Archive for July 3rd, 2013

Walking with ghosts in the U.K.

July 3, 2013

Philosophy Walks has taken a small but significant step toward its natural denoument, some actual walks in one of reflective walking’s most hospitable places: the U.K.

I’ve informed my school’s office of Study Abroad of my intent to develop, with a colleague, a peripatetic summer course to be based at Oxford but exported by rail to multiple British venues associated with the English roots of American philosophy. First and foremost among the latter: Darwin’s Down House, in Kent. We’ll tread the Sand Walk where he formulated the best idea anybody ever had, talk about how that idea inspired and informed the ideas of the likes of William James and John Dewey, and then go in search of other walkable sites where American roots lie buried in English soil.

Or Scottish: Hume’s (& Gifford‘s) Edinburgh. Might even hop the channel or at least dream of it, at this early planning stage when practicality and financial constraint are still on the back benches. My colleague reminds me that Hume built the Treatise in Anjou; and Locke did his best work in Holland … very walkable places, I do believe …”

And then, summer after next: The French Roots of American Philosophy. Pascal, Montaigne, Bergson, Proust…

What’s summer for, if not for just this kind of revery?

But it makes all kinds of practical sense, I will propose to my academic committee overlords, to go looking for the ghosts that inspired pragmatism at Oxford. Locke was there, at Christ Church. His lecture‘s still there. If we time it right we’ll see Martha Nussbaum, I think.

F.H. Bradley, one of James’s favorite metaphysical betes-noire, was at University and Merton Colleges.

And another ghost, lesser known, haunts Corpus Christi. F.C.S. Schiller, a neglected Oxonian humanist who, despite his relative youth, had a great impact on William James. In fact, James passed the pragmatic baton to Schiller just weeks before his death. Schiller dropped it, in due course. But James’s near-parting words continue to inspire:

I leave the ‘Cause’ in your hands… Good bye + God bless you! Keep your health, your Splendid health! It’s better than all the ‘truths’ under the firmament.

And that’s the truth I walk for. Works for me.

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