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David Pears, 19 February 1987

A.J. Ayer 
by John Foster.
Routledge, 307 pp., £12, October 1985, 9780710206022
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by A.J. Ayer.
Weidenfeld, 182 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 297 78880 9
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Fact, Science and Morality: Essays on A.J. Ayer’s ‘Language, Truth and Logic’ 
edited by Graham Macdonald and Crispin Wright.
Blackwell, 314 pp., £27.50, January 1987, 0 631 14555 9
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... Philosophy’s critics have a variety of criteria from which to choose. The first question to ask about any philosopher’s claims is whether they are true. But there are other questions which sometimes crowd this one out. Is his work accessible and persuasive? Does it touch our lives? Will it last? With so many options there is no pretending that it is obvious what counts as success ...

Microcosm and Macrocosm

David Pears, 3 June 1982

Reason, Truth and History 
by Hilary Putnam.
Cambridge, 222 pp., £15, February 1982, 0 521 23035 7
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... There is an odd experience that Plato may have had. If light filters into a room through a small enough aperture, anything moving on the street outside will cast its shadow on the ceiling and back wall, and the shadow may have only the most abstract resemblance to the original. Perhaps the human predicament is really like that. The truth about the world may be difficult or even impossible to attain by ordinary methods ...

An Identity of My Own

David Pears, 19 January 1989

I: The Philosophy and Psychology of Personal Identity 
by Jonathan Glover.
Allen Lane, 207 pp., £15.95, April 1988, 0 7139 9001 5
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Choice: The Essential Element in Human Action 
by Alan Donagan.
Routledge, 197 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 7102 1168 6
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... The unity of my mind is something that I can appreciate when I use it, but it is hard to isolate and analyse. Without it, I could not have checked that sentence or added this one to it, and yet, when I turn my mind inwards onto itself, the source of its unity remains elusive. Is it something additional to all my thoughts and feelings, wholly au-dessus de la mêlée? What are the vicissitudes through which this anima vagula is capable of maintaining its own identity? How separate is it from the rest of the natural world? That last question forces itself on us not only when we think about the possibility of surviving death but also when we make any ordinary choice in daily life ...


David Pears, 5 June 1986

Berkeley: The Central Arguments 
by A.C. Grayling.
Duckworth, 218 pp., £19.50, January 1986, 0 7156 2065 7
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Essays on Berkeley: A Tercentennial Celebration 
edited by John Foster and Howard Robinson.
Oxford, 264 pp., £22.50, October 1986, 0 19 824734 6
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... As a child I collected butterflies, and I remember being impressed by a comic cartoon which showed another collector, older and more experienced than myself, who had accidentally swallowed a specimen he had been chasing. Later I felt the same sense of incongruity when I read Berkeley’s claim that everything he perceived was really in his mind. Surely he was overdoing it ...
The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell. Vol. VII: Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript 
edited by Elizabeth Ramsden Eames and Kenneth Blackwell.
Allen and Unwin, 258 pp., £35, May 1984, 0 04 920073 9
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Freedom and Morality, and Other Essays 
by A.J. Ayer.
Oxford, 182 pp., £15, June 1984, 0 19 824731 1
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More of My Life 
by A.J. Ayer.
Collins, 224 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 0 00 217003 5
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... The seventh volume of Russell’s Collected Papers contains the core of a book which he never completed. He stopped working on it, probably because he felt that he could not honestly go on. He had hoped that Wittgenstein would approve of what he had been writing, but when they met in May 1913, Wittgenstein told him that it was all wrong, and, as Russell admitted to Ottoline Morrell, he did not know how to answer Wittgenstein’s objections ...

Man as the Measure

David Pears, 18 August 1983

Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition 
by Saul Kripke.
Blackwell, 150 pp., £9.50, September 1982, 0 631 13077 2
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... The human mind is a measure of nature and, like all such devices, ought to maintain constancy. But it is also part of nature and so it may be affected by the kind of inconstancy that it often claims to detect in the other part which it measures. Wittgenstein in some of his later work was concerned with a fundamental form of this problem. Do the meanings of our words remain stable and unchanged through all the vicissitudes of our lives? If Crusoe talked to himself during his solitary period, may there not have been some slippage, not evident to him, in his use of his vocabulary? Ruskin believed that the growth of industry had dimmed the bright colours of nature that had surrounded him in his early years, and he might have gone further and suspected that the common use of colour-words was shifting in the same direction ...

