[lit-ideas] Stuart Hampshire

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
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  • Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004 12:04:36 EDT

From the Daily Telegraph
June 29 2004.
Professor Sir Stuart  Hampshire
Sir Stuart Hampshire, the philosopher who died on Sunday  [June 13 2004] aged 
89, was one of the anti-rationalist Oxford thinkers,  others being Isaiah 
Berlin and Bernard Williams, who gave a new direction to  moral and political 
thought in the post-war era. 
Inspired by his study of the philosophy of Spinoza, Hampshire  developed a 
description of the conditions necessary for human action, suggesting  that 
freedom can best be understood by examining the distinction between  the 
declaration of what one intends to do and a prediction of what one is likely  
do given one's genetic and social conditioning.
In his Ethics, Spinoza had argued that the individual could not  be 
considered "free" if he was motivated only by causes of which he remained  
Genuine freedom, Spinoza suggested, comes only when we learn  self-consciously 
recognise the influence of our baser passions over our  natures. Only then 
can we strive for the peace of mind that comes through an  impartial attachment 
to reason. 
Developing Spinoza's ideas, Hampshire argued that concepts in  moral 
philosophy could not be separated logically from human capacity for  
introspective thought. Although he accepted the behaviourist  position that a 
person's inclinations are the result of experiences in early  childhood, and 
thus partly historically and genetically conditioned, he  argued that a 
degree of control over those inclinations - and therefore freedom  of action - 
could be obtained through an understanding of that conditioning. Any  theory of 
ethics, he argued, must take account of the possibility of a  self-conscious 
decision not to follow the course ordained. Such ideas,  implicitly rejecting 
Marxist determinism, might have seemed odd coming from  someone who described 
himself as a socialist; and while he borrowed some of  Spinoza's psychological 
insight, he implicitly rejected his faith in the power  of reason. 
Hampshire had a horror of the moral certainties of Left and Right  from his 
time in British intelligence during the Second World War. He valued  freedom 
over equality and rejected the classical philosophical tradition that  set up 
reason as an absolute arbiter of disputes. Nor did he believe that  liberal or 
socialist values had any special moral or historical significance,  regarding 
all claims to moral universality as bogus. 
His distrust of those who believe that they alone have a monopoly  on truth 
led him to examine, in his later years, how justice could be done and  seen to 
be done in a pluralist society. In Justice is Conflict (1999), Hampshire  
acknowledged that it is inevitable that people should hold irreconcilable views 
on, say, the morality of warfare or abortion or even whether a motorway 
should  be built through a beautiful valley. The popular idea that politicians 
should  aim to find consensus on such issues, he suggested, was not only 
but  wrong. Conflict presumes the right to question authority and is a 
fundamental  safeguard against tyranny. 
Instead of consensus, Hampshire argued, a free society should aim  to perfect 
the intermediate institutions that arbitrate between contending  parties so 
that all sides feel, whatever the eventual outcome, that they have  been given 
a fair hearing. 
Stuart Newton Hampshire was born on October 1 1914 and was  educated at 
Repton and at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he graduated with  a First in 
Greats in 1936. Elected to a fellowship at All Soul's the same year,  he became 
lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford before serving in Army Intelligence  during 
the Second World War. 
In late 1942, working in the Radio Security Service which  monitored the 
radio links of Nazi spies, Hampshire was said to be one of the  authors of a 
suggesting a growing rift between the German General Staff  and the Nazi 
regime. Its central premise was that the war in Europe could be  ended if the 
British government gave the German General Staff an incentive to  launch a 
The report, endorsed by all the junior officials who read it,  including Hugh 
Trevor-Roper (the historian Lord Dacre), was submitted for  security 
clearance to Section-5 Deputy Chief Kim Philby who forbade its  circulation, 
that it was "mere speculation". Trevor-Roper later  recalled that he and his 
colleagues were baffled by Philby's intransigence,  though in retrospect he 
surmised that it was not in the Russian interest for the  Western Allies to 
support the German opposition to Hitler while the Red Army was  still too far 
to gain a foothold. 
Given his role in this affair, it was somewhat ironic that,  during the 
1980s, Hampshire himself, who had experience of both MI 5 and MI 6,  was 
to have been investigated as a possible Soviet agent, having been  interviewed 
in 1965. He had been a friend of Guy Burgess, with whom he had  worked in the 
private office of Hector McNeil when McNeil was under-secretary at  the 
Foreign Office in 1945, and in the early 1960s was named as an alleged spy  by 
Goronwy Rees, a member of the Blunt-Burgess circle and himself under  
Embarrassingly for MI 5, when Rees made his allegation, Hampshire was  busy 
conducting an in-depth review of the GCHQ eavesdropping network at  Cheltenham. 
Although, in the end, he was cleared of all suspicion, there was  embarrassment 
when it later emerged that MI 5 had allowed him to complete his  work at GCHQ 
with a question mark still hanging over him. 
Hampshire later recalled that in 1938 Burgess had made what  seemed, with 
hindsight, to be a half-hearted attempt to recruit him: "He might  have said 
something about working for peace," Hampshire said. "I thought it was  just Guy 
going on. It was only in retrospect that I thought it might have been  
more sinister." 
Certainly Hampshire never showed any sympathy for Soviet  Communism. In 1980 
he became the founder chairman of the Jan Hus Educational  Trust, a charitable 
foundation named after the Czech hero and martyr who in 1415  founded a 
movement within the Roman Catholic Church against its corruption and  tyranny. 
up to "help the flow of information and the development of culture  in 
Czechoslovakia", the trust did much to keep the spirit of independent thought  
in that country before the fall of Communism. After the war, Hampshire  
returned to his studies as a tutor and lecturer in philosophy at Oxford, where  
spent five years as domestic bursar and research fellow at All Souls, and at  
University College, London, where he became Grote Professor in 1959, succeeding 
 A J Ayer. 
In 1963 he went to Princeton University and in 1964 became  chairman of the 
philosophy department. In 1970 he was elected Warden of Wadham  College, 
Oxford, succeeding Sir Maurice Bowra, and from 1984 to 1990 was  professor of 
philosophy at Stanford University. 
In 1951, Hampshire published his detailed study of Spinoza, whose  influence 
is apparent in his subsequent philosophical works Thought and Action  (1959); 
Freedom of the Individual (1965); and Freedom of Mind and Other Essays  
His growing interest in the distinction between the public and  private 
realms is seen in Public and Private Morality, which he edited in 1978,  and in 
which philosophers discussed the question, posed most strikingly by  
of how far the same principles can be applied to public and private  
He returned to the theme in Morality and Conflict (1983);  Innocence and 
Experience (1989), in which he examined the possibility of a  universal ethics 
based on a minimal conception of justice; and Justice is  Conflict (1999). 
Stuart Hampshire was elected a fellow of the British Academy in  1960 and 
knighted in 1979. 
He married, first in 1961, Renee Ayer, the former wife of the  philosopher A 
J Ayer. She died in 1980, and he married secondly, in 1985, Nancy  Cartwright, 
Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the LSE,  with whom 
he had two daughters.

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