P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 71
16th November 2003
I. 'The Ethics and Politics of Abortion: Local and Global' by Charles Hlavac
II. 'Thoughts on Language' by D.R. Khashaba
III. 'Obituary for Richard Wollheim' by Arthur Danto (From 'The Guardian')
I. 'THE ETHICS AND POLITICS OF ABORTION; LOCAL AND GLOBAL' BY CHARLES HLAVAC
The editors of the text 'Philosophy and Contemporary Issues' (Burr and
Goldinger) in their Introduction to Chapter Three: Morality and Society, begin
with the following statements:
An issue much debated at present is the morality of
Is it ever morally justified to kill one innocent person to
save another? (174)
The word "morality", for me, has undertones of religious or cultural practices
which promote standards of behavior for all, and that, as with "criminal
justice", any deviation from these standards is to be considered "immoral" or
"criminal", if they have become the law. The editors again refer to their
section on this subject as "The Morality of Abortion" (225), as if to make sure
that we somehow begin to feel that there may be an "immorality to abortion".
And, of course, the phrase "to kill one innocent person" is loaded with
judgmental nuances. I also suppose that I may be overly sensitive to their
approach, although it seems to be stacking the deck, so to speak, in favor of
an anti-abortion ethic.
So, ethics enters the picture, even though related to the term morals:
'Ethics' can be considered to be a 'meta-moral' "inquiry
about ways of life and rules of conduct." (Edwards, 'The
Encyclopedia of Philosophy', Vol. Three, pp .81-82).
Metaethical statements...are about the uses or meanings of
normative ethical statements, utterances, or terms, about
the logical status of moral claims, or about what
constitutes morality. (Edwards, 118).
If we look at the abortion issue from a purely metaethical approach, there are
really no grounds on which to firmly plant an opinion, unless there is a bias
that has some other rationale, e.g. "pro-life", "right to life", "right to
choose", "the greatest good", etc. There are no grounds for any of these
opinions because they are based only on the current "feelings" of those
expressing them, even though supposedly "justified" by some other
meta-normative system (Christianity, rational humanism, political or cultural
To be purely metaethical is take the query above and beyond the local and
national level, as if seeing it from the perspective of an observer in a
distant galaxy. What can be seen then is that what almost all of the papers
written by philosophers and theologians have in common are the core questions:
"What is human life?" and "When does it begin?". The ethical question then is,
"Is it right to terminate human life before live birth for any reason?" (The
anthropomorphic factor is implied in the term "human life"!)
From the metaethical/ galactic perspective, and with reference to John Stuart
Mill, it can be maintained that "the good of all men or the greatest happiness
of the greatest number must be the standard of what is right in conduct" (op.
cit. Titus 366). Further, and with my own reference to abortion: "Such
sacrifice is not an end in itself; it is a means to the greater happiness of a
larger number of people...The morality of an act depends...on its effect on
society" (op. cit. Titus 366).
While this is a utilitarian view applied to the ethics of abortion, it cuts
across national and religious boundaries into the world at large and fits both
a metaethical and global perspective. Ethics is bound up with value theory and
one of the predominant discussions regarding values is whether they express
knowledge or feelings (op. cit. Titus 340). It seems to me that every
culture places varying values on human and other forms of life, whether it be
mature or pre-natal, based on what that culture feels is necessary for its
continuance or success. Whether seen by Western observers as "moral" or not,
these other "ethics of abortion" are real. There are many value systems
operating here including critical societal issues such as overpopulation and,
more often than not, religious or local ethics regarding the treatment of
pregnant women and their fetuses. Whatever happens in each culture must be
viewed as the way in which that culture feels that it is obtaining "the
greatest happiness for the greatest number".
Some of the issues in abortion debates can be capsulized as follows, and most
confront the question: "What is the value of human life?", yet most do not
address the utilitarian issue of the "greatest good":
- Human life is sacred and can never be taken at any time.
