Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Critical and reflective thinking (3) - Dewey on these terms

H. Reed Geertsen attributes to John Dewey an interesting distinction between 'reflective' and 'critical' thinking. According to Geertsen, Dewey 'distinguished between searching and judging and called them reflective and critical thought'. (H. Reed Geertsen, 'Rethinking Thinking about Higher-Level Thinking'  Teaching Sociology, 31 [2003]: 1-19, at 2) On the one hand, says Geertsen, Dewey took reflective thought to be a 'mental process that originated with a state of doubt and then expanded into a search for ways to ease that doubt'. (Ibid.) On the other hand, Dewey is said to have 'described as critical thinking the judgments that an individual made while solving some problem'. (Ibid.) In support of his attribution, Geertsen cites Dewey's How We Think, but he supplies no page or chapter number. The book was first published in 1910, but Geertsen cites the revised, 1933 edition. (Dewey, How we think : a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process [Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1933]; hereafter cited as '1933')

I cannot locate this distinction in either edition of How We Think. To be sure, Dewey's analysis of reflective thinking does distinguish a process of searching ('hunting', p. 112 [1910]) that culminates in a judgment. However, I cannot find a passage in which Dewey reserves the term 'critical' for the culminating act of judgment. In fact, the 1933 version of How We Think has fewer uses of 'critical' than the 1910 edition. The word 'critical' appears in the index to the earlier edition (under 'inference') but not in the later version's index.

In fact, in some places Dewey uses 'critical' and 'reflective' interchangeably. For instance, in a 1922 reply to Laurence Buermeyer, Dewey says that Buermeyer uses the word 'reasoning' 'to express what I call critical or reflective thinking -- thinking in its eulogistic sense'. (Dewey, 'An Analysis of Reflective Thought' The Journal of Philosophy 19 (1922): 29-38, at 31, n. 2, emphasis added)

Perhaps Dewey made the distinction in question in one of his other works (which are many).

The distinction is in accordance with the etymology of 'critic' and its cognates. The English word has its source in the ancient Greek verb krino, which implies sifting or selecting, or forming a discriminating judgment. (Dewey uses 'sifting' on p. 101 and p. 102. [1910]) The related Greek phrase kritikós indicates an ability to discern and decide. So, there is the notion of weighing or assessing something (e.g., evidence) in view of some at least tacit standards; there is also the implication of acting, or making a decision. The act is typically one of judgment. Roughly, then, one who has good judgment, or a keen critical sense, is able to decide how to judge based on some discerning insight. (Note that in German, 'beurteilen' is used to clarify kritikós.)

It is safe to say that Dewey was familiar with this etymology. According to Jay Martin's biography, Dewey studied ancient Greek in high school for three years. Moreover, the process that Dewey outlines conforms to standard interpretations of kritikós; for Dewey repeatedly emphasizes that reflective (or critical) thinking involves a searching and sifting (or 'hunting') stage, which is followed by a decision to issue a judgment. For example, in the first chapter of How We Think, Dewey writes, 'Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry; and suspense is likely to be somewhat painful.' (1910, p. 13) Later, he says, 'The essence of critical thinking is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution'. (1910, p. 74) Both versions of How We Think contain this sentence: 'The judgment when formed is a decision; it closes, or concludes, the question at issue.' (1910, p. 107; 1933, p. 126)

Here, the decision that terminates the search process is usually a choice, or a free action; for it is often within our power (says Dewey) to suspend or postpone it. In addition, Dewey takes the overall process of reflective (or critical) thinking to be essential to our autonomy. In both versions of How We Think, Dewey writes:
Genuine freedom, in short, is intellectual; it rests in the trained power of thought, in ability to 'turn things over,' to look at matters deliberately, to judge whether the amount and kind of evidence requisite for decision is at hand, and if not, to tell where and how to seek such evidence. (1910, pp. 66-7; 1933, p. 90)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Critical and reflective thinking (2)

In my previous post, I noted that the phrases 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking' are often used interchangeably and that both terms have Kantian connotations that suggest a focus on thinking about one's thoughts.

