With Friends Like These….

J. O. Urmson, introducing a volume of essays by H. A. Pritchard:

Certainly it must be conceded that his influence in his lifetime was great, particularly in his own university of Oxford; but this may be counted a misfortune. Did he not constantly overbear his opponents with dogmatic assertion? ‘If we reflect, we become forced to admit…’, he would say, and further discussion would be fruitless. If his lectures commanded a faithful audience, were they not, dogmatism aside, mainly a destructive criticism of his selected targets? Outside moral philosophy, he was a champion of such lost causes as the synthetic a priori truth of Euclidean geometry; within moral philosophy, the intuitionism which he expounded has disappeared, except to be perfunctorily refuted in the first or second chapter of ethical textbooks. For it was an irrational dogmatism—either one saw by inspection the moral truths which Pritchard saw or one was morally blind, and nothing more was to be said. Further, what can a generation of philosophers with respect for idiom find of value in a philosopher who perpetrated such barbarisms as ‘I shall be oughting to do a‘? And if we think that philosophy should concern itself with real moral issues, what are we to make of a man whose puzzles are about exchanging a banana for an apple, an obligation to go to bed, or what one should do if a man’s life depended on the correct guess of the fall of a die?

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