- A fetus is a "person", and has a person's rights.
- Human life begins at conception and cannot be terminated for any reason.
- Human life begins at "viability" (2/3rd trimester), so abortion is OK before
- Human life begins only at live birth, so abortion is OK before that.
- Abortion is not allowed because our population needs to grow.
- Abortion is mandatory after the first child is born. Only one child per
married couple. (China)
- Abortion is OK if the mother was raped.
- Abortion is OK if the mother was raped by a close relative.
- Abortion is OK if the mother is single/ criminal/ drug addict/ homeless etc.
- Abortion is not OK "just because the mother wants it".
- Abortion is not OK because the unborn has "human rights".
- The mother has "rights" to her body. Only she can decide to give birth or
As a counterpoise to the issue of abortion, there is the hard fact that in many
cultures newborn, live infants, have been put to death because the family
already has too many children or the child was an unwanted male or female.
With euthanasia, we run across the same "sacrosanct life" concept, in that the
voluntary taking of life (your own or another's) is somehow immoral, regardless
of the pain and suffering that maintaining that life may inflict upon the owner
of the life or others. This is a metanarrative that speaks only to the feeling
or spiritual morality of those who ask the rest of society to accept their
interpretation of what is, in general, an unknowable and unverifiable ethic:
That the taking of life is a sin/ immoral, regardless of circumstance, and
which always implies a directive from a Higher Power.
Basically, none of the articles in the text confront the supra-ethical issues,
and instead remain provincially attached to the Western and particularly the
American abortion dilemmas created by a Bible Belt mentality.
A simplified view of Roe vs. Wade is that it is basically a compromise which
balances a liberal metaethical view with that of the religious and powerful
minority in the United States by first claiming that abortion is OK, under most
circumstances, in the first trimester, but gives up the 2nd and 3rd trimesters
to a rather vague definition of "viability" and then lets the rest fall within
"States' Rights", in other words, back to the local societies to decide.
Again, the two papers by Noonan (op. cit. 225) and Thomson (op. cit. 231) miss
the point. It is not a matter of life/ death or pro-choice vs pro-life, or at
what point two pieces of homo sapiens DNA get to be labeled "human life", it is
what we do with the life we have, what we have planned for the life about to
begin, and about the quality and viability of life after birth.
There is some contradiction, too, in Mill's remarks. For instance, while he did
propose "the greater happiness for the greatest number", he also wrote: "Over
himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign." (op. cit. Magee,
184). As a political issue, abortion faces the same tension between the struggle
for individual freedom and the need for order and security as expressed in the
laws of each society. Which is why I believe that there is no answer to the
question: "Is Abortion Immoral?" If anything, philosophy should view abortion
as a pragmatic social issue with utilitarian bases, and not as something whose
value can be discovered in reality or in logic.
If values are to be useful, they must be in some way pragmatic and situational
in that there can only be an approximation to the highest values among any
group of humans, considering issues of survival alone, and that these values
must address those already living and productive, who are given the
responsibility of preparing the world for newcomers, as they are accepted and
welcomed into the community of humanity. This preparation includes a world
where violence, famine, disease and hatred is diminished and where creativity,
learning, exploration, health, and joy in life are given the highest priority.
Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. -- David Hume
The more...interactions we ascertain, the more we know the
object in question. -- John Dewey
The book 'The Ethics Of Abortion' has some very poignant articles against
abortion, including one where the unborn 25th week infant perceives the needle
entering the womb of its mother. The point is that the arbitrary positioning of
the end of the first trimester or any other trimester will not satisfy the issue
of "What is human life?" or "When is a fetus viable?". It is a very powerful
My personal feelings are conflicted in that any human potential may prove to be
an enormous asset to humankind (consider the crippled physicist Stephen Hawkins,
Helen Keller, etc.), and that human consciousness is somehow unique in an
otherwise unconscious universe (as far as I know!).
