Words and Things, Ernest Gellner. Gollancz (25/-).

Thought and Action, Stuart Hampshire. Chatto & Windus (25/-).

there is a gulf today, which we must make every possible effort to narrow, between the kind of thinking characteristic of practical moral and political dispute on the one hand, and what in contemporary academic circles is regarded as philosophy on the other. Although current philosophy in this country has been drawn increasingly towards logic and away from moral and political theory, it can be shown (cf. Iris Murdoch in Conviction) that this choice is in fact a moral one (albeit disguised) and is in no sense logically forced upon us. All that the ‘anti-metaphysical’ arguments oblige us to acknowledge is that moral theorising is not the discovery of bogus ‘facts’; there is no reason to reject moral and political theory as such, unless it be a basically Liberal prejudice to the effect that such theory is unnecessary or dangerous. It is vital that the ‘neutrality’ myth about contemporary philosophy should be exploded, for only in this way can the hidden prejudices be brought into open dispute and philosophy be reunited with explicitly political thinking.

But socialists must use philosophy, not merely abuse it. It is for this reason that Mr. Gellner’s gloriously iconoclastic attack on the current methods of ‘linguistic philosophy’, Words and Things is useful only destructively. His frontal assault is refreshingly impolite and extremely funny, and his sociological insights into the movement are often penetrating: we should take more seriously than we have done the problem of why philosophy has gone the way it has—of the relation between the particular expertise of linguistic philosophy, with its attendant mystique, and the general professionalisation of our increasingly managerial society. But Gellner’s insights are only insights; they fit into no coherent positive philosophy, for he has no coherent positive philosophy to offer.

The other recent book to make inroads into contemporary philosophy is Stuart Hampshire’s Thought and Action, but it does so by quite different methods and is ultimately of more use, I believe, because it is not entirely negative. Gellner is concerned to prove that philosophy is possible and that linguistic philosophers are merely doing it under the guise of ‘analysis’; Hampshire proves the possibility of philosophy by actually doing some. Where Gellner devotes his whole book to ‘linguistic analysis’, Hampshire gives it seven pages. But both books may help in getting British philosophy out of its present unconstructive state, and in so far as this state is a matter for sociological as well as philosophical concern—in fact the two are inseparable—Gellner’s vitriolic injections may be a fairly direct way of making philosophy a rather less gentlemanly pursuit: the recent controversy in The Times is extremely revealing in this connecion.