Saturday, June 23, 2012

Philosophical Anecdote of the Day

J. L. Austin in wartime:
During the war, Austin had been recruited to set up, and ended up heading, the "order of battle" section of what became SHAEF (the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force) under Eisenhower. The section was responsible for collecting and analysing information from a variety of sources, including the top-secret Enigma at Bletchley Park, but also through the developing art of aerial reconnaissance (which later became satellite imaging) and human intelligence from the resistance across Europe, in support of the war effort generally and to prepare for the D-Day landing. It is said that when the German army surrendered at Frankfurt, Austin was the only person amongst the Allies who knew where all of the German army was actually located.
And supposedly this helped shape Austin's postwar philosophy:
Returning to do philosophy at Oxford from this high-level Intelligence posting, it was natural for the young Austin to try applying this very special war experience in his resumed philosophical investigations. He set himself the task (again, as he preferred it, and had found more effective during the war, through team-work) of demystifying philosophical concepts in a somewhat parallel way, one imagines, to the manner he employed as scattered data (e.g., pictures) or separate pieces of information (e.g., a train movement) were painstakingly 'put to work' in order to interpret the data being gathered -- very much a bottom-up, piece-by-piece approach to finding out what these meant.
Hmm. Have to think about that one -- maybe even read the reviewed book (quelle idee!).

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