A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

PAUL FRANCO
LESLIE MARSH
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v465
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Michael Oakeshott
    Book Description:

    Michael Oakeshott has long been recognized as one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century, but until now no single volume has been able to examine all the facets of his wide-ranging philosophy with sufficient depth, expertise, and authority. The essays collected here cover all aspects of Oakeshott’s thought, from his theory of knowledge and philosophies of history, religion, art, and education to his reflections on morality, politics, and law. The volume provides an authoritative and synoptic guide to one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. Aside from the editors, the contributors are Corey Abel, David Boucher, Elizabeth Corey, Robert Devigne, Timothy Fuller, Steven Gerencser, Robert Grant, Noel Malcolm, Kenneth McIntyre, Kenneth Minogue, Noël O’Sullivan, Geoffrey Thomas, and Martyn Thompson.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05917-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-14)
    Paul Franco and Leslie Marsh

    It is now more than twenty years since Michael Oakeshott died on December 18, 1990. In that year the first book-length studies of the whole compass of his thought appeared: Paul Franco’sThe Political Philosophy of Michael Oakeshottand Robert Grant’sOakeshott.Since then there has been a veritable flood of scholarship, consisting of dozens of monographs and many more dozens of articles, devoted to every aspect of his thought, from his conservatism, political philosophy, and theory of history to his aesthetics, philosophy of religion, and ideas on education.¹ Given the sheer volume of this scholarship, the time is ripe...

  6. 1 THE PURSUIT OF INTIMACY, OR RATIONALISM IN LOVE
    (pp. 15-44)
    Robert Grant

    In what follows I refer to Michael Oakeshott by his first name, as I also do to those connected with him. This is partly to avoid the confusion of shared surnames, though I did actually come myself to address him by his first name. My main topic will be his love life, which is not the same as his sex life, though the two are obviously connected. And perhaps both are, more distantly, with his work. Michael in several places says that love was the main business of his life. If we are to take him literally, therefore, his work...

  7. PART ONE: THE CONVERSATION OF MANKIND
    • 2 THE VICTIM OF THOUGHT: THE IDEALIST INHERITANCE
      (pp. 47-69)
      David Boucher

      Michael Oakeshott’s indebtedness to philosophical idealism has been touched on by many commentators as incidental to their main concerns, and his relative silence after World War II compared with his defiant proclamations of loyalty before it gave rise to suspicions that he was no longer as committed to its tenets as he once was or that if there were remnants of idealism to be detected in the later work they were almost unrecognizable.¹ This is not a view unanimously shared. There may be many reasons why Oakeshott ceased to wear his idealist credentials on his sleeve, but the fact that...

    • 3 PHILOSOPHY AND ITS MOODS: OAKESHOTT ON THE PRACTICE OF PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 70-94)
      Kenneth McIntyre

      Among nonacademic intellectuals and political theorists, Michael Oakeshott is known primarily as a conservative political thinker who produced a series of essays in the 1950s critical of “rationalist” or “ideological” politics.¹ Others who have read more deeply in Oakeshott’s corpus are aware of his contributions to the philosophy of history and of his considerable achievement as a philosopher of practical and political life.² Although there has been a significant increase in the attention paid to Oakeshott’s contributions to the theoretical understanding of history and politics, Oakeshott’s understanding of the character of philosophical activity has remained relatively neglected.³ This neglect is...

    • 4 MICHAEL OAKESHOTT’S PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY
      (pp. 95-119)
      Geoffrey Thomas

      “Determinatio negatio est,” says Spinoza: to specify the nature of anything is also illuminatingly to say what it isnot.¹ This remark, whatever its general force, applies exactly to Michael Oakeshott’s philosophy of history. Oakeshott is a polemicist, a prince of skeptics, throughout his writings on the nature of history. To be sure, his position can be characterized positively: he is a constructionist. He holds that the historical past is an inferential construction from present experience. So, clearly enough, here’s the first negative: Oakeshott rejects any idea of the reality of the past. The past does not exist; if it...

    • 5 RADICAL TEMPORALITY AND THE MODERN MORAL IMAGINATION: TWO THEMES IN THE THOUGHT OF MICHAEL OAKESHOTT
      (pp. 120-133)
      Timothy Fuller

      My intention is to reflect on two themes that run through the whole of Oakeshott’s thought: first, the radical temporality of the human condition and, second, the character of modernity’s response to radical temporality. The first is, for Oakeshott, universal in experience to all times and places; the second is peculiar to a development in the modern West that, Oakeshott suggests, began to come into sight about five centuries ago and persists into the present and that manifests our particular experience of, and response as he understands it to, the universal condition of radical temporality. The second theme emerges as...

    • 6 THE RELIGIOUS SENSIBILITY OF MICHAEL OAKESHOTT
      (pp. 134-150)
      Elizabeth Corey

      I have often thought that one of the best introductions to the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott is a children’s book by Arnold Lobel.Grasshopper on the Roaddescribes the journey of a remarkably even-tempered grasshopper who meets various other insects on his way down a pleasant country lane. Each of these insects displays some modern pathology. Grasshopper first encounters the members of the “I Love Morning” club, who raise placards extolling the virtues of morning while shouting such slogans as “Morning Is Best” and “Hooray for Morning.” Grasshopper is welcomed into the club when he reveals that he, too, loves...

