Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 17. August 3, 1950

The Need for Philosophy

page 3

The Need for Philosophy

We give here more opinions on the talk recently given by Father Duggan. We have ourselves registered no opinion either way: If you wish to do so, please now limit your comments to letter length—that is, not more than 250 words long.

In Search of . . .

What Duggan Meant

The only school of thought' which Dr. Duggan will admit to the status of Philosophy is Realism. Philosophy, for Dr. Duggan, is merely Metaphysics in all its ramifications.

When he was asked whether he could, without committing linguistic and syntactical errors, define metaphysics as anything other than a figment of mans' imagination, i.e., as non-sense. Dr. Duggan replied that metaphysics was the study of infinite being.

Let us consider these two symbols, "infinite" and "being" (N.B. for the sake of brevity, please note that in the verb "to be" are included its other forms—"to exist," "to become," etc.). To avoid being wearisome we will quite hypothetically assume a meaning for "infinite," and will concentrate upon "being." "Being" can be used as a verbal noun, but where as other verbal nouns, e.g., "sitting", assert an activity, the verbal noun, "being" asserts a thing that is. "Being" can also be used as a non-verbal noun as in "human being," c.f. the use of "sitting" in "a sitting of eggs." This is an arbitrary usage, however, and if Dr. Duggan is using "being" in this way he will have to face up to the fact that "I am a human being" la equivalent to "I am I", "Eggs are a Bitting" la equivalent to "Eggs are eggs," and that "Metaphysics is being" is equivalent to "Metaphysics is metaphysics." His definition will therefore be merely a tautology. The way to avoid this is to commit the error in language of attempting to use. "being" both as a verbal noun, asserting something that is, and as a non-verbal noun which can be qualified by an adjective such as "infinite."

But, if "being" is to be used at all as a verbal noun, the user should realise the implications of his act, for it is demonstrable that the verb "to be" has no meaning of itself, but that it is merely oil for the wheels of language. When used as a copula, as in "the table is red," the verb "to be" is not a necessary symbol, since "the table is red" asserts no more than does "red table." When, too, the verb "to be" is used in the assertory sense—"the table is (red)"—It is again not a necessary symbol, for "table is" asserts no more than does "table." When I say "I love" I assert "love" and not "I", and when I say "I am", I aasert "I" and not "am"—again the verb "to be" is an unnecessary symbol.

It is self-evident that if a symbol is not necessary it, is meaningless, and the verb "to be" is thus, strictly speaking, meaningless of Itself. It is merely a, linguistic convention. "Being," a verbal noun, part of the verb "to be", is therefore a meaningless symbol—non-sense, By his own definition, Dr. Duggan's metaphysics, his Philosophy, is the study of infinite nonsense—for "infinite being" he might as well substitute "infinite glug"—it would mean just as much.

Thus the language in which Dr. Duggan's philosophy, and, indeed, all philosophy, is conceived is, to say the very least, defective—defective not only in that it is open to erroneous use even in the hands of those who realise its defects, but also in that its very structure assumes the meta-physic philosophy which it is used to Justify.

It would appear then that the study of the problems presented by this language, the realisation of its shortcomings, and the clarification of its ambiguities, would be fundamental to any serious study of philosophy; and yet Dr. Duggan dismisses this linguistic study with a shrug of the shoulders, and, apparently in blissful ignorance of the limitations of the medium in which it is conceived holds up metaphysics as the philosophical study.—David Walshe

About Duggan About Philosophy and About

If anyone wants to talk about philosophy (even if not philosophically). It seems to me that there are various requirements, such as, calmness, clarity and reasonableness which should be fulfilled. Further, the speaker should not purport to be able to sum up and discard any recognised philisopher in one sentence. Only too seldom did Father Duggan fulfil these requirements in his recent talk to the College.

On the other hand, his contention that the mind is impressed with the knowledge "that there is something" in existence as well as that mind would seem to have considerable value as a postulate.

It seems to me that many of the difficulties arise when one tries to proceed from these. For instance it is difficult to know how, if at all, one can pass from the concept of something to validly asserting its objective existence other than as a concept Father Duggan seemed occasionally to think that this transition is validly possible, but he could not, I thought, satisfactorily answer my second question, which was directed to this issue. (I am not saying that Father Duggan should have been able to prove such a valid transition, but rather I am saying that if he cannot then he should, at the least, be a little more circumspect in his talking).

I would like to Bay here that, to the best of my recollection, I put my first question by beginning: "If one takes the position that a thing is a summation of qualities" this is quite different from saying "Being is a summation of qualities."

A linguistic approach to philosophical problems also falls to show how we can validly proceed from concept to object, but it may help to clear the ground.

And lastly, the harangues into which the discussion degenerated were deplorable at such a time and place. Philosophy is not like that, and controversy about philosophy need not be so. A talk about the need for philosophy will never convince anyone of that need if it becomes an altercation. So the altercation distressed me, because I think, notwithstanding, that one of our great needs is for philosophy.

Erie Robinson.