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Philosophy In the Inter-War Period: A Memoir

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2014


The following extracts come from a memoir of philosophical life between the wars and after, written in the 1970s by the Anglo-Scottish philosopher Louis Arnaud Reid (1895–1986).2 Today Reid is best known for his writings on aesthetics, and as the holder of the foundation chair in the philosophy of education at the University of London. Reid will also be familiar to those who have read A.J. Ayer's account of Ayer's appointment to the chair of philosophy at London, for Reid was the candidate strongly preferred by the philosophers on the selection committee.3 Reid regretted the rise of logical positivism in the later 1930s because it introduced a break with the earlier world of humane philosophical discourse.

In these extracts, edited by his grandson, Reid begins by giving a sense of the breadth of topics covered in philosophical conferences in the 1920s, before sketching some of the characters involved. He mentions of course a number of figures still familiar to us, from Moore to Russell to Wittgenstein, but tries more generally to give an impression of a philosophical world which is now largely lost. These are themes he continues elsewhere in the book, where he discusses the people he knew at Edinburgh, Aberystwyth, Liverpool, Newcastle and London.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2014 

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Unless otherwise credited, the footnotes in this article largely depend on Wikipedia for factual details, though errors of judgment remain the responsibility of the editor.



2 Yesterdays Today: A Journey into Philosophy (Canberra: CreateSpace/Samizdat, 2013), chapter 8Google Scholar.

3 Ayer, A.J., Part of my Life (London: Collins, 1977), 308Google Scholar.

4 Charlie Dunbar Broad (1887–1971) was an English epistemologist who wrote on the philosophical aspects of psychical research.

5 William McDougall (1871–1938) was a psychologist who developed the theory of instinct and of social psychology. He was an opponent of behaviorism.

6 George Frederick Stout (1860–1944) taught philosophy and psychology at Cambridge and was the editor of Mind from 1891 to 1920. His students included G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell.

7 Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1852–1936) was a British psychologist who influenced the growth of behaviourism and is known for ‘Morgan's canon’ – the view that we should not interpret actions as deriving from higher mental faculties (for example, consciousness) if they can be thought of as deriving from a lower faculty (for example, conditioning).

8 Sir Cyril Lodowic Burt (1883–1971) was an English educational psychologist who used Spearman's measure of general intelligence to study the heritability of IQ. He claimed to have found that upper-class children were innately more capable than lower, and that girls and boys are equally intelligent. After his death, it emerged that he may have falsified his data.

9 Charles Edward Spearman (1863–1945) was an English psychologist known for developing a measure of general intelligence, for which he coined the term ‘g’.

10 Cecil Alec Mace (1894–1971) was a British philosopher and industrial psychologist who studied monetary incentives and goal setting.

11 Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) was an English mathematician and philosopher. He supervised the doctoral dissertations of Bertrand Russell and Willard Van Orman Quine, thus influencing logic and analytic philosophy. He co-authored the Principia Mathematica with Russell, but Russell rejected his later Platonism.

12 John William Nicholson (1881–1955) was an English mathematician who in 1911 proposed the existence of several yet undiscovered elements, based on spectroscopy. His proposals were later shown to be unfounded.

13 Dorothy Maud Wrinch (1894–1976) was a student of Bertrand Russell who wrote on mathematics and scientific method. She is best known as a founder of molecular biology, and speculated on the structure of protein.

14 Frederick Alexander Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell (1886–1957), was an English physicist and polymath, of German ancestry, who studied in Berlin and Paris and confirmed Einstein's theory of specific heat. He held a chair at Oxford. He advised Churchill before and during the war, and was later a member of Churchill's cabinet.

15 James Johnstone (1870–1932) was a Scottish biologist and oceanographer who held a chair at Liverpool. He was one of the founders of the (British) Journal of Experimental Biology.

16 Arthur Dendy (1865–1925) was a British zoologist who studied sponges. After academic appointments in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, he was appointed to a chair at King's College, London. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography.)

17 Ernest William MacBride (1866–1940) was an Irish marine biologist who held a chair at Imperial College, London. He was one of the last supporters of Lamarckian evolution.