    • 7 WHATEVER IT TURNS OUT TO BE: OAKESHOTT ON AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE
      (pp. 151-172)
      Corey Abel

      Orbaneja, a fictional painter from a real town, is criticized by Don Quixote for painting so badly that he produces only “whatever emerges,” so that he must append a sign to his work. He paints a cockerel “so unlike a real cockerel that he had to write in capital letters by its side: ‘This is a cockerel.’” Cervantes uses the tale twice in the second part ofDon Quixote,in which our hero confronts a literary representation of himself published almost simultaneously with his own adventures. Its representational accuracy concerns him, as does the disturbing possibility that his own “history”...

    • 8 Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: MICHAEL OAKESHOTT ON EDUCATION
      (pp. 173-194)
      Paul Franco

      Michael Oakeshott’s writings on education form one of the most attractive aspects of his philosophy and have duly garnered considerable attention.¹ They evoke an ideal of liberal learning for its own sake, freed from the narrowing necessities of practical life and social purpose. This ideal is summed up in Oakeshott’s famous image of the university as a “conversation” between the various modes of understanding that make up our civilization, a conversation that has no predetermined course or destination, an “unrehearsed intellectual adventure” (VLL , 39). Of this ideal, Noel Annan wrote, “It was the finest evocation of ‘the idea of...

  8. PART TWO: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
    • 9 MICHAEL OAKESHOTT ON THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT
      (pp. 197-216)
      Martyn Thompson

      My concern is twofold. First, I outline what I take Oakeshott to have meant by the phrase “the history of political thought,” and then I consider some criticisms from Oakeshott’s perspective of the theory and practice of Quentin Skinner, the leading figure in the so-called Cambridge School of historians of political thought.¹ Oakeshott was impressed by his work. But there are signifi-cant points of disagreement. I focus on two: first, Oakeshott’s disagreement with Skinner about the historical interpretation of Hobbes’sLeviathan;and second, more generally, Oakeshott’s objections to Skinner’s reduction of the history of political thought to “the history of...

    • 10 OAKESHOTT AND HOBBES
      (pp. 217-231)
      Noel Malcolm

      Even those who know only a little about Michael Oakeshott know that he had a strong and abiding interest in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. His edition ofLeviathan(1946) became the standard edition for several generations of students, and his substantial introduction to that volume, which was reissued in a revised version in 1975, remains one of the classic texts of modern Hobbes interpretation. Oakeshott’s special interest in Hobbes had developed more than a decade before the appearance of that edition; his first publication devoted to Hobbes was a long essay in the literary-critical magazineScrutinyin 1935, in...

    • 11 THE FATE OF RATIONALISM IN OAKESHOTT’S THOUGHT
      (pp. 232-247)
      Kenneth Minogue

      Michael Oakeshott is perhaps best known as the foe of a political vice called “rationalism,” and it is a vice because, in believing that all knowledge is technical, it fails to recognize the crucial role of what Oakeshott calls “practical knowledge.” The famous distinction between technical and practical knowledge, however, obscures the sheer complexity of Oakeshott’s understanding of political activity. We can, indeed, find a simple theme running through much of Oakeshott’s criticism at this period: namely, that the contingencies of the human world cannot be reduced to a simple, abstract (and manageable) plot. Rationalism does this, and Oakeshott detects...

    • 12 OAKESHOTT AND HAYEK: SITUATING THE MIND
      (pp. 248-267)
      Leslie Marsh

      It’s a hazardous enterprise contrasting two figures such as Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992) and Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901–1990)–– similarities are often superficially drawn; divisions tend to be overstated.¹ But if one understands both men to be centrally concerned with the social nature of mind and with the distributed nature of knowledge, then this confluence of interest dissolves the somewhat rigid ideological lines that both followers and uninformed critics attribute to these two thinkers. Admittedly, these divisions are engendered by the misunderstandings and terminological confusion that the two thinkers themselves generate.²

      Oakeshott and Hayek were both in the...

    • 13 OAKESHOTT AS CONSERVATIVE
      (pp. 268-289)
      Robert Devigne

      The identification of Michael Oakeshott with conservatism is fraught with debate. To be sure, some analysts consider Oakeshott to be the modern incarnation of Burke. Moreover, during the closing decades of the twentieth century, conservative thinkers in the United Kingdom made the greatest claims to Oakeshott. Yet different features of Oakeshott’s thought have made it possible for him to be read as a liberal, a pragmatist, a historicist, an existentialist, a postmodernist, and a conservative.¹ What, then, is conservative in Oakeshott’s political philosophy?

      Conservative political thought, as most fully expressed by Burke’s response to the French Revolution, developed throughout the...

    • 14 OAKESHOTT ON CIVIL ASSOCIATION
      (pp. 290-311)
      Noël O’Sullivan

      The distinctive achievement of Western political thought since the seventeenth century is the ideal of the limited state. Despite extensive theorizing about this ideal, however, there has always been profound disagreement about its precise nature and implications. The full extent of this disagreement has been especially evident during the decades since World War II, in the course of which sustained efforts have been made by a variety of thinkers to construct a coherent alternative to totalitarianism. In Friedrich Hayek’s view, for example, the limited state is principally characterized by a free market economy that facilitates human progress. For Karl Popper...

    • 15 Oakeshott on Law
      (pp. 312-336)
      Steven Gerencser

      To write about law in relationship to Michael Oakeshott’s ideas generally, or his thoughts on politics in particular, presents a complicated task, not because law is an obscure concept in Oakeshott and not because it is a topic about which he has written little. In fact, Oakeshott wrote about law and jurisprudence at the beginning of his life as a publishing scholar and was still writing essays on law more than half a century later. Rather, it is a challenge to write about Oakeshott and law because his ideas about law are so closely nested with related and interlocking concepts...

  9. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 337-340)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 341-346)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 347-347)