Existence Unperceived

W.D. Hart

  • Philosophical Subjects: Essays Presented to P.F. Strawson edited by Zak van Straaten
    Oxford, 302 pp, £12.50, November 1980, ISBN 0 19 824603 X

Professor Sir Peter Strawson is properly honoured by the 12 essays written for this anthology. Unlike the papers in some other collections of this kind, most of these are addressed to issues in which Strawson has a serious interest and on which he has done substantial work. It is therefore delightful to find that Philosophical Subjects also contains Strawson’s replies to each of the essays presented to him. Strawson’s prose is elegant, even if his points are sometimes somewhat elusive: one wishes all academics could write as well as he does. He begins each reply with a generous statement of the issues on which he and the person writing about him are in accord, and then discusses points of difference. It might be popularly supposed that philosophers would be especially susceptible to persuasion by rational argument. But philosophers can be as pig-headed as anyone else: indeed, ingenuity can sustain perversity. Strawson, however, displays a wholly admirable grace; he is more than willing to change his mind when he is presented with a good reason for doing so. Thus, since sustained dialectical exchange is the medium of real philosophical work, one can get a sense of what it is like to do philosophy (which is how those in the trade typically put it) by reading Philosophical Subjects.

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