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Philosophy of Schopenhauer, The Great Philosophers, Aspects of. Wagner and Sight Un’seen. Confessions of a Philosopher. BRYAN MAGEE. Buy Confessions of a Philosopher: A Journey Through Western Philosophy New Ed by Bryan Magee (ISBN: ) from Amazon’s Book Store. This book is a stone which is trying to kill two birds that are further apart than Bryan Magee may realise. The first is the author’s intellectual.

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Confessions of a Philosopher

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Confessions can be of two kinds: His convictions make for exhilarating reading; but his failure to find in philosophy a reliable brjan to his deepest concerns casts a shadow over the book, which darkens in the last chapter to a tormented despondency.

His most trenchant attacks are on the Logical Positivists who dominated the Oxford scene at the time when he was an undergraduate there, and for many years afterwards.

They were influenced by the work done on language by Bertrand Russell and the Wittgenstein of the Tractatusbut they ignored or even misinterpreted these two philosophers, who had stated that the rigorous use of language was indeed important and had worked out ways in which to make it so, but at the same time had declared that the philosophical issues which could not be discussed in this way were more important ,agee those which could.

The Linguistic Philosophers, who gradually took over from the Logical Positivists, based themselves on the later Wittgenstein of the Philosophical ;hilosopherand were even less concerned with the truth or verifiability of a proposition. Instead, they thought that the principal task of philosophy was to elucidate the way words were used in practice, by examining, for example, the way in which the same word might mean different things to different people.

They believed that it was not the business of philosophers to go beyond that and to produce any theories: Magee describes these Oxford philosophers as having all the characteristics of a narrow and intolerant sect. Neither Kant nor Schopenhauer were part of the philosophy courses at Oxford, which jumped straight from Hume to Wittgenstein. The Establishment kept Karl Popper, whom Magee considers by far the greatest philosopher of our time, out of a professorship at Oxford and Cambridge.

Popper was, like them, an empiricist; but one who, unlike them, understood the way science really worked and had demonstrated the impossibility of the verification principle. But even Popper leaves Magee ultimately dissatisfied. Magee had the strong conviction that the empirical world cannot be all there is: After Oxford, Magee took a postgraduate course at Yale. He draws a vivid contrast between the cliquish atmosphere confessiosn Oxford philosophers and the broad and generous interest in the whole field of philosophy at Yale.


There Magee discovered Kant, and at last he had found a thinker who spoke to his intuition that there was more to philosophy than the dry, narrow and limited fare that was dished out at Oxford. For it was Kant who explained that there must be a ov the noumenal world beyond the phenomenal world of which we have experience; that the noumenal world is something we cannot ever know because we are forced to perceive the world in terms of the concepts and categories which we have as human beings and which may not correspond at all with what Reality is actually like.

Bertrand Russell in his explanation confeessions Kant famously used the analogy of blue spectacles: The concepts and categories through which we have to experience the world, and which therefore are subjective and not objective, are Time and Space, Cause and Effect, and a number of bfyan such pairs.

Kant went further; he demonstrated in ways which cannot be gone into here but whose conclusion was later, by quite different methods, confirmed by Einstein that Time and Space cannot operate in the noumenal world in the way in which we experience them here.

Bryan Magee – Wikipedia

We experience Time as sequential; in the noumenal world there can be no such thing as Past, Present and Future. So here Magee found ot philosophy that spoke of the existence of a noumenal world, but one which was for ever hidden from us.

In many ways, Schopenhauer says, we see ourselves phenomenally, as material objects mediated by space and time; but as material objects we are unique in knowing ourselves also from the inside. That experience is direct and bryam it is not the result of reasoning or of perceptions mediated by our concepts.

It is not sensory at all and cannot be adequately described in sensory terms. For example, when we hear music or see a work of art, we can give a sensory description in terms of sound or sight signals we receive, but more significant is the nonsensory experience which transports us into a nonsensory realm, gives us a feeling of at-One-ness with something beyond ourselves, i. Ocnfessions discovery was for Magee an enormous enrichment of the way he understood himself and could establish in some way a connection between himself and the noumenon.

Almost throughout his life Magee has been haunted by philoskpher existentialist Angstand he mwgee times when this has plunged him into real terror.

He is not religious; he thinks that religious beliefs in any kind of immortality are based on wishful thinking; but he hopes desperately that there might be philosophical grounds for believing in some kind of the survival of the Self.


If there is no kind of immortality at all, then life is absurd in the sense in which some of the continental Existentialists used that word. I find that dismissal somewhat cavalier, and indeed at odds with the respect he pays elsewhere to Nietzsche and Heidegger; and I venture to speculate that there is a deeper reason for it.

Magee must find in those humanist existentialists descriptions of the human condition which he would have to share if indeed there were no such thing as immortality; but, although he tells us that of course a philosopher must not engage in wishful thinking, he is yet not prepared to conclude that life is absurd; he is still hoping that philosophy may break through to produce a convincing argument for some kind of immortality.

Magee says he cannot understand how so many philosophers are content to leave what he himself considers such crucial questions to one side — either because they are not greatly troubled by them or because, even if they were perturbed by them, they consider them unanswerable. Confesxions confesses that his own temperament does not allow him to leave these questions alone for either of these reasons.

His is not a Stoic personality. This review has dealt with the main thread that runs through the book; perforce it has had to leave confwssions fascinating aspects undiscussed. There are stimulating thoughts on almost every page. There are valuable reflections on History. He has interesting things to say about how he constructed the philosophical novel he has written and about the art of producing radio and television programmes on philosophy.

He gives us striking pen-portraits of Russell and of Popper, with both of whom Magee had many discussions. There are fine pages on Wagner as one would expect from the author of a famous little book on the composer and on Mahler. Most of the book can be understood and enjoyed by readers who come to it with no previous knowledge of philosophy; the style is crystal clear, expansive and vigorous, except perhaps in the last chapter whose content is also rather harder going.

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