P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 166
17th October 2011
I. 'Pathways Students on Death Row' by Geoffrey Klempner
II. 'Perspectivism, Form and Objective Reality in Mies van der Rohe's
Architecture and Ortega y Gasset's Thought' by Pedro Blas Gonzalez
III. 'Cyril Joad (1892-1953) -- Moral Philosopher -- So What?' by
Richard W. Symonds
My plans for this issue were changed at the last minute by an email
which I received yesterday, regarding one of my former students,
Anthony Ross, who is now well into his third decade as an inmate on
death row, San Quentin Prison, California. I have also taken the
opportunity to also write about another Pathways student, Thomas
Whitaker, held at the Polunsky Unit, Livingston Texas.
For the sake of humanity and common decency, I request that the
prison authorities take necessary steps to ensure that lines of
communication are kept open with the outside world, in accordance
with the law and prison regulations.
Professor Pedro Blas Gonzalez, of Barry University, Miami Shores,
Florida is the latest philosopher to join the Board of the
International Society for Philosophers. In his membership statement,
he writes, 'I have encountered many disappointments and much
disenchantment with the way that academic (professional) philosophers
have muddled up the life of thought and reflection. Regrettably, these
people have actually made thought irrelevant to living.'
For this issue, Prof. Gonzalez has contributed an article comparing
the architect Mies van der Rohe with the philosopher Ortega y Gasset,
for whom I have long held admiration. Ortega's famous dictum, 'I am
myself and my circumstances' involves the refusal to view man from
the point of view of disinterested 'reason'. His insistence on the
authencity of the individual's 'vital life' finds a counterpoint in
van der Rohe's defence of modernism against the easy-going relativism
of post-modernist thought and practice.
Richard Symonds is not an academic, but he has dedicated much of his
time to the study of the long-neglected British philosopher C.E.M.
Joad, once famous as a member of the BBC 'Brains Trust'. Building on
his article for Issue 47 of Philosophy Pathways, Symonds argues that
Joad's greatest contribution was his resolute opposition to moral
relativism, one of the legacies of the Vienna School -- according to
which only empirically verifiable propositions have 'meaning' -- a
campaign which was sadly cut short by his untimely death.
I. 'PATHWAYS STUDENTS ON DEATH ROW' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
Over the weekend, I received an email out of the blue about one of my
Pathways students held on death row at San Quentin Prison, Anthony
Good afternoon Mr. Klempner,
My name is Amber Mobley and I've become a close friend of
Anthony Ross (a.k.a. Craig Anthony Ross; a.k.a. Ajani Addae
Kamara), a condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison.
This may be a far stretch, but I am reaching out to you.
I saw an old posting online that noted that you two were in
contact at some point.
I am an English teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My class
read one of Mr. Ross's personal narratives last year and
remained in contact with him.
Currently, I have been personally writing to him and he has
been writing to me. Recently however, the San Quentin State
Prison mailing system has nearly shut down.
Many of my missives -- and his missives as well -- are not
being delivered and if they are being delivered, they take
up to a month to reach him.
It is San Quentin's own policy that letters to inmates
should get to those inmates within 5-to-7 days of reaching
Mr. Ross as well as other prisoners have filed grievances
regarding this mismanagement of communication by the prison
and are contemplating a hunger strike in protest.
I'm not sure if you can help, but if you can help, I'm
begging that you please do.
I am contacting news outlets -- from independent newspapers
and television stations in the Bay Area to NPR to my own
collegiate circles (I did my graduate studies at the
University of Southern California) -- death row advocacy
groups, and others who've had any impact on and/ or contact
with Mr. Ross.
Perhaps you know of someone or a few people who may care.
If so, please feel free to forward this email along with my
Thank you for your time.
Amber Nicole Mobley
In my reply, I told Amber that we currently had another Pathways
student on death row at the Polunsky Unit, Livingston Texas by the
name of Thomas Whitaker. The story about lost and delayed mail was a
familiar one to me. I told Amber that I planned to write this
article, and asked if she had anything to add to what she had already
Amber wrote back that according to Mr Ross,
... many other prisoners have been on lock down for weeks
at a time in what he said in one of his letters is 'a
disciplinary response to very legitimate grievances, and
also an attempt to squash the hunger strike momentum.'
