May 14, 2014

The Continental v. British traditions since 400 AD

From the comments:
Henry Canaday said... 
How about the difference in British and German philosophical traditions as a factor in explaining the British advantage in evolution and the German-Jewish edge in physics? 
I think Einstein read Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” when he was something like 12 year old, perhaps just for fun. That is a profoundly humiliating thought. I read the book in my 50s and would be flattering myself to think that I understood 10 percent of the average page. But you can see how Kant’s emphasis on man’s ability to only perceive phenomena, how things must appear, and then to organize these perceptions in time and space, might have helped scientists who were studying the stars, light waves and atoms.

When young, Kant himself made major contributions to astronomical theory, such as the Nebular hypothesis.
In contrast, the British empirical tradition might have helped the thoughtful squire, who happened to observe that the mating of two sorts of cows commonly produced a bigger, better cow, to avoid obsessing about whether he was misjudging cow size and just count the damn cows.

On the other hand, it's hard to tell how much is hindsight imposing patterns on a lot of history that was pretty random. For example, if James Clerk Maxwell hadn't died at 48 in 1879, he might have gone on to come up with at least the Special Theory of Relativity after the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887. And then I might be writing articles about the famous British knack for physics. After all, Newton was a Brit.

But, there remains a hunch that continental thinkers have tended toward top-down thinking while English and lowland Scottish thinkers have tended toward bottom-up thinking: e.g., Adam Smith on the self-organizing powers of independent businesses within a market, Charles Darwin on how inheritance with variation can originate species, and so forth. 

Paul Johnson's spectacular early book, The Offshore Islanders, a leftwing patriotic history of England in the key of Orwell, emphasizes what Johnson calls The Island Advantage, which includes the margin for error that natural defenses allows. In Johnson's highly creative retelling, the Continent is drawn toward trying to recreate the Roman Empire (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church) for mutual peace and thus their thinkers look for universal rules that would be best to impose upon all; while the Brits have a tendency to appreciate local initiative.

Johnson claims to be able to trace the British difference back before there was an England to Pelagius, a 4th Century Christian theologian who tangled with St. Augustine:
Pelagius (fl. c. 390-418)[1] was a probably British-born Roman ascetic who opposed the idea of predestination and asserted a strong version of the doctrine of free will.[2] He was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. For him (according to them), the only grace necessary was the declaration of the law; humans were not wounded by Adam's sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law apart from any divine aid. 

Is the Pelagius theory true? Johnson is an extraordinarily creative historian who tends to drive less gifted historians crazy. They tend to think he notices more patterns than may actually exist, and that he only gets away with it because he has such an inexhaustible supply of colorful supportive examples to pull out of his memory. 

Personally, I love Johnson, although I can also appreciate the criticism. For example, in one of his books (The Birth of the Modern, perhaps), he's criticizing some British policy he doesn't like, and then he turns on the British politician who most strongly backed that policy. Johnson sneers that this leader was consistently "unlucky," and then cites as evidence the guy's death from falling off his elephant during a tiger hunt in India.

I have a hunch that Johnson's chain of thinking proceeded in the opposite direction: he started with this wonderful fact about some modestly important British historical figure dying by falling off an elephant that he felt was so colorful that he had to work it into his book somehow, and then he built the framework of his opinions on the policy question around that kernel of killer anecdote.

(Or maybe I just suspect that because that would be what I'd do -- death-by-elephant is too great to pass up.)

I don't know if my supposition is true, and even if it were, it would still be merely an extreme example of Johnson's weaknesses as a reliable authority figure in historiography. 

But maybe that's the point. Johnson's not really that interested in the Continental tradition of developing authority in history. He sees himself more as a very British advocate of the marketplace of ideas, into which he regularly dumps a giant number of ideas for the marketplace to eventually sort out.

