Magazine article The Spectator

I Plonk, Therefore I Am

Magazine article The Spectator

I Plonk, Therefore I Am

Article excerpt

Scruton is a ginger-haired plonker who makes his dosh by slagging off the world he lives in. Roger is the former Professor of Aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London, distinguished for his plangent commentaries on the balkanisation of late 20th-century thought. Each statement has an element of truth, and each truth is relevant to his latest book, which is at the same time a piece of bower-boy propaganda and an attempt to show how wisdom may be pursued. Unfortunately, one approach necessarily invalidates the other.

The philosophical target at which Scruton aims is the problem of establishing an objective knowledge of the world through the subjective medium of the mind. This Herculean task has bedevilled every Western philosopher since Descartes asserted that the fundamental certainty in life was that thinking proved his existence.

Nevertheless, Scruton accomplishes the task in about 80 pages, thereby creating a pleasing sense of superiority in the reader. I was entranced by his exposition of the ideas of those terrible Teutons, Kant and Hegel, each of whom argued that the process of thinking could only establish the existence of a subjective world, and then wrote tomes showing that objectivity might yet be found through the process rather than the thoughts. Equally masterful was the way he bounds free from their toils with the timely aid of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. For readers of Hello!, anxious to add gravitas to their small talk, Wittgenstein is to Kant as Agent Orange is to the jungle, a quick spray and most of A Critique of Pure Reason simply curls up and dies. The poison lies in his observation that you can't think without language, and since language springs from the existence of an objective world, or at least of other people, the egotistic supposition that the world only exists in 'I's' thoughts is hoist with Ts' own mental petard.

You might think at this point that you were away to the races, but, alas, this is not a disinterested quest for wisdom. In the second half, the author reveals himself to be that ugly product of the modern age, a spin-philosopher, interested only in getting his message across. This can be summarised as the assertion that society is going to hell in a handcart because mankind is no longer regarded as the sacred creation it once was. …

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