In his 1910 book, How We Think, John Dewey's terminological preference was for 'reflective thought' rather than 'critical thought'. However, as is evident from the quotations in an earlier post, many of those whom Dewey influenced soon adopted 'critical thinking' as the moniker for their topic. In places, Dewey, himself, seems to use the phrases as being roughly equivalent. For instance, in one book, he writes of a pre-scientific stage, in which 'no reflective or critical thinking' is present. (Essays in Experimental Logic [The University of Chicago Press, 1916], p. 89) (In an interesting paper, H. Reed Geertsen says that Dewey did assign distinct meanings to 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking'. The meanings are closely interrelated. I'll look at them in a later post.)

In the previous post, I noted that in addition to Dewey, another anglophone philosopher in the early 20th Century, George Ladd, used 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking' as meaning largely the same thing. A third philosopher to exhibit this pattern is Rupert Clendon Lodge. (Marshall McLuhan was one of Lodge's students at the University of Manitoba.)

In a 1920 paper, Lodge clarifies what he means by 'critical' and 'reflective'. First, says Lodge, we must recognize that judgment is produced by
... reflection upon sensory experience. The primitive sensuous consciousness is split up, certain elements are cut off and fixed by the mind, and by the application of such intellectual standards as identity, difference, and organization, select elements from the original material are so worked over and reconstructed that they can be taken up into the intellectual self-consciousness in the form of concepts or mental counters which can be referred to, or judged of. ('The Logical Status of Elementary and Reflective Judgements'  The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 17 [1920]: 215)
So, a first level of judgment, or cognition, arises from mental operations upon sensory material. So far, so Kantian (broadly). Lodge then adds a second level of judgment:
There is a further level of "reflection", at which we consider, not the data of sensory experience, but our own judgment about these data, and reflect upon the method of this judgment, its validity or invalidity, its success or its failure to bring us in touch with reality. These two levels of reflection are distinguished as the Urteil or elementary judgment, and the Beurteilung or critical, reflective judgment, respectively. (Ibid.; last emphasis added)
As interpreted by Lodge, the elementary kind of judgment (Urteil) seems to be more spontaneous and, given its connection to sensation, is likely to feel automatic (in the sense of not requiring much conscious thought or deliberation). The second type of judgment (Beurteilung) has an inner focus and involves assessing or evaluating other judgments. By way of summarizing his distinction, Lodge has this to say:
In judging, we synthesize ideas in such a way as to produce in the mind a relational structure which corresponds to some relational structure in the objective world. ... For traditional logic, all thought is of this general kind. For modern logic, only a small part of our thinking falls within this field, which is treated as the field of "elementary" judgment. The modern viewpoint in logic, as in other sciences, is fundamentally skeptical, critical, and reflective; and for the modern logician, the vast majority of our judgments belong to the field of thought about thought, reflection upon method, critical or reflective judgment, which only mediately, if at all, is concerned with a reality beyond that of the mind itself. Expressed technically, traditional logic recognizes only the Urteil, while modern logic recognizes the Beurteilung as well as the Urteil. (Ibid., 214; first and second emphases added)
Here, Lodge isn't concerned to follow Kant. Instead, he indicates (in a footnote) that he is following F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, Wilhelm Wundt, Benno Erdmann, and Christoph Sigwart. (Ibid., n. 2)

Beurteilung is a philosophically intriguing German word. Lodge treats it as implying (in some contexts) critical and reflective judgment about thought and method. In a subsequent post, I'll give reasons for thinking that the use of this German term by late 19th-Century German psychologists (such as Wundt, Erdmann, and Sigwart) influenced Dewey.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Critical and reflective thinking (1)

I've looked into the history of the phrase 'critical thinking'. Given the phrase's Kantian connotations, it's no surprise that several early uses of 'critical thinking' occurred in papers about Kant. For example, there are a couple of uses in an 1883 issue of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, which was prepared (a couple of years earlier?) to mark the 100th anniversary of the Critique of Pure Reason. (One use is on p. 232 of an English translation of a paper by Kuno Fischer.)

There are even earlier uses in some American, Protestant religious publications, which are also likely to have a Kantian source.

