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The Young Man One Hopes For

Jonathan Rée: The Wittgensteins, 21 November 2019

Wittgenstein’s Family Letters: Corresponding with Ludwig 
edited by Brian McGuinness, translated by Peter Winslow.
Bloomsbury, 300 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 4742 9813 1
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... or less united in seeing Wittgenstein as a burnt-out wreck and a disgrace to the profession: A.J. Ayer, for example, described him as a maniacal egotist who took refuge within a ‘cénacle of the faithful’, and Isaiah Berlin thought he had been reduced to peddling some trashy variety of ‘imaginative romanticism’. The gossip did not cease with ...

What’s not to like?

Stefan Collini: Ernest Gellner, 2 June 2011

Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography 
by John Hall.
Verso, 400 pp., £29.99, July 2010, 978 1 84467 602 6
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... cultural commentators – rather than media-friendly academics such as Hugh Trevor-Roper or A.J. Ayer. The very enterprise of comparative historical sociology, magnificent though it is in its tireless attempt to find pattern and explanation across societies and millennia, is bound to take an aerial view, and perhaps that, too, helped distance Gellner from ...

Child of Evangelism

James Wood, 3 October 1996

The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 216 pp., £14.99, March 1996, 0 297 81764 7
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Is There a God? 
by Richard Swinburne.
Oxford, 144 pp., £20, February 1996, 0 19 823544 5
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God in Us: A Case for Christian Humanism 
by Anthony Freeman.
SCM, 87 pp., £5.95, September 1993, 0 344 02538 1
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Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Hodder, 401 pp., £20, October 1996, 0 340 57107 1
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... through it – and there cannot be many these days – with an impression of total confusion; A.J. Ayer was ‘an engaging man ... in whose company I delighted’, but his work was unstable and confusing, and because he had a near-death experience, it is impossible to tell, says Johnson, if he died believing in God or not. But how much better, in Johnson’s ...

Karl Miller Remembered

Neal Ascherson, John Lanchester and Andrew O’Hagan, 23 October 2014

... by Amit Chaudhuri and Romesh Gunesekera, reflections and memoirs and poems by everyone from A.J. Ayer to Fiona Pitt-Kethley. We often used to argue about Pitt-Kethley’s super-sexually frank work in the office. Karl was a believer and said something very useful about her work: ‘When people are shocked by something,’ he told me, ‘they never admit to ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... Anne’s College, Oxford, where she attended lectures by Isaiah Berlin and had classes with A.J. Ayer, Stuart Hampshire and Iris Murdoch; most fatefully, a sojourn at the Sorbonne, where, like Audrey Hepburn pixie-ing through the new philosophy of Empathicalism in Funny Face, she met – oh, enough roll call. You can read about it in Chapter 11 of Moser, or ...

Life after Life

Jonathan Rée: Collingwood, 20 January 2000

An Essay on Metaphysics 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by Rex Martin.
Oxford, 439 pp., £48, July 1998, 0 19 823561 5
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The New Leviathan 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by David Boucher.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 0 19 823880 0
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The Principles of History 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by W.H. Dray and W.J. van der Dussen.
Oxford, 293 pp., £48, March 1999, 0 19 823703 0
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... of a ‘science of pure being’ was preposterous and self-contradictory, and agreed with A.J. Ayer’s argument, in Language Truth and Logic, that so-called ‘metaphysical propositions’ are unverifiable and literally meaningless. But Ayer’s inference that metaphysics should be ‘eliminated’ and replaced with ...

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