Cell searches in the early-morning hours are also occurring
For many prisoners -- especially those on death row -- mail
is their only contact with the outside world, one of their
last links to the world outside of the prison's walls.
My plea is simple: Please contact local media outlets in
the Bay Area (some of their contact information is below)
in order to let them know that the tax-paying public is
concerned about the humanity of the condemned.
Send letters to:
Prison Law Office
San Quentin, CA 94964
Send e-mails to:
Write to National Public Radio by going to this link:
In 2003, in issue 62 of Philosophy Pathways, I had posted an essay by
Anthony Ross for the Pathways Metaphysics program. The essay looks at
the free will problem in the light of the doctrine of divine
foreknowledge. If God already knows what I am going to do before I do
it, how can my action be genuinely free? As Ross comments, 'What is
clear is that some extraordinary leaps in logic must be made in order
to give mankind free will without any strings attached.'
In his accompanying letter, Mr Ross wrote:
I can't even begin to describe the daily onslaught of
distractions here, but nonetheless prison contains the
elements of both university and battlefield. It is up to
each individual to construct for themselves the sanctuary
they choose to live in. When I first arrived here over
twenty years ago I knew I wanted to study and learn how to
think critically for myself, I just didn't know where to
begin. One of the very first books someone gave me was a
small book about Plato. I had no idea who Plato was, let
alone what Greek philosophy was for that matter. But I was
interested. I was interested enough to ponder questions
like, 'Where does space come from? What is beyond the
darkness? is there really such a being as God?' With no one
to guide me in my investigations my enthusiasm petered out,
but not my interest, that was something which has always
remained constant. I look forward to our dialogue and will
make every effort to not allow so much time to elapse
Mr Ross's wife, Barbara Graudenz, who had arranged for his Pathways
Program, wrote me a short note at the end of 2003 which is posted the
Philosophos.com Philosophy Lovers Gallery:
On that page is a link to a short story by Anthony Ross, 'Walker's
Requiem' which won the PEN Award for fiction
http://www.pen.org/freedom/ross.htm, and which is included in the
anthology edited by Bell Gale Chevigny, Doing Time: 25 Years of
Prison Writing, Arcade New York 1999.
I lost contact with Mr Ross. I did learn that Barbara had sadly
passed away. I assumed that Mr Ross had other current projects which
were occupying his time -- apart, of course, from the endless process
of appeals which is a gruelling experience shared by many death row
In May last year, I was approached by Kent Whitaker, the father of
Thomas Whitaker, who wanted to arrange for him to take Pathways Moral
Philosophy. This was the first time I had heard of Thomas Whitaker or
indeed the Polunsky Unit. As the information is widely available on
the internet, I will not reproduce it here. Mr Whitaker wrote a book
about his experiences and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey TV show.
The first place to go is Thomas Whitaker's blog
http://minutesbeforesix.blogspot.com. Just to give a taste of the
quality of writing, here is a short snippet about hope from the
current page, September 21:
'Hope,' wrote a good friend of mine from Tennessee
recently, 'is a real dirty bastard.' I second the motion.
My relationship with the concept is a confused one. I love
her desperately, and when she shows up late on my doorstep
smelling of booze and cigarette smoke and cheap motels, my
heart folds and I take her back in, wash the grime out of
her hair and hold her through the DT's. A few nights later,
she is gone, and friends tell me they have seen her at the
bar with a gang of tattooed bikers. I hate her, but I also
know that I cannot say no to her.
That says a lot to me.
Last year, Mr Ross successfully completed his Moral Philosophy
program, writing five essays, all of excellent quality. Another of my
Pathways students anonymously offered to pay for Mr Ross to take a
second program, Philosophy of Mind, to which he enthusiastically
After Amber Mobley wrote to me, I immediately contacted Dina Milito,
who had written to me in May this year after it transpired that none
of Mr Ross's Philosophy of Mind essays had actually reached me, nor
indeed had any of my letters reached him. Dina emailed me a scanned
typewritten essay by Mr Ross on the mind-body problem, and I emailed
my response back. But that was three months ago. What had happened in
Yesterday evening, Dina wrote:
Thank you for checking in. Your timing is quite good. I
returned yesterday from visiting Thomas in Texas. He said
that he is currently working on something for you that I
should expect and plan to forward soon. I did forward your
comments from July 27 and he did receive them. His mail is
still delayed and letters continue to go missing. I do
receive most of them, but sometimes it takes almost 3 weeks
from the time he mails it to the time it reaches me. The
post office travel time is 2 days. And sometimes when I get
letters, pages have been removed.