As the Google Ngram at the end of this post indicates, use of the phrase took off in the 1890s. What sparked its surge? It might be the use of 'critical thinking' in the 'Art of Thinking' (c. 1892) by Henry Makepeace Thayer. That piece found its way into a school textbook (Ethics of Success: a Reader for the Higher Grades of Schools, 1894).

Some authors show a tendency to use interchangeably the phrases 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking'. Both phrases have a Kantian ring. The Kantian aura is clear in George Trumbull Ladd's 1904 Presidential Address at a meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Ladd spoke of philosophers as 'reflective and critical thinkers' ('The Mission of Philosophy', The Philosophical Review 14 [1905]: 119) and of philosophy as resting on 'critical and reflective thinking'. (Ibid., 120, 126, 135) A big part of Ladd's paper focused on Kant. Accordingly, Ladd gave a Kantian characterization of philosophy as being addressed not directly at external reality but, instead, at our cognitions or representations of that reality. Ladd, himself, was much influenced by Rudolf Hermann Lotze and was familiar with the works of German philosophers and psychologists who followed in Lotze's wake (e.g., Wilhelm Wundt, Benno Erdmann, and Christoph Sigwart).



Thursday, September 1, 2016

The NEA's de-emphasis of propaganda in its promotion of critical thinking

The National Education Association's early efforts to promote critical thinking were concentrated on helping secondary students to resist propaganda. This endeavor culminated in a 1937 collection of papers: Education Against Propaganda, Seventh Yearbook of the National Council for the Social Studies, ed. Elmer Ellis. [Cambridge, MA: The National Council for the Social Studies, a Department of the National Education Association, 1937] The focus was on teaching students about the techniques that propagandists used.

By 1942, when the NEA's National Council for the Social Studies published its Thirteenth Yearbook, [Washington, DC: The National Council for the Social Studies, a Department of the National Education Association, 1942] this method was deemed to be too narrow, since it did not make students any less susceptible to propaganda. (Howard R. Anderson, 'Introduction' in Ibid., p. vi; Hilda Taba, 'The Evaluation of Critical Thinking', in Ibid., pp. 161-2) Also, according to Hilda Taba, (Ibid., p. 162) the focus on resistance to propaganda was merely negative, since it aimed only to help students to diminish the influence of harmful, external content, and did little to promote a wider use of critical thinking in guiding one's own, constructive reasoning.

Anderson and Taba both cite a study by Wayland Osborn, who concluded that:
While the possession of knowledge and intelligence is no doubt necessary in order to do critical thinking, the results of this experiment strongly suggest that an individual may, according to commonly obtained measures, possess both these traits to a high degree and yet be highly susceptible to propaganda influences. ('An Experiment in Teaching Resistance to Propaganda' The Journal of Experimental Education 8 [1939]: 16)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

America's Critical-Thinking Movement in the 1930s & '40s

In the 1930s and '40s there was a big push for teaching critical thinking in secondary schools. It was chiefly inspired by John Dewey's work (esp. his book How We Think). A major impetus for the movement was provided by progressivists in the National Education Association. For them, critical thinking was essential to democracy. Good citizens must be able to resist propaganda and overcome prejudices, and critical thinking was to be the primary tool for forming such citizens. Many of these authors emphasized the importance of logic, or what today is called informal logic, but they saw it as just one part of a wider program of curriculum reform.

Most of the following excerpts give a sense of the critical-thinking movement that came to prominence in the 1930s. The first and second quotations are included to illustrate that the phrase 'critical thinking' was already in use in education studies by the 1930s. The final quotation is provided to show that the vagueness of the phrase was bothering academics in the 1960s.

