Brian Barry

Brian Barry is the Edie and Lew Wasserman Professor of Philosophy at the California Institute of Technology. He was, until recently, editor of the journal Ethics and is currently working on problems of justice within and between nations.

Complaining

Brian Barry, 23 November 1989

Michael Walzer is one of America’s leading social critics, an editor of the magazine Dissent and the author of such books of political philosophy as Spheres of Justice, a systematic discussion of the nature of justice in society. In The Company of Critics he steps back from the activity of social criticism to reflect on the work of a number of other 20th-century social critics. The overall purpose of the book, however, is to commend one kind of criticism and to denigrate others.

In the beginning was A.J. Ayer

Brian Barry, 20 June 1985

The creation of moral philosophy as we know it: in the beginning was A.J. Ayer, and moral assertions were without form, and void. More precisely, they were of a grammatically misleading form and lacking in meaning. In Language, Truth and Logic (published in 1936), Ayer maintained that what appears to be a moral assertion (e.g. ‘Stealing money is wrong’) ‘expresses no proposition which can be either true or false’. Such sentences are unverifiable and hence meaningless, for the central tenet of his logical positivism was that the meaning of a statement is equivalent to the observations that would make it true.

Greatest Happiness

Brian Barry, 19 January 1984

‘There shall be a day when a shorthand citation like “McMaster 8:279” will be sufficient affidavit for the scholar of the authenticity and location of any quotation of Russell’s written word.’ With this ringing prophecy, William Ready, the General Editor of the McMaster University Library Press and the man who brought the Russell archives to McMaster in 1968, introduced a prospectus of The Collected Essays of Bertrand Russell in Russell, the journal of the Bertrand Russell Archives. The prophecy may come true, but even if I were to survive as long as Russell, I am unwilling to bet that I should be around to see it fulfilled.

Happiness and Joe Higgins

Brian Barry, 20 October 1983

Jon Elster needs, as they say, no introduction to regular readers of the London Review, who will be familiar not only with his name but also with the cast of his mind and the breadth of his interests. What makes him distinctive is a combination of philosophical acuity and detailed attention to contemporary work in history, the social sciences and cognitive psychology. He sets out his own credo in the ‘General Introduction’ to Explaining Technical Change:

Someone else’s shoes

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 23 November 1989

As Brian Barry suggests, the question of justice arises when custom loses its grip; when the prevailing social myth and what Stuart Hampshire calls its ‘fallacy of false fixity’...

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