In the Guardian on Friday (yesterday) there is an article ‘Enemies of Thought’. It’s about the fight between two philosophers, one emeritus professor and one still in situ as professor of philosophy in Miami. The retired one is Ted Honderich and it immediately conjured up that time of my life when I was a ‘mature’ undergraduate student at University College in London and Ted Honderich was a tutor. A very tall man, he seemed to dedicate one book on moral philosophy and the philosophy of mind after another to a string of wives and girlfriends, one of whom was one of his own students – not me, I hasten to add, but a good friend of mine at the time, who later on had a book dedicated to her, I cannot remember which one.
The photograph next to the aforementioned article shows a fairly mediocre looking elderly man with a cup of tea/coffee in his hand. Where is the wine Ted, is my first thought, as the combination seems quite incongruous, as I remember him. The picture in the link is much more like the Ted Honderich I seem to remember, not a sign of coffee or tea anywhere, but you can imagine him pulling out the bottle after the shot was taken.
Strange how these memories suddenly evoke a part of your life and thoughts about friends and people long since lost on the way when moving from country to country and back – but I would just love to get in touch with my former friend HM. We met once more, over a Christmas holiday after I had moved to Iran, and back in London. Living with a different partner by that time, she had reverted to her Scottish roots and was cooking a red cabbage concoction that had been on the stove for hours.
What was the article about? Well, whether or not our consciousness is internal or external, and McGinn claims that Ted Honderich’s latest book On consciousness is ‘sly, woefully uninformed, preposterous, easily refuted, unsophisticated, uncomprehending, banal, pointless, excruciating.’ Pfew, that’s a hard one and does not leave much illusion about how these two view each other. It just seems amazing that one can become such enemies over a view as to whether consciousness is one thing or another (in abstract terms) and whether you can actually say anything sensible about it. But then, that’s half the fun of philosophy isn’t it?