N. S. Maddox (1922): 'Educators have long been accustomed to hear that our schools do not teach real thinking.' ('Review of Teaching to Think' The Journal of Educational Research 6 [1922]: 265)

A. S. Barr (1931): 'There are probably many classifications in the literature of education, that are more or less indefensible. One learns, for example, that there are four ways (more or less) of getting experience: (1) by participation (or doing); (2) by observation; (3) by reading and conversing with others (the verbal mode); and (4) by reflective thinking. One naturally wonders whether there really are four modes of acquiring experience or whether there are just three modes (that is, from this point of view), and whether the fourth (critical thinking) is not merely a condition necessary for effective operation.' ('Educational Terminology' The Journal of Educational Research 23 [1931]: 417)

William W. Biddle (1932): 'Wherein has education failed to produce critical thinking? Education has often been the handmaiden of propaganda. Religious groups, communists, or believers in one-hundred-per-cent Americanism have seen in education an opportunity to indoctrinate students with their particular ideas. ...We must examine the process whereby critical thinking is achieved.' (Propaganda and Education [New York: Bureau of Publications, Teacher's College, Columbia University, 1932], p. 10)

Edward Maynard Glaser (1941): 'The development of critical thinking is a desirable outcome of education not only because it contributes to the intellectual and social competence of the individual ..., but also because it helps him to cooperate better with his fellow men. It helps him to form intelligent judgments on public issues and to contribute democratically to the solution of social problems. ... At no time in our history has wider realization of this educational objective been more urgently needed.' (An experiment in the development of critical thinking [New York, Teacher's College, Columbia University, 1941], pp. 9-10)

Deobold van Dalen (1941): 'A democratic conception of education would require the young to learn progressively, under decreasingly directive guidance, how to think critically, how to judge objectively, and how to act responsibly.... Democracy's ultimate safeguard is the enlightened conscience of the citizen.' ('Civic Competence: Classical or Controversial?' The Social Studies 32 [1941]: 246-247)

Frederick George Marcham (1942): 'The whole concept of a democratic society, as it exists and is developing in the United States, rests upon the cooperation of socially alert and active citizens. To bring home to each individual the importance of critical thinking as a prelude to social action is to help to preserve and enlarge the democratic way of life in the United States.' ('The Nature and Purpose of Critical Thinking in the Social Studies', in Teaching Critical Thinking in the Social Studies, ed. Howard R. Anderson, Thirteenth Yearbook of the National Council for the Social Studies [Washington, DC: The National Council for the Social Studies, a Department of the National Education Association, 1942], p. 47)

H. H. Giles and William van Til (1946): 'A third hypothesis is that if community organizations and schools emphasize the need for critical thinking and proof, there can be developed an increased understanding of scapegoating and the use of stereotypes which helps to break down libelous labeling.' ('School and Community Projects' The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 244 [1946]: 40-41)

John Ward Studebaker (1947): 'Critical thinking is our only democratic safeguard against the domination of our thinking and feeling by various organs of mass communication.' ('Social Implications of Modern Science' The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 249 (1947): 138)

B. O. Smith (1965): 'Under close examination, it became clear to us that it is a vague and ambiguous notion. We found, for example, that many people tend to identify critical thinking with so-called propaganda analysis, or to associate it with wholesale skepticism or even with juvenile negativism of the rebellious adolescent.' -reporting on the Illinois Project on Critical Thinking (quoted from Allen, R. R. and Rott, Robert K., 'The Nature of Critical Thinking. Report from the Concepts in Verbal Argument Project'. Theoretical Paper No. 20.Wisconsin Univ., Madison. Research and Development, Center for Cognitive Learning)

Update (in response to a Facebook comment by Jay Gupta): It's interesting that Smith in 1965 notes a tendency to equate critical thinking with 'propaganda analysis' (or what we might now call 'media literacy'), since that was a focus of critical thinking in the early 1930s (e.g., W. Biddle's 1932 study). It was in reaction to that tendency that some progressivists widened the scope of critical thinking.

Monday, August 29, 2016

John Albert Chadwick, WWI vet who left Cambridge logic for an Ashram

My list of UK philosophers who served in WWI must be expanded to include John Albert Chadwick. I learned of this philosopher from C. D. Broad's obituary for him in Mind. (vol. 49 [1940]: 129-131)

Chadwick's main contribution to analytic philosophy is his paper in Mind called 'Logical Constants'(vol. 36 [1927]: 1-11) His other publications included articles, reviews, and discussion notes in Mind. They are chiefly devoted to philosophical logic.

