Politics and Philosophy in the 1930s: John Macmurray and Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Dorothy Emmet


I came back from America in 1930, and after a year as a stand-in at Somerville College and another spell in the Rhondda Valley, I was appointed lecturer in philosophy at the Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (now the University of Newcastle, but then a part of the University of Durham). One of the other applicants was Con Drury, and in his ‘Conversations with Wittgenstein’ he records that ‘on several occasions in later years he used to say to me that I owed a great debt to Miss Emmett [sic], in that she had saved me from becoming a professional philosopher’.1 For better or worse, I was now set on that path. There is a genuine problem over philosophy becoming a profession. Over my lifetime I have seen standards of criticism get higher and higher and distinctions of meanings more and more strict, and this is surely right and proper. But this has gone along with a narrowing of the range of subjects discussed, so that philosophy becomes more an in-group pursuit of philosophers than part of general intellectual life. One sign of this is that philosophy books, other than those whose authors are household names, are now seldom reviewed in the national press or in periodicals other than the philosophy journals. I do not know the answer to this. We cannot relax the effort after greater precision, but we could perhaps be more alert to wider problems of public concern.


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  1. 1.
    Recollections of Wittgenstein, edited by Rush Rhees, p. 123 (Oxford University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    D. Emmet, The Role of the Unrealisable; a Study in Regulative Ideals (1994).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    R. Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics, pp. 60–1 (Harpers, New York and London, 1935).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dorothy Emmet 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorothy Emmet
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK
  2. 2.Lady Margaret HallOxfordUK
  3. 3.Lucy Cavendish CollegeCambridgeUK

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