Quote of the Day: Michael Oakeshott

What is farthest from our needs is that kings should be philosophers.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

71 thoughts on “Quote of the Day: Michael Oakeshott”

  1. The unique vileness of Oakeshott need not be rehearsed here, but whence does he think kings derive their authority? (Note that there is always a king: these days, in most places, the king is a faction, not an individual, but that is a distinction without a difference.)

    But stay, I am being locally unfair to Oakeshott (who knew that such a thing were possible?), only because the question above has no answers that are not vile.

    1. The unique vileness of Oakeshott need not be rehearsed here


      If you could grace the commentariat with your estimation of the man, I, for one, would be interested to hear it.


      1. I am detecting some gentle criticism and minor reservations in the context of a generally glowing appraisal.

  2. I reflexively recoil from this sort of statement because I find it anti-intellectual, but intellectuals - I’m talking about deep thinkers like William Bennett and Newt Gingrich, or scholarly groups like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation - have had a great deal of policy success in recent decades, and I’m not a bit happy about it.

    So I find myself coming around to some of the views of old-timey conservatives like Oakeshott and even Bill Buckley:

    I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

    I’m looking at you, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers.

    1. Are we talking about philosophers or sophists? Intellectuals are at risk of being the latter.

      We do not need sophists as kings, but we need presidents who can recognize sophistry and call it out when necessary. Aristotle wrote a treatise on how this can be done, and I do not want a president who can be seduced by the fallacies that Aristotle first described.

      I do not know whether Oakeshott shared Karl Popper’s suspicion of Plato, but if he did, that would make sense. We really do not need utopian kings, and we cannot afford magistrates who see mundane needs as unimportant and are willing to sacrifice them in order to honor transcendent values instead.

    1. Glad you caught yourself. Now I can finish the rest of the quote correctly:

      What is farthest from our needs is that kings should be philosophers…
      or that queens should feel compelled to change their names before enrolling in Medicare.

      Another quote of the day:

      Say it ain’t so Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum. A heavy smoker who refused to believe that smoking causes cancer brings to mind those today who are equally certain there is no such thing as global warming. Unfortunately, Miss Rand was a fatal victim of lung cancer. However, it was revealed in the recent “Oral History of Ayn Rand” by Scott McConnell (founder of the media department at the Ayn Rand Institute) that in the end Ayn was a vip-dipper as well. An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).


  3. So I find myself coming around to some of the views of old-timey conservatives like Oakeshott and even Bill Buckley:

    I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

    Meh. Pointed-headed intellectuals were liberals then, so it suited a Conservative (intellectual) to claim that. It’s bullshit, though. If the Left at the time had been populist and anti-intellectual, he’d have been touting rule by wise men.

    1. Knee-jerk liberals and all the certified saints of sanctified humanism are quick to condemn this great and much-maligned Transylvanian statesman.
      -William F. Buckley, Jr.
      The Wit and Wisdom of Vlad the Impaler

      From Robert Anton Wilson, Schrodinger’s Cat, page 66

    2. Also, when considering the raw evil of Buckley, his advice should be considered carefully, and then burned. Just taking one part, go google for WFB’s opinion on Mandela.

      For a follow-up, go to Brad DeLong’s website, and google for his quotes from WFB in the National Review, about Civil Rights, back in the days when Buckley was allegedly purging the whackos from the right.

      Buckley *was* and remained one of the whackos, only being articulate and knowing how to pad his lies and BS with faux intellectualism.

      There was a famous comment about Newt ‘He’s a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like’. That applies surprisingly well to Buckley.

      1. I’m curious; were any of those Buckley quotes substantially different than most liberals response to Proposition 8?

        (The most famous one is pretty much identical-the one about numeric majorities versus advanced and civilized views.)

  4. I think there’s a lot of validity to this, but the other side of it is true too.

    Good public policy is a balance between proper respect for expertise and theory and an understanding that political values that experts don’t necessarily consider (such as freedom, equality, justice, and fairness) but which are important to the populace count too.