Chadwick was born in Lewes, England, to the Rev. Albert Chadwick and Madeleine Ann Chadwick (née Comper). She was born in 1866 in Aberdeen; the father was born in 1863 in Yorkshire.

Broad reports that John Chadwick entered the Special Brigade of the Royal Engineers 'towards the end' of WWI. (Broad, 'John Albert Chadwick: 1899-1939', Mind 49: 129) According to a 'Supplement' to the London Gazette, (June 21, 1918, p. 7291) Chadwick was made (temporarily) a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on May 29, 1918. He seems to have finished the War with that rank. The Special Brigade of the Royal Engineers was formed to handle and release chemical weapons.

After the War, Chadwick began his studies at Cambridge University in 1920. In 1925, he won a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Broad writes that the War left 'scars on [Chadwick's] spirit'. (Broad, 129) He adds that Chadwick's early promise in philosophical logic was compromised by a physical illness, the loss of a close friend, and 'another emotional upset' (not further specified). (Broad, 130) According to Broad, the psychological toll exacted by these experiences led Chadwick to become 'aloof from and unreasonably suspicious of many of his colleagues'. (Broad, 130)

Broad reports that Chadwick befriended an older couple in Cambridge, John Stuart Mackenzie and Millicent Mackenzie. They were retired academics who devoted much of their time to traveling. J. S. Mackenzie was a respected Hegelian; Millicent Mackenzie, too, was interested in Hegel and had published a book on his philosophy of education. In their retirement, the Mackenzies cultivated an interest in theosophy (which took an interesting form in England) and, in particular, the writings of Rudolf Steiner. They shared with Chadwick an interest in Indian spiritual philosophy.

Via Ancestry.com, I learned that the Mackenzies brought Chadwick along on at least one of their trips. According to the UK Outward Passenger Lists (1890-1960), the three of them departed from Liverpool on July 29, 1926 and traveled 1st-class to Marseilles aboard the Leicestershire. The UK Incoming Passenger Lists (1878-1960) indicate that they returned to England (London) on the Lancashire on Aug. 30, 1926. These two ships originated or terminated their voyages in Rangoon (with stops in Colombo), but the records show that Chadwick and the Mackenzies traveled only as far as Marseilles. All three of the travelers gave their address as being at 2 Hertford St., Cambridge, so Chadwick might have been renting a room in the Mackenzies' house. Strangely, he's identified in the records for the outgoing leg of the trip as a 26-year-old professor but in the records for the return trip (in August) he is a 27-year-old student. (Perhaps he unlearned something in Marseilles.)

In 1927, the Mackenzies helped to secure a teaching position for Chadwick at Lucknow University. (Broad, 130) In 1930, Chadwick resigned his position there and entered the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India. He there took the name Arjava and wrote much poetry.

Chadwick's decision to leave the university might have been influenced by a similar choice that had been made by an English professor at Lucknow, Ronald Nixon. Nixon, too, was a WWI vet who studied at Cambridge after the War. He resigned from Lucknow in 1928 and took the name Krishna Prem. (Nixon is among those who is thought to have influenced Somerset Maugham's writing of The Razor's Edge, although the novel's main character might also have been inspired by Major Alan W. Chadwick, yet another English WWI vet seeking enlightenment in India.)

John Albert Chadwick died on May 5, 1939 near Bangalore. He left his money (a little more than £939) to his mother. (England & Wales, National Probate Calendar [Index of Wills and Administrations] 1858-1966)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Wittgenstein and WWI authors

In his analysis of writings by WWI veterans, Samuel Hynes writes that:
Writing like this, seeing like this, implies a fundamental separation in the perceiver: it asserts that there is a reality in war that the customary ways of seeing and saying cannot render, and consequently it divides the soldier from the civilian, Front from Home, Us from You, Us as We Are from Us as We Were.... The whole of the war experience was unique and beyond the comprehension of those who had not fought. (Hynes, A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture [London: Bodley Head, 1990], p. 116)
Based on this next bit by J. M. Winter, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan seems to have exemplified this separation:
Harold Macmillan was one of the many who believed fervently that the men who went to war had been initiated into mysteries that they and only they could really understand. (Winter, 'Oxford and the First World War' in The History of the University of OxfordVolume VIII: The Twentieth Century, ed. Brian Harrison [Oxford University Press, 1994], pp. 3-25, at p. 24)
Here we have a group of individuals who have been marked and set apart from the majority by their experiential grasp of some profound and otherwise incommunicable truth.