So, is his Pelagius idea correct? Beats me. I hadn't seen it getting much traction in the marketplace of ideas, but I just noticed that it provided the ideological basis for the 2004 Clive Owen movie King Arthur (which I've never seen). From Wikipedia's article on Pelagius:
In the movie King Arthur (2004), Pelagius is an unseen former mentor of young Lucius Artorius Castus, aka Arthur. Arthur champions Pelagius' ideals, including the belief that people are not inherently sinful, and that Grace may be attained through good works. This brings him into opposition with Roman Christian authorities, who believe that the inherent sinfulness of Man is justification for the conversion-by-torture of the Celts (a practice approved by Augustine to some extent, and used by his followers as justification for persecution of non-Christians[8]). Upon learning of Pelagius's excommunication and murder, Arthur realizes that the Roman ideal that he supported no longer exists. He breaks ties with the Roman Empire, and leads the Britons against the Saxon invaders.

So there.
       

66 comments:

John Derbyshire said...

One of Anthony Burgess' novels—I think it was The Wanting Seed but can't find dispositive references—has fun with the Augustine/Pelagius dichotomy.

"Pelagianism, the native British development [of African Donatism] rather lost its point when the legions left and the heathen Saxon became the antagonist, but in its concern with this life rather than the next it seems temporarily to have tapped a deep stream in the insular character."—Colin McEvedy, Penguin Atlas of Medeval History, p. 26.

a very knowing American said...

The English language has a pretty stripped down inflectional morphology compared to a lot of Continental languages. You don't have to do as much learning of the right inflections for genders, cases, tenses, and so on learning English as learning German or French. The received view among a lot of linguists nowadays is that this is irrelevant -- language doesn't influence thought -- but I wonder if English doesn't encourage a certain down-to-earthness in thinking.

Beliavsky said...

"Paul Johnson's spectacular early book, The Offshore Islanders, a leftwing patriotic history of England in the key of Orwell"

Paul Johnson is now right wing. I liked his book "Modern Times". Did he move from left to right over his career?

Jones 22 said...

Pelagius is a Welsh Tract Proto-Baptist.

Tom Scarlett said...

In his History of the British People, Johnson also dwells on the bad luck of Edward Grey, the man who took Britain into WWI: "His first wife was killed in a carriage smash. One of his brothers was trampled to death by a buffalo. Another was torn to pieces by a lion. Both his houses burned to the ground. He went blind, and died childless, and his peerage became extinct." Aside from that, he was quite all right.

Anonymous said...

Toqueville believed British Common Law served as a check on Continental revolutionary philosophy:

"Men who have more especially devoted themselves to legal pursuits derive from those occupations certain habits of order, a taste for formalities, and a kind of instinctive regard for the regular connection of ideas, which naturally render them very hostile to the revolutionary spirit and the unreflecting passions of the multitude.

The English and the Americans have retained the law of precedents; that is to say, they continue to found their legal opinions and the decisions of their courts upon the opinions and the decisions of their forefathers. In the mind of an English or American lawyer a taste and a reverence for what is old is almost always united to a love of regular and lawful proceedings.

The English and American lawyers investigate what has been done; the French advocate inquires what should have been done; the former produce precedents, the latter reasons."

He goes on.. Chapter 16, Democracy in America.

Of course today in the US, the lawyers are the radicals.

I like "King Arthur," except for Kiera Knightly's absurd female warrior Guinevere.

Anonymous said...

Well, in Nisbett's GEOGRAPHY OF THOUGHT, he talks about the broad division between Western and Eastern modes of thinking:

The West is reductionist; the East is holistic.

The East accepts contradiction;
The West strives to be consistent.
The West focuses on the object; the East focuses on the context, etc.

What's interesting, though, is how he notes that the Anglo world is the most "Western" of Western cultures. Compared to Anglos, Continental Europeans are actually somewhat closer to East Asians in their way of thinking. Indeed, following Nisbett, one could argue that Continental Europeans occupy a kind of mid-point between Anglos and East Asians.

Anonymous said...

I've nearly always found that interest in Pelagius is rather like being keen on the Knights Templar:Both topics seem to attract....eccentrics.

Anonymous said...

