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THIS work is a much revised, and in some parts much expanded, version of the Gifford Lectures which were delivered in the University of St. Andrews during Sessions 1953–54 and 1954–55. Departures from the oral version have been dictated in the main by three considerations:

In the first place, there are manifest limits to the closeness of texture that is reasonable in philosophic argument addressed to a lecture audience, which has to grasp what is being said at once or not at all. A lecturer shows some disrespect for his listeners if his mode of presentation takes no account of this. On the other hand, should he come to revise his lectures for publication, he would show some disrespect for his readers if he did not see fit to tighten his argument in many places well beyond what was appropriate to the spoken word.

In the second place, it has seemed to me not to make good sense that, in its printed form, my twenty lectures should continue each to consist of approximately the number of words that could be conveniently uttered in fifty-five minutes. Philosophical argument does not readily lend itself to such tidy division into uniform blocks. The treatment of the several topics is now, I think, more justly proportioned to their place in the context of the work as a whole.

The lecture on ‘Self-activity’ is in some respects a special case. On this neglected topic I was painfully conscious how much more ought to be said than I could contrive to pack into my scheduled time, if anything approaching justice was to be done to it. Accordingly, when invited to contribute an article to the new (3rd) series of Contemporary British Philosophy, I asked, and obtained, permission to make this consist of a rewritten and greatly enlarged version of the lecture I had prepared for delivery. Lecture VIII in the present volume is substantially the article which appeared in Contemporary British Philosophy, reproduced by kind permission of the Publishers.

In the third place, in a work that is now addressed not only to those for whom Lord Gifford desired that his Foundation should primarily cater, but also to academic philosophers, I have judged it desirable to make a certain number of additions, relating mostly to matters of current, and somewhat technical, philosophic controversy that bear upon the general theme. These additions are not numerous, and the lengthier ones have been relegated to appendices, where they need trouble no one.

So far as the main body of the work is concerned, I have assumed throughout that the clientele whom Lord Gifford had in mind neither needs nor desires philosophy of the ‘processed’ variety; and I have made no attempt to ‘write down.’ Gifford audiences (and Gifford readers), I take it, consist for the most part of reflective members of the educated public who have an especially keen interest in problems concerning the nature and justification of religious belief. The pursuit of this interest has already led them to acquire some familiarity with, and some skill in manipulating, fundamental philosophical ideas. Naturally, their acquaintance with the more specialised problems of philosophy is unlikely to be extensive; but with the broader questions that fall within the field of their choice they are, I believe, well able to cope. I shall not pretend that they will find the going other than tough in some parts of this study—it may be doubted whether philosophy that is ‘popular’ in the sense that it wears its meaning on its face is worth the trouble, slight though it be, either of writing or of reading. But I have done everything in my power to ensure that the reader will not suffer needless provocation from the kind of obscurity that has no better excuse than the author's insufficient care to say what he wants to say in the clearest possible language. I have also taken some pains to make the Analytical Table of Contents detailed enough to serve as a real index to the general argument, and I hope that this will be found helpful by readers (and not too helpful by reviewers!).

I should add that, despite the revisions and additions to which I have alluded, there is in the book no change from the lectures as delivered on any point of substance. On that account, and on account of the book's general provenance, it has seemed to me appropriate that the original lecture format should be retained.

A word ought perhaps to be said here about the relationship to one another of the two Parts into which the book is divided. A Gifford Lecturer normally gives two courses in successive sessions; and he cannot assume that all, or even a majority of, those who attend his second course will have been present at the first. Accordingly, while it is obviously desirable that the two courses together should constitute some kind of a unity, equally obviously it is desirable that the argument of the later course should not lean at all heavily upon that of the earlier. The plan I eventually came to adopt seemed to me to reconcile reasonably well these two legitimate, but slightly conflicting, demands. Nevertheless, the reader whose interest is primarily theological ought perhaps to be warned that for some of the conclusions arrived at in the course on Godhood a fairly important part of the grounds belongs to the course on Selfhood (in particular, to Lectures I, II, IX, and X). It was, in fact, increasingly brought home to me during my preliminary deliberations how impossible it is to discuss the deeper problems of religion with any adequacy save on the basis of a carefully considered theory about the essential nature of the human self.