There is nothing to do but exercise patience. It has been
very discouraging for him to work hard on essays only to
have them disappear. He has to start over from scratch when
that happens. Thank you very much for providing this
opportunity to him and for your patience with the process.
It means a great deal to him.
Overall, Thomas is well and looks good. I'm not sure if
you're aware that he won the 2011 PEN Prison Writing
contest in the essay category, which was announced publicly
in August. Here is the link to Thomas's announcement, with
links to the essay, in case you'd like to read it:
Also, he was recently accepted to the Masters in Humanities
Program at California State University.
As soon as I receive the next piece of work for you, I will
forward it. It should be in the next two weeks. I hope
Again, thank you for checking in. I will let Thomas know.
Take care - Dina
I'm ashamed to say it was news to me that Thomas Whitaker had also
won a PEN award. But I am not the least bit surprised.
Anthony Ross and Thomas Whitaker are both intelligent and highly
articulate individuals who have shown great resilience and courage in
response to a system that has broken the will and spirit of many a
I am not, nor have I ever been an active prison reform campaigner.
Anyone who knows me knows that I refuse to hold any ethical view 'on
principle', and therefore I will not be drawn on my views about the
death penalty. I believe in dialogue. All I ask is that human beings
be granted the opportunity to make the best of whatever time they
have left -- to the extent that this is consistent with just and
proper arrangements for all prison inmates. I am grateful for what I
have learned from Mr Ross and from Mr Whitaker.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2011
II. 'PERSPECTIVISM, FORM AND OBJECTIVE REALITY IN MIES VON DER ROHE'S
ARCHITECTURE AND ORTEGA Y GASSET'S THOUGHT' BY PEDRO BLAS GONZALEZ
From his humble childhood in Aachen, Germany, Mies van der Rohe
learned to appreciate and respect the materials that the architect
has at his disposition. His father was a stonemason. According to
Mies, because his family could not afford to render him much formal
education, he was forced as a child to learn from his father, and
from working in some local construction projects, where he got
practical experience. These early experiences marked young Mies in
his professional life as an architect. By using his hands to do the
work that thought conceived, this enabled him to become rooted in a
practical form of artistic creation. He writes: 'Now, a brick, that's
really something. That's really building. Not paper architecture.'
This experience would also serve him as his first intellectual clash
between the practical demands of his buildings and the abstract
formalism that he often criticized. He reiterated this belief in
1938, when Mies immigrated to America to become Director of
Architecture in the Illinois Institute of Technology. Mies, who was
always a man of few words, affirmed what he considered to be the
primacy of function over abstraction:
All education must begin with the practical side of life...
[along] the road of discipline from materials, through
function, to creative work... How sensible is the small,
handy shape (of a brick), so useful for every purpose! What
logic in its bonding, pattern and texture! What richness in
the simplest wall surface! But what discipline this
The essential quality of Mies' metaphysics, as it is also true of the
Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, is characterized by his
marriage of form and function. Mies found his artistic vision
situated and thus framed by a sense of place and time. This allowed
him to become realized as an architect from an early age. It is
important to recognize that this aspect of Mies' professional vision
is a vital manifestation of vocation. In a similar vein, in The
Modern Theme, Ortega y Gasset attempts to build a bridge that will
serve as mediator between history and reason. Ortega's contention is
that vital-life takes primacy over the intellect, certainly over
Mies, too, saw himself at the crossroads of having to study, and even
become influenced by the neo-classicism that he learned in his
teacher's, Peter Behrens, studio, and his vision of uniting
architecture with technology and industry. While the latter of these
demanded careful study of conditions that informed the world at the
time, Mies nonetheless managed to incorporate his understanding of
technology and industry in his aesthetic vision.