Pelagianism is one of those things, like Catharism, that has been picked up and polished by left-wing historians because they like to praise anything that wasn't "stultifying" Medieval orthodoxy. In reality, both heresies have some pretty horrifying intellectual consequences if followed out to their logical conclusions. Pelagianism isn't nice and tolerant and liberal and modern; it's the theological worldview of Dodgeball's White Goodman- "Weakness and sin aren't an ingrained part of fallen human nature; they're directly your fault because you don't hate yourself enough to exercise quasi-superhuman willpower to crush your own selfishness, you vile sinner". I suspect Pelagianism also has implicitly Utopian implications- if man's nature isn't fallen, there's really no reason we can't immanentize the Eschaton- though the poverty and violence of the early Dark Ages seem to have prevented anyone at the time acting on these.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, it's hard to tell how much is hindsight imposing patterns on a lot of history that was pretty random. For example, if James Clerk Maxwell hadn't died at 48 in 1879, he might have gone on to come up with at least the Special Theory of Relativity after the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887. And then I might be writing articles about the famous British knack for physics. After all, Newton was a Brit.

People do talk about a British knack of physics. Many people regard Newton and Maxwell as the greatest figures ever in physics.

Anonymous said...

What's interesting, though, is how he notes that the Anglo world is the most "Western" of Western cultures.

The originators of this way of thinking, however, aren't Anglo but Classical Greek and Continental: Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, etc. The Anglos just closely followed what was initiated by the Continentals.

Cail Corishev said...

Pelagianism is one of those things, like Catharism, that has been picked up and polished by left-wing historians because they like to praise anything that wasn't "stultifying" Medieval orthodoxy. In reality, both heresies have some pretty horrifying intellectual consequences if followed out to their logical conclusions.

Yes. The local rulers, and eventually the Church, didn't go after the Cathars as seriously as they did just for a bit of sport.

Anonymous said...

But Dutch are more like Brits.

Anonymous said...

"(Or maybe I just suspect that because that would be what I'd do -- death-by-elephant is too great to pass up.)"

Start with humor and build up from there - makes perfect sense to me.

Whiskey said...

The movie is junk. Roman Britain was already thinly Christian, by the time the last Legion was recalled in 419, to aid the dying Empire in the West.

I say thinly, compared to the East, because there were fewer people, the Roman presence was less, as seen by the language, compared to the French or Spanish relatively little of Latin prevailed.

Moreover, the Catholic Church itself mostly adopted a worldly view as opposed to Gnostic concerns with the next life, "secret" spiritual knowledge, and the Cathar view that all physical life was meaningless as the creation of the Devil. Which is exactly where Saint Augustine if taken to his logical conclusion leads one to -- Catharism.

Last anons point about Pelagianism leading to horrifying utopias is spot on, though it is likely a deeply ingrained view resulting from Catholic teaches about Heaven.

It is interesting to see where Western peoples were before Christianity. The Greeks, and Romans, had rather horrific or dim views of the afterlife, full of torture, ghosts, etc. The same is roughly true of both Celtic and Germanic peoples outside and inside the Roman Empire. The IDEA of Utopia shows up only in Plato's Republic, and is loosely inspired by the fairly repellent practices of the Spartans who had Japanese/Scandinavian like social unity but very little individual freedom. Meanwhile the Greeks, the Roman Republic, much of the Empire (the Emperors before Diocletian had to pretend to be "Princips" or First Citizen, not have people kneel and bow and grovel), and certainly after, you had very little social unity and little models for a utopian society or even desire for one.

But the English were not unique, if King John was checked by his Barons at Runnymeade, so too were Viking kings at various Parliaments in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. So too, were nobles a check on the Kings of France, of various Spanish kingdoms, and of course various Italian potentates and German Emperors.

The English took it more formalized, and in more direct fashion, but say, Holy Roman Emperors had to consider what the Pope wanted, the various princes under their nominal suzerainty, and powerful merchants. They could not just act as they pleased.

Heck even the Spanish had the farce of the Conquest of Mexico ending up in lawsuits with the surviving Conquistadors suing and being sued by everyone else: Cortez died dead flat broke owing his lawyers considerable sums.