Authors in this group try to gesture, at least, towards this ineffable truth but despair of capturing it in words. But who is their audience? After all, other veterans of the front already know the 'mysteries' at which the author gestures, while those individuals who have no battle-front experience are (by hypothesis) in no position to understand such matters.

Edmund Blunden points to this predicament in his 'Preliminary' to Undertones of War (his WWI memoir):
I know that the experience to be sketched in it is very local, limited, incoherent; that it is almost useless, in the sense that no one will read it who is not already aware of all the intimations and discoveries in it, and many more, by reason of having gone the same journey. No one? Some, I am sure; but not many. Neither will they understand – that will not be all my fault.' (Blunden, Undertones of War [London: R. Cobden-Sanderson, 1928], p. vii)
This despair of being understood by the uninitiated echoes Wittgenstein's remark in the 'Preface' to the Tractatus: 'Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it -- or at least similar thoughts'. (Wittgenstein, Tractatus, trans. Pears & McGuinness) (The 'Preface' to the Philosophical Investigations includes this plaintive sentence: 'It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another -- but, of course, it is not likely'. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. Anscombe))

Like other WWI writers (and like many writers who have experienced trauma), Wittgenstein was in the odd predicament of writing about the incommunicable. Of course, for many of these writers (e.g., Blunden), the incommunicable truth resided in their battle-front experience while, for Wittgenstein, it dwelt in 'the mystical'. While Blunden and others aspired to give some sense of their ineffable insight, they could not hope to induce the relevant experience via their writing, for the experience in question required being plunked in the middle of horrendous violence. By contrast, those who aim at some truth about the mystical can, perhaps, through their writing foster or provoke an experiential insight into their target. (Think of romantic poets trying to kindle a sense for the sublime.) Perhaps Wittgenstein tailored his cryptic style towards such ends.

Regardless, it's likely that any hermetic tendency in the young Wittgenstein was strengthened by his WWI experience. After such knowledge, how could one hope to capture in words the profoundest truths, insights gleaned from raw and rare experience? I think, here, of Wittgenstein turning his back on the Vienna Circle members and reading to them Tagore's poems.

Friday, July 1, 2016

British poets, composers & politicians in the Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme began one hundred years ago (July 1, 1916) and ended about four-and-a-half months later (Nov. 18) with approximately 1.3 million German, French, and British-Empire casualties. The British forces suffered 419 654 casualties at the Somme, approximately 133 000 of whom were killed. The British ranks at the Somme included both the author and illustrator of Winnie the Pooh, the author of Lord of the Rings, a future Prime Minister and several sitting or former Members of Parliament, as well as many poets, novelists, and composers.

On just the first day of the battle, 18 783 British-Empire troops were killed. The dead included the composers William B. Manson and George Jerrard Wilkinson together with the poets John William Streets, Gilbert Waterhouse, W. N. Hodgson, and Alexander Robertson (who was a Lecturer in History at Sheffield University).

One of J. R. R. Tolkien's closest friends, Robert Quilter Gilson, was also killed in action on July 1, 1916.

(In what follows, a '+' indicates that the individual was killed during the Somme battle.)

Among the British novelists and poets at the battle were Edmund Blunden, Leslie Coulson+, A. A. Milne, H. H. Munro (Saki)+, J. B. Priestley, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Tennant+,and  J. R. R. Tolkien.

Ford Madox Ford (aka Ford Madox Hueffer) was at the Somme. Of Ford, H. G. Wells wrote:
In the 1914-18 war he was a bad case of shell-shock from which he never recovered. The pre-war F.M.H. was torturous but understandable. The post-war F.M.H. was incurably crazy.
On July 20, 1916, Robert Graves was injured by shrapnel at the Somme. He was reported dead but was hospitalized the next day. He later suffered from shell shock.

