Friday, August 15, 2008
AUGUST 17 - THE JOAD DIARIES (1948)
PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSUE 47
In response to a copy of November press release from Richard Symonds
publicizing the planned 2003 South Stoke Festival of Thought (see 'Philosophy
Pathways' Issue 32, 19th May 2002) I invited Mr Symonds to answer my question,
'Who was Cyril Joad and what did he contribute to Philosophy?' In a series of
e-mails Mr Symonds responded at far too great a length to include in the 'Ask a
Philosopher' pages. Joad is a much-maligned philosopher. In 'A Hundred Years of
Philosophy' (2nd ed. 1966) John Passmore writes about Joad's 1929 book 'Matter,
Life and Value':
"Within a seam-bursting eclecticism, Russell, Bergson and Plato had somehow all
to make room for themselves, as the representatives, respectively, of matter,
life and value. The result was a conglomeration of considerable popular appeal
but little philosophical consequence. The fact remains that Joad - an
invigoratingly polemical broadcaster, essayist and lecturer at a time when the
ideal of 'good taste' was threatening to destroy personality - represented
'philosophy' to a large segment of the British public. What this proves, either
about philosophy or about the British public, I should not care to say" ('A
Hundred Years of Philosophy' p. 278).
In other words, Joad was a radio and television celebrity whom the British
public mistook for a 'philosopher'. Mr Symonds does not agree, and has sought
to set the record straight...
Dr. Cyril Joad (1891-1953) (Teacher, Philosopher, Writer, Broadcaster, Outcast)
is best remembered, if remembered at all, as the wartime Brains Trust
'Professor' with the famous catchphrase "It all depends what you mean by...",
who popularized philosophy for millions, and "quickened the sluggish mind of
the nation" (London Evening Standard, 1953).
C.E.M. Joad published over 70 books in this country, nearly 30 in America, over
80 Papers, and countless newspaper and magazine articles. He was Head of
Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London for 23 years, until his
death in 1953, aged 61.
Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad (CEMJ) was a very gifted, but very fallible, human
being. His private life appears to be 'a disaster area', and celebrity hubris
ended with a nemesis in 1948. His popularity and reputation were destroyed by
Winston Churchill in 'Gathering Storm', by the media in a train ticket
'scandal', and by the cruel humiliations of Bertrand Russell, and his
professional disciples. Joad was sacked from the BBC, and the chances of a
Peerage from Clement Attlee, or a Professorship at Birkbeck, were lost.
Cyril Joad's life and work can be usefully divided into three main phases - its
beginning, middle and end - each of which can be sub-divided into 3 main areas:
Joad the Political Philosopher, Pacifist and Atheist
(a) "The Diary of a Dead Officer". Edited by CEMJ in 1919
(re: war poet and friend, Arthur Graeme West).
(b) Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals,
(c) The 1933 Oxford Union Debate "That under no
circumstances will we fight for King and Country". [Joad
proposed the motion and won the debate, an event which was
later cited by Churchill as one of the reasons for Hitler's
belief that Britain would never go to war.]
Joad the Wartime Celebrity Philosopher and Brains Trust Man of Reason
(a) The BBC Brains Trust (1941-1948).
(b) 'Teach Yourself Philosophy' (1944).
(c) The fare-dodging scandal (1948).[Joad was successfully
prosecuted for failing to buy a train ticket.]
Joad the Moral Philosopher and Man of Faith
(a) The 1950 Oxford Union Debate "That this house regrets
the influence exercised by the US as the dominant power
among the democratic nations", with the young Robin day
(b) 'Shaw and Society' (1953).
(c) 'Recovery of Belief' (1952) and posthumous 'Folly Farm'
It is primarily to the third phase we must look, for an answer the second part
of the question.
Joad also made an original contribution to philosophy; that of Christian
Philosophy - a contribution almost entirely disregarded in the late 20th
Century. Cyril Joad said in 1943: "If you object that Christ was not a
philosopher, I can only beg you to wait until you know as much philosophy as I
do before venturing to contradict."
Joad wrote 'The Recovery of Belief - A Restatement of Christian Philosophy', a
year before his death. In this, he clearly explains with great originality, his
Christian 'Transcendence- Immanence' Theory of the Universe.