Anonymous said...

This made me wonder.

Scandinavia has the law of Jante

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante

"the idea that there is a pattern of group behavior towards individuals within Scandinavian communities that negatively portrays and criticizes individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate."

Brits have this too but in the form of mockery, humor and mickey taking.

I wonder if this may promote bottom-up empirical thinking?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"The originators of this way of thinking, however, aren't Anglo but Classical Greek and Continental: Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, etc."

As an aetiology, yes. But the point is that the leading exemplar of these Western notions is the Anglosphere (plus, according to Nisbett, the Scandinavians).


Anonymous:" The Anglos just closely followed what was initiated by the Continentals."

Bit more than "just closely followed," surely, what with Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, etc.

Anonymous said...

John D - The Wanting Seed is about an overpopulated future globe where homosexuality is privileged in an attempt to reduce the birthrate.

Governments only fall into two categories, Pelagian and Augustinian, and swing between the two forms.

Augustinian governments believe in Original Sin, that man is naturally given to vices which need to be checked. Tend to be hierarchical and militaristic.

Pelagian governments believe in Man’s perfectibility and innate goodness. As this fails to produce the perfect society, so do initially liberal Pelagians tend to turn towards coercion, more laws and greater police powers.

’Pelagius is fond of police,
Augustine loves an army’

Beliavsky - yes, Johnson was a left-wing '68-er, like Peter Hitchens. Stop the war in Vietnam!

Ian F. Shield said...

"On the other hand, it's hard to tell how much is hindsight imposing patterns on a lot of history that was pretty random."

One often hears second-rate political analysts, with a superficial knowledge of American history, drawing large conclusions from very few data points. For example, they often declare that state governors have an inherent advantage over senators as presidential candidates, based on the fact that only two senators who had not been vice president were elected president during the 20th Century (Harding and Kennedy, although Harding is usually forgotten now), as opposed to 6 governors (Wilson, FDR, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II [if you consider 2000 part of the 20th century]). The point is, there are so few presidential elections to study, with the results influenced by so many factors other than what the candidates' resumes were, that you can't draw any valid conclusions about the relative advantages of governors and senators as presidential candidates.

bruce said...

"But, there remains a hunch that continental thinkers have tended toward top-down thinking while English and lowland Scottish thinkers have tended toward bottom-up thinking"

I think you're referring to how British Empiricism marked a major break from Continental Idealism "Rationalism" and general Platonism.

They continued to believe that the Truth can be found in the Mind through 'Reason', via Descartes revival of Plato.

We Brits (incl Scots) noticed that Aristotle taught a Method rather than a Dogma. Hence John Locke and who followed him.

Anonymous said...

Possibly the Brits don't do mediocrity well. Many of the best of the best have been Brits. In math and physics along with Newton and Maxwell we have Faraday, Kelvin, Hooke, Heaviside, Russell, Rutherford,(founder of modern particle physics, btw) Hawking and Penrose. OTH, what I don't see is a lot of Jewish names, unlike the German and later American side of things. Possibly 19th century Germany was less anti Semitic than England?

Anonymous said...

"But Dutch are more like Brits."

http://www.eupedia.com/images/content/Northwest-European-admixture.gif

Do Dutch have an equivaent to the "Law of Jante?"

Anonymous said...

As an aetiology, yes. But the point is that the leading exemplar of these Western notions is the Anglosphere (plus, according to Nisbett, the Scandinavians).

No, the point is that the Anglos weren't and aren't the leading exemplers, since they didn't originate or lead these notions.

Bit more than "just closely followed," surely, what with Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, etc.

Actually, those would be good examples of Anglo figures following Continentals. The English and Scottish Enlightenment philosophers followed what Descartes and Leibniz initiated. The American Pragmatists were influenced by German Idealism and Peirce carefully studied Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Whitehead and Russell's Principia was inspired by the pioneering work of Frege.

Anonymous said...