I might also, at this point, draw the reader's attention to the saving word ‘On’ in the title of the book. I have, indeed, done my best to give constructive answers to what seem to me the most fundamental questions concerning ‘Selfhood’ and ‘Godhood’ respectively; but in both fields there are questions of considerable philosophic interest, though not, I think, of comparable philosophic importance, which I have had to leave more or less untouched. To some of these I hope one day to return.

Readers of this book will not be long in discovering my inability to do obeisance to the twin gods of so much recent British philosophy—empiricism and linguisticism.1 On the other hand, since I have already written perhaps more than enough elsewhere in a polemical vein, I have felt myself at liberty here to concentrate entirely upon my constructive purpose, and not to engage in explicit criticism of modernist doctrines save where these directly impugn fundamental positions which I am concerned to establish. In any event, where the cleavage is as deep as it is between proponents and opponents of the modernist way of philosophising, sporadic skirmishes on the frontiers seem to me somewhat futile. If effective contact between the adversaries is to be achieved at all, it can only be on the basis of a mutual readiness to re-examine first principles. I have therefore been at some pains in the present work to make clear my own first principles, and my reasons for holding them. It is my hope that the modernist will deem them worthy of his critical attention.

The readiness to re-examine first principles, however, presupposes the recognition that one's own first principles may conceivably be mistaken. Such a frame of mind is not common among pioneers of new philosophical movements, nor even among their immediate disciples. Perhaps it ought not to be expected. Perhaps it was a little naïve of the older generation of contemporary British philosophers to be so taken aback by its apparently total absence in logical positivists and later heralds of a new dawn. Perhaps also, however, it was pardonable that philosophers whose reflections upon the premises of latter-day empiricism and/of linguisticism left them profoundly sceptical of their validity should have been disquieted, incensed, or infuriated—according to temperament—by the practice that prevailed in most modernist quarters of automatically dismissing as worthless all writings which did not conform to modernist preconceptions (on the assumption, apparently, that their authors could only be philosophic Rip Van Winkles talking in their sleep).

Be that as it may, I hope I am not over-optimistic in thinking that in the course of the last few years, to the great benefit of philosophy, the modernist movement has entered upon a mellower phase, and is now evincing a far more hospitable temper. It may even be the case, as we have recently been informed by one well qualified to judge of contemporary trends, that ‘it is foreign to the new way of doing philosophy to regard any other way as just a mistake’ (Professor J. O. Urmson in Philosophical Analysis, p. 180). Not, of course, that the twentieth century ‘revolution in philosophy’ has petered out. It manifestly has not. But the past thirty years have seen the abandonment, one by one, of so many of the doctrines that seemed distinctive of it, and were certainly dear to it, that it has become hard to point to anything positive that now binds the revolutionaries together save a common enthusiasm(slightly abated) for linguistic analysis, and a common disposition to be as empirical as one can. Such being the situation, it would be surprising if there were not beginning to be visible today a more tolerant attitude towards the revolution's critics. After all, even a loyal friend of the revolution, once he has himself become persuaded that most of the leading propositions in which the revolution found earlier expression are untenable, can hardly, if he is a reasonable man, continue to take for granted that the chilly reception accorded to these same propositions by ‘traditionalists’ was based on nothing more worthy of respect than the typical reactionary's emotional attachment to the status quo. Without doubt there are still Jacobins of the revolution who are totally unmoved by such considerations, and for whom philosophers in another camp are, almost by definition, beyond the pale. But, by and large, philosophers are reasonable men. There is, I think, a steadily strengthening disposition to concede that there may be more than one profitable approach to philosophy, and to suspect that it may be no bad thing for the health of philosophy in this country if those who represent view-points other than the linguistic are granted a fair hearing.