The form of neo-classicism that Mies learned from Behrens was
informed by the fundamental architectonic principle of supplying
universal solutions to questions of design. For Mies, architecture in
those days faced the challenge of confronting structural problems with
formal aesthetics. In 1919 Mies designed his last neo-classical house
and then parted with neo-classicism, even though much later he would
re-focus his attention to problems of this orientation.
The philosophically interesting aspect of Mies work is that from the
outset, he envisioned the architect's responsibility as one that must
be mindful of the materials at his disposition. He first pondered this
question when he asked himself, 'What is a brick?' Mies viewed brick
as the ontological basis of architecture. This allowed him a greater
understanding of the function of steel, re-enforced concrete and
glass panels. To Mies, architecture served a purpose in the modern
world, much as it did in the Middle Ages: as a spiritual component of
Mies' next task was to ask, 'What is the great architectonic need of
our time?' Mies recognized the importance of creating living-spaces
for the masses. He coupled this with respect for individual freedom.
This is indicative of Mies' understanding the pathos of twentieth
century man. He argued that, while people had faith in God in the
middle ages, and Cathedrals embodied this vision through the
principles of verticality and the theological architectonic of light,
modern man remained a spiritual wayfarer. Mies knew that public spaces
bring people together. We encounter this in his use of austere, grand
meeting places. While minimalism is not an essential characteristic
of Mies' buildings, it does help convey his aesthetic of space. Also,
we must not forget that Mies is a rare example of a modern architect
who placed great emphasis in the study of philosophy.
Another aspect of Mies' thought which can be favorably compared to
Ortega's is his concern for objective truth. Mies is known in
architectural circles as an individual who did not waver from his
convictions. He viewed logic as the great vehicle that delivers man
to truth. To him, beauty is a vehicle for truth. However, logic and
truth, according Mies, cannot be conceived as collectively contrived.
This is one reason that Mies did very little to defend his ideas in
public forums. Let us compare this with Ortega's notion that
philosophy has little to do with popular opinion. Ortega said that he
never encountered philosophy in philosophy journals. Both, Mies and
Ortega embraced objective standards in engaging human reality. They
both opted for simplicity in their work.
Philosophical austerity in Ortega takes the form of vital reason.
Vital reason is the form of reason that grounds life in human
reality. Ortega points out that it is a mistake to allow pure reason
to dictate the course of vital life. He argues that these two
conditions are unnecessarily at odds with each other. Vital reason
serves as a system of checks and balances that safeguards man's
vitality. Ortega was concerned with the danger of misinterpreting
vital, existential questions with technical knowledge. He viewed this
as a disservice that the abuse of pure reason can have on human
Mies views austerity as being a proper condition of aesthetics. For
Ortega, austerity is an ontological concept, inasmuch as this has to
do with coming to terms with existence-as-radical-reality. This
discovery occurs because man cannot help but find himself existing in
a given circumstance. Of all the entities that exist or can exist,
Ortega argues that the 'I' that I discover as the substructure of my
existence, is undoubtedly the most vital, that is, the most immediate.
Besides austerity, Mies and Ortega also emphasize clarity in their
thought. For Ortega, clarity is, 'the greatest courtesy that a
thinker can bestow on his readers.' Equally important to Mies,
clarity means the creation of vast spaces and lines that are not
interrupted. Ortega utilized the space afforded him in newspapers to
publish philosophical essays. Publishing in newspapers forced Ortega
to discard intellectual embellishment.
Mies' notion that 'less is more' can be applied to Ortega's thought.
One reason for this is that Ortega's thought is rooted in pressing
existential concerns. Unlike analytic thinkers, who find it necessary
to question all forms of philosophical minutiae, seemingly ad
infinitum, Ortega is concerned with the service of vital reason to
life. For Mies, the use of architectural space conveys the importance
of form and purpose in his buildings.
A good example of this philosophical austerity is manifested in the
recognition of human potential and limitation. Mies' first creations
were in wood, of which he knew very little. From 1905 to 1907 Mies
was the apprentice of the best known German furniture builder, Bruno
Paul. Paul's guidance facilitated Mies' ability to work with wood.