I took a utilitarian point of view since it seems to me to be the only way to
account for the diversity of values placed on the issue of abortion, from a
global perspective. In China, abortion is mandatory if a couple already has one
child. I feel that too much of the abortion debates in the US are provincial in
the sense that they are driven more by Biblical concerns than with overall
human welfare and the quality of life.
So, maybe it's appropriate to quote this here:
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in
various ways; the point is to change it. -- Karl Marx
(c) Charles Hlavac 2003
II. 'THOUGHTS ON LANGUAGE' BY D.R. KHASHABA
Glancing through my Scrapbook, I found that I had at one time collected in one
place a number of my jottings on language. I offer them here for what they are
1. Language is not merely speech, not merely communication; the brutes are
capable of these. When we speak of language as a cultural property of
humankind, we refer to a system of symbols in which a human being's world is
reflected so as to constitute a universe in its own right. It is in this
universe that humans have their specifically human being.
2. I speak. My lips, my tongue, my vocal chords move. In their movements they
strictly obey physical laws. But what initiates, maintains and directs the
movement? It is a meaning that flickers in my mind. Whatever physical basis
the thought may have, what in fact brings my speech into being -- into
existence in the actual, physical world -- is a meaning creatively formed by a
synthesis of sentiments, ideas, desires, memories -- things that can never be
explained in terms of the givennesses of the physical world or reduced
ultimately to such givennesses.
3. The sentence is the creative realization of the initial situation in ideal
form. To speak of any necessary identity or similarity or correspondence
between the sentence and the initial situation ('fact', givenness, experience)
is to express this creative relationship in a metaphor. Hence, what is "common
between the structure of the sentence and the structure of the fact", as
Russell says in explaining Wittgenstein's theory, "cannot... be itself in
turn said in language", because in truth we do not have two things on our hands
but a creative progress comprising a single whole. There is no question of a
'Third Man', of an infinite regress.
4. Why should a sentence have to mean something quite definite? Only for
certain purposes -- for practical purposes and for the purposes of science
which is a special case of practical purpose -- is that requisite. For other
purposes -- for the purposes of poetry and philosophy for instance -- it is
more important that the sentence should serve as a framework capable of
assimilating a wide range of experiences and infusing them with significance.
This is as important for the life of intelligence as is exact and accurate
information; it is a distinct function of the mind. It is because modern
thinkers have been judging philosophy by the criteria of science that they have
been so unjust to philosophy and so far-removed from understanding its true
5. Even for the purposes of day to day business, language cannot and should not
be precise. A precise language would serve a very limited number of situations
with exceeding accuracy and would leave all the rest utterly ineffable. The
vagueness of everyday language is a necessary condition of its unlimited
applicability, of its practical utility.
6. A 'logically perfect language' is necessary for science and is helpful for
certain ancillary philosophical disciplines, but is not required by philosophy
proper. Since a 'logically perfect language' is an unrealized and unrealizable
ideal, science, in the strictest and fullest sense, must always remain an
7. Bertrand Russell says, "The essential business of language is to assert or
deny facts." But surely this is only one function of language, and not the
most important at that. The essential function of language, which is one with
the essential function of thought, is creative -- it is to give realization to
intelligence in new meanings.
8. When the Positivists discovered that our metaphysics were a product of our
language, they thought that they had finally demolished all metaphysics. They
did not observe that all of our thinking, including all of our practical
thinking and all of our scientific thinking, is equally a product of our
language. All thinking is interpretation and our metaphysics are our most
comprehensive interpretations of our world. To throw all metaphysics overboard
is to accept to live on a sub-human level, to accept to live within the
confines of the here and now: the infinitude (or near-infinitude) of the
physical cosmos would avail us nothing, for it is an infinitude that
comprehends us and not an infinitude that we comprehend. And to have a
metaphysical orientation without being aware of its roots and principles
necessarily entails taking the metaphysical allegory too seriously and that is
tantamount to living in a Hades of delusion.
