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A New Theory of Communication

Alastair Fowler, 30 March 1989

Relevance: Communication and Cognition 
by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson.
Blackwell, 279 pp., £8.95, March 1986, 0 631 13756 4
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Human Agency: Language, Duty and Value 
edited by Jonathan Dancy, J.M.E. Moravcsik and C.C.W. Taylor.
Stanford, 308 pp., $35, September 1988, 0 8047 1474 6
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... written solus, were brilliant essays: but Relevance is more systematic and technical, and Wilson may be guessed to sing its cantus firmus. The result is a decisive contribution to our thinking about language. Relevance has a strategic importance, which makes its comparative neglect astonishing, and raises a question whether this ...

Once upon a Real Time

Wendy Doniger, 23 March 1995

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers 
by Marina Warner.
Chatto, 458 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 7011 3530 1
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... story of Cinderella). I would add (following Carlo Ginzburg) that the idea of the identifying foot may also be linked with the earliest morphologies, the footprints of animals followed by prehistoric hunters – a habit enshrined in Aristotle’s, and our, classification of animals as quadrupeds, bipeds, six-legged insects etc; and that the foot is often the ...
... echoes that of Darwin’s joint presentation with Wallace to the Linnaean Society in 1858 may appear not only presumptuous but also inappropriate to a commemoration of Radcliffe-Brown, whose lifelong concern was with structure and function rather than with evolution, and whose vision of ‘a natural science of society’ was, it has often been ...

On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

... of evolutionary progress, and it is possible that the profundity of some of the elements may make us less conscious of the dubious nature of others. In particular, Darwin’s general idea of progress – on which his notion of evolutionary progress is dependent – can have the effect of misdirecting our attention, in ways that are crucial in the ...

Why anything? Why this?

Derek Parfit, 22 January 1998

... been, in countless ways, different. So why is the Universe as it is?These questions, some believe, may have causal answers. Suppose first that the Universe has always existed. Some believe that, if all events were caused by earlier events, everything would be explained. That, however, is not so. Even an infinite series of events cannot explain itself. We could ...

The Right to Die

Stephen Sedley, 27 August 2015

... But anyone who expects a full and informed debate and a vote that reflects public opinion may be disappointed. There are several reasons. David Cameron, who is known to be opposed to the measure, has declined to make parliamentary time – i.e. time allocated by the government whips – available for it. This means that Marris will have to run the ...


Tony Smith, 19 May 1983

Herpes: The Facts 
by J.K. Oates.
Penguin, 123 pp., £1.50, February 1983, 0 14 046619 3
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... now remembers or is much concerned about Lassa fever or legionnaire’s disease? The herpes hype may, however, be rather more important than some of its predecessors, since the fears, anxieties and guilts it generates have quite devastating effects in individual cases. Quite how a disease becomes a talking-point is not known: interest in pop stars, new ...

Fallen Language

Donald Davie, 21 June 1984

The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Deutsch, 203 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 233 97581 0
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... seldom canvassed), out of many possibilities that spring to mind two should be noticed: first, we may conceive of a language – as it might be Russian, or even American English – that is less worldly-wise than British English; and secondly we may conceive of, and even think that we register around us, a linguistic ...

A Passion for the Beyond

Bernard Williams, 7 August 1986

The View from Nowhere 
by Thomas Nagel.
Oxford, 244 pp., £17.50, April 1986, 0 19 503668 9
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... know the answer to a difficulty. His discussions are informed by a sense that what he is saying may be overthrown or overtaken by other views. It is a great relief from the remorsely demonstrative tone that grips the work of analytical philosophers, including some of us who in principle know better. The unifying theme, as Nagel puts it at the beginning, is ...

Shifting Sands

Peter Lipton: How nature works, 3 September 1998

How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organised Criticality 
by Per Bak.
Oxford, 212 pp., £18.99, June 1997, 0 19 850164 1
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... such manifest design requires a Designer. The argument from design has serious weaknesses, but one may still wonder what to put in its place. Per Bak, a physicist at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, thinks he has the answer: self-organised criticality. Bak applies this idea to a stunning range of disciplines, from geology, economics, biology and ...

Flattery and Whining

William Gass: Prologomania, 5 October 2000

The Book of Prefaces 
edited by Alasdair Gray.
Bloomsbury, 639 pp., £35, May 2000, 0 7475 4443 3
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... Since he deliberately does not distinguish between the various sorts of front matter a volume may contain, both might be characterised as prefaces. I encountered this laxity with some dismay, although I understand it. The editor did not wish to inhibit his choices of materials by drawing lines none of his examples would obey anyway, or slow his process of ...
... varies with historical conditions. What is necessary for freedom and what is sufficient for it may reasonably and honourably be understood in different terms in different historical circumstances. It is natural to put the thought like this. But how can we speak in this way of what is necessary or sufficient at different times for this one ...

On Being Left Out

Adam Phillips: On FOMO, 20 May 2021

... winner who cannot in fact swim, and by us, the readers.The joke, if it is a joke, is that heroism may be a function of incompetence. Or that we only have winners because we are losers. Or that being the best at something is being unable to do it. Or, indeed, that we have the wrong idea about what it is to swim, or to win a race, or even about what a race ...

A Trap of Their Own Making

Anatol Lieven: The consequences of the new imperialism, 8 May 2003

... is possessed not by a set of competing Western states, but by one state alone. Other countries may possess elements of the technology, and many states are more warlike than America; but none possesses anything like the ability of the US to integrate these elements (including Intelligence) into an effective whole, and to combine them with weight of ...

Falling in love with Fanny

V.S. Pritchett, 5 August 1982

Memoirs of a Midget 
by Walter de la Mare.
Oxford, 392 pp., £3.50, May 1982, 0 19 281344 7
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... famous novel Memoirs of a Midget, glances at Borges and goes on to the possibility that de la Mare may be the only English Surrealist, but one with a manner that has what she calls the ‘sheen’ of the Pre-Raphaelites. This ‘sheen’ on his best prose is of course protective and is intended to give the false sense of safety in which we can play with ...

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