[lit-ideas] Re: Stuart Hampshire

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2004 17:05:29 EDT

Fom The Times:
Sir Stuart Hampshire
Oxford philosopher whose interest in  psychology,
aesthetics and literature made for a rich brand  of

The philosopher Stuart Hampshire did not generate
a  coherent doctrine so much as formulate
disturbing questions and indicate the  wide,
sometimes unlimited, range of considerations that
arose from them.  He was not one of the dominant
philosophers of his age, and was often  found
lacking in incisiveness, rigour and clarity, but
he moved in a wider  intellectual world and was
aware of implications of systems of thought  which
more dogmatic thinkers of greater power tended to
He was  fascinated by metaphysical questions but
rejected tidy answers such as  utilitarianism or
positivism. Instead, his thinking was  tentative,
literary. He valued "a certain kind of confusion",
taking into  account the tragedy, individualism and
responsibilities of life. For much of  his career
he put great faith in socialism, as did most of
the elite  coterie in which he spun, yet he was
never a doctrinaire Marxist. In essence  he was a
late-Enlightenment humanist, whose belief in the
importance of a  way of life established over
generations could have come directly from  Edmund

Perhaps he understood too much to have  the
ruthlessness required for parricide that marks
great pioneers in  thought. Yet he was one of the
most charming, gifted and civilised Englishmen  of
his time, a natural member of the intelligentsia,
and a central figure  in the humanisation of
empiricism which gave "Oxford philosophy"  its
special quality.

He was a fresh, subtle, imaginative  and
psychologically sensitive thinker, and his best
work ranged from  ethics and aesthetics to
psychology and the philosophy of mind.  His
articles on philosophical topics in professional
journals were notable  for a rich suggestiveness
which at times stimulated readers more than  better
formulated arguments by others. And Hampshire,
with his many  literary and artistic friends - from
W. H. Auden to Anthony Blunt - had much  the wider

The least parochial and insular of essayists,  he
also wrote a good deal on literature and other
topics for The Times  Literary Supplement
(anonymously at first) and elsewhere. He was  an
excellent critic - his review of Dr Zhivago, for
instance, was praised  by Pasternak as the best
account of his book in English - and his  literary
articles in The Listener, The Observer , the New
Statesman and  The New York Review of Books were
much admired, most notably those on Henry  James,
Joyce, Wittgenstein, Forster and Virginia Woolf.

He was also a  contributor to Encounter, and after
the disclosure in 1967 that it had  received funds
indirectly from the CIA, he was one of a group of
friends,  including Isaiah Berlin and Richard
Wollheim, who discussed establishing a  similar
monthly magazine. Although nothing came of those
plans, after the  Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia
in 1968, Hampshire joined another group  -
including Stephen Spender, David Astor and Lord
Gardiner - to form the  trust which published Index
on Censorship.

Stuart Newton Hampshire was  born in 1914 and
educated at Repton School, where Geoffrey Fisher,
later  Archbishop of Canterbury, was headmaster.
Fisher began every morning,  Hampshire recalled,
not in prayer but studying his stocks and  shares.

At school Hampshire was trained as a modern
historian, and in  particular the two books by
Namier on 18th-century politics in England made  a
profound and lifelong impression on him. He won a
history scholarship at  Balliol in 1933, but there
abandoned history for Greats, in which he  obtained
an outstandingly good first in 1936.

His mental gifts,  personal distinction and
striking good looks marked him out from  the
beginning; he was one of the most admired Oxford
undergraduates of the  day, at once a leading
intellectual, and a man of exceptional  charm,
natural goodness, and a degree of moral integrity
that gave him a  good deal of natural authority
among his contemporaries.

During his  undergraduate years he displayed both
originality and sensibility as a  student of the
arts, particularly painting and literature,  which
influenced his thought in later life. His
intellectual development  probably owed less to his
tutors or to established academic figures than  to
highly gifted contemporaries, mainly at Balliol,
and contact with two  or three dons a few years
older than himself, such as A. J. Ayer and J.  L.
Austin. Introduced to Isaiah Berlin in 1935 to
talk about Kafka, he  continued the conversation -
as he recalled in his eulogy in 1998 - for  62

In 1936 Hampshire won a scholarship at All Souls
and  decided on a career of teaching and research
in philosophy. He began as a  logical positivist
and disciple of Ayer, but after a year or two he
began  to move in a different direction. While he
remained a convinced naturalist,  and was never
touched by religious or transcendental thought, he
became  dissatisfied with what appeared to him to
be the over-mechanical concepts and  formulae of
the British disciples of the then dominant Vienna
school - in  particular with the atomism of Russell
and his followers, who appeared to him  guilty of a
radical misunderstanding of the function of
philosophy. Part  of the duty of moral philosophy,
he came to believe, was to guide  practice.