The Will and the Body

David Pears, 17 December 1981

The Will: A Dual Aspect Theory 
by Brian O’Shaughnessy.
Cambridge, 250 pp., £25, November 1980, 0 521 22680 5
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... In the last twenty-five years there has been increasing interest in the philosophy of action, and many different theories have been put forward. The revival of this subject had several causes. If we are going to impute responsibility to agents, we need to know what action is, what makes it voluntary and what makes it intentional. So ethics and the philosophy of law have promoted interest in these questions ...

When three is one

Paul Seabright, 20 September 1984

Motivated Irrationality 
by David Pears.
Oxford, 258 pp., £14.95, March 1984, 0 19 824662 5
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... pathology. It has not always been thought so, but there would be few dissenters nowadays. So when David Pears writes of his book, Motivated Irrationality, that ‘Western philosophy has always puffed the pretensions of reason, which, therefore, can do with a certain amount of deflation’, one has a sense of relief that a philosophically neglected ...

The Egocentric Predicament

Thomas Nagel, 18 May 1989

The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, Vol. II 
by David Pears.
Oxford, 355 pp., £29.50, November 1988, 0 19 824487 8
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... years ago. It is too easy to embrace the solutions without understanding the problems. As David Pears observes, ‘when we read one of Wittgenstein’s discussions of philosophical illusions, there are two things which we may not find it easy to hold together in our minds simultaneously, his success in dispelling them and the depth and difficulty ...


Ian Hacking, 4 February 1988

The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, Vol. I 
by David Pears.
Oxford, 202 pp., £19.50, September 1987, 0 19 824771 0
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Wittgenstein’s Nephew 
by Thomas Bernhard.
Quartet, 120 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 7043 2611 6
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... Wittgenstein’s philosophy. The division into two quite slim volumes does not mean that Professor Pears accepts a received view: that the man had two philosophies. The split is practical. University courses are commonly about either Philosophical Investigations or Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published in 1953 and 1921 respectively. ...

Ayer, Anscombe and Empiricism

Alasdair MacIntyre, 17 April 1980

Perception and Identity: Essays presented to A.J. Ayer with his replies to them 
edited by G.E. MacDonald.
Macmillan, 358 pp., £15, December 1979, 0 333 27182 3
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Intention and Intentionality: Essays in Honour of G.E.M. Anscombe 
edited by Cora Diamond and Jenny Teichmann.
Harvester, 205 pp., £16.95, December 1979, 0 85527 985 0
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... of green grass and round tables? Five of the 12 essayists – Michael Dummett, P.F. Strawson, David Pears, D.M. Armstrong and Charles Taylor – are concerned with these or with closely related questions. Collectively – taken together with those earlier writings of Ayer on which these essays are a commentary and with Ayer’s reply at the end of ...

On and off the page

Thomas Nagel, 25 July 1991

Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration 
by Edna Margalit and Avishai Margalit.
Hogarth, 224 pp., £25, June 1991, 0 7012 0925 9
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... restrictions. She thus enlists Berlin’s ideas in a cause not usually associated with him. David Pears evokes the early days of Oxford analytic philosophy and Berlin’s perceptive involvement with it; Charles Taylor discusses the legacy of Herder to contemporary philosophy, particularly the philosophy of language. I wish there had been more ...

Second-Decimal Arguments

Jon Elster, 23 May 1985

The Thread of Life 
by Richard Wollheim.
Harvard, 288 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 06 748875 7
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... their defenders ought to lean over backwards to be simple, clear and explicit. Donald Davidson and David Pears have recently made pioneering attempts to render elements of Freud’s theory in terms comprehensible to analytical philosophers and empirical psychologists. Instead of following their lead, Wollheim retreats to the more comfortable procedure of ...

After Browne

Iain Pears, 17 March 2011

... academics will have a strong financial incentive to become liars. Despite the doubts expressed by David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, the institutional momentum behind it has proven to be unstoppable: Hefce recently announced that the measure will go ahead unchanged. ‘Impact’ will account for 20 per cent of an academic’s ...

Heat in a Mild Climate

James Wood: Baron Britain of Aldeburgh, 19 December 2013

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the 20th Century 
by Paul Kildea.
Allen Lane, 635 pp., £30, January 2013, 978 1 84614 232 1
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Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music 
by Neil Powell.
Hutchinson, 512 pp., £25, January 2013, 978 0 09 193123 0
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... county’s most famous native son. The annual Aldeburgh Festival, which he and his partner Peter Pears founded, was in many ways scrupulously communitarian, involving local halls, churches and craftsmen. But many felt that Britten ran it with iron caprice, surrounded by a gang of insiders, quickly dismissing those who fell out of favour. Warm, simple, even a ...

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