A central component of Mies' professional trajectory is that his
first job, in 1907, when he was twenty-one years of age, was to
design a house for the philosopher, Alois Riehl. The house was
constructed in Neubabelsberg, a suburb of Berlin. As a result of this
meeting, Riehl had a lot of influence on Mies' thought, given his many
conversations with the young architect about philosophy and aesthetics.
When Riehl saw Mies' books, he asked the young architect, 'Who
advises you on your books?' Mies answered: 'Nobody, I just started
buying books to read them.' Mies explains that Riehl was
dumbfounded that he had no logical order or direction to his reading.
Riehl criticized what he considered to be Mies' ill-disciplined
reading habits. Reading, not unlike any other human endeavor,
requires direction and perspicuity, Riehl suggested. Mies admitted
that after this exchange he began to pay more attention to the books
he read, and the creations of thinkers.
Like Mies, Ortega also recognized that modernism works best when it
acknowledges the accomplishments of the past as the basis for future
creation. According to both thinkers, modernism cannot succeed if it
is not rooted in a broad understanding of man in the cosmos. Mies,
who is considered a 'modernist,' thought that architecture had lost
its connection to the past. He argued that modern architecture had to
respect the classical notion of the interdependence of all things.
Ortega, as well, cites man's primacy of existence to radical reality
as the essence of personal autonomy. He does this by locating an
individual's place in the objective world. This is what he refers to
as interdependence. When Mies accepted the position of Director of
Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he had the
following to say about this subject:
I have undertaken to develop a curriculum which embodies
this clarifying principle of order, which leaves no room
for deviation and which, through its systematic structure,
leads to a progressively organic clarification of spiritual
and cultural inner connections.
Mies' houses and buildings are what he considered to be the
objectification of an aesthetic vision of reform. According to Mies,
Aesthetics is comprised of what he calls 'the battle for the
spirit.' While he does not make clear that this battle is easily
denominated in this or that form, he believed that the essence of the
human spirit is manifested in history. Artistic vision and the
consequences of our actions may account for examples of this
geisteswissenchaften. Mies explains it as such:
With infinite slowness arises the great birth of which is
the meaning of the epoch... Not everything that happens
takes place in full view. The decisive battles of the
spirit are waged on invisible battlefields.
Mies is not opposed to technology in any of its manifestations. In
reality, he saw the work of the architect as the inheritance of the
ancient Greeks and the builders of the medieval cathedrals. In other
words, Mies reiterates that the age of 'technology' is not as new as
some may think. Technology, for Mies, is essentially a form of
development that, like neo-Platonism, comes to be known through the
individual vision that eventually manifests itself as objective
history. This history comes about as the result of the inner
dialectic waged on reality by the human spirit.
Once again, we encounter the notion of discipline. What becomes
manifested as a building or an idea presented in a book cannot do so
without a backing spirit from which it originates. This is what
Ortega refers to as the significance of pure nobility. Mies adds:
The visible is only the final stage of historical form. Its
fulfillment. Its true fulfillment. Then it breaks off. And a
new world arises.
History is the manifestation of spirit inasmuch as what is measured
and quantified. And, if quantification is the definitive pathos of
our age, then, we must ask: what is the relationship between quality
and quantity? This tension, then, is a good indication of spirit in
What we encounter in both of these thinkers is a critique of the
limitations of pure reason. However, rather than offering a critique
of intellectualism, both Ortega and Mies offer a corrective, or what
amounts to a qualification of reason. Reason, they suggest, is as
easily abused as any other human faculty. Some of Mies' detractors
view his thought as an example of form following function. This
hermeneutic confusion also exists in the mind of Ortega's critics in
respect to his ideas on perspectivism and objective truth. However,
neither of these thinkers is an exponent of relativism. Mies' notion
of democratic architectural open spaces and Ortega's contrast between
mass and noble man originate in the notion of man as a tragic, cosmic
entity. We must reiterate the similarity of these two thinker's
ontological and axiological conception of man's capacity for action.