His first philosophical essay appeared in 1939,
and gave  evidence of unusual insight. His writing
was not as precise or rigorous as  that of his
models, but at times it was a great deal more
suggestive and  responsive to a wide range of human
activity, especially art, literature  and

The outbreak of war found him at All Souls; he  was
a passionate socialist and a patriot, touched
neither by pacifism nor  by scepticism about the
justice of his country's cause. After training  in
England he was given a commission and sent to
Sierra Leone; later he  was seconded to one of the
intelligence units near London, working  with
Oxford colleagues such as Gilbert Ryle, Hugh
Trevor-Roper, and  Charles Stuart.

In 1945-46 he worked in the Foreign Office and
then in  the Ministry of Food, before being
re-elected to his fellowship at All Souls.  Within
a year he was appointed a lecturer at University
College London,  and in 1950 he succeeded Berlin as
philosophy tutor at New College. It was  while
there, in 1951, that he published his study of
Spinoza, which  remains one of the most sympathetic
and illuminating philosophical studies in  modern
times of a classical thinker.

In 1955 Hampshire returned to All  Souls as a
research fellow and domestic bursar, an office he
discharged  with unexpected efficiency. Meanwhile
he was working on what was to be his  most
important and innovative book, Thought and Action
(1959), an extended  essay on the philosophy of
mind. At the heart of its argument lies  an
"intentionalist" theory about the shape and
content of human experience  and expression.

Attempting to profit from the in-sights of Hegel
and  Freud as well as those of Wittgenstein, the
philosophers of intentionality  and the linguistic
analysts, it showed Hampshire's growing interest
in  psychoanalytic thought as well as his aesthetic
preoccupations. This was  widely recognised as an
innovative work, and although elusive in  places,
and often disdainful of logical links, it had a
wide influence on  both sides of the Atlantic.

Hampshire succeeded Ayer in 1960 at  London
University as Grote Professor of Philosophy, but
three years later  he moved to Princeton, soon
becoming known and respected among  American
philosophers. He remained, though, a thoroughly
established  member of Britain's great and good,
and in 1965-66 he spent several months  reviewing
the cost-effectiveness of GCHQ.

In 1970 he returned to  Oxford as Warden of Wadham,
in succession to his friend Sir Maurice  Bowra.
Wadham had appointed college men to the post since
the 17th  century, and the election of an outsider
was strongly contested but  thoroughly beneficial.
A phalanx of college officers resigned in
protest -  enabling a spring clean as younger dons
took over with Hampshire.

His  experience of student unrest in the US was
useful as it spread to Oxford, and  Hampshire, who
was sensible and reliable as well as clear
thinking, was  soon being turned to for advice by
formerly rebellious students and dons  alike. He
was a strong advocate of the admission of women,
not only at his  own college but throughout the
university. Wadham became mixed in 1974, one  of
the first group to make the change.

Despite the demands of Oxford  administration -
"half dining club and half borough council", as he
once  described it to John Sparrow - Hampshire was
as busy as ever intellectually  and socially. He
spent Christmas 1974, for instance, with the
Annans, the  Berlins and the Spenders in Jerusalem,
and published and edited several books  during his
time as Warden. On retirement from Wadham in 1984
(when Sir  Claus Moser took over), he accepted a
chair at Stanford in  California.

In 1989 he published Innocence and Experience, a
work on  political morality based to some extent on
personal experience - the nearest  to autobiography
that he ever came. His last book, Justice is
Conflict,  appeared in 1999.

Hampshire was elected to the British Academy  in
1960, and was honoured by several American learned
societies. For some  years he was head of the
literary panel of the Arts Council. He  was
knighted in 1979.

Hampshire's first wife, Renée (who had  previously
been married to A. J. Ayer), died in 1980. Five
years later he  married Nancy Cartwright, a
distinguished philosopher of science. She  survives
him, along with their two daughters and the son
and daughter of  his first marriage.

Professor Sir Stuart Hampshire, philosopher  and
Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, 1970-84, was
born on October 1,  1914. He died on June 13, 2004,
aged  89.


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