Marjorie Grene, best known for her work on the history of philosophy, here closes her account with a broad, studiously ireverent survey of what, at heart, her sixty-odd years' encounter with philosophy has been all about.
After graduating as a zoology major in 1931 she studied with Heidegger at Freiburg and then Jaspers at Heidelberg before returning to the United States to take her PhD in philosophy. Her academic career then covered both sides of the Atlantic and included a period as Polanyi's research assistant in Manchester. During this peripatetic career she took 15 years out to farm and to raise a family in Ireland. Her view of philosophy's enduring conversation is both that of a distinguished insider and someone with a developed sense of the view from outside.
On the surface she is a severe, if not cantankerous rubbisher of reputations. Heidegger, on whom she published the first study in English, takes a severe drubbing, so too do her "clever know-nothing" analytical colleagues playing "possible-world parlour games".
But behind all this and the apparent ecleticism of Grene's philosophical position - her heroes are Kant, Merleau-Ponty, James Gibson and Polanyi - there is considerable insight and wisdom.
Despite her constant warnings against fashions and fads in professional philosophy, the themes that Grene applauds are just the themes that I would pick out as most powerfully nascent in the best recent work of highly professionalised analytic philosophy.
The themes are the centrality of the concept of agency in our account of knowledge - a lesson learnt from Kant; the importance of the notion of tacit knowledge and its manifestation in our sense of orientation and embedding in the environment - the fundamental anti-Cartesian lesson Grene learnt partly from Heidegger and partly from Polanyi; and lastly the profound antireductionism of Grene's version of a naturalistic view of ourselves as creatures struggling to orient ourselves knowingly within the world.
Grene wears her scholarship and wisdom lightly, but with the surety of touch that comes from six decades of practice regularly produces the insightful formulation that brings these themes into view.
The general reader of this book will find a reliable survey of some of the central problems of philosophy. If they look beyond the scolding and admonishments dished out to contemporary intellectual fashions they will receive glimpses of important philosophical ideas that are more in tune with the fashions of professional academic philosophy than Grene perhaps realises or would care to admit. Above all, they will find a testament to the passion with which philosophy can and should be pursued.
Michael Luntley is lecturer in philosophy, University of Warwick.
A Philosophical Testament
Author - Marjorie Grene
ISBN - 0 8126 9286 1 and 0 8126 9287 X
Publisher - Open Court
Price - $18.95
Pages - 193