Joad's Christian Theory of the Nature of Values
Joad adhered to the 'philosophia perennis', which affirms that Values are
Objective not Subjective, and can reduce themselves to Truth, Goodness and
These three Values are "OBJECTIVE in the sense that they are found by the human
mind - found as 'given' in things - and not projected into things or contributed
to them by our own minds, and ULTIMATE, in the sense that whatever we value can
be shown to be valued because of the relation of the thing valued to some one
or other of the three Values. Thus, while other things are valued as means to
one or other of these three, they are valued as ends in themselves.
"Moreover, these Values are not just arbitrary, pieces of cosmic furniture
lying about, as it were, in the universe without explanation, coherence or
connection, but are revelations of a unity that underlies them; are, in fact,
the ways in which God reveals Himself to man. Hence, those human activities
which consist in, or which arise out of, the pursuit of Truth, the cultivation
of moral goodness, or the creation and enjoyment of Beauty, are such that we
cannot help but value and revere them."
"What we call the Values - and it is under this term that the Forms may, I
think, be most appropriately referred to in respect of their most outstanding
manifestations, as Truth, Goodness and Beauty - are the modes of God's
revelation of His Nature to man. For if this is indeed the case, the revelation
must be regarded as the IMMANENCE of a TRANSCENDENT Being in a medium which,
though it manifests, is itself other than, the Being manifested. Now, we
cannot, I suggest, expect to achieve a 'know-how' of the mode of manifestation
of a Divine Being ..."
The Cartesian Mind-Body Problem and Joad's Christian Mind-Body-Soul Theory.
Joad believed that the relation between Mind and Body (Brain) is
"indescribable" because it is "incomprehensible", and therefore rejects the
Cartesian 'Mind-Body' Theory. He puts forward an alternative Christian
"The Mind is, it is clear, constantly interacting with the Body and Brain, yet
all attempts to envisage the mode of this interaction have been lamentable
failures. I venture to develop, in an admittedly purely speculative direction,
the hypothesis that there is included, in the make-up of the human personality,
a timeless element. The traditional division of the human being is not twofold
into mind and body, but threefold into mind, body and soul (or spirit). I
suggest that this (threefold) division may approximate more closely to the
truth than any other."
Classic Joad on the difficulty of philosophy
"Philosophy is an exceedingly difficult subject, and most books on philosophy
are unintelligible to most intelligent people. This is partly, but not wholly,
due to the difficulty of the subject matter, which, being the universe, is not
surprisingly complex and obscure. There is no reason, at least I know of none,
why the universe should necessarily be intelligible to the mind of a
twentieth-century human being, and I...remind him how late a comer he is upon
the cosmic scene, and how recently he has begun to think...
"If we put the past of life at one hundred years, then the past human life
works out at about a month, and of human civilisation (giving the most generous
interpretation to the term "civilisation") at about one-and-three-quarter hours.
On the same time-scale, the future of "civilisation" - that is to say, the
future during which it may be supposed that man will continue to think - is
about one hundred thousand years.
"By any reckoning, then, the human mind is very young, and it is not to be
expected that it should, as yet, understand very much of the world in which it
finds itself. Indeed, there is a sense in which the more we know, the more we
become aware of the extent of our ignorance. Suppose, for example, that we
think of knowledge as a little lighted patch, the area of the known, set in a
sea of environing darkness, the limitless area of the unknown. Then, the more
we enlarge the area of the lighted patch, the area of the known, the more also
we enlarge the area of contact with the environing darkness of the unknown. In
philosophy, then, as in daily life, cocksureness is a function of ignorance,
and dunces step in where sages fear to tread. The wise man is he who realises
Joad on the function of philosophy
"It is the business of philosophy, as I conceive it, to seek to understand the
nature of the universe as a whole, not, as do the sciences, some special
department of it, but the whole bag of tricks to which the moral feelings of
the Puritan, the herd instinct of the man in the street, the religious
consciousness of the saint, the aesthetic enjoyment of the artist, the history
of the human race and its contemporary follies, no less than the latest
discoveries of science, contribute.
"He looks for a clue to guide him through the labyrinth, for a system wherewith
to classify, or a purpose in terms of which to make meaningful. Has the
universe, for example, any design, or is it merely a fortuitous concourse of
atoms? Is mind a fundamental feature of the universe, in terms of which we are
ultimately to interpret the rest, or is it a mere accident, an eddy in the
primeval slime, doomed one day to finish its pointless journey with as little
noise and significance as it began it? Are good and evil real and ultimate
principles existing independently of men, or are they merely the names we give
to the things of which we happen to approve and to disapprove?"
(c) Richard Symonds 2002