Of course, inability to accept the claims, even the modified claims, explicitly or implicitly made for the linguistic approach by most British philosophers today, should not be taken to imply a refusal to ascribe any importance to this method of dealing with philosophical problems. That linguistic analysis is often not merely useful to, but indispensable to, effective philosophic enquiry, and that in point of fact it has been practised—though it may well be insufficiently and imperfectly—by almost every great philosopher of past times, is to my mind beyond question. But just how far it is capable of carrying the enquirer towards a solution (or dissolution) of what have commonly been accepted as the major philosophical problems is surely still wide open to debate. The conviction to which I have myself been forced is that seldom if ever can it take us to the heart of the matter, and that the current disposition to rely so largely upon it is proving a serious impediment to philosophical progress. There are good grounds, I think, for holding that in ethical philosophy the method of linguistic analysis has a wider field of profitable application than elsewhere; and it has certainly been exploited with brilliance by some contemporary British and American moralists. Yet even here, I should urge, excessive addiction to the method has led directly to errors of a very fundamental kind. I have argued this in Lecture X (and to some extent in Appendix B). If these arguments are unsound, I should be genuinely grateful to be so instructed.

Perhaps optimism should not go so far, however, as to suggest that the new hospitality extends in any appreciable measure to the practice of metaphysics. This does continue to excite angry passions in a great many philosophic breasts. Nevertheless, the revival of metaphysics in the foreseeable future may not be altogether a traditionalist's pipe-dream. Certainly the tabu upon it is much less strict than it was. Moreover, there must be somesignificance in the sturdy refusal of anti-metaphysicians to disclose just what the logical justification for hostility to metaphysics is supposed now to be (for the old anti-metaphysical props of twenty years ago offer feeble support today). But I have a little to say about this in my opening lecture, and I shall not enlarge upon it here.

Still, it is a great advance that controversy today no longer, save among the incurably doctrinaire, gives the appearance of presenting a clean-cut issue between philosophical salvation and philosophical damnation. In the highly charged atmosphere of the revolution's earlier phases, a great many foolish things were said, of which I do not suggest that either side enjoyed a monopoly. The more tranquil and judicial assessment of gains and losses which is now practicable, and of which there are some instructive examples already in being, must surely be welcomed by all who do not think it priggish to believe that philosophy is neither a word-game, nor a social accomplishment, nor a gladiatorial exhibition, but, quite simply, the rational pursuit of such truth as is attainable by human minds about the general character of the universe in which we find ourselves.

The agreeable duty remains of making acknowledgement of my obligations. My chief debt (a massive one) is to Professor W. G. Maclagan, whose counsel and criticism at every stage of the work's progress have been quite invaluable. I only hope that the heavy inroads he has allowed me to make upon his time have not unduly postponed the better book on these themes which he is so obviously able to write himself. I have also profited much from comments upon particular sections of the work by other friends and colleagues, notably Professor A. L. Macfie, Dr. W. D. Lamont, and Mr. George Brown, all of this University. Nor must I omit to mention a number of helpful suggestions, which I have been glad to put into effect, made to me by the Publishers’ Reader. Professors Maclagan and Macfie have placed me further in their debt by generous assistance with the proof-reading. To all of these gentlemen I render grateful thanks; only adding, lest any reader be tempted to inculpate the innocent in the book's errors—a bêtise for which there are surprisingly many precedents—that sometimes, despite warnings, I have perversely gone on my own wilful way.

It is a pleasure also to express my thanks to Principal Knox and his St. Andrews colleagues for receiving me so hospitably into temporary membership of their community; and in particular to the Convener of the Gifford Lectureship Committee, Professor E. P. Dickie, and to Mrs. Dickie, who looked after their ward with such cheerful assiduity as entirely to conceal from him that, for such busy people, it must at times have been a burdensome assignment.

  • 1. Unsatisfactory as these labels are, at least they are less liable to mislead than ‘analysis,’ which has not yet succeeded in acquiring such definiteness of connotation as would enable one to distinguish by its means any particular philosophy from any other. There never has been a philosopher who did not devote a large part of his energy to ‘analysis’ in some sense of that term.
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