In addition to Riehl, Mies was also influenced philosophically by a
diverse number of thinkers, like Alfred North Whitehead and Romano
Guardini. Mies' idea of order resembles Ortega's notion of the origin
of nobility, which the Spanish thinker explores in The Revolt of the
Masses. The work of both of these thinkers is strongly preoccupied
with philosophical anthropology. Mies explains:
Organization is the determination of function. Order,
however, imparts meaning. If we would give to each thing
what intrinsically belongs to it, then all things would
easily fall into their proper place; only there they could
really be what they are and there they would fully realize
themselves. The chaos in which we live would give way to
order and the world would again become meaningful and
The similarities between Mies and Ortega's aesthetics can be
attributed in large part to the influence that spirit, or Zeitgeist,
plays in their thought. In several respects, we can argue that the
form of modernism that both men practice is the indirect inheritance
of Descartes, a thinker whose major themes include methodological
discipline, the relationship between matter and form, and the
supremacy of spirit over matter.
We recognize the truth of this in the polemic that Mies found himself
in the 1960s. This situation arose from the criticism that Mies
received at the hands of his detractors, who accused him of being a
modernist, while they already viewed themselves as 'post-modernist.'
His critic's contend that Mies did not attempt to break away from the
philosophical and aesthetic inheritance of modernism. Yet Mies, who
understood such criticism to be motivated by radical politics,
I am not a reformer. I don't want to change the world. I
want to express it. That's all I want.
Mies recognized, especially in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s
that the pretensions of 'post-modernism' were nothing more than a
dehumanization of art in wanting to create self-consciousness in
artists. Post-modernism, which with the passage of time has also
proven to be classified as 'post-intelligible' for its desire to
promote obscurantism, is motivated more by anti-humanism than
intellectual integrity. When Mies exclaimed that modernism needed to
be anchored in the values of the past, he exposed himself to the ire
of post-modernists, for whom the destruction of the past meant that
thought does not have a fixed point where it can originate. Another
interesting aspect of this criticism, which Ortega also alludes to,
has to do with both men refusing to work from a theoretical platform.
Instead, it is the blind and fanatical acceptance of theory, Mies and
Ortega argued, which goes against vital life.
As modern as his houses and building seem, Mies never abandoned the
fundamental values of construction. The building of skyscrapers in
Chicago is made possible by the creation of the steel beam. In
architectonic terms, Mies did not add any new construction techniques
to the skyscraper. His best known innovations are his ability to
create horizontal lines in his buildings. This creates the illusion
of lower height, and the translucent polish that he contributed to
the all-glass buildings. He referred to the latter type of
construction as 'skin and bones construction' because he intended to
cover all of the surfaces where steel beams and concrete were
visible. Steel and concrete meant strength for him, or 'the bones of
the structure.' He considered glass a 'veil of brightness.'
Mies did not invent the glass building, given that Behrens and other
members of the Bauhaus movement had already built some of these
structures. He did contribute in creating buildings in which only
glass is visible. If unity is a desired goal of architecture, then
the glass building was for Mies its most visible expression.
Mies attempted to bring order and clarity to a world that he viewed
as dominated by the values of 'das man,' or what is the mass man
referred to by Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses. When Mies argued
that 'less is more' what he had in mind was the growth of urban
Mies' buildings are essentially windowless. While more traditional
architecture was inspired by principles of light and shade, Mies
viewed glass as a 'reflective skin.' His buildings create a sense
of levity. This lightness creates the impression of an eternal field
of vision. The same is conveyed by the notion of 'beliefs' in
Ortega's work, for instance. While ideas have to be verified and
communicated, the nature of belief remains 'vital,' in their infinite
capacity to create a perspective that originates in vital life.
Mies based his ideas on the middle ground which exists between
established formal ideas and beliefs, which some critics deem as
'vague' ideas. It is in this solitary middle ground that genuine
thought and autonomous convictions reside.
Mies tested the exercise of this spontaneous vitality with the
problems posed by construction. In his book, Bauen (Building), he
Any aesthetic speculation, any doctrine, and any formalism,
we reject. Construction, whether that of buildings or wooden
toys is always a confrontation with an unexplored territory
where form is nothing more than a guide.
Undoubtedly, in the realm of the vital and existential, our
convictions are essentially what we rely on in order to live. Neither
Ortega nor Mies were proponents of reflective thought through
committee. Current fashion has it that artists explain all artistic
endeavor with theory. Yet in many cases theory obscures more than it
is capable of clarifying, Ortega argues. For him, theory is nothing
more than another example of inauthenticity at work in modern man.