Painter and poet David Jones was injured at the Somme (at some time in July).

Along with Milne, Winnie the Pooh's illustrator, E. H. Shepard, was there.

The American poet Alan Seeger+, Pete Seeger's uncle and the author of one of JFK's favourite poems, was there as a member of the French Foreign Legion.

Supermac, aka Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, was injured at the Somme. He self-administered morphine and read Aeschylus while lying injured in a shell hole.

Member of Parliament, Charles Duncombe+, was killed at the Somme. So was MP Gerald Arbuthnot+. So was MP (and member of the family behind Barings Bank) Guy Baring+. Several MPs from British-Empire nations were killed in WWI. How many active politicians are nowadays sent to the front lines?

Prime Minister Asquith's eldest son, Raymond Asquith+, was killed at the Somme.

Irish poet, economist, and MP Thomas Michael Kettle+ fought at the Somme, as did B. H. Liddell-Hart.

Here are some British musicians who served at the Somme: Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth+ (shot in the head by a sniper on Aug. 5, 1916), Francis Purcell Warren+ (reported missing on July 3, 1916), Arthur Bliss, and Ivor Gurney. Gurney was also a poet; he was shot and gassed in later battles. Gurney suffered a nervous breakdown and died in 1937 in a London mental hospital.

Australian composer Frederick Septimus Kelly+ was shot in the head on Nov. 13, 1916.

Here is more information about the many composers who served at the Somme.

Historian R. H. Tawney was at the Somme and later wrote about it. Here are some other writings about the battle.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Battlefront trauma and ethical language in early Wittgenstein & Ford Madox Ford

Let's begin with Ford Madox Ford (aka Ford Madox Hueffer until 1919). He suffered the trauma inflicted by a WWI battlefront bombardment at the Somme and in the Ypres Salient. During the War, he tried to write about the experience but found it difficult to do so (though he later wrote novels based on his experience). The resulting document is 'A Day of Battle, Written in the Ypres Salient: 15th Sep. 1916'. It wasn't published until 1980 in Esquire under the title 'Arms and the Mind'. (v. 94 [December, 1980]: pp. 78-80) The document re-appeared in Ford Madox Ford: War Prose, (ed. Max Saunders [New York University Press, 2004], pp. 36-42; 1st published in the UK in 1999 by Carcanet Press, Ltd.]) from which the following quotations are drawn.

In the document, Ford describes his difficulty in writing, or even thinking, about his experience. He says,
I have asked myself continuously why I can write nothing — why I cannot even think anything that to myself seems worth thinking! — about the psychology of that Active Service of which I have seen my share. ... — But, as for putting them — into words! No: the mind stops dead, and something in the brain stops and shuts down. (Saunders, pp. 36-37)
But he perseveres, and the results are interesting. Among his observations is the following:
In battle -- and in the battle zone -- the whole world, humanity included, seems to assume the aspect of matter dominated eventually by gravity. Large bits of pot fly about, smash large pieces of flesh: then one and the other fall, to lie in the dust among the immense thistles. That seems to be absolutely all. Hopes, passions, fears do not seem much to exist outside oneself -- and only in varying degrees within oneself. (Ibid., p. 39)
So soon after the experience, his efforts at recollection leave him stunned and hunkering amid modest observation statements. Even language about mind ('hopes, passions...') is too much. Observed stuff in motion -- that's all his writing can manage at this point. Any attempt to interpret events or discern some meaning behind the history is futile. 'It all seemed to signify nothing.' (Ibid., p. 40) Ford here confines himself to statements of observed fact, eschewing any pronouncements about the sum thereof or about their deeper meaning or value. Even his attempt at explaining his presence in the conflagration strays little from the language of observed matters of fact (here emphasizing colours):
I myself seemed to have drifted there at the bidding of indifferently written characters on small scraps of paper: WO telegram A/R 2572/26; a yellow railway warrant; a white embarkation order; a pink movement order; a check like a cloakroom ticket ordering the CO of one's Battalion to receive one. (Ibid., p. 38)
This passage calls to mind the following bit form Ernest Hemingway's WWI novel, A Farewell to Arms:
There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates. (Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, p. 196)
Hemingway, too, experienced the intensity of a WWI battlefront. He volunteered for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and was wounded on the Italian-Austrian front.