18 John H. Muirhead (1855–1940) was one of Britain's leading scholars of idealism. Born in Glasgow, he held a chair at Birmingham and was heavily involved in the editing of the journal Mind for many decades. He also wrote what is still the best introduction to the philosophy of Coleridge and was general editor of the Muirhead Library of Philosophy, publishing many of the leading figures in twentieth century philosophy from Husserl to G.E. Moore.

19 Edward Stuart Russell (1887–1954) was a Scottish biologist and expert on fisheries. He opposed reductionist and materialist approaches to biology, and gave a functionalist account of morphology. He was a civil servant and later lectured at University College, London. (Source: The Embryo Project Encyclopedia,

20 Possibly Sir Leslie Mackenzie, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, 1904–1929.

21 Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch (1867–1941) was a German embryologist noted for first cloning sea urchin embryos in the 1880s. Because each clone grew into a complete urchin (and not into the part of the urchin that the cell would have become if left in situ), he believed that each cell was possessed of a psychical life force, something ‘mind-like’ and non-spatial. He later became interested in parapsychology. Though not Jewish, he was removed from his chair at Leipzig by the Nazis.

22 Herbert Wildon Carr (1857–1931) was Professor of Philosophy at King's College, London and later Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California. He defended dualism, writing that:

Everyone has heard the story that used to be told in derision of the Hegelian philosophy, of the German philosopher who preparatory to writing an essay on ‘The Camel’ went into his study to evolve the animal out of his self-consciousness. The story used to end with the unnecessary information that he is there still. Not more impossibly absurd is the idea that our mind is a product, whether we call it epiphenomenon or whether we think of it as a substantial effect, of our brain. (Why the mind seems to be and yet cannot be produced by the brain’, Philosophical Review 23(3), 257270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar)

23 Ralph Allen Sampson (1866–1939) was Astronomer Royal for Scotland and Professor of Astronomy at Edinburgh. He worked on the colour temperature of stars.

24 Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer best known for Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness, published in 1911. She was known as ‘Mrs. Moore’ by many of her friends, and seems to have been a source for E.M. Forster's character of that name in A Passage to India.

25 Robin George Collingwood (1889–1943) held a chair in Philosophy at Oxford and wrote on the philosophy of history and of art. He was influenced by Idealist philosophy and was a practicing Anglican.

26 William Ralph Inge (1860–1954) was Dean of St Paul's Cathedral and held a chair at Cambridge. He wrote on neoplatonism and mysticism, and eugenics, and criticized the Roman Catholic Church.

27 John Alexander Smith (1863–1939) was an idealist philosopher who held a chair at Oxford. He was much influenced by the Italian idealist philosopher, Benedetto Croce (1866–1952)

28 George Edward Moore (1873–1958) was the Cambridge philosopher who, with Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and (before them) Gottlob Frege, founded the analytic tradition in philosophy – and rejected idealism.

29 Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889–1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher. In the early Tractatus he worked on the relation of language to the world, delimiting it in a way which ruled out most discussion of ethics, religion and aesthetics while (perhaps) leaving room for a somewhat realist account of the physical world. In his posthumous Philosophical Investigations he gave a less realist account of language, as it operates in a world where there are no metaphysical essences and where meaning is not indexed to any private or psychological entities (anti-psychologism).

30 William Temple (1881–1944) was Archbishop of York (1929–42) and then Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–44). He is best known for his 1942 book, Christianity and Social Order. He had been a fellow of Queen's College, Oxford from 1904 to 1910 and published Mens Creatrix (‘The Creative Mind’) in 1917.

31 Samuel Alexander (1859–1938), originally an Australian, held the chair at Manchester. He was a realist, having rejected the idealism of his Oxford teacher, T.H. Green.