    Also, theoreticians have blind spots and ideologies too. I don’t think much of the conservative critique of global warming, for instance, but one aspect of it is correct is that just because there’s a scientific consensus on something doesn’t totally end the issue. There was once a scientific consensus on eugenics and homosexuality as a disorder, after all. Political concerns matter, and it’s hard to strike the right balance.

  5. Maybe I don’t understand. Isn’t the point of the quote that we don’t need KINGS of any type?

    1. A king? I didn’t know we had a king. What do we need a king for? We’re an autonomous collective.
      Whether that’s Oakeshott’s point, I leave to others.

        1. Listen — strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

    2. Clearly not. I think he’s saying that kings should be strong, dynamic and inclined to action rather than deep reflection. Essentially, I gather that his ideal king would Have been George W. Bush. With the advantage of hindsight, we can see exactly how wrong Oakeshott was about the qualities needed in a king. I cannot help but wonder if he would reasoned differently had he lived through the Bush presidency.

      1. “I cannot help but wonder if he would reasoned differently had he lived through the Bush presidency.”

        He lived through Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, so: no.

        1. I disagree. One can view their policies has having been deeply misguided and wrong but all of the presidents you mention were reasonably thoughtful men of at least some intellect and learning. Each had a degree of respect for, perhaps even an interest in, philosophical matters.

          The Bush presidency represented a paradigm shift even in a country with a long and deep history of anti-intellectualism.

          1. I’m not sure anyone’s accused “Silent Cal” of being notably thoughtful before. Nor Harding, for that matter.

      2. I took it a different way -
        A king who conceives of himself as a Philosopher will have such a monumental self regard and hubris as to doom himself and his kingdom.

        As for the practicality of philosophers being rulers, we should investigate the governance of your local college’s philosophy department.

        1. You seem to think that “philosopher” is a synonym for “megalomaniac. Actually, I think you’ve got cause and effect exactly backwards. Things like hubris and megalomania seem to be very closely correlated with being a king and hardly at all with the profession of philosopher.

          You also seem to be confusing being a philosopher with being an academic. Academics can be philosophers but not all philosophers are academics.

          I am not saying that being a philosopher is an optimal background for kingship (although obviously I think it would be a good one and far better than some I could name such as having been governor of Texas or Alaska). I am simply saying that there is no reason to think that Oakeshott is right to believe that being a philosopher is incompatible with being a good king and every reason to believe that he is wrong.

          1. Not my point, perhaps I said it wrong. I think many megalomaniacs think themselves philosophers. And I think a King as philosopher would be very prone to that - who can be a peer to such an eminence.

  6. Meh. It is spoken as though the writer’s deep insight into humanity has allowed him to pronounce some deep, yet self-evident truth for the first time. Not only is this far from axiomatic, in the absence of further analysis, it hardly even rises to the level of banality. Indeed, it strikes me as a particularly inane thing for anyone to say.

    I challenge anyone to defend the proposition that it’s self evident that Sarah Palin would be a better monarch than H.L.A. Hart.

        1. I think Webster’s could help you out here. Was Harry Truman an idiot because he was not a philosopher?

          1. I don’t think a dictionary would help because of the arbitrary nature of the choice. As I understand the parameters established by Karl, you have a binary choice between a philosopher and the antithesis of a philosopher; which I defined (perhaps incorrectly) as an idiot. So one point of the rough continuum is fixed by Oakeshott’s quote as being philosophers. The other is very casually, even sloppily, defined by me as an idiot because I couldn’t come up with an opposite for philosopher. If you’ve got one, tell me what it is and then we can see if it changes the basic point I was trying to make. I don’t think it will.

            I assume that your choice of Truman is intended to draw a counterpoint with his lack of a university education. If so, I would remind you being a philosopher does not require the possession of an academic credential. Nor an academic affiliation. I think most modern philosophers are in the groves of academe largely because royal patronage has dried up.

            As an intelligent, intellectually curious man who was constantly seeking to improve his mind, Harry Truman would fare well on that continuum despite deficiencies in his formal education. On the other hand, George W. Bush would be held in distain by most idiots despite holding degrees from Harvard and Yale (which I suspect says something very profound about those institutions—but that’s a subject for another day).

