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Appeal to Philosophers1


I want in this paper to enter a protest against the preoccupations of many contemporary philosophers, and to put in a plea for a return to the classical tradition in philosophy. According to this tradition, philosophy is, or at least should be, concerned with the whole conduct of life. It has two main functions, to clarify the wisdom of common-sense people, and to increase it. To put it technically, philosophy, as traditionally conceived, is an activity of self-conscious beings which seeks, among other things, critically to examine the manifestations of human consciousness and the principles which guide human activity; to examine not disinterestedly, but in order to illuminate, to assist, and to reform. Philosophy has, therefore, the dual purpose of revealing truth and increasing virtue. One of the methods traditionally employed for achieving these two purposes consists in the attempt to discover those values which are ultimate in the sense that, while other things are desired for the sake oi them, they alone are desired for their own sakes, to uncover by a process of analysis the values which underlie the judgments commonly passed by contemporary society—as for example, in our own society, the values implied by the judgment that increase of efficiency in slaughter is desirable, especially if combined with a readiness to undertake it whenever the State to which one happens to belong deems the moment expedient for the mass slaughter of the citizens of some other State—and to show how the latter deviate from the former.

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1 This article, which was originally read to a meeting of the Aristotelian Society held at Cambridge in February 1940, is reprinted by permission of the Secretary.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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