists? The unexamined life is
once again the life to live, and teach.
What is the reason for this avoidance of all metaphysical, and there-



fore of all ultimate and deep questions in British philosophy and ethics'~
Surely it would .. argue a certain provinciality of mind" not to see
that this quite insularly British phenomenon is due, above all, to the
decline of religion and theology in modern Britain. Who could be so
naive as to think that one could entirely remove religion, as well as
the whole sphere of personal relations, including sexual behaviour, from
ethics, and leave ethics unchanged? Who could suppose that one could
exclude religious questions from philosophy and leave the philosophy
of human nature unchanged, or have any phiiOsophy of human nature
at all? Man is a religious questioner. Religious statements are answers
to questions that arise from "the human predicament", to questions
that define human nature. To cease to ask these questions is to cease
to understand man.
Sartre is profounder than the positivists when he defines man as the
passion for God; more logical than the logical analysts when he says
that if (or "since") God does not exist, man is absurd. The anti
religious scurrilities of Sartre are not, to the present reviewer, more
nauseating than such debonair disinvolvement as that of G. J. Warnock:
" Finally, there are, no doubt, in our 'climate of thought' many factors
of a more general kind that are in some way unfriendly to the metaphysical temperament. One might perhaps hazard the idea that metaphysical speculation has often arisen from, and often too been a substitute for, religious or theological doctrine. If so, it could be expected
to show some decline in a period when very many people neither have,
nor appear to be much oppressed by the want of, any serious religious
convictions. It is not obvious that, if this were so, it ought to be
deplored. It is, on the other hand, quite dear how undesirable it would
be for philosophers to pretend to suffer from cosmic anxieties by which
they were in fact not seriously troubled at all" (English Philosophy
since 7900).
Mr. Mure sees no hope of a revival of philosophy-" a new and
genuinely positive development of speculative thinking "-except in "a
new and genuine advance of the human spirit, which will not in its first
shape be philosophical." This will not be seen in Britain until the
religious question is again at least understood and taken seriously by
The Queen's University, Belfast

C. B.


10. The Computer and the Brain. JOHN VON NEUMANN. London: Oxford University Press. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958.
Pp. 82. Price $3.
The recent death of Hungarian-born John von Neumann deprived
America of its leading expert on computer-design. This small book is
a posthumous editing of notes he had made for the 1956 Silliman
Lectures at Yale. In it he compares the components and mode of
activity of recent electronic computers with the known physiological
and anatomical details of the human brain. It is a fascinating topic,
but let it be said right away that for the reader who is not already