Retreat from Truth

Retreat from Truth

Retreat from Truth

Retreat from Truth

Excerpt

This book grew, slowly and intermittently, from a mood of deep depression. In the years between the wars I had watched without enthusiasm the return of British philosophy to its native empiricist tradition. After the last war it appeared to be reducing itself from naïveté to absurdity with such speed and such conviction that I began to think it might soon be time to cry stinking fish. I did not hurry, because I hoped that my mood and the cause of it might pass away with better times, but after a dozen years, during which I asked myself often and anxiously whether I might not have become a mere praiser of the days of my youth, I could find no reason to repent. Against a background of bitter practical stress, all our non-practical activities, our poetry and our philosophy in particular, seemed continually to deteriorate, while natural science flourished and progressed by leaps and bounds.

Between practical conditions and spiritual sterility one could hardly doubt a causal link, but I could not, in the case of philosophy, see at once what it was. I was faced with the fact that British empiricism and positivism had originated and developed in relatively happy times, and that: their modern forms, though they represented a complete break with the idealism of the nineteenth century, a period when the prestige of British philosophers, at least in Great Britain, was at its height, were merely a return to the past and an intensification of the old tradition. We were only reverting to the worm's-eye view. Gradually, however, I came to accept, though with qualifications, the view of Benedetto Croce that science is an essentially practical activity, and that empiricism is an ersatz philosophy which falsely identifies in kind philosophical and scientific thinking, and therefore cannot envisage any connection between reason and intrinsic values. On this assumption, it was easy to connect the traditional philosophic attitude of this country with the essentially practical bent of its inhabitants -- connection which has always been less obvious to themselves . . .

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