            Again, since Oakeshott seems to be setting up a binary choice between a King who is also a philosopher and a King who is also the furthest thing from being a philosopher, I still think you are left with George W. Bush or Sarah Palin at the not-a-philosopher end. Which proves my point.

          2. I assume that your choice of Truman is intended to draw a counterpoint with his lack of a university education.

            Nope — had no idea that he didn’t go to college. Even if I had known that I would not have said anything so bizarre…it’s not like Plato went to college!

            I meant because he was a commonsense, plain spoken practical person who understood the lives of ordinary people.

          1. Can an ass be tragic? To perish under a burden one can neither bear nor throw off? The case of the philosopher.

            This quote is usually attributed to Nietzsche, but I am pretty sure I thought of it first. At least, I remember saying it when I was very young.

          2. I don’t see how ass can be tragic. The lack of ass, however…

            Especially when you’re very young.

        2. The farthest thing from a philosopher is an anti-intellectual — a real book-learning-hating firebrand. Such a person need not be stupid, although it does help.

      1. karl is on point about the straw man proposed.

        A leader who is practical, moral and understands the lives of ordinary people can achieve great things even if s/he has no interest in abstruse philosophy.

        1. It’s Oakeshott’s straw man, not mine. I have said that I understood Oakeshott’s ideal king to be someone who is strong, dynamic and inclined to action rather than deep reflection. If that interpretation is correct, I believe that I George W. Bush exemplifies those characteristics and he and his presidency are therefore valid points of comparison.

          (As an aside, I regret that in a moment of flippancy having introduced the term “idiot” to the discussion because every is getting hung up on the word instead of simply trying to understand the likely characteristics of a king who was the furthest thing from a philosopher. Which, as I say, very accurately describes George W. Bush).

          Also, while I disagree strongly on the abstruseness of philosophy and consider it to be extremely accessible, you have yourself just constructed a bit of a straw man. Remember, the terms of the discussion are set by the quote from Oakeshott; so the only choice must be between a King who is also a philosopher and a King who is also the furthest thing from it.

          Do you really think that a person who is practical, moral and understands the lives of ordinary people is essentially an antonym for philosopher?

          1. It’s Oakeshott’s straw man, not mine

            No, it’s entirely yours Mitch. That’s what everyone is trying to tell you in the comments. In Oakeshott’s system, the opposite of a philosopher is a pragmatist.

  7. Keith,

    What’s a pragmatist when it’s at home? Is the furthest thing from a philosopher really a pragmatist?

    1. My apologies. That was probably too cryptic. The point I was trying to make is that pragmatism is a philosophical school that originated in this country 1870 and its leading proponent was John Dewey, who surely qualifies as a philosopher in anybody’s book. I am not really familiar with it and only encountered it in textbooks for survey courses. I understand it to be basically a branch of consequentialism.

      My point being that Oakeshott, a philosopher himself, would surely have known of both pragmatism and the huge number of other variants of consequentialism such as utilitarianism and that their leading exponents like Dewey, Austin, Bentham and Mill would all unquestionably have been considered philosophers by him. Whatever else anybody might think of him, Oakeshott was extraordinarily learned in philosophy. It is unlikely that he would intended a self-contradicting reference.

      So clearly, Oakeshott is trying to evoke something as the opposite of philosopher but it surely can’t be pragmatism since he would have considered the leading Pragmatists as philosophers themselves. Neither is it a satisfactory answer to say that Oakeshott was simply referring to someone who can be characterized as a practitioner of pragmatism since that would not exclude the leading thinkers of that school since those philosophers would naturally share and indeed exemplify pragmatic thinking. A pragmatic philosopher-King could well be someone within the school of Pragmatism. Pragmatic philosophers are still philosophers. They cannot be the opposite of themselves.

      That’s why I think he is trying to contrast the contemplative, timid thinker with the bold but less contemplative man of action.