Ortega's critique of pure reason acts as an affirmation of
vital-reason. According to him, post-modernism is synonymous with
self-destructive relativism. This form of relativism attempts to
destroy reason in order to supplant it with radical moral and
political values. Relativism can also be viewed as a form of
cynicism. In aesthetics, he tells us, cynicism is responsible for a
lack of artistic vision. Ortega argues in The Modern Theme that
individual perspective is possible because this is a portion of
objective truth. Error, he explains, does not invalidate truth as
being less vital, but rather that clear thought eventually delivers
us to truth.
Perspective or point of view is a necessary step in attaining
objective truth. This, of course, does not mean that all perspectives
are true. Mies viewed the technology of the twentieth century as a
vehicle to create new forms. From very early on, he recognized that
industry dictated many of the needs of man in the modern world. He
makes this clear when he writes, in 1928, in an article titled, 'The
Preconditions of Architectural Work':
[T]raffic serves economy. Economy becomes the great
distributor, interferes in all domains, forces man into its
service. Economy begins to rule. Everything stands in the
service of use. Profitability becomes law. Technology
forces economic attitudes, transforms material into power,
quantity into quality. The most effective use of power is
consciously brought about.
Thus, to conclude, we can argue that perspective is closer to beliefs
than to ideas in the former's ability to tackle existential
contingencies. Perspective is the necessary human characteristic that
confronts life head-on. Mies confronted the technical problems of
architecture in the modern world from a perspective that views
technology as an ancient discovery. Similarly, Ortega views beliefs
as the oldest, and to a great degree, the most representative mode of
man's ability to live in the world.
1. Peter Blake. Master Builders: Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe,
Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996, p. 169.
3. Phyllis Lambert. Mies in America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.,
4. Ibid., p. 602.
5. Ibid., p. 603.
8. Ibid., p. 604.
9. Ibid., p. 602.
10. Blake, Master Builders, p. 184.
11. Ibid., p. 238.
12. Lambert, Mies in America, p. 48.
14. Terence Riley y Barry Bergdoll. Mies in Berlin. New York: The
Museum of Modern Art, 2002. p. 366.
15. See: Jose Ortega y Gasset. The Revolt of the Masses and The
(c) Pedro Blas Gonzalez 2011
III. 'CYRIL JOAD (1891-1953) -- MORAL PHILOSOPHER -- SO WHAT?' BY
RICHARD W. SYMONDS
C.E.M. (CYRIL) JOAD was a English moral philosopher who owned
'Meadowhills' -- a farm in Stedham, West Sussex, England (from 1946
until his death in 1953).
If Cyril Joad had not died when he did, in 1953, he would have
developed a school of philosophy to counter the powerful moral
relativists of the Vienna School -- the prevailing 20th century
school of thought which has rejected metaphysical thought, and has
been pivotal in providing the intellectual legitimacy for war, lies,
propaganda and killing. B.F. Skinner's behaviourism in psychology is
just one of the many influential ideas which stems from the Vienna
School and Wittgenstein -- who has much to answer for.
Joad knew that Moral Realism had a very specific meaning in
philosophy -- especially Christian Philosophy.
As a moral realist, Joad believed that ultimate values, such as
Truth, Beauty and Goodness, were objective and absolute -- existing
essentially independently of the mind (we discover them). This belief
was diametrically opposed to that of the moral relativists who
believed such values were subjective and relative -- wholly dependent
on the mind (we create them).
As a Christian Philosopher, Joad believed these values exist not only
immanently within the mind, but are also transcendent (or independent)
of the mind. Joad believed that God -- the personification of these
values -- was both immanent within us and also transcendent. Thus God
is both 'in here' and 'out there'. It's a familiar idea in Christian
theology, but Joad couched it in terms of Christian philosophy --
which was quite new, but totally ignored as secular philosophies
prevailed over religious philosophies -- and still do.
This was the 'war of ideas' which was taking place in the 1950's.
Joad appears to have been developing his ideas into a school of
thought, to counter the Vienna School, but this was cut short on his
death, thus creating a lethal moral vacuum which no philosophical
school has yet filled.
