Aiken Sees Creative Task For Modern Philosophy

When the jobs of analysis and criticism are done, Henry Aiken said Tuesday, one further task remains for the philosopher: that the reconstruction and creation, of self-transcendence.

Speaking at the last of a series of well-attended lectures on contemporary philosophy, Aiken said that philosophy aims not just at understanding but at changing the world, or to be more precise, at changing the philosopher himself. In this sense, its aim is practical and moral.

Aiken said that the philosopher must go out into the world, as Bertrand Russell has done in England, but not until he has transcended himself and has gained "a true and trustworthy vision of the good."

He cited Sartre and Hegel as examples of the creative work done by philosophers, and existentialists in general for their contributions -- "new relations between individuals, new forms of guilt and ways to freedom, new interpretations of loyalty and betrayal." In his novels, Aiken said, Sartre described a new relation between man and man; Hegel added a new dimension to moral life with a treatment of alienation.

Aiken described the study of meaning in every sphere of human activity as "the great question of twentieth century philosophy and culture." "Man is the animal that learns," he added, "and his works are modes of meaning." At the same time, he warned that the analysis of meaning should not be restricted to linguistic analysis alone: man's talk is only one of the aspects.

Not all concepts are expressed verbally, Aiken stated; for example, authority is evidenced in many ways, and primarily not enough verbal expressions. In this case "linguistic analysis alone won't grasp the problem." If not limited to words and the conventional uses of expressions, analysis can be directed "to the meanings of ethical terms and to the ideals and standards which we call a way of life."

Aiken, professor of Philosophy at Harvard, called "appraisal and evaluation" the second aspect of philosophical study. "The meaning of statements, as distinct from single words, are not so simply discovered," he said. "We face the task of appreciating the intention of the speaker and relating what he said to other statements and larger contexts."