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03 Jul

Saving Science from Pseudo-facts

Every scientific hypothesis is a transitory and to some extent arbitrary affair. It must never be allowed to solidify into a pseudo-fact. But why not? What harm is done? So it is time we got back to Justinian and the question Macaulay puts into his mouth. ‘What profitable truth has philosophy taught us that we should not equally have known without it? What has it taught us to do which we could not have equally done without it?’

I would like to think that Isidore replied in the true spirit of Socrates. Good sir, you mistake our purpose. We add nothing to the sum total of human cleverness and skill. Our function is otherwise. When the Delphic oracle told our father founder that he was the wisest man in Athens, he understood this to mean that he alone knew how little he understood. That still remains our function in society. To insist that people say only just as much as they really know; that when, as happens in every generation, new advances in knowledge are made, they are not taken to be more important than they really are. “

Quoted from The Danger of Words by Maurice O’Connor Drury. In this section, “Hypotheses and Philosophy”, Drury explores what he thinks the function of philosophy is and how it and science are necessary to each other.

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25 Dec

Ritual and Language

Wittgenstein got me to read aloud to him the opening chapters of Frazer’s Golden Bough. Frazer thinks he can make clear the origin of the rites and ceremonies he describes by regarding them as primitive and erroneous scientific beliefs. […] Now Wittgenstein made it clear to me that on the contrary the people who practised these rites already possessed a considerable scientific achievement: agriculture, metal working, building, etc., etc.; and the ceremonies existed alongside these sober techniques. They were not mistaken beliefs that produced the rites but the need to express something; the ceremonies were a form of language, a form of life. Thus today if we are introduced to someone we shake hands; if we enter a church we take off our hats and speak in a low voice; at Christmas perhaps we decorate a tree. These are expressions of friendliness, reverence, and of celebration.”

Maurice O’Connor Drury in the preface of “The Danger of Words”, on ritual and tradition as a form of life and a language.

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21 May

Philosophical Clarity versus Scientific Clarity

An examiner once said to me: ‘Sir Arthur Keith once remarked to me that the reason why the spleen drained into the portal system was of the greatest importance; but he never told me what that importance was, now can you tell me?’ I had to confess that I couldn’t see any anatomical or physiological significance in this fact. The examiner then went on to say: ‘Do you think there must be a significance, an explanation? As I see it there are two sorts of people: one man sees a bird sitting on a telegraph wire and says to himself: “Why is that bird sitting just there?”, the other man replies “Damn it all, the bird has to sit somewhere”

The reason why this story pleased Wittgenstein was that it made clear the distinction between scientific clarity and philosophical clarity.[…] Scientific explanations lead us on indefinitely from one inexplicable to another, so that the building grows and grows and grows, and we never find a real resting place. Philosophical clarity puts a full-stop to our enquiry and restlessness by showing that our quest is in one sense mistaken. “

From Maurice O’Connor Drury’s “The Danger Of Words” (1973).

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03 Jun

Ought Tolstoy Have Been Cured?

There is an amusing but I think significant story which Ernest Jones records about Freud. At the time when the relations between Freud and Jung were almost at breaking point, Jung was still secretary of the psycho-analytical association. He sent Jones an announcement of the next meeting but made an error in the date, so that if Jones had not had other information he would have missed the meeting entirely. Jones knowing Freud’s interest in these slips of the pen and tongue showed the letter to him. But Freud was neither interested nor amused. No gentleman, he said, ought to have an unconscious like that.

Ought? Ought? Ought? What is that ought doing there on the lips of a psycho-analyst? Of course, we like Freud all the better for this human touch. You see, however much we may exclude oughtness from our theories, we cannot get it out of our lives. Ought-ness is as much an original datum of consciousness as the starry vault above. Both should continue to fill us with constant amazement. “

Quote from The Danger of Words, by Maurice O’Connor Drury. In this essay, “Madness and Religion”, Drury reflects on some patients he has treated. In the past some with similar experiences became religious leaders or writers such as Leo Tolstoy. Would it have been right to have cured Leo Tolstoy? Is that a question a psychiatrist should ask?

Drury reflects on this philosophical and ethical dilemma, arguing that defining religion as “racial psychosis” ignores the ethical aspect.

Also note the echo of Kant in the last two lines.

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19 Apr

Wittgenstein’s Pupil

Maurice O’Connor Drury (called ‘Con Drury’ by his friends) was born in Exeter in 1907, of Irish parentage. He attended the Grammar School of that city and then went in 1925 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took the Moral Science Tripos. In 1929, Drury met Ludwig Wittgenstein, a newly appointed lecturer in philosophy at Trinity College. Wittgenstein had taken up a fellowship in that College following strenuous efforts by Frank Ramsey, Bertrand Russell and Maynard Keynes to bring him back to philosophy from self-imposed obscurity as a primary school teacher in remote mountain villages in Lower Austria. Drury and Wittgenstein met at a meeting of the Moral Science Club, in C.D. Broad’s rooms. There began a friendship between student and teacher that was to last through the many vicissitudes of their lives until the philosopher’s death from cancer in 1951 in the home of a medical friend of Drury’s.

Wittgenstein’s ‘Pupil’: The Writings of Maurice O’Connor Drury from UL’s Minerva, an open-source philosophy journal. This essay covers MOC Drury’s writings about Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein’s thought and his own reading of that thought.

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