Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Exchanges You Don't Expect To See In Interviews With Distinguished Elderly Philosophers

The late Dr. Marjorie Grene -- a distinguished (if fairly obscure to non-philosophers) American philosopher, one of the (if not the) founders of the sub-field of the philosophy of biology, the first woman to be featured in the Library of Living Philosophers (which had previously featured notables such as John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Einstein, Sartre and Quine) -- in an interview with Believer magazine:
Believer: You know, I forgot to ask about philosopher of science Imre Lakatos—
Grene: I didn’t kill him!!
...I kinda couldn't get over that one. Shades of Kinbote (so to speak).

The entire interview is kind of a hoot, although nothing is quite up to that. Still, a few more of my favorite tidbits. The magazine on what it took to get an interview with her:
After convincing her that the Believer was not religiously affiliated—which required three verbal assurances, two hyperlinks, and finally a hard copy of the Ice Cube issue—we met in her office...
And then, three bits of a series in which the interviewer starts asking about her opinion of various philosophical and scientific writers (a series in which the Lakatos question occurred). First, Michael Ruse:
Believer: Before we started, you said something about Michael Ruse. What’s wrong with him?
Grene:: What’s wrong with him? He’s totally uninteresting.
And on Richard Rorty:
Believer: ...about Richard Rorty. You’re friends with him, though you don’t agree with his philosophy?
Grene:: We are friends, but you can’t agree with his philosophy. It doesn’t exist! He’s a wit! He should’ve lived in the eighteenth century. He just makes clever remarks that don’t mean anything.
And on Darwin:
Believer: Do you like Darwin?
Grene:: Like him? What a stupid question. How can anybody say that? How can anybody not like him? What do you mean?
...the bit about the 'stupid question' was hardly the only such comment, and made me feel a bit sorry for the interviewer.

Anyway, it's all sort of fun, although I must admit you don't get much sense of her actual, y'know, philosophy (although you do get a sense of what she wrote about, at least).

Oh, and Lakatos? Here's the complete exchange:
Believer: You know, I forgot to ask about philosopher of science Imre Lakatos—
Grene: I didn’t kill him!!
Believer: Why does everyone say you had a part in it?
Grene: Because once he helped me out of a taxi in London and he hit his head on the door. And I didn’t kill him! He died soon, and I don’t know if it was the head bump. But it wasn’t because of me! [Laughing heartily]
Believer: OK, we won’t get into that.
...for which you can hardly blame the poor interviewer, I think.

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