Once again, we apologise to readers for being unable to bring you parts 16 to 95 of our new 112 part series, The 2015 British Personalist Forum International Conference, A Report. This is due to the excess of obscene language and peculiarly lurid description contained therein. Instead, we bring you Episode 96.
Episode 96: Philosophy of Action, Metaphysics of Description, and a Fried Slice
Breakfast the next morning was hearty and fulfilling, involving as it did liberal portions of pig in sundry styles and prepared with considerable élan. Which is to say, fried, with a serving of mushrooms and a friend egg on top. Across the long dining table, Raymond Tallis saw fit to make plain his medical credentials before curious onlookers, conference-goers, and a handful of tourists. This he did by partaking of two breakfasts: both the porridge, which received much praise on all sides, and the full English, which knocked the previous evening’s culinary abuses into a cocked baked bean tin. Starting the day with two breakfasts is, my best beloved, assures me, a sure sign of a medically trained soul. From my personal experience of medical professionals, I can only suppose that this is necessary to fortify those Florence and Freddie Nightingales against the copious amount of alcohol that will likely be consumed at the first possible opportunity.
Recruited by breakfast, we bid the tourists adieu and lurched windily off to the conference rooms. For us, it was back to the Basil Mitchell Tomb, deep within the labyrinth of Oriel, there to witness Karl Simms and Charles “King Kong” Conti fling themselves headlong into the mysteries of “personhood”.
We were fortunate to be joined that morning by Margaret Yee of St. Cross College, organiser of the aforementioned Dawkins/Williams debate (see episode 15, above). Margaret is an old friend of Charles’ and another Farrerian scholar. I had invited her to come and listen to us, which she kindly did. I suspect, however, that the debate, particularly appending my session later that morning, was somewhat more vigorous than she, or anyone else for that matter, expected.
That, however, is for later; another presentation, another room. Back in the BMT, where Margaret sat with quiet dignity, the rest of us slumped eggily in our chairs. David Treanor deftly took the reins and steered Karl Simms to the starting blocks. With cries of “Tally ho!”, “Yoiks!”, and “Better out than in!” we were off.
Drawing primarily on Hampshire’s early work, Spinoza, as well as his magnum opus, Thought and Action, Karl offered an masterly analysis of Hampshire’s philosophy of action. A vital move, this, in the redintegration of mind and body or, more properly, of the realigning intending mind and the bodily acts it intends. It constitutes what one might term a “philosophical nut-shot” for Cartesianism and all subsequent forms of rationalism-cum-realism which wantonly reify and deify the rational mind contra bodily act. A devastating blow, perfectly aimed and timed, reminding any sheer or mere thinkers of their undeniable physicality. Driving the point forcefully home, Karl leapt athletically to his feet, thereby demonstrating the full force of Hampshire’s psychophysical unity or mind-body holism. “Disconnected from a context of intentional behaviour,” he growled as a steely glint lit his eye, “our actions are merely random, irrational.” Testify brother, testify.
Intentionality is not, as Karl showed, simply a movement of the mind; not even a movement of the mind towards the world. It is an integral element of the active, e.g. psychophysical, involvement of persons in a physical and personal environment. Intentions inform and in-form actions, so locate us in a world of others and objects. In such interactive locations and orientations, lies the key to personal identity. For it is only in so far as we can distinguish ourselves as an ‘centre of action’, an intentional agent, that we can distinguish ourselves as anything at all. To put it another way, the difference between what I do and what happens to me, as Karl and Hampshire know well, makes all the difference.
Within moments of Karl and Hampshire replanting our feet on the ground and our posteriors back in our seats, Conti Kong lit the blue touch-paper with a Strawson Vesta and carried us high above the crowds and clouds. His aim in doing so was not, of course, to disconnect or denigrate our association with terra firma, but to get a better view of what it means to talk about having a world to live in. Dancing on a tightrope, finely woven from descriptive metaphysics, personal -- in the fullest, philosophical sense -- reminiscence, and dirty jokes enough to keep the, frankly, fairly lowbrow crowd interested, Charles reminded us that all our descriptions come saturated with values or, as he put it elsewhere, ‘layers thick with predilection’. In so doing, he blurred the lines most efficaciously, between descriptive, constructive, and revisionary metaphysics; a risky tactic for someone on a high-wire, but he trod the line deftly as always. In essence, this picks up where Hampshire, and, indeed, Strawson himself, left off: with a metaphysical vision conditioned and commissioned by others; or, as Charles might say, ‘finished off with a flourish of common humanity’. Extending, or elevating, this with a profound sensitivity to the subtlest of spiritual connections, we were offered a glimpse into the mysteries of personhood: i.e. modes of self-conception which defy definition and even refuse tightly fitting descriptions, but finds itself instead in refractive images so relies on the richness of the language used to express, or even extend, it.
In this, the irony and aptness of his recollections became particularly clear; not least as he was speaking in a room named for his own D.Phil. Supervisor, a man whose grasp of the simplicities and subtleties of personal relation seems to have been somewhat shaky at best.
Fearing, I suppose, more for the quality of his presentation than the attention of old ghosts, Charles wanted it known that he was stepping in at the eleventh hour, after Robert Garcia had, sadly, been forced to bow out, owing to ill-health. In this case “the eleventh hour” had been barely a week; not long, I’m sure you’ll agree, to prepare for an Oxford conference. This did not, in the end, effect the quality of the work -- no one who knows him really supposed it would -- but it may have contributed to the marginally slower pace of its presentation, especially compared to last year. Charles was, no doubt, exhausted after his efforts to do himself, Strawson, and his audience justice. As a result, the pace dropped well below the breakneck speed for which he is well known. No bad thing, I think; for the Oxford Rozzers were surely on duty that day.
With the conclusion of Charles’ paper, a much-needed coffee break was called. And there we shall leave our merry band for another episode.
In conclusion, I feel it my duty to inform you all that I have received a complaint. Yes, just one. It appears that there are those among you who tire easily and, though complimentary in every way, find all this dry and dusty philosophical discourse somewhat heavy weather. Could I not, the inquirer asks, leaven the bread of deep thought with the yeast of humour? Just an occasional sprinkling of wit to lighten the reader’s load. Swine.
Half is not enough, apparently.
Far be it from me to seek to deny my cherished readers anything; the pursuit of your happiness and enjoyment is my confirmed habit and settled policy. I offer, therefore, the following titbit, for your amusement and edification.
There were these two nuns in the bath....
Once again, we are sorry to report that we must end this episode a few lines early. The rectitude of our correspondent’s alleged “wit” cannot be vouchsafed by this broadcaster. Indeed, when asked his views concerning sex on the television, he merely saw fit to observe that it seemed rather dangerous, given the considerable risk of falling off. Fortunately, all such vulgar nonsense will have been thoroughly expunged when you tune in again for the next episode of The 2015 British Personalist Forum International Conference, A Report.