      1. Oakeshott preceded the now-famous line with

        It is not the clear-sighted, not those who are fashioned for thought
        and the ardours of thought, who can lead the world. Great achievements
        are accomplished in the mental fog of practical experience.

        So it’s not so much pragmatism, consequentialism, utilitarianism, and the like (yeah, Oxford comma — live with it) that he recommends nor even the “man(or woman)of action.” It is someone with substantial skills and experience with politics and leadership.

        As political, social, and economic circumstances change, a leader’s actions, words, and policies should change accordingly. Those who live in the world of thought and ideas — who want to understand reality — may not be the best at exploiting that reality for the public good.

        Really, he’s just advising us to leave worldly problems to worldly people.

        1. I believe you are describing Oakeshott’s ideal king basically just as I have been doing. He is apparently saying that kings who are strong, dynamic and inclined to action with little thought are better than those capable of acting after deep or even intelligent thinking. That seems crazy. I cannot think of much that has been achieved with leaders who were not clear-sighted and who were perpetually lost in a mental fog.

          I cannot think of even a single great king in history who fits that description. Surely Marcus Aurelius, a great man of philosophy who demonstrated that a man could be both a thinker and a successful leader, was superior in every way imaginable to Nero or Caligula.

          In what universe would Winston Churchill, well know as both a worldly man and a thinker, ever be preferable to George W. Bush—a man who would seem to closely resemble Oakeshott’s ideal king?

          1. Okay, I’m done after this. “Mental fog” doesn’t mean “little thought”, it’s more like intuition: action and ideas that come not from contemplation or deep analysis but from practice and experience. You don’t have to think about where you are or where you’re headed in the fog because you’ve walked through it before and can sense the way.

            That said, why do you keep bringing up Bush? Why not cite FDR or Eisenhower as examples of Oakeshott’s non-philosopher? They had their virtues as leaders of a nation (perhaps you disagree)and neither one was particularly intellectual.

            I’m done, overwhelmed by a mental fog.

        2. I’m having a bit of trouble with “not the clear-sighted.”

          Clear sight can be based on experience as well as on contemplation. So I don’t know what “the mental fog of practical experience” is.

  8. The young Barack Obama wrote a letter to a college girlfriend about T.S. Eliot when she was taking a modern poetry class at Occidental. He recommended that she read Eliot’s essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, “when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism-Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini).” (Quote from Barack Obama, by David Maraniss, page 450-451.)

    You need not call this philosophy if you choose not to; it may have been simply a young man’s effort to impress a young lady. This is not hard to identify with for anyone who has attempted the same. But he is not trying to impress her with some feat such as running with the bulls in Pamplona. And he is showing a capacity for nuanced understanding of culture and politics which I submit is a virtue in a magistrate. It sounds like philosophy to me.

    Would Oakeshott call it a liability? I do not know his work and this is a genuine, not a rhetorical, question.

    1. (a) you condemn a huge portion of the popular press to the dustbin. (OK, that’s not a criticism…)
      (b) Oakeshott - and the discussion here - are not talking literally about kings but about the kind of peope who govern us, through whatever institutions.

      1. I think the concern about the sort of people who govern us is due to the fact that refering to them as “kings” isn’t as figurative as it ought to be.

  9. The counter-example is Alfred the Great, who was both very successful politically and exceptionally learned by the standards of his time. (Charlemagne was illiterate.) I fancy that his support for learning in Anglo-Saxon as well as Latin - with a good number of translations into the former in his own hand - may well have been critical to the knife-edge survival of English through two Norman and Plantagent centuries.
    Now if Oakeshott had written that philosopher-kings can’t cook …

  10. I expect that Oakeshott was deliberately spinning an aphorism without expecting it to withstand deep analysis - except as a kind of essay question. Certainly he believed what he was saying, but the terms would need some explication. I had a seminar course with him at the LSE in 1970, and the line I most remember was that the course was not about ‘the history of political thought’ but ‘the history of men thinking’. (He might have come to paraphrase to ‘people thinking’ had he lived longer.)