32 John Laird (1887–1946) held the chair at Aberdeen. He was a New British Realist who later turned to idealism.

33 Léon Brunschvicg (1869–1944) held a chair at the Sorbonne, and was a Cartesian idealist and a Platonist.

34 A force acting from behind.

35 William George De Burgh (1866–1943) was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. His books included From Morality to Religion, based on his Gifford Lectures, and The Legacy of the Ancient World. (Source:

36 Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry (1878–1949), served as Chancellor of the University of Durham (itself founded in 1832, and granted a royal charter in 1837). Londonderry was an Anglo-Irish peer, and Secretary of State for Air in the 1930s. His reputation suffered from his somewhat sympathetic view of Hitler.

37 Amongst others by Russell's second wife, Dora (née Black, 1894–1986), herself an educationalist and feminist; and by Wiener, Norbert in Ex-Prodigy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1953Google Scholar).

38 The question comes from Luke 10: 29. Joseph Butler (1692–1752) was bishop of Bristol and then Durham (source of quote not identified).

39 Norman Kemp Smith (1872–1958) was a Scottish philosopher who taught at Princeton University and held a chair at Edinburgh. He is noted for his English translation of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and also wrote on Hume and Descartes. He was an idealist.

40 Alfred Edward Taylor (1869–1945) was a British idealist philosopher and Platonist who taught at Oxford, St Andrews and Edinburgh.

41 Andrew Seth (1856–1931), who changed his name to Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison to fulfill the terms of a bequest, was a Scottish philosopher known for his defence of personality, and influenced William James, George Santayana and Bertrand Russell amongst others. He and his brother taught Reid at Edinburgh during the first world war.

42 James Seth (1860–1925) was professor of Moral Philosophy from 1898, having previously held chairs at Dalhousie, Brown and Cornell universities in North America. He is best known for his Study of Ethical Principles. (

43 This may come from a West Country ditty or drinking song. ‘Tom Toddy’ is also a name for a tadpole.

44 A.E. Taylor gave his Gifford Lectures in 1926 to 1928, under the title The Faith of a Moralist.

45 (William) David Ross (1877–1971) was a Scottish philosopher and Oxford Vice-Chancellor, best known for The Right and the Good (Oxford: OUP, 1930)Google Scholar. He was a moral realist, who developed a deontological form of intuitionist ethics in response to G.E. Moore's intuitionism.

46 John Leofric Stocks (1882–1937) wrote on a variety of topics including morality, reason, purpose and intuition; and on Aristotle, Locke and Bentham, amongst others.

47 Horace William Brindley Joseph (1867–1943) wrote on logic, perception and ethics, amongst other topics.

48 (Lizzie) Susan Stebbing (1885–1943) was a British philosopher who was influenced by Moore. She was a founder in 1933 of the journal Analysis. She also took an early interest in the Vienna circle, and first invited the German/American Rudolph Carnap (1891–1970) to speak in Britain.

49 Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad (1891–1953) graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1914. He then entered the civil service, hoping to bring a socialist influence to bear. In 1930 he moved to Birkbeck College, University of London, as Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology. He was known for his popularizing books on philosophy, his interest in psychical research, and as principal speaker for the affirmative in the famous 1933 Oxford Union debate, ‘That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country’.

50 The Brains Trust was a popular BBC radio and later television programme during the 1940s and 50s. Viewers sent in questions on a wide-range of issues.

51 Beyond the Fringe was a comedy stage revue performed by Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. It played in London's West End and then on New York's Broadway in the early 1960s. Jumpers, written by Tom Stoppard, was first performed in 1972. It compares academic discussion to gymnastics.

52 The Well-Tempered Clavier is a collection of 48 preludes and fugues composed by Johann Sebastian Bach between 1722 and 1742.

53 Sir Alfred Jules ‘Freddie’ Ayer (1910–1989) was a British philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism, particularly in his books Language, Truth, and Logic (1936) and The Problem of Knowledge (1956). In his autobiography, he describes the scandal which broke out when he was selected for the chair in philosophy at London, over Reid (who was the candidate preferred by the philosophers on the selection committee). It turned out that logical positivism required its own metaphysical commitments, and was therefore self-stultifying.

54 Alfred Cyril Ewing (1899–1973) was a British philosopher and a sympathetic critic of Idealism. He taught at Cambridge, where he invited Karl Popper (1902–1994) to speak. He criticized Wittgenstein and Ayer.