Friday, May 7, 2010

Łukasiewicz at Harvard, 1926

I was browsing a volume of a Polish philosophical journal (Ruch Filozoficzny) dating back to 1928, looking for something quite unrelated when I came across Łukasiewicz's report about the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy, Harvard, Sept 13-17, 1926, which, as it turns out, he attended. I did find his report slightly unusual, so here's a juicy bit, in my rough translation:
Almost everything made the worst impression on me. Perhaps this was only bad luck. I wasn't present and the most interesting talks by Driesch, Weyl and Whitehead, which took place before my arrival. Although, having seen the content in print, I infer that perhaps I wouldn't have gained much had I actually heard them. From what I've experienced, a few details.

In the plenary session, Bougle from Sorbonne was talking about philosophy and peace movement, and E. Becher from Munich about darwinism and international relations. Both talks were on the level of newspaper articles; and the topics were more propagandistic than scientific. Becher said that Darwin's theory cannot be applied to human societies, because at war it is the bravest who perish, and the weak hide behind the lines. It came across my mind that had the Germans won, one could find a philosopher who'd say that according to Darwin's theory the bravest have the right to live and the weakest have to die. In the logic session Schiller from Oxford was trying to eradicate the difference between facts and values saying that facts become values and values become facts. I didn't understand anything and even now I think he was only playing with words. J. E. Heyde from Gryfia [not sure what place Ł meant, RU] was teaching in Rehmke's spirit how to solve the "ultimate" "problem of knowledge". He emphasized that what is not extended cannot occupy space. I reminded him that mathematicians don't take points to be extended and yet they locate them in space. He seemed surprised, opposed softly, and eventually said that he'd like to correspond with me about this. I gave him my address. So far, no message. Other talks weren't any better, maybe except for an interesting talk about the meaning of the concept of probability by C. J. Ducasse from Providence, Rhode Island.

On the last day, in the logic section, after five boring talks a short discussion took place. I spoke, giving critical remarks about the talks and expressed the view that the level of philosophical conferences is way lower than the level of other scientific conventions. A few people nodded, in general my impression was they didn't get it.

My only profit from the congress is that it supported my conviction that philosophy, as it is nowadays practiced, and as it has always been practiced, can have various values, can be uplifting, can satisfy your heart's needs, but is devoid of the most important value I think it should have: scientific value.

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