    So: he did not want to be governed by someone whose head was in the clouds, who was thinking in the abstract. It does not follow from that, that he wanted the governors to be stupid or ignorant. (And speaking of W, do people think he was ‘strong’ as well? I thought he went to Cheney for that, or Rove.)

    So the pragmatist, not in the sense of the adherent of that school of philosophy but of that philosophy of life, would have suited his purposes. So Churchill or Roosevelt would qualify.

    Justice Holmes famously said that the life of the law is not logic, but experience. Oakeshott thought the same about government.

    1. This sounds like a suspicion of Platonic philosophers, which I had assumed from the obvious reference to the philosopher-king. Idealism which seeks to realize transcendence in the real world is to be avoided. Karl Popper was emphatic on this point.

      John G, do you remember of Oakeshott said anything about Woodrow Wilson? Somewhere Lloyd George said of him at Versailles that his rigid yardstick could not take an accurate measure of timber that had been gnarled and twisted by the storms of centuries. This could apply to idealistic philosophers but also to knucklehead purists of any stripe, especially those who consider themselves to be on the side of the angels. Rick Santorum today likens the struggle against Obamacare to the struggle against apartheid. His head may not be in the clouds but it is clearly lost in an imaginary world.

      Aristotle thought that the real world was worthy of our attention; Lloyd George seems to have done this, while Wilson’s head appears to have been in the clouds. If this is Oakeshott’s point, it is a well-grounded one.

    2. My pretty faint recollection was that the weekly seminar (a couple of hours with four or five professor types - Oakeshott, Elie Kedourie, Robert Orr, Ken Minogue - and a dozen or 15 grad students, was a bit of a Popper fan club. Definitely not Platonists.

      I don’t recall any discussion of Woodrow Wilson, but I suspect he would have agreed with what you (Ed W) say here.

      Oakeshott thought that the past 300 years or so of English political philosophy (since Hobbes, say) was wrong-headed, because too fond of rational explanations.

  11. I think this is about as close to the horse’s mouth as we’re going to get. So clearly, Karl does indeed know what Oakeshott meant or, at least, what Oakeshott thought he meant. Of course, he couldn’t have meant Churchill or Roosevelt because both of those men prided themselves on bringing intellectual rigor and “book learning” to their work. For example, FDR had a strong interest in naval history and amassed a large library of books on the subject. He consulted them regularly and applied very much of an “intellectual” approach to managing the navy.

    Oakeshott seems to be rewriting “Goldilocks” as a theory of political philosophy. He wants a king who is learned, reads books and thinks things through but also scoffs at the pointy-headed intellectuals. What Oakeshott really wants a king who is “just right,” even if he can’t actually describe that what that person would look like or give an historical example. So, nothing but an empty slogan.

    In the end, Oakeshott’s defenders fall back on the idea that he is speaking of a “pragmatic” man, as if that explains everything. But here again, “pragmatism” is just a word; without a definition or even a context, it gives no guidance about anything. It’s just a weasel word.

    Everyone interpreting Oakeshott disowns George W. Bush and Dick Cheney even though both men share Oakeshott’s distaste for leaders with their “heads in the clouds” and would surely describe themselves as “pragmatists.” Oakeshott’s defenders exalt Churchill and Roosevelt as exemplifying the pragmatic ideal without explaining what distinguishes the leaders they claim from the ones they disown. Pragmatism, in this context, seems shorthand for something utterly subjective, totally amorphous, completely undefinable and whose merits are entirely in the eye of the beholder.

    “Pragmatism” is meaningless without a principled way to distinguish those who may rightfully claim the pragmatist mantle from careerists, scoundrels and idiots. “Pragmatism” seems to me to be a lot like Justice Stewart’s famous definition of pornography as something he couldn’t define but would know it when he saw it. To borrow from Alf Ross, pragmatism, like a harlot, is at the disposal of everyone. As a “philosophy of life,” it’s simply the nothingness of jello.

    The life of the law may be experience but Justice Holmes never forgot that it must be built on a firm foundation of logic.