9. To understand our language is to understand our mind; to understand our mind
is to understand ourselves; to understand ourselves is to understand reality.
Language is the realization of the world on the plane of ideas. The classical
philosophers knew this; they did not have to state it explicitly since it was
self-evident to them. Analytical philosophers created the fiction of a language
that is rational and intelligible without being rooted in reality.
10. When a person who is deprived of the power of speech relates behaviourally
to other persons, s/he can have a rich emotional life. (I believe that the
'lower' animals too can and do enjoy such a life.) But s/he remains cut off
from that peculiar universe in which humans have their distinctive life as a
rational beings, except in so far as the person in question can find substitute
symbols that give her/him access to the world of conceptual thought. (So, a deaf
and dumb individual is not necessarily 'deprived of the power of speech' in the
sense intended here.)
11. Language does not 'reflect' our conceptions. Our conceptions are born
embodied in language; they come into being as an organic unit -- body and soul,
meaning and utterance -, whole and inseparable. All of this is not metaphor
except in so far as all language is metaphor and all thought is mythopoesis. A
'thought' prior to embodiment in language is an event on an arational plane
of being. It only takes its rise in the mind as language. We cannot properly
speak of an unexpressed thought. (Of course our definition of the term
'language' has to be broad enough.)
12. Bergson had to be French and to be writing in French. The French mentality
-- it seems -- when wishing to distinguish different nuances of meaning resorts
to the creation of so many distinct words, each standing for a definite nuance
of meaning. At least that is the ideal. Not so English. English solves the
problem by creating a series of words representing overlapping gradations of
nuance, so that for the expression of a particular nuance of meaning either of
two terms of the series may have an equal claim. No English thinker would have
thought of regarding mental operations as consisting of static moments. (Hume
did, but then, Hume was not English!) This of course does not invalidate
Bergson's reasoning which boils down to saying that in so far as thought
abstracts from the totality of reality it necessarily falsifies reality, and
this is perfectly valid.
13. A poet creates true universes of his own, in the strictest sense of every
single word. But a poet who believes that he is creating worlds on the same
plane as the world he lives his daily life in, is insane. If he thinks that his
creations are of the same metaphysical status relatively to himself as the world
of daily life also relatively to himself, then he is the victim of a delusion;
since the worlds he creates are his game, while in the world on which he rests
his feet he is himself part of the game.
14. Common speech is the proper language for philosophy -- or at least comes
nearer to being so than the language of logical analysis -- because the
complexities of common speech bring into being realities that are lost sight of
in logical analysis, just as the common properties of water are lost sight of to
the chemist reducing water to hydrogen and oxygen.
15. Socrates examined critically our common statements, but he did not
substitute anything abstruse for them. He sought to arrive at understanding
through those selfsame common statements, by establishing the original forms
they sought to express.
16. All of this of course does not preclude the need for remedying the obvious
faults and ambiguities of everyday language and even for the creation of
special languages for special purposes such as for specialized sciences and the
practical skills, including the specialized disciplines related to philosophical
17. The ability of a little child to use language never ceases to astound me.
Here is a field for study that is, literally, inexhaustible. A child does not
acquire a stock of ready-made sentences in the same way as s/he acquires a
stock of ready-made words. Once s/he learns a sentence-pattern s/he goes on to
use it freely. Nothing shows the creativity of the human mind and the true
character of all creativity more clearly than this capacity in a little child.
18. A little child can draw correct inferences and construct valid arguments. A
language that does not yet have a word for 'logic', gives utterance to logical
structures and arguments, because the matrix out of which it grew is an
embodiment of intelligent Reality: all language is internally logical because
it is the creative outcome of an intelligent, and therefore rational, Reality.
19. A highly developed language with a rich literature actually creates subtle
nuances of thought and special shades of feeling. Every language constitutes a
specific spiritual world. People with different languages live in different
spiritual worlds, some cruder, some more refined.
