Maurice Rowdon : Philosopher

‘Looking at the world upside down is a discipline for all life. When you come down from your positions you see life as it is, not as it is set up. The greatest daydream of all is the history of the human.’

‘Rowdon, the trouble with you is – you’re a bloody fool’. Biology teacher, Emmanuel, London

Philosophy – what good is it?

‘Philosophy begins and ends with doubts about what is real. It finds that reality is simply a conviction, not what we can prove or demonstrate. Other animals have no difficulties of this kind – the movement of their wings and fins and legs and amphibious abilities require no forethought, being inherited.’

‘Only one philosopher has squarely faced human dementia and that was Socrates. Indeed all the later philosophy, from Aristotle to Kant and Nietzche, was a doomed effort to fairy-tale the dementia away. That fairy tale is best personified by the meaning of the word philosophy itself – ‘the love of wisdom’, in an animal which has consistently, through no fault of his own (indeed, he always demonstrated the greatest ardour) shown less of it than any other’.

On his three mentors he wrote:
‘To be so close to these three men, and all by the time I was eighteen, was a great send-off, I must say. At the age of fifteen, Norbert Elias, who had printed only the first hundred pages of his now world-wide sociological classic The Civilizing Process, and only in German, became my first mentor. I disagreed with almost everything he said. Norbert’s chief weakness was that he saw all religious and visionary experience as fantasy, like his mentor Sigmund Freud. By sheer contradiction he taught me a marvelous lot. Donald Mackinnon, Regius professor of moral philosophy at both Cambridge and Oxford, persuaded me to read Philosophy at Keble College and specialize in that ‘catastrophic spider’ (as Nietzsche called him) Immanuel Kant’s work, i.e. the philosophy of science. Donald came from theology and without a theological word infused me with a great respect for it as the origin or human thought and knowledge. Karl Polanyi, although I only knew him for a short time, became my third mentor. Like Elias he was writing his great book. He used to cover his handwritten script with insertions that spilled into the margins and over the back and into new pages. His The Great Transformation The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time felt to me, from his talk, the boldest and most original book on the industrial revolution every written. Few wise men or women would doubt that now… It has now been reissued by the Beacon Press, Boston.’

to top >