Monday, 22 June 2015

Conference Report: British Personalist Forum International Conference 2015; Episode 97

Regular readers will hardly be surprised at the lengthy interruption which has taken place in our usual service.  This was largely due to the need to address a number of legal charges facing our conference reporter, including slander, libel, obscenity, public drunkenness, public indecency, plagiarism, incitement to riot, defamation of character, tampering with a jury, fiddling with a judge, wearing a hat without due care and attention and many, many more.
     For the time being, however, the legal onslaught facing our reporter has abated.  We are therefore now in a position to bring you the next thrilling instalment in our 128 part series: The 2015 British Personalist Forum International Conference, A Report.
     In this episode, our correspondent makes certain wild and improbable claims about thinking and at long last gets round to his own presentation.  

Episode 97: Enter Beau Sabreur, Stage Right
Any who know me may also know that the majority of my philosophical education was undertaken with Charles Conti.  As an undergraduate at Sussex, I took as many of his courses as I could and afterwards, when it finally dawned on me that the world of work was really no fun at all, I returned to do my postgraduate work with him.  One result of this was a particular view of philosophy as, essentially, an interdisciplinary exercise.  From the first, Charles impressed on his students the idea that one cannot do philosophy unless one knows something about literature, poetry, art, psychology, history, and so on and so forth.  In this, Charles is, of course, mistaken. Obviously, one can do philosophy having studied philosophy and nothing but. It just won’t be any good.
     Pondering this, on that sunny spring morning, while the coffee slopped and biscuit crumbs filled the air, a thought occurred to me.  Boasting? Oh yes indeed.
     How much of that reductivism, about which we had heard much talk the day before, I wondered, is down to over-specialisation.  Obviously, it is vitally important for us to be fully immersed in whatever our field happens to be if we are to make any real headway.  But in so doing, we risk losing so much of the wider and deeper vision which is the legacy of human history.

     And then, while pondering this thought, I had another.  Two in one day, I was clearly on a roll.
     What I want to know is why no one in materialist camp -- biological or merely physical -- seems remotely concerned by the unintelligibility of the reductivist case.  After all, if it is true that we are just biological processes or physical forces or whatever, then the language in which that claim is made is meaningless.  Like all the other phenomena that we mistakenly attribute to personal consciousness, all the books written and speeches given are themselves reducible to the physical processes involved: sound waves, light-refracting surfaces and so on.  What, after all, is the point of signing ones’ name to a book which clearly implies that its contents are meaningless?
     Both Farrer and Strawson asked this question at different times. Macmurray took a more positive view on it when he pointed out that, given the dialogical structure of personhood, the universe must have personal dimension to it, since you wouldn’t get persons out of it otherwise.  And even if such an absurdity were somehow overcome, any persons you did get wouldn’t be able to know anything about a universe that was radically different from them.
     That was the starting point for my presentation, which was next.  Step forward beau sabreur, with a song in your heart, and do your duty.

     As it was, I did not, in fact, have sufficient time to treat the materialist question in any real depth.  Not enough time?  Heavens to Murgatroyd!  What am I saying?!
     Forty minutes may seem like a very short time for a paper, especially to those who, like Conti, would readily speak for hours and hours.  And hours.  To mere mortals such as I, however, it soon becomes clear that, when all the writing and rehearsing and rewriting is done, forty minutes is a very long time to talk.  By the halfway mark, I was exhausted, collapsing, almost snoring aloud.  Fortunately, so was my audience.  Those few who struggled to retain a grip on consciousness, I twice threw off the scent and so gained time for a short rest.  Once, by mixing up my pages, thereby losing my place, and once by knocking someone else’s papers all over the floor.  What choice did I have?   I was banjoed.

     Undeterred, however, I still managed to dilate at some considerable length (two or three minutes over time, in fact) on the philosophical psychology underpinning Austin Farrer’s remarkable, indeed, visionary, metaphysics.  Like that metaphysics, and the epistemology which is a corollary of it, Farrer’s philosophical psychology is essentially interactionist, relational. That’s not quite right.  It isn’t just that others teach us how to be persons in the first place; it’s more to do with the way in which others invest personhood in us.  We then appropriate and internalise that “otherness”, transforming it into personality which reflects the moral, spiritual, and intellectual values which both inform and in-form it.  And then, if reasonably sane and healthy, we go on to do the same for others.  If not, we become academics.  What is particularly interesting, however, is the way in which this philosophical psychology, what we might call the interconstituitivity of consciousness or personhood, also supplies the analogies we use for exploring and understanding the rest of the universe.  Language drawn from this storehouse of personal images and metaphors abounds in modern speculative cosmology and the sciences as a whole; and, it seems, necessarily so.
     There’s something absolutely crucial to the development of metaphysics going on here; something which I’m finally starting to see the shape of more clearly.  But we shall, no doubt come back to that at a later date.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

     I finished reading and the questions came thick and fast.  At the mere mention of Romanticism, a riot broke out in the back row.  Those titanic forces, Ford-zilla and Conti Kong could be restrained no longer; fur and feathers fully flew; even Margaret Yee got caught up in it.  While all about me lost their head and flung themselves, almost bodily, into the fray, I kept mine exceedingly well and took a well earned rest.  Mayhem and madness reigned
     Eventually, when the red mist cleared, a battered and bloodied Alan stood alone on the field of battle. I looked at Jim Beaurgard and he looked at me. Alan burped softly and fell in the dust. Was that cyanide we smelled? As he lay before us, we could see the elaborately carved handle of an antique dagger protruding from his nattily tweed-clad back. And were those tyre marks smudgingly merged with the hounds tooth check? They were; tyre marks, if I’m not mistaken, from Mk. 1 Mazda MX5; white with leather interior and walnut finish by the looks of them.   Beside the tyre marks was the unmistakable trace of a dozen or so hoof prints. Gun smoke filled the air and a length of lead piping lay on the ground beside our beloved chairman.
     What could possibly have happened?  Obviously, some terrible accident had occurred.  And then, as we looked around the room, we realised that Conti was no where to be seen....

     What happened to Alan Ford?  Where did Charles Conti disappear to?  Will either of them be back in time for the final, plenary, sessions of the conference?  Who was that masked man?  And why had Juan Manuel Burgos brought a car, a horse, a selection of antique cutlery, a lemonade bottle with the word “CYANIDE” written in red marker pen on it, a gun, and some basic plumbing supplies to a session that he was chairing? The answers to these questions and many more will be revealed in the  final heart-stopping instalment of…
The 2015 British Personalist Forum International Conference, A Report!