"Imagining the Law: Common Law and the Foundations of the American Legal System", by Norman Cantor, makes the point that English common law, with its trial by a jury of peers and respect for prior practice, largely resulted from the Normans need to impose a functioning and effective legal system that would be seen as fair and was also something that could be implemented fast. It was a field expedient, if you will, that did not require an exhaustive legal education. What did the locals think and what had they been doing?

He also makes a case that the Inns of Court played a unique role in British history and not just in law. Many young upper-class men, without need of interest in the priesthood, were educated at the Inns of Court (getting close to a thousand years now(?) or at least from the 1300s). Many of these men went on to work in other areas. The emphasis on empirical case law, rather than the rule-based reasoning of Continental law, may have helped form the British empirical tradition.

Anonymous said...

"Possibly 19th century Germany was less anti Semitic than England?"

Brits used to be the cleverest of the clever cos lots of milk and lots of fish.

Urbanization messed it up.

imo

Anonymous said...

Anon at 5:28 p.m.

Thanks for alerting me to the Cantor work on the origins of the Common Law.

I'm the anon above with the Toqueville quotes.

I'm familiar with some of Cantor's work on the Middle Ages, but not this one.

I like your, "It was a field expedient, if you will, that did not require an exhaustive legal education."

This explains why it takes three years to complete legal studies in the US but five years ... in Mexico.

2Degrees said...

Don't underestimate the British contribution to Physics, although many of the British physicists were northern grammar school boys rather than horse-breeding aristos.

Take Rutherford - almost a physicist although he won his nobel in chemistry. He might have been born in NZ, but he was of completely British stock. He, Thomson and Chadwick were among the pioneers of modern atomic physics.

Northern grammar school boys also have a desultory birth rate. Its the chavs having the babies.

Nellie Bly said...

I was listening to Derek Turner in one of the Mencken Club's audio recordings and he claimed the the Brits have long had a pragmatic streak, especially for the Tories. He cited Dr Johnson's quote about Bishop Berkeley- "I refute it thus." after kicking a stone.

Anonymous said...

People do talk about a British knack of physics. Many people regard Newton and Maxwell as the greatest figures ever in physics. Einstein apparently thought so. He kept portraits of both in his office.

Anonymous said...

I can see drawing a line from the British empiricist tradition/tendency back to Ockham and Nominalism, but Pelagius?

Ian said...

Is it really true that the Germans have the edge over the English in physics?

If you look at the top 20 physicists from Charles Murray's book Human Accomplishmnent (you can find this list on Wikipedia), I count 11 of British/Scottish origin, and only three of German origin.

Anonymous said...

Continentals have a long history of going to Catholic Church schools and being taught (in the more advanced levels) by Jesuits. As students, they were taught to think inside a rigid framework of approved system and theory, which is characteristic of Jesuit instruction. They were not taught to draw conclusions from empirical evidence, which is traditionally a Protestant type of educational thinking.

Jesuit education was, for a very long time, sort of like going to a Muslim Madrasa. Of course they're not going to invent science there.

The reason why the British are differently is actually Protestant vs. Catholic. If it hadn't been for Henry VIII, Newton may well have been locked up, tortured, or burned at the stake for his thinking under an English Inquisition, and the development of science seriously retarded by decades.

David said...

The fun of reading Paul Johnson...his story about Hemingway's anti-Nazi boat in Intellectuals...the passage in Modern Times about a palace massacre in Imperial Japan where the assassins "burst into the room, full of Shinto"...his noting that Ghandi had no sense of smell and adding parenthetically "a useful attribute in India"...

Anyway, the list of fun bits goes on and on.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous Ian said...

Is it really true that the Germans have the edge over the English in physics?

If you look at the top 20 physicists from Charles Murray's book Human Accomplishmnent (you can find this list on Wikipedia), I count 11 of British/Scottish origin, and only three of German origin."

Then Murray's list is wrong. Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Bethe. That's already five who would make most physicist's list of top twenty, and who are ethnically German or grew up in the German tradition.

Anonymous said...

I like "King Arthur," except for Kiera Knightly's absurd female warrior Guinevere.

My favourite part was the tagline on the poster based on a true story which was a real as Knightly's poster breasts.