The Times Obituary for C.E.M. Joad in 1953 states: 'Joad made no
original contribution to philosophy.'
That is simply incorrect. Joad made a very original contribution to
philosophy late in life, that of Christian Philosophy: see The
Recovery of Belief -- A Restatement of Christian Philosophy (Faber
and Faber 1952).
This vital contribution was ignored by the Times in 1953, and has
been ignored ever since -- both by the spiritual and the secular (and
society in general).
Ten years earlier, in 1943, Joad controversially said: 'If you object
that Christ was not a philosopher, I can only beg you to wait until
you know as much philosophy as I do before venturing to contradict.'
Professor Geoffrey Thomas, of Birkbeck College London, wrote this 20
years ago (in this booklet Cyril Joad, page 27. He says that Cyril
... also worshipped at Stedham church: and the image of
Joad and T.S. Eliot, often the only communicants, is not
the least curious of church history's vignettes.
Here is what the Professor Thomas says on the first page:
This book commemorates Cyril Joad, a philosopher who
believed that philosophy should not be a mere academic
speciality, but a power in everyday life.
In his 1944 book Ten Modern Prophets, J.B. Coates says of Joad:
He possesses... a capacity for seeing modern issues from
the standpoint of the universal. It is no mean purpose to
seek to make the average citizen think out his problems in
terms of Truth, Beauty and Goodness; but that is the
purpose which Joad has sought to achieve with no little
success, and in so doing has made the British listener
familiar with the thoughts of Plato, Socrates and
Aristotle. It is a misfortune that the BBC (Brains Trust),
with characteristic timidity in the intellectual field, has
restricted the play of Joad's mind... to relatively
C.E.M. Joad set up the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck College,
London University in 1930, and ran it for 23 years until his death in
1953, aged 61. But he was never made a Professor; which is not the
least curious fact about Birkbeck's history -- especially as it is
now considered one of the best philosophy departments in the world.
C.E.M. Joad is best remembered as the 'Professor' in the BBC's Brains
Trust -- one of the most popular wartime radio programmes in this
country (there was no television).
Joad's story at Stedham begins in 1946 -- 65 years ago -- when he was
aged 55. In the eyes of the world, he was a successful academic and
writer, and an ever-popular celebrity broadcaster on the Brains
Trust. He already had a house in Hampstead, and had made a
considerable amount of money from his fame. The year before, in the
1945 General Election -- what has been called 'The 1945 Revolution'
-- he had wanted to become a Labour politician, but was not
Harold Nicolson, husband of Vita Sackville-West, writes perceptively
of Joad in his Diary entry, dated May 9th 1947:
Viti had had Cyril Joad to luncheon. He poured out to her
his unhappiness and disappointments.
He has lost his faith in agnosticism, and has not found a
compensating faith in God. He has lost his faith in
Socialism, and not found any faith to supplement it.
Underneath, I suppose, he must feel that he is in a false
position. He has acquired notoriety instead of fame. He
knows he is a popular, and as such a slightly comic,
figure. He wishes he had acquired either the cloistered
dignity of a scholar and philosopher, or the arena
victories of the politician. He has no domestic background.
He has quarrelled with his son; his daughters have married;
his wife has left him. He is famous and alone.
Cyril Joad, if remembered at all now, is remembered not just for the
Brains Trust, but also for a train ticket 'scandal' in 1948, which
all but destroyed his reputation as a respected, well-known academic
and broadcasting celebrity. His fall from grace was extremely rapid
-- sacked by the BBC the title 'Sir Cyril' lost, and then diagnosed
But CEMJ's best work was produced from 1949 to 1953 -- at Stedham --
and he continued to exert influence at Birkbeck and Oxford: For
example, he took part in a 1950 Oxford Union Debate -- chaired by
Robin Day (later Sir Robin): 'That this House regrets the influence
exercised by the U.S. as the dominant power among the democratic
nations', with the young Robin Day presiding.
Joad won the debate. Randolph Churchill was not pleased, calling him
a 'Third Class Socrates', thereby -- unintentionally -- paying him
the highest of compliments.
So what? I believe that a greater understanding of Cyril Joad's ideas
will be a critical pre-condition for humanity's survival in the 21st
(c) Richard W. Symonds 2011
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