Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Three questions

Why did the Sub-faculty of Philosophy finally agree to allow me to lecture on Plato at the Philosophy Centre in Michaelmas Term 1995? I can only speculate: On the fifth anniversary of the publication of Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’ in The Independent Magazine, from November 18 to 24 1994, I held a seven day hunger-strike. Its sole objective was to regain permission to present lectures and seminars at Oxford University. Throughout the 1980s I could teach at Oxford University, without remuneration, whenever I asked for it.

Why was I deprived of permission to do so in 1991? Presumably, Nick Cohen with his article bears some responsibility for it quotes Jonathan Barnes as saying that Tomin ‘would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job.’ For some time prior to it I was giving tutorials to students from the USA at Blackfriars. After the publication of Cohen’s article my tutorials were discontinued. Students from the USA did not come to Oxford in order to be taught by a Pub Philosopher.

How was it possible that I was allowed to teach students at Oxford University for two more years, until the end of 1991? It must have been thanks to the moral and intellectual integrity of Professor John Ackrill. Since I came to Oxford in 1980 I attended his Aristotelian seminar at Brasenose College. Over the years we read and discussed in the seminar Plotinus, Aristotle, Lucretius, Augustine, Alexander of Aphrodisias and Sextus Empiricus. We discussed all these authors in the seminar on the basis of texts in the original. After the publication of ‘The Pub Philosopher’ John Ackrill sent me a postcard in which he quoted the words ‘British classical philosophers cannot understand Ancient Greek’, which Nick Cohen attributed to me, and asked: ‘Did you say this?’ I sent him the postcard back with the words: ‘I said that British classical philosophers cannot understand Ancient Greek without translating it in their heads into English’. After this exchange John Ackrill kept inviting me to his seminar at the beginning of each Term, until his retirement in 1991. He knew what advantage I derived at each seminar from understanding Ancient Greek and Latin directly, without translating these languages in my head. It was on the 4th of December 1991 that I received the following letter from M. R. Ayers, the Secretary of the Lectures Committee of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy: ‘With respect to your offer of reading classes on Plato, starting next term, I should inform you that the Sub-Faculty deemed it inappropriate that such classes should appear on the University list.’

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