Anonymous said...

burned at the stake for his thinking under an English Inquisition

How many were burned at the stake under any inquisition anywhere?

Nobody expects historical accuracy over the inquisition as Monty Python said.

Anonymous said...

But Dutch are more like Brits.

Not surprising considering the successful Dutch invasion of 1688.

dearieme said...

The portraits on Einstein's wall were of Newton, Maxwell, and Faraday.

dearieme said...

"Did he move from left to right over his career?" Yes. You'd do that from studying history, wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

The 3 greatest physicists: Newton, Einstein and Maxwell. An englishman,a scotsman and a jewish man.

Rainer said...

As for physics, it was cosmopolitan since the later 19th century. If you study the precursors of Relativity theory, there are as well Italians etc. - but Germans, French and Brits had the most widely read journals. Kant may well have stimulated an inclination to deviate from everyday experience and everyday vocabulary - which was important for Planck and Einstein.

Rainer said...

Christians, from the beginning, promoted the doctrine that all men are sinners and need grace and in that way distanced themselves from their Pharisean surroundings. Pelagianism tends to relapse into Phariseeism.

OTH it is well known that late Medieval Catholicism tended to a light-version of Pelagianism (semi-Pelagianism), as did Anglicanism. And the Reformators turned against just this semi-Pelagianism and revived the ideas of Augustine. Luther stressed the unimportance of good works nearly to the point of Antinomism, and Calvin stressed the doctrine of grace to the point of double preelection. Which didn't prevent neither the Dutch nor the Scots from converting to Calvinism.

Anonymous said...

Ian - 'British' includes Scottish. 'British/Scottish' is a redundant expression. 'English/Scottish' is fine.

Rob said...

The fact that England took a different legal route from the Continent surely had some impact. The pragmatism of the Common Law compares favourably with the Continental systems struggling to shoehorn themselves into Justinian's Code. Remember, the first universities were mostly devoted to law, and the legalist emphasis remained paramount for a long time among scholars.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"No, the point is that the Anglos weren't and aren't the leading exemplers, since they didn't originate or lead these notions."

Well, there is the fact that Nisbett notes that the Anglos are more "Western" in their thinking than the Germans, French, Italians, etc. As for not leading or originating ideas, that'a absurd. The impact of Anglo philosophers has been tremendous.



Anonymous:"Actually, those would be good examples of Anglo figures following Continentals. The English and Scottish Enlightenment philosophers followed what Descartes and Leibniz initiated."

Again, you seem to confuse influence with imitation. Anglo thinkers were certainly influenced by men like Descartes, but they did not simply meekly follow his work. Men like Hume and Smith became influential in their own right. One recalls, for example, Kant's talk of how reading Hume roused him from his dogmatic slumber.


Anonymous:"The American Pragmatists were influenced by German Idealism"

And also by the Anglo empiricist tradition...


Anonymous:"and Peirce carefully studied Kant's Critique of Pure Reason."

and, of course, Kant was heavily influenced by Hume...

Anonymous:" Whitehead and Russell's Principia was inspired by the pioneering work of Frege."

Inspiration is not imitation. Whitehead and Russell built on the work of others. 'Twas ever thus.

nydwracu said...

But, there remains a hunch that continental thinkers have tended toward top-down thinking while English and lowland Scottish thinkers have tended toward bottom-up thinking...

This is one stereotype that's very popular within academic philosophy. And, like stereotypes tend to be, it's pretty much true -- there were a few Germans and Austrians (though most of them were Jews) in the early days of analytic philosophy, but it caught on in England and Scotland, while the continent remained basically Hegelian.

Anonymous said...

RE: Germans vs Anglos in Physics,

Well, as others have noted, it's a rather incoherent notion. There are simply too many important Anglo physicists: Rutherford, Maxwell, Newton, etc.

If one wants a distinction that is sharp and clear, try music and painting.In both, the Anglo contribution is pretty close to non-existent. Purcell and Elgar come off as rather thin compared to Mozart and Beethoven, and Gainsborough and Turner can't really be set alongside Rembrandt and Michelangelo.

