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Bryan Magee (1930–2019)

Autor de Story of Philosophy

25+ Obras 3,729 Miembros 34 Reseñas 8 Preferidas

Sobre El Autor

Bryan Magee has had a distinguished career as a university professor, music and theater critic, member of Parliament, and author. He is well known for two popular BBC television series on philosophy. Among his internationally acclaimed books are The Story of Philosophy, The Philosophy of mostrar más Schopenhauer, and Aspects of Wagner. He lives in London. (Bowker Author Biography) mostrar menos

Incluye los nombres: Bryan Magee, ברין מגי

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From the cover, this seemed an interesting read, having previously read a war diary of a young lad growing up in wartime London and found that absorbing. But this was not what I expected at all. The early part of the book is quite interesting: Bryan's early childhood is in a deprived area of South London, Hoxton, although his family are a little better off since they have a family tailor's shop business and can afford to run a car. Also his father is unusual for their social background in loving classical music and opera, which he introduces Bryan to and continues to encourage his interest in, and also the theatre.

Bryan is evacuated along with the other children of the area, but initially goes to his grandmother in Sussex. He doesn't get on with her and he is eventually sent up north to Market Harborough where the rest of his school has been sent. There is again a quite interesting account of the cultural clash and how he and his classmates are accustomed to lie, cheat and use their fists whereas the country children are quiet, shy and peaceable. However the book takes a big about turn when he passes the exam which is the predecessor of the 11 Plus and moves to a public school on an assisted place. This is an unusual old school previously based in the City of London but now out in the Sussex countryside at a very large site with its own infirmary, dentist, and umpteen other buildings set in huge grounds. Bryan proceeds to receive an education that is very unusual for the time - for a boy from a working class background especially - and to stay there until he is 18. Most of the book is about his life at the school and his burgeoning interest in classical music and opera in particular.

It didn't really live up to the title: he is not involved in the day to day viccissitudes of putting up with bombing and the like or having to fit in with strangers and unable to see his family for years as a lot of evacuated children did. I'm afraid that I found the majority of the book to be difficult to relate to. Although I like some classical music when I hear it I have to confess to an ignorance of what a lot of pieces are called and the constant iteration of their names meant very little to me. I had sympathy for his relationship with his awful mother and the sad events as the war drew to a close when he loses those in the family with whom he is close, but a lot of the account did rather drag and I can only give it an OK 2-stars.
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kitsune_reader | otra reseña | Nov 23, 2023 |
 
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luvucenanzo06 | otra reseña | Sep 8, 2023 |
Bryan Magee’s career has included producing highly intellectual television programs for the BBC as well as teaching philosophy at Oxford. He writes that his true love is philosophy, but he also had to earn a living. This book is couched in a biographical framework, but the author explains its actual aim is to explicate the teachings of many of the world’s great philosophers. Thus, while he tells the story of how he came to be so invested in philosophy, he also explores, in an entertaining and accessible way, the ideas of many great philosophers throughout western history.

Magee learned much of his knowledge of philosophy [that field of study that addresses questions about life, existence, and the universe, inter alia] as a student at Oxford, but a primary thrust of the book is to discredit what he calls “Oxford Philosophy.” He avers that philosophy at Oxford veered away from the most important issues of the field (in his view, understanding the real world) and emphasized epistemology at the expense of ontology.

[Both epistemology and ontology are branches of philosophy. Ontology asks what does really exist, while epistemology is concerned with the question of how you come to believe what you know. While they are related, they generate entirely different emphases for study. Ontologists might ask, “Is there a God?” whereas epistemologists look at how and why people have come to their particular beliefs about God.]

The book traces the development of western philosophy from the pre-Socratics through Plato (whom he rates as one of the two greatest philosophers); through the Middle Ages; to the English empiricists including Immanuel Kant (the other greatest philosopher in his judgment) and Schopenhauer; to Bertrand Russell and his epigones; and finally to Karl Popper.

In Magee’s view, Bertrand Russell did such an excellent job of analyzing the use of the role of language in formulating philosophical propositions that his followers lost sight of what should be the true goal of philosophy and identified language analysis as the entirety of the field. It is certainly a tempting, not to mention, productive focus for philosophy, as well as for Biblical and constitutional exegesis: language is not only about grammar and vocabulary, which can supply their own ambiguities. It is also about nuance and culture, values and perceptions, and local and contemporary references that may supply entirely different meanings of words in different contexts. But to this author, language parsing should only be a subsection of philosophical analysis.

