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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 11. July 30, 1947

Amiable Philosophical Frivolity in New Club

Amiable Philosophical Frivolity in New Club

The inaugural meeting of the VUC Philosophical Society was held on July 9. Apart from the election of officers, the adoption of a constitution, and some discussion on the functions of the club, the meeting heard a talk by Mr. Hudson, M.A., of the VUC staff. It was called "Philosophy?" and the main substance of it was rather as follows.

Two erroneous theories about philosophy were first discussed—tire "social inefficiency" theory, and the "academic pastime" theory. According to the first, philosophy is a compensation by the socially inefficient for skills that they lack in the more useful spheres of social activity. This is ridiculous, for philosophy is ultimately just as useful as any other sphere of social activity, and since, secondly, the great philosophers demonstrate by the influence they have had on society that they are not socially inefficient (in any useful meaning of those two words). The second theory maintains that philosophy is an academic pastime, lacking in use and in effect. This theory is ridiculous too: witness the influence of, e.g., Plato, Hegel, Marx on social movements: of, e.g., Voltaire, Spinoza, Hume on "religious activity; of, e.g., Herbart, Plato, Rousseau, Dewey on education.

Well, What Is It?

Well then, if these two theories are wrong, what is philosophy? There is metaphysics, which is concerned with searching for a system of general terms in which the universe can be described. There is epistemology, which is concerned with the nature of the knowledge and of the knowing process by which that knowledge is gained of the universe so described. There is Value Theory, which seeks to state what the use is not only of philosophy but also of life. In doing this it has to decide just what makes a thing useful, and thus, we find æsthetics discussing why we call a thing, for example, "beautiful" and what is the function of that thing as so called. Other branches of value theory, which discuss their fields in this way, are moral, and political theory. Finally, there is logic, which deals with a technique used by all who think, and there are none, though you of course may doubt it who don't. As part of philosophy it is concerned with the conditions of valid thinking.

These fields are obviously interrelated, but the precise manner in which their interrelation is described will depend to a great extent on the beliefs held by the describer about the topics they include. This much at least can be said without much fear of a Quarrel: metaphysics is concerned with a known universe, and hence requires a theory of knowledge, that is, requires epistemology. Similarly, metaphysics is concerned with a valued universe, and hence requires a theory of value. One test of the worth of a philosophical system is whether it is self-consistent, and hence a theory of consistency is required, that is, logic, is required. Finally, and this is most important, philosophy is related to life, and the other test of the worth of a philosophical system is — to put it frankly and crudely—whether a human being can believe in it or not.

Mr. Hudson mentioned other matters—whether the notorious disagreement among philosophers is a good thing or a bad thing; whether, as some philosophers hold, philosophy ought to be doing something quite different from what it is outlined above as doing; and various other of the matters arising out of a more detailed statement of the fields and interrelations than I have had space to report here. To mention any of these matters would immediately set controversy loose and this report has not that object. The remaining space is instead given to a note on those activities of the club which were fixed at the meeting.

Study Groups, Two

There will be two groups going this year, and next year perhaps two more will be started. The first is studying Whitehead and meets next in Room C.17, Weir House, on Friday, August 1, at 8 p.m. The second studies the American philosophers and meets in the alternate week. In addition there will be general addresses to the club as a whole and anyone who likes to come along, given by competent outsiders or student members of the staff perhaps on the less accessible topics of philosophy. There will be one more of these this year, maybe two. Finally, the club as a whole will meet occasionally to discuss any current book of generally philosophical nature, which book will be announced well beforehand so that those coming will have a chance to have read it. Also, on those occasions someone will have been detailed to give a short talk round which the discussion may centre.

The upshot is that this club is enthusiastic enough, also possessed of a certain commendable determination, yet also liable to an amiable philosophical frivolity attractive enough to those willing to have eyes to see. The only disqualifications from participation in it are grave, very grave, intellectual deficiency and a sincere unwillingness to learn.