Fourth BWS Annual Conference: Wittgenstein and the Swansea School
Gregynog, Wales 16–17 July 2011
You can also watch the speakers from this and our other conferences on our conference video page.
Report by Ieuan Lloyd
Professor Norman Malcolm writes in his memoir of Wittgenstein about a visit he made to Wales when he lodged in the house of a preacher. On arrival, the lady of the house asked him if he would like a cup of tea. Before Wittgenstein could reply, the man called from another room, ‘Do not ask: give!’ Malcolm writes, 'Wittgenstein was favourably impressed by this exclamation. A characteristic remark Wittgenstein would make when referring to someone who was notably generous or kind or honest was ‘He is a human being!’ (p.61).
A similar Welsh welcome was given this year to the 4th meeting of the British Wittgenstein Society at a large country house called Gregynog, near Newtown (Powys). The subject for the conference was ‘Wittgenstein and The Swansea School’. It was to recognise the contribution that past members of the Swansea department had made to the study of Wittgenstein.The most important person from that department had been Rush Rhees, a close friend of Wittgenstein's and one of three executors of his papers. He had joined the department in 1940 and still held informal seminars until his death in 1989. Professor Lars Hertzberg of Abo Akademi (Finland) opened the conference with his paper ‘Rhees and Conversation’.
photo of conference participants by Constantinos Athanasopoulos; action photos below by Hugh Knott.
Peter Winch and Roy Holland joined the department in 1950, and papers related to their interests were given by Michel le Du (Strasbourg) ‘Wittgenstein and Winch on Nature and Convention’, and Olli Lagerspetz (Abo Akademi), a pupil of Winch and former member of the Swansea department (1992-1997), ‘Peter Winch on Political Legitimacy’. Raimond Gaita, who had been supervised at Leeds by Roy Holland, spoke on ‘Roy Holland on Absolute Value’. Howard Mounce, a one-time student and latterly a long-serving member of the department and editor of the journal Philosophical Investigations, was the subject of a paper by Mikel Burley, entitled ‘Mounce and Winch on Understanding (or not understanding) an Indigenous Society’. Since Winch also had a strong interest in Spinoza, a further session was arranged to afford the audience a unique opportunity to listen to audio recordings of Peter Winch’s seminars on Spinoza, conducted at Swansea in the early 1980s. Cora Diamond (Virginia), a lifelong student of Wittgenstein who taught at Swansea between 1960-1962, read her paper ‘Criticism of a form of thought from ‘outside’’. Anniken Greve (Tromso) spoke on ‘Reading after Wittgenstein’. Dewi Z. Phillips, who was not only a pupil of Rhees, Holland and Winch, but later held the chair at Swansea for over 20 years, was suitably remembered for his considerable contribution to the philosophy of religion by Brian Davies (Fordham) and Andrew Gleeson (Flinders), in their paper ‘D.Z. Phillips on God and Evil’. Perhaps the most memorable and poignant occasion was the screening of Dewi Phillips’ 2004 Tanner Mc Murrin lecture, ‘Has the Logical Problem of Evil Been Solved?’ where his distinctive style of philosophical clarity, seriousness and good humour reminded us of the man we miss.
Naturally, the day’s proceedings were followed by lively discussion in the cellar bar. Not many years ago, the drinking of alcohol was prohibited on the premises. It is hard to imagine now that there was a time when as many as 8 professors would have to be driven some 5 miles away if they wanted to quench their thirst. How times have changed! There was a lighter moment when two awards were given to the winners of a Wittgenstein essay competition. One of these was Mikel Burley, who presented his imaginary and humorous ‘Wittgenstein - From a lecture belonging to a course of lectures on dead philosophers’, wondering out loud what it means for a dead philosopher to speak to us today. The other award-winning entry came from David Connearn. It was titled ‘Everything is what it is and not another thing’ and revolved entirely around the design of the door-handles for the Wittgenstein house in Vienna (a duplicate of which was passed around). The convivial and intellectual success of what was indeed an international conference, attended by some 85 members, was due to the impeccable organisation of David Cockburn and Mario von der Ruhr.
|Cora Diamond||Seminar Room||Rai Gaita|
and Rupert Read
|Music Room||David Cockburn|
See BWS Competition winner announced
Mikel Burley (Leeds)
Mounce and Winch on Understanding (or Not Understanding) an Indigenous Society
James Conant (Chicago)
Rai Gaita (Kings College London; Australian Catholic University)
R.F. Holland on Absolute Value
Anniken Greve (Tromso University, Norway)
Reading after Wittgenstein
Lars Hertzberg (Abo Akademi)
Rhees and conversation
Olli Lagerspetz (Abo Akademi)
Peter Winch on Political Legitimacy
The Conference Proceedings will be published in a special issue of Philosophical Investigations.