20. No linguistic expression can ever have the precision of a mathematical
formula. A linguistic expression is always qualified and determined by its
context. A mathematical formula has a seeming independence and completeness
because it is abstract, lifeless. It is an artificial whole. Common speech, in
as much as it is living, has its roots in the living whole that sustains it,
and ultimately in the Whole. Because it is part of a whole that necessarily
transcends it, it can never disclose all of its meaning, can never be complete.
It must always hint and reach out towards what it can never reach. The more of
life and of reality an expression has -- a cry of anguish, a song of joy, an
inspired lyric, a profound philosophic thought -- the more hazy it must always
be and remain.
1. Bertrand Russell in his Introduction to Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus',
translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. Guinness, 1961, Routledge & Kegan Paul,
2. Bertrand Russell, op. cit, p. x
(c) D. R. Khashaba 2003
Web site: http://www.Back-to-Socrates.com
III. 'OBITUARY FOR RICHARD WOLLHEIM' BY ARTHUR DANTO
Brilliant philosopher engaged with the interaction of art and psychoanalysis.
From 'The Guardian', Wednesday November 5, 2003.
The philosopher Richard Wollheim, who has died aged 80, belonged in the top
echelon of thinkers who redefined the practice of his subject in Britain and
the United States after the second world war. In terms both of the clarity of
his writing and the acuity and ingenuity of his arguments, he embodied the
intellectual virtues of analytical philosophy. But in terms of what engaged him
as a philosopher, he stood far closer than any of his peers to continental
Wollheim had little interest in donnish preoccupations with linguistic usage,
or with the endlessly agonising issues of how language relates to reality. But
he freely adapted some of the strategies worked out in addressing these issues
to the problems that did engross him, which typically derived less from what
other philosophers said than from what was central in his life.
As a philosopher, he was, for example, deeply engaged with issues that were
central to the visual arts. But art -- and especially painting -- was of the
greatest importance to him as a person, and his relationship to it was far
wider and more immediate than was typical of those relatively rare philosophers
of his stature who bothered with aesthetics and the philosophy of art. The
philosophy of mind, which also engaged him, was a far more mainstream subject
than aesthetics, and indeed has all but defined mainstream philosophy in recent
Wollheim's focus, however, was on psychoanalysis, which has largely been
marginal to philosophical psychology, and at best a target of critical
hostility by philosophers of science. He regarded it as exactly the right kind
of theory through which to understand human nature.
He wrote with authority on Freud, and on Freudianism in general; and in his own
philosophy of mind, in such books as 'On The Emotions' (1999) and 'The Mind And
Its Depths' (1993), as well as in some of the deeply original studies collected
in On Art And The Mind (1973), it is the mind as charted by Freud -- and
especially by Freud's follower, Melanie Klein -- that underwrites his basic
premises. Psychoanalysis was crucial to his personal outlook, and played a
fundamental role in defining his outlook on art. His thought, in brief, was
systematic, but the system itself derived from what defined him as a man.
Wollheim published two major works in the philosophy of art: 'Art And Its
Objects' (1968) and 'Painting As An Art' (1987), the latter based on his series
of Andrew W Mellon lectures at the US national gallery in Washington, DC --
events normally presented by art historians, for whom it is the crowning
achievement of their careers.
'Art And Its Objects' contains what is widely regarded as Wollheim's major
philosophical contribution, which he designated "seeing in". We see an object
in the paint with which a surface is marked, rather than simply seeing the
marks. This he regarded as a primitive human ability; it is exercised when we
see faces in clouds, for example, or, as Leonardo noticed, landscapes in the
stains on a wall. But pictorial perception is a more complex achievement, since
what we see in a painting was intended by the artist, who organised the surface
in order that viewers should grasp what was meant in putting it there.
