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Alan Bennett: What I did in 2014, 8 January 2015

... and thus a member of Magdalen senior common room. It was a daunting community, with A.J.P. Taylor, Gilbert Ryle and C.S. Lewis regularly met with on high table. I didn’t have much small talk but what was the point as one seldom got a word in with Taylor and had I had anything to chat to Ryle about it would have been ...

Touching the music

Paul Driver, 4 January 1996

Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship 
by Robert Craft.
Vanderbilt, 588 pp., £35.95, October 1994, 0 8265 1258 5
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... Bergman, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Giacometti, Graves, Isherwood, Heard, Huxley, St-John Perse, Gilbert Ryle, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Edith Sitwell, Evelyn Waugh. Some, including Eliot and Huxley, are evoked at length; others come to rest in a marvellous single image. Edith Sitwell’s eyes are ‘heavily underpencilled in blue, like the woad dye of ...

Think like a neutron

Steven Shapin: Fermi’s Paradoxes, 24 May 2018

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age 
by David N. Schwartz.
Basic, 448 pp., £26.99, December 2017, 978 0 465 07292 7
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... anything in the world, the other testifying to the basic structure of everything that exists. As Gilbert Ryle observed many years ago, these ‘subsuming’ disciplines do indeed ‘know everything’, even if it’s properly said that the ‘everything’ they know is everything from a special point of view. Enrico Fermi was an atomic physicist – so ...

What is rude?

Thomas Nagel: Midgley, Murdoch, Anscombe, Foot, 10 February 2022

The Women Are up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Iris Murdoch Revolutionised Ethics 
by Benjamin J.B. Lipscomb.
Oxford, 326 pp., £20, November 2021, 978 0 19 754107 4
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Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life 
by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman.
Chatto, 398 pp., £25, February, 978 1 78474 328 4
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... both books.The revolution had been launched before the war. A.J. Ayer, encouraged by his teacher Gilbert Ryle, had gone to Austria to learn about the ideas of the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers, scientists and logicians who were developing the position known as logical positivism. Ayer returned to England and in 1936 published Language, Truth ...

Cold Sweat

Alan Bennett, 15 October 1981

Forms of Talk 
by Erving Goffman.
Blackwell, 335 pp., £12, September 1981, 0 631 12788 7
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... self intact. ‘If you want to know the time ask a policeman’ becomes Ivy Compton-Burnett meets Gilbert Ryle. In philosophy I would find this kind of analysis arid and dispiriting. With Goffman it is different. Funny and perceptive though he is about forms – whether in talk, behaviour or social organisation – forms are never his central concern. In ...

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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... thereof one must speak.’ The reception of the book shaped Gellner’s career in two ways. First, Gilbert Ryle, senior Oxford professor and editor of Mind, the leading trade journal, decided the book was unworthy of review. Bertrand Russell – whom Gollancz, ever the enterprising publisher, had persuaded to write a sympathetic preface – sent a letter ...

Loose Talk

Steven Shapin: Atomic Secrets, 4 November 2021

Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States 
by Alex Wellerstein.
Chicago, 549 pp., £28, April, 978 0 226 02038 9
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... How to identify which was which? The secrets that had to be kept close would then be what Gilbert Ryle – coincidentally, writing at exactly this time – called ‘knowing-that’: facts, theories, propositions, even tables, graphs, drawings. Or was the key element procedural or practical knowledge – in ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2010, 16 December 2010

... is that Pevsner, writing in 1953, says of the nowadays perfectly acceptable rood screen by George Gilbert Scott, ‘It should be replaced,’ and the faux-Cosmati pulpit similarly. Apropos guides we are using Henry Thorold’s Shell Guide to County Durham written in 1980 which recommends a visit to Finchale (pronounced Finkle) Priory set in a bend of a river ...

The Meaninglessness of Meaning

Michael Wood, 9 October 1986

The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Cape, 368 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 224 02302 0
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Writing Degree Zero and Elements of Semiology 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith.
Cape, 172 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 224 02267 9
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The Fashion System 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard.
Cape, 303 pp., £15, March 1985, 0 224 02984 3
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The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art and Representation 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 312 pp., £19.50, January 1986, 0 631 14746 2
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The Rustle of Language 
by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
Blackwell, 373 pp., £27.50, May 1986, 0 631 14864 7
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A Barthes Reader 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 495 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 224 02946 0
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Barthes: Selected Writings 
edited by Susan Sontag.
Fontana, 495 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 00 636645 7
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Roland Barthes: A Conservative Estimate 
by Philip Thody.
University of Chicago Press, 203 pp., £6.75, February 1984, 0 226 79513 6
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Roland Barthes: Structuralism and After 
by Annette Lavers.
Methuen, 300 pp., £16.95, September 1982, 0 416 72380 2
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by Jonathan Culler.
Fontana, 128 pp., £1.95, February 1983, 0 00 635974 4
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... the idea of tolerance’ and less insistent on the idea that all philosophers ought to write like Gilbert Ryle. It’s not that tolerance is not a virtue, only that all kinds of things which are not virtues can hide in its skirts, and that tolerance itself may be indistinguishable from condescension. Thody’s problem is Barthes’s Frenchness, or rather ...


Neal Ascherson: Hugh Trevor-Roper, 19 August 2010

Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Weidenfeld, 598 pp., £25, July 2010, 978 0 297 85214 8
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... emerged from the intelligence war with some important and lasting friendships including those with Gilbert Ryle, Stuart Hampshire, Guy Liddell and Dick White, who after the war became the head of MI5 and then MI6 – an invaluable contact. And Trevor-Roper enjoyed the company of Kim Philby, whom he found the most intelligent and sophisticated of his ...

Dennis Nilsen, or the Pot of Basil

John Ryle, 21 February 1985

Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen 
by Brian Masters.
Cape, 352 pp., £9.95, February 1985, 0 224 02184 2
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by Pickles.
Quartet, 289 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 7043 2439 3
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Ritualised Homosexuality in Melanesia 
edited by Gilbert Herdt.
California, 409 pp., £19.95, October 1984, 0 520 05037 1
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... Murderers are frequently reported by acquaintances to be civil, diligent, pleasant in manner, if a little reserved, normal in appearance, cultivated to a degree, kind to animals and, with certain fatal exceptions, to their fellow human beings. If such characteristics were grounds for suspicion, Dennis Nilsen, who strangled and dismembered 14 or 15 youths in North London over a period of five years, would have been rounded up with the rest of us ...

Making up the mind

Ian Hacking, 1 September 1988

The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science 
by P.N. Johnson-Laird.
Harvard/Fontana, 444 pp., £23.50, May 1988, 0 674 15615 3
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... are in fundamentally different categories. That is the beginning of a lesson well taught by Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind forty years ago. Indeed minds, unlike computers, are not things at all. We use the noun ‘mind’ often enough, but not to pick out a class of entities. It does not even work much like the matching words in the French or ...

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