Anonymous said...

Here's Murray's top 12 in physics:

1. Newton and Einstein (tie)
2. Rutherford
3. Faraday
4. Galileo
5. Cavendish
6. Bohr
7. J. Thomson
8. Maxwell
9. P. Curie
10. Kirchhoff
11. Fermi
12. Heisenberg

HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT, p. 126

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"Ian - 'British' includes Scottish. 'British/Scottish' is a redundant expression. 'English/Scottish' is fine."

I've run into a few Scots who have disliked being called British....

Anonymous said...

The portraits on Einstein's wall were of Newton, Maxwell, and Faraday.

All brits, all christians. Though Newton's rejection of the dogma of Trinity could have gotten him burnt at the stake as a heretic like the scientists Giordano Bruno and Michael Servetus.

Servetus was murdered in 1553 by the Protestant Calvin in Geneva and Bruno in 16000by the Catholic Church in Rome.

Note that the Pilgrims who settled in New England were Calvinists...

Anonymous said...

Country life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35S2Ox0SbCg

Ian said...

Ian - 'British' includes Scottish. 'British/Scottish' is a redundant expression. 'English/Scottish' is fine.

Oops, sorry, I knew that.

Sean said...

Hume is the opposite of a John Bull cause and effect man, it's all very mysterious, but human habit has a central role. Kant also gives human understanding the key role. So they are not so different.

pat said...

I'm reading Plutarch right now partly in pursuit of the story of the Sabines that was discussed here a week or so ago.

It goes slowly because doesn't just describe the story of Romulus and the she wolf - he relates four completely different versions of the story.

When the movie 'Gladiator' came out a decade ago I looked up the death of Aurelius because I knew that Commodus didn't assassinate him. Commodus was already co-emperor why would he do that? But I learned something in my research. There are at least four wildly different stories of Aurelius' death. I prefer the one where he is said to have slowly starved himself to death while surrounded by his friends and advisors. But that's just me. It seems like the sort of thing that the author of the lugubrious 'Meditations' would do. Neither of the two big Hollywood movies however goes for this version.

My point is that there really is no one true story in history until quite recently. I think the ancients would have dealt better with the Kennedy assassination than we have because they were used to competing accounts and contradictions. The idea that something happened one way and one way only seems to be quite modern.

The Arthurian legend is a case in point. The kidnapped Sarmatian knights and Pelagianism shown in the movie have some historical basis but the Thomas Malory version does too. Personally I prefer the yarn spun by Bernard Cornwell over the course of three novels.

I am large, I contain multitudes.

Pat Boyle

FredR said...

Yah, Anthony Burgess is obsessed with Pelagius. It comes up a lot. Not only in The Wanting Seed but in the third Enderby novel as well (the one where he goes to Mr. Sammler's Planet).

Anonymous said...

Physics is integral to practical science, evolutin is not.

Anonymous said...

The lack of unity among parts gnaws on the German philosophical mind. The threat of a unified force terrifies the English mind.

Some historians says it's the legacy of geography. The English have been conquered when their colonial subjects got together and rebelled against their benevolent economic stewardship.

The English are good at making money and thinking in the small. They have tried to reduce philosophy to an exercise in safe, reductionist if math.

The Germans have been conquered piece by piece when their motley crew of tribes falls apart and gets absorbed among the surrounding French, Slavs, Italians, etc.

Their great thinkers always seek to find the essence of their collective selfhood to rescue them from this dissolution by assimilation into the mass of the foreign. They feel safest with simple, clear rules that are consistently adhered to.

The English like flexible rules that they can adjust to local circumstances. They feel safest when things are "business as usual," every man is occupied and thinking of the small things in life. "Bumbling through," they like to say. The big things take care of themselves.

This shows in their philosophy.

Sean said...

But Europe is organised on the basis of states and a neighbouring state is the natural enemy. France and Austria for example. Britain has been allied with Prussia, and even France.