In 'Painting As An Art', Wollheim cautions against taking the idea of intention
in too narrow or limited a way. "At least in the context of art," he writes,
"intention must be taken to include desires, beliefs, emotions, commitments,
wishes." The viewer will infer the intention from the way the painting looks,
and this, Wollheim believed, "presupposes a universal human nature in which
artist and audience share".
This notwithstanding, paintings do not instantly disclose their meanings; and
Wollheim has left us an amusing description of his own method of looking at
paintings: "I evolved a way of looking at paintings which was massively time
consuming and deeply rewarding. For I came to recognise that it often took the
first hour or so in front of a painting for stray associations or motivated
misperceptions to settle down, and it was only then, with the same amount of
time or more to spend looking at it, that the picture could be relied upon to
disclose itself as it was. I noticed that I became an object of suspicion to
passers-by, and so did the picture that I was looking at."
Though he disclaimed any intention of psychoanalysing works of art, many of the
remarkable interpretations in 'Painting As An Art' seem to presuppose
psychoanalytical ideas. In a virtuoso reading of a painting by Willem de
Kooning, for example, he wrote: "The sensations that de Kooning cultivates are
the most fundamental in our repertoire. They are those sensations which give us
our first access to the external world, and they also, as they repeat
themselves, bind us for ever to the elementary forms of pleasure into which
they initiated us -- sucking, touching, biting, excreting, retaining, smearing,
sniffing, swallowing, gurgling, stroking, wetting."
The three threads of Wollheim's life and thought unite in this description:
painting, philosophy and psychoanalysis. He argued that if painting presupposes
a universal human nature, then "it must be absurd to bring to the understanding
of art a conception of human nature less rich than what is required elsewhere."
And he nails this thought down with the profound observation that "many art
historians, in their scholarly work, make do with a psychology that, if they
tried to live their lives by it, would leave them at the end of an ordinary day
without lovers, friends, or any insight into how this came about."
But this would be as true of philosophers or psychologists as of art
historians, and whatever one may think of the detail in Wollheim's analyses and
interpretations of art, he took a brave stand against the reductionisms that
impoverish the way so many intellectuals have approached what are, in effect,
the highest achievements of the human spirit. We should relate to art as we
relate to one another. He felt that the views on human nature that emerged in
'Painting As An Art' made explicit "the common ground in which the two deepest
commitments of my life -- the love of painting and devotion to the cause of
socialism -- are rooted". The way in which painting and socialism are, in his
words, "locked together" was never entirely explained.
It is a striking feature of Wollheim's life that he was engaged in the life of
art as a critic and an enthusiast, as well as through being a philosopher. He
wrote widely and brilliantly about the artists he admired, such as Poussin and
Ingres, Manet and Bellini, as well as those artists whose work best fitted the
conception of painting that he evolved in 'Painting As An Art' -- painters in
whose work the universal human nature, in which he believed, was palpably
Wollheim coined the term "minimalism" in the celebrated essay 'Minimal Art'
(1965), in which he addressed monochrome painting and the "readymades" of
Marcel Duchamp, seeking examples that met the minimal criteria a work of art
must meet. This was, however, more a philosophical inquiry than a critical
investigation into an art to which he was particularly devoted. The acceptance
of these objects as works of art "gives rise to certain doubts and anxieties,
which a robust respect for fashion may suppress but cannot effectively resolve".
In the end, Wollheim was prepared to admire some contemporary artists whose
work differed sharply from that in which he deeply believed. But he suspected
that history would "not forgive an age whose record cannot be set straight
without an excess of footnotes over text". He was too cosmopolitan a figure to
express the outrage of many conservative critics, but he was convinced that
"the scene is too overcrowded with figures who tried to get into history
without contributing to the art".
Born in London, Wollheim was educated at Westminster school and Balliol
College, Oxford. From 1942 to 1945, he served as an infantry officer in France,
a period interrupted in 1944, when he was briefly a prisoner-of-war in Germany
before escaping to rejoin his unit.