    1. This, basically.

      People who claim the mantle of “pragmatism” tend to really irritate me. Without aspirations, what is there to be pragmatic about? And whence come aspirations, if not from philosophy? How is an unphilosophical “pragmatism” distinguishable from mere lack of principle?

    2. You have made up a silly theory that no one believes and then knocked it down. That’s your right, we all need a hobby. But it’s hardly an engagement with what Oakeshott actually thought.

      1. i think part of the problem here is that while a few of the commenters seem to be very conversant with oakeshott’s thought, the explications that have been given so far elide some salient points which seem to rest as unspoken assumptions in the background. since i have studied some readings from oakeshott from the syllabi of graduate political science courses but i have never studied his thought in depth perhaps i can fill in some of the blanks that may be causing some of the communication problems i sense. i’m hoping dr. humphreys or the commenter called karl can step in if i go astray in my attempt here.

        my, admittedly limited, understanding of the philosophy of oakeshott leads me to parse that quote as follows-
        practical life requires a set of underlying assumptions about the world in order to take the actions necessary to carrying out that practical existence. these underlying assumptions can take many forms or modes depending on the frame of the practical individual. philosophy, on the other hand, is beyond these modes and requires the questioning of all such underlying assumptions. far from bringing the results of this questioning to some practical application, the role of the philosopher is ever to reject such an application. i’m guessing oakeshott felt that the worst possible leader would be one who was intellectually predisposed against drawing practical lessons from the experiences of living.

        i can’t think of an actual example of a national leader who represented this notion of a philosopher king. possibly stalin or mao but even they would bend to objective considerations as problems arose.

      2. Decontextualized quotes tend to lead easily to the setting-up of strawmen. If Oakeshott means “philosopher” in the narrow sense of “one who practices statecraft in an excessively academic and idealized manner, rather than respecting convention and cultivating skill in the art of the possible”, then I suppose I agree. I find the expression less than felicitous, however; “farthest from our needs” is surely an exaggeration, no? An uncritical commitment to tradition and convention is no better than a quixotic radicalism.

    3. it all depends on the meaning of ‘is a philosopher’, now doesn’t it.

      Can a king understand deep things, and appreciate knowledge, without actually being ‘a philosopher’? I say yes, but I’m just an anti-aliased set of glyphs.

  12. Well, as far as I am concerned, Oakeshott is just plain wrong. The most important attribute to seek in a king or a president is the ability to expound at considerable length on: “The cat is on the mat” is true if and only if the cat is on the mat. Moderators of presidential debates should ask candidates if “The cat is on the mat” is true if most of the cat is on the mat but the tip of the tail is off the mat. The existence of cats, the existence of mats, and the existence of the relation “is on,” and the dependence of the meaning of “The cat is on the mat” on all three conditions should also be debated.

    Someone who cannot meet these requirements is no philosopher, and will never get my vote.

    1. Bill Clinton did wrestle with the meaning of “is,” so perhaps you could give him a pass.

      1. +1

        As for the comment you commented on: substitute “the barbarians are at the gate” for “the cat is on the mat” and Mr. Whitney might want to reevaluate just how must philosophical expounding he’ll accept. Of course, he might have been kidding.

        1. The first thing a philosopher-president must do when informed that the barbarians are at the gates is to establish definitions of “barbarians,” “gates,” and “at the.” He must ask his advisors whether they are intending “at the gates” as a predicate of “barbarians,” and whether “at the gates” is an attribute of “barbarians,” and whether “barbarians” refers to a particular set of barbarians, or is being used in a universal sense to refer to barbarians in general. Is “at the gateness” being attributed to barbarians “per se,” meaning that it is intrinsic to barbarianness, or is it being used “per accidens,” meaning that it is contingent upon particular barbarians being at a particular set of gates at a particular time?

          It must also be ascertained whether barbarians exist “in re” or “in intellectu.” That is, do they exist outside the mind? Are barbarians material objects or social objects?

          It is important that these preliminary discussions be allowed to last no more than one week. You know how some people just babble on and on when some kind of action may be required. After all, this is not just some college seminar we are in. Decisions have to be made. Someone has to be the decider.

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