As for Kant, to Magee his greatness lay in his distinction between the noumenal (the thing in “itself”) and the phenomenal (what can be perceived about the thing). What we, as humans, can perceive about anything is limited by our sense detectors, as enhanced by any clever sense-extending technology we are able to develop. We simply do not know whether there is anything else or any quality of a thing that we cannot detect. So the actual thing in itself is forever hidden from us. We can know only its qualities or characteristics subject to our sensory detectors.

Magee actually met Russell several times and knew Popper pretty well. He asserts that Russell was a superb analyst, but he never claimed philosophy did not extend beyond mere analysis as many later Oxford philosophers contended. Popper’s major contribution to our understanding, according to Magee, was his analysis of the process of induction; he agreed with Hume that one could never prove the truth of a proposition about the state of the world. However, Popper argued that induction was still very useful because under the principle of falsifiability it could demonstrate the falsity of a proposition by finding just one inconsistency. Popper also believed we might approach the truth asymptotically through induction. [The asymptotic philosopher is one who aims to come as close as possible to explaining the world in spite of our human limitations. It comes from the mathematical concept of approaching increasingly closer to knowing a particular value or line without ever reaching it.]

Magee concludes that we cannot know the nature of total reality, but we have difficulty in accepting this situation. As to moral judgments, he says “we can no more prove that our moral convictions are valid than we can prove that the rules of logic are valid, just as we cannot prove that there is a reality external to ourselves.” Instead, our aim “should be, not to prove anything, but to find out, and properly to understand, what the truth is about what is.”

Evaluation: Magee very competently explicates the theories of various philosophers. His biographical interludes provide a little respite from some very dense and arcane analysis. This book is well worth reading, but will be better appreciated by readers with some background in western philosophy.

(JAB)
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½
 
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nbmars | 10 reseñas más. | Apr 9, 2023 |
I am a novice in this territory. I have listened to a bit of Wagner and read a few pages of Nietzsche, but that's it. This book did a wonderful job of sketching out this world for me and inviting me to explore further.

There are no bits of musical score here. I don't recall any mention of major and minor tonalities or time signatures. Magee does wax eloquent on the expressiveness of Wagner's music, how it evokes natural scenes or human emotions. But Magee takes as roughly axiomatic that Wagner's music is at the pinnacle of the European tradiion. He does bring out quotes from eminent modern composers in support of this notion. But the point of the book is not to argue this point.

The main thrust of the book is something like: Wagner was a quite competent student of philosophy and classics, particularly Schopenhauer and Greek drama. But Wagner's musical vision was far deeper. Much of Wagner's writing was his attempt to understand, justify, and structure his composition work. But his compositions went beyond his own philosophical understanding. In particular, his initial vision for the Ring was a kind of progressive notion, the idea that we can remake society in a much happier form. But the Ring he created didn't fulfill that vision. Then Wagner was introduced to Schopenhauer's writing and Wagner realized that Schopenhauer captured the actual vision expressed by the Ring better than e.g. the Feuerbach that he was previously enamoured by.

A remarkable tid-bit: Wagner kept a statue of the Buddha in his living room and envisioned writing a Buddhist opera, but decided that Parsifal was Buddhist enough. Wow!

Yeah I went out and bought some Wagner CDs... I have yet to pull the Schopenhauer volumes off my shelf, but I am motivated!

Magee goes into some length about the relationship of Nietzsche and Wagner. He's got a reasonable theory about a personal affront that split them deeply.

There is also a good appendix on Wagner's anti-semitism and the Nazis. Magee attempts to thread the needle, understanding Wagner's virulent anti-semitism without condoning it. Hitler was fond of much of Wagner's music but most of the Nazi leadership had no use for it. A remarkable tidbit is Magee relating a conversation he had with Winifred Wagner, Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law. After her husband, Richard's son Siegfried, died, Winifred asked Hitler to marry her. Winifred was evidently a totally unrepentant Nazi. Anyway, Magee's views on the Nazis and Wagner seem well grounded in direct evidence.
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kukulaj | Mar 3, 2023 |

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