Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 16. July 27, 1950
Scholasticism—Philosophy of Commonsense
Scholasticism—Philosophy of Commonsense
Dr. Duggan proposed to attribute the decline of Western civilisation to philosophy as taught in the Universities; to explain Scholasticism and briefly criticise the Philosophy syllabus at Victoria.
Having made it clear that his principal aim was not to defend Scholasticism nor to criticise the syllabus, it is necessary to remark that Dr. Duggan was, perhaps, over-ambitious and would have been wiser to confine himself to one of those aims. All three require more attention than one short lecture.
Lee and ORS v. Duggan, Aquinas and ORS
The lecture was not philosophical but about philosophy. Any inadequate answers of Dr. Duggan's came from the refusal of the questioners to stick to the subject and the lecturer's rashness in straying from his prepared material into other spheres, including the oppressing jungle of Mr. Lee's syntax. Mr. Lee however, rode his syntactical hobby horse with an air of boredom which, together with his adolescent know-it-all airs and egotistical proclamations pre-judiced his case.
Most sensible questioner was Mr, E. Robinson who had his horse taken from under him by a brotherly answer to his first question. Mr. E. Robinson's dissatisfaction however, if one disregards his disregarding the subject, was well founded. (Dr. Duggan wisely considered it impossible to argue with Mr. Walsh who does not seem sure that he exists.)
Is Leeism the only philosophy ? This may not be Mr. Lee's claim and yet that is the impression he gave. I think his point is that there is no possibility of philosophical thinking until linguistic and syntactical confusions have been resolved. To whose satisfaction one must ask? This idea is not new. Both Idealists and Scholastics once agreed that its main fallacy is that it prevents philosophers from ever beginning at all.
A philosopher, like the exponent of any intellectual discipline, is entitled to use words in a specialised sense, and provided he is willing to define those words, as he means them to be understood, that is an accepted practical and reasonable method of procedure. Every time Mr. Lee uses the word "nonsense" without definition—which is over-often—he proceeds on this working basis.
The syntactic school cause philosophy to consist of definition, parsing, definition, parsing ad infinitum multiplied by the number of known languages. Any attempt to construct a philosophy is aborted by over-emphasis on spade work properly a part of the study of languages.
Molehill into Mountain
Unfortunately the lecturer had outdated knowledge of the working College syllabus, but his criticisms, subject to this admitted failure concerning textbooks, were sound. His main contentions that logic should come first in a philosophy course and that the Universities turn out people who sometimes know about philosophy but do not have one—were not questioned.
Interesting and Constructive
The lecture was, and needed to be general to interest students with little philosophy. Three topics were clearly stated and the matter interesting and well supported, even though many tremendous assumptions were necessary.
The propositions that civilisation's decline was due to University philosophy and that Scholasticism and Commonsense were part and parcel were not denied or queried. Critics and questioners showed little sign of constructive philosophical thinking.
Dr. Duggan submitted his theses to public disputation, a rare event at Victoria and received little encouragement from the Staff most of whom were not present.
His clearest exposition was the tracing of the "nonsense" of Idealism from Descartes onwards and downwards to Bertrand Russell. On this "nonsense" Mr. Lee partially agreed with him, but Dr. Duggan did fail to answer the Idealists of the philosophy-stifling syntactical school on their own ground once he had been lured there.
M. F. McIntyre.