European history was basically all countries trying to make sure that their enemies did not gain control over the Holy Roman Empire (ie the German nation). The European Community is built on fear of the now consolidated unified German power not being locked in to an all encompassing EU alliance.

States are natural rivals and when they become allies it is out of fear of a potential hegemon. NOT because some universalist credo has become official philosophy.

Again, "Simms shows how both winners and losers were preoccupied, more or less effectively, with enhancing their economic capacity and administrative efficiency in order to withstand external pressure, or to exert it. Sometimes the domestic changes were revolutionary: both the English Civil War of the 1640s and the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 had their roots in a perceived need for an English ruler willing to resist the rising power of France."

I think immigrants are seen as increasing the power of a state. Racial commitment by whites to their own is seen as weakening the state. It's that emergent property of a state, (ie, to increase the its internal efficiency) which is needed to exert power externally for ensuring the security and survival of a state. So white nationalism is in conflict with the state. It isn't just a matter of universalism versus nationalist racial consciousness and commitment by white majorities.

There is maybe a precedent for one state being universalist: Britain! "Simms even argues, plausibly, that Britain’s repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was motivated largely by Richard Cobden’s “foreign policy” aim of making states more interdependent and thus less prone to conflict".

While states may not be acting for just billiard ball realist or power politics reasons all the time, purely philosophical considerations are rarely decisive.

Philip Neal said...

The Pelagius idea is just silly. The British intellectual tradition you are interested in - the Lunar Society, the Darwin-Wedgwood dynasty, Hereditary Genius and so on - has deep roots in Dissent and Puritanism, and the practical consequences of Darwinism are strongly predestinarian, as its enemies are fond of pointing out.

Anonymous said...

Physics is integral to practical science, evolutin is not.

Calculus is integral to practical science.

Anonymous said...

I don't think "The Canaday Hypothesis" works. The problem with any such theory is that it rests on a miniscule handful of data points. The total number of first rank physicists (or naturalists or anything else) is too small to base conclusions about national character on. We're talking about perhaps half a dozen people out of a population of scores or even hundreds of million.

Anonymous said...

The English like flexible rules that they can adjust to local circumstances. They feel safest when things are "business as usual," every man is occupied and thinking of the small things in life. "Bumbling through," they like to say. The big things take care of themselves.


This shows in their philosophy.


If that was ever the English philosophy, it certainly no longer is in the 21st century. A lot of the discussion of England by the Anglophile commenters here is based on a very romanticized view of what people in England are actually like.

Anonymous said...

"Brits used to be the cleverest of the clever cos lots of milk and lots of fish."

-I'll see your milk and fish and raise you chicken fat and lox.

-Or maybe it's Celtic influence. I have personal experience as an engineer working in England at a division owned by an American company. The English engaged in something I came to call management by wishful thinking. They kept hoping their systems would work better next time even though they did nothing to improve the situation. It was like banging my head against a wall, we knew from designing similar equipment what worked, even offered the solution to them and they refused. They thought shipping a system somewhere and sending an engineer out to spend 2 weeks in the field to get it working was normal.

Unlike the American side of things where we thought you should ship it, the customer plugs it in and it all works first time.

The only one there who agreed was Irish. His description was that the English would rather go down to glorious defeat than succeed.

These are the same people who brought you the Somme and Operation Market Garden.

Anonymous said...

1) "Brits used to be the cleverest of the clever cos lots of milk and lots of fish."


2) "These are the same people who brought you the Somme and Operation Market Garden. "

You seem to have missed the "used to be."

Anonymous said...

If one wants a distinction that is sharp and clear, try music and painting.In both, the Anglo contribution is pretty close to non-existent.

Ever heard of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley (who was half British)?

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of Dawkins (selfish gene, against group selection), Adam Smith, The Economist (open markets über alles), all of formal Philosophy written in English in the last 300 years, basically Anglophone thinking across the board.

The Anglophone mind is very smart, but it recoils from overarching concepts and noumena of all kinds. It is analytic and atomistic to the core.

You'd have to know Goethe, Hegel, Haeckel, even Marx for any counterpoint. Or Plato for that matter.