From 1949, he taught philosophy at University College London, becoming Grote
professor of mind and logic in 1963, a post from which he retired in 1982. From
then on, most of his teaching was in the United States: as professor of
philosophy at Columbia University, from 1982 to 1985, and at the University of
California, Berkeley, from 1985 until his death. He also held a chair in
philosophy and humanities at the University of California, Davis.
Wollheim delivered the William James lectures at Harvard in 1982; they were
published as 'The Thread Of Life' (1984), a study of personal identity.
Similarly, his 1991 Cassirer lectures at Yale were developed as 'On The
Emotions'. He was president of the Aristotelian Society (1967-68), the British
Society for Aesthetics (from 1993) and the Pacific division of the American
Philosophical Association (2002-03). He was an honorary affiliate of the
British Psychoanalytical Society (1982), and an honorary member of the San
Francisco Psychoanalytical Institute (1994). In 1991, he was given an award for
distinguished services to psychoanalysis by the International Society for
Wollheim's cosmopolitan personality enabled him to take an interest in things
that did not entirely live up to his philosophical demands, and it guaranteed
that he never needed to fear being left "at the end of an ordinary day without
friends or lovers". He was a profoundly engaging man, and wonderful company. An
animated conversationalist and a vivid raconteur, his default state was one of
amused detachment, though he sometimes took positions on issues that others, to
his amazement, found outrageous. He tended to side with the underdog -- to
support rioting blacks in Detroit, or Palestinians in the Middle East conflict,
despite the fact that he was Jewish through his father's side.
He was raised as a Christian, though he was entirely indifferent to religious
ideas. Since he often lightened his writing with personal reminiscence, it is
difficult to read him without getting a precise picture of his character and
personality. Nor is it difficult to recognise that he is by no means identical
with the narrator in his 1969 novel, 'A Family Romance', which is far more a
literary creation than a self-portrait. It is the diary of a man who is reading
Michel Butor's 'L'emploi du temps', and commits a crime -- poisoning his wife --
rather than, as in Butor's book, discovers one.
As with Wollheim's philosophy, there is no doubt that certain aspects of life
were carried over into his fiction -- the narrator, for example, confesses to a
love of painting -- and though it was widely rumoured that the book was, in some
degree, a 'roman a clef', it was, if that, also an experimental narrative which
questioned the extent to which even the most intimate form of writing can
capture the reality of life as lived.
A far better place than his novel to get a sense of what Wollheim was really
like is his essay, 'Fifty Years', in which he recalls his life as a soldier,
and particularly how he managed to escape after being taken prisoner by the
Germans. With a companion, he went to pee against a hedge, leapt through to the
road below, and ran away in freezing rain. The companion knew no French, so
Wollheim explained to an official that he was his idiot brother. "I knew that
my French might deceive an SS officer, but it required only one Frenchman
around us to denounce me."
He saw little in their conduct to give him a higher opinion of his comrades
than of his enemies, and concludes the memoir sardonically: "Stretch the
corpses I had seen since the Normandy beaches end to end, and what would make
the whole haphazard killing worthwhile? The fall of tyrannies, perhaps. But it
would have been better if there had been some change of heart."
The heart was really the focus of his thought, in life and in philosophy, and
it was the heart, above all, that he sought in the painting about which he was
so passionate. The heart has not been the favoured organ of philosophical
interest since perhaps Pascal, and it is this that set Wollheim apart from his
peers in a discipline to which he brought originality and distinction.
He was twice married, first to Anne Powell in 1950, with whom he had twin sons,
Bruno and Rupert; after that marriage was dissolved in 1967, he married Mary Day
Lanier, a potter, with whom he had a daughter, Emilia.
Richard Arthur Wollheim, philosopher, born May 5 1923; died November 4 2003.
(c) Guardian Newspapers 2003
[Posted on Philos-L by J.L. Speranza]
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