In the above excerpts, Hemingway and Ford put much (if not all) ethical discourse outside the limits of worthwhile language. They favour silence on such larger matters. Wittgenstein did something similar in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.' And what one must be silent about is 'the mystical' (i.e., ethics and metaphysics).

If we agree with Ray Monk's assessment, the Tractatus's topics didn't include the mystical until after Wittgenstein's first experience of an intense battlefront. According to Monk, 'If Wittgenstein had spent the entire war behind the lines, the Tractatus would have remained what it almost certainly was in its first inception of 1915: a treatise on the nature of logic'.(Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius [London: Jonathan Cape, 1990], p. 137) Monk says that the book's scope expanded in June, 1916 to take in 'the mystical'. In that month, Monk adds, Wittgenstein's unit in the Austrian Eleventh Army took part in heavy fighting against the Russians and suffered 'enormous casualties'.(Ibid., p. 140) 'It was at precisely this time,' says Monk, 'that the nature of Wittgenstein's work changed'.(Ibid.)

Of course, the bulk of Wittgenstein's views developed before the War, and he was well acquainted with various pre-War forms of skepticism about language that had circulated in Austria (esp. in the work of Fritz Mauthner and Hugo von Hofmannsthal). But the Tractarian Wittgenstein didn't embrace the more general linguistic skepticism that one finds in Mauthner. For Wittgenstein, scientific language, especially language about observable matters of fact, was okay. His skepticism was more specifically directed at language about the mystical (inc. the ethical). Perhaps the trauma of his battlefront experience brought this side of his thinking to the fore and led to its inclusion in the Tractatus.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Links to philosophy book reviews

Tim Whitmarsh reviews Rowan Williams' On Augustine and Robin Lane Fox's Augustine: Conversions to Confessions.

Five recent reviews with philosophical content from the Bryn Mawr Classical Review:
Matthew V. Novenson reviews Christine Hayes' What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives (2015).

Gerald A. Press reviews The Platonic Art of Philosophy (ed. Boys-Stones, El Murr & Gill, 2013).

Scott Carson reviews Anna Marmodoro's Aristotle on Perceiving Objects (2014).

Anders Klostergaard Petersen reviews G. E. R. Lloyd's Analogical Investigations. Historical and Cross-cultural Perspectives on Human Reasoning (2015).

From Antonio Donato's review of Philosophy and the Ancient Novel (ed. Pinheiro & Montiglio, 2015):
The papers may be taken to reach the following conclusions: 1. Ancient novels provide convincing ways of exploring the challenge of conducting a philosophical life .... 2. Ancient novels offer necessary (Smith) or effective (Fletcher) ways to identify tensions within philosophical theories that abstract analyses may overlook. 3. Ancient novels show that in the Greco-Roman world assessments of philosophical theories often extended beyond the limited confines of philosophical works .... 4. The literary genre of the ancient novel is an excellent vehicle to convey philosophical ideas in more accessible or entertaining ways ....
Anthony Gottlieb reviews James A. Harris' Hume: An Intellectual Biography.


Northwestern University Press has published Thinking with Tolstoy and Wittgenstein (2015) by Henry Pickford. Here is the Table of Contents.

The April, 2016 issue of Philosophy in Review (some items there are not behind a pay-wall).

Michael Lazarus reviews Mehmet Tabak's Dialectic in Hegel’s History of Philosophy, Vol. 1.

Nicholas Lezard reviews Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café, which is also reviewed by Ron Slate and by John Gray and by Andrew Hussey.

Anthony Kenny on Bryan Magee's Ultimate Questions.

Adam Carter reviews Marcus Morgan's Pragmatic Humanism: On the Nature and Value of Sociological Knowledge (2016).

Two items from Literary Hub:
Ed Simon's 'What Was Shakespeare’s Central Philosophy?'

Steve Toutonghi's 'How Science Fiction Redefines Who We Are, and What We’re Becoming'.