Ashridge has kindly granted me a study break to catch up on my PhD, which I am taking at Douai Abbey. Spring is sneaking out around the Abbey, with star-shaped daffodils and shy blossom wherever I look. Our meals here are silent, and over lunch and supper we are read to. At the moment we are working our way through Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, from which I have learned about the vital role volcanoes play in our biosphere. Today I am reading about philosophy, from Pythagoras to Wittgenstein (the Carlisle Red Cross charity shop was kind enough to sell me Anthony Kenny’s marvellous A Brief History of Western Philosophy for 50p – a fitting reward to mark the end of our walk along Hadrian’s Wall).
My favourite bit is Kenny’s definition of philosophy: ‘a discipline remains philosophical as long as its concepts are unclarified and its methods are controversial. Once problems can be unambiguously stated, once concepts are appropriately standardized, and once a consensus emerges for the methodology of solution, then we have an independent science rather than a branch of philosophy.’ I have decided that the lingua franca of philosophers is metaphor, so my metaphor for philosophy is the lost property office. All kinds of stuff ends up there, and occasionally something is claimed and taken home. More often than not, the old stuff lingers on, unclaimed, hoping one day to find a home.