Tag Archives: Princeton University

The Carvings in the Tower (6)

David John Furley was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill:

And here’s the Tower, pictured on a rather dark day between the two world wars:

David Furley had entered the High School on September 18th 1930 and he left on the last day of the Summer Term, July 30th 1940. The son of a hosiery manufacturer, Athelstan Willis Furley, he lived at 18 Markham Crescent, 50 yards from where Richard  Milnes lived in Langar Close, in that triangle of streets where Valley Road meets the Mansfield Road. Here’s his house today. You can just see a window behind the foliage:

David was an extremely clever young man. He received various School scholarships, a minimum of a dozen prizes or other awards and became the Captain of the School. In the OTC he was Company Sergeant Major and in cricket, he was a regular player for the First XI, winning his colours during the 1940 season. He left to read Classics at Jesus College, Cambridge with a £100 Open Scholarship and an £80 City of Nottingham Scholarship. Nearly all of his Classics Masters were Cambridge men, Mr Beeby (Jesus College), Mr Duddell (Gonville & Caius College) and Mr Gregg (St Catharine’s College). Only Mr Roche had gone elsewhere (London University).

Here is  the list of all his prizes, scholarships and awards, as they appeared in the School List:

During the war, David became a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery Company, serving in Bombay in India and then in Burma. Here they are, in their ceremonial uniforms:

He then returned to Cambridge University to complete his degree, and became an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College.

In 1947, he began lecturing at University College, London, soon becoming “one of the 20th century’s outstanding scholars of Greco-Roman philosophy” and soon afterwards a professor at Princeton University in the United States. In collaboration with Cooper, Frede, Nehamas, Penner and Vlastos, he helped build Princeton’s reputation as a world-leading centre for the study of ancient philosophy. This is Princeton:

His books on philosophy were widely known for their brilliance and their brevity. Most famous were “Two studies in the Greek Atomists”, “Self-movers”, (15 pages), “The rainfall example in Physics II.8”, (6 pages), “Lucretius and the Stoics” (20 pages) and “Galen: On Respiration and the Arteries”. He planned to write his final book, “The Greek Cosmologists”, in two volumes, but after Volume I appeared in 1987, Volume II unfortunately never came to fruition. His best articles and essays were all published together, however, in “Cosmic Problems”. For many years, David was:

“widely regarded within the ancient philosophy community as one of the subject’s most brilliant practitioners”.

Virtually everything he produced is a gem, and many have become classics. There are many who have argued that he was the cleverest pupil the High School has ever produced.

David Sedley wrote an obituary for David Furley, which lists the books he wrote and their length. On one occasion, apparently, he launched his newest book at a conference, and began by handing out copies to everyone. The book was fewer than 20 pages, but, because of David’s well-known intellect, nobody laughed when they first saw how short it was. They read it, and acknowledged that what he had written was a work of genius:

“The most recurrent motif of his work was the systematic contrast between two radically opposed philosophical and scientific worldviews, atomism and Aristotelianism, his analyses typically shedding equal light on both traditions. The leading exhibit is undoubtedly his brilliant 1967 book “Two Studies in the Greek Atomists.” ….A model of lucid and judicious scholarship, this monograph did much, perhaps more than any other single book, to bring Epicureanism into the philosophical mainstream.”

“Furley’s work proved seminal in his genius for writing a short but incisive article which provoked an entire micro-industry of debate. His classic “Self-movers”, a mere 15 pages in the original 1978 publication, became the focus of a subsequent conference at Pittsburgh, which in turn led to a multi-authored volume.

“Another such case is “The rainfall example in Physics II.8” (1986), which argued with amazing concision – it weighed in at just six printed pages – that, contrary to the current orthodoxy, Aristotle in fact believed that rainfall is purposive, and not merely the mechanical outcome of meteorological processes.”

A third case is “Lucretius and the Stoics” (1966). Lucretius was one of Furley’s heroes. The article, running to an impressive 20 pages, presented a major challenge to the orthodoxy that Lucretius’s polemics are typically directed against Stoic rivals. Resistance to this article’s findings has been widespread in Lucretian circles, but it still has its defenders, and the debate remains evenly balanced.”

Here’s Lucretius in an 18th century drawing:

And here’s Furley at varying ages:


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I just wish that I understood anything of what Professor Furley had written. I even thought that “Lucretius and the Stoics” was a 1950s Rock and Roll group.



Filed under cricket, History, military, The High School, Writing

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (2)

Last time I wrote about “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. This is a book about the appalling attitudes and shocking behaviour of, primarily, the German armed forces during World War II. What makes the book so interesting though, is that the two authors range relatively far and wide in their search for an explanation for the Germans’ extreme violence:

“At Princeton University in 1973, a remarkable experiment was carried out. Forty Theology students were told to write a short essay about the Good Samaritan and then it would be recorded for radio at another building.”

Here’s a view of that beautiful university:

The students completed their essays about the Good Samaritan and waited for the word to leave. Eventually an obvious authority figure arrived and told them loudly:

“Come on!!! You’re all going to be late !!! Come on!!! GO !!  GO !!   GO !! “

When the Theology students got close to the building where they would record their essays for radio, they found a man lying on the pavement, eyes closed, coughing and moaning. It was impossible to miss him. He was clearly in a bad way:

Of the forty students, 24 ignored him completely and only 16 stopped to help. A number of the 24 lied that they had not seen him, which was completely impossible.  “Soldaten” argues that this proves, and it is rather difficult to contradict them, that:

“There is a vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.

Take that sliding scale to its logical end and we are faced with “Autotelic violence”. This is violence for its own sake, violence carried out because you like it, you enjoy it. My best example would be the German pilot over London who machine gunned the civilians as they walked peacefully along Downham Way and then bombed the seven and eight year old children waving to him in the playground of a school in Catford. You can read this appalling story here and, if you are still in any doubt, here.

If you have followed the links and read the two accounts, then let’s take a quick look at some of those transcripts made by British Intelligence. This is Lieutenant Pohl who flew a light bomber in the early part of the war when Germany invaded Poland:

“On the second day, I had to bomb a station at Posen. Eight of the bombs fell among houses. I did not like that.

On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. I chased single soldiers over the fields with machine gun fire, and people in the street… I was sorry for the horses.”

One valuable piece of advice from the two authors is that

“If we cease to define violence as an aberration, we learn more about our society and how it functions than if we persist in comfortable illusions about our own basically nonviolent nature. If we reclassify violence as part of the inventory of possible social actions among communities, we will see that such groups are always potential communities of annihilation.“

In other words, we are deluding ourselves if we think we have overcome our willingness to be violent. Our apparently civilised world is no different from anybody else’s world.

This is emphasised by the book’s detailed examination of the events lived through by Michael Bernhardt, which suggest very strongly that the behaviour of the group reinforces the behaviour of the individual. This idea we have already seen, to some extent, when discussing “inhumanity with impunity” in a previous post. Michael said:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Despite his name, Michael Bernhardt was not German but American. He served in Vietnam and, when the time came, he refused to take part in the My Lai massacre of 400-500 old men, women and children. You can read about these terrible events here, and here:

For this refusal to participate in a war crime, Michael Bernhardt was ostracised by every single one of his fellow soldiers, even though back in the USA he was to receive the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.

In other words, in the world of Bernhardt’s fellow soldiers, “what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Can everybody use that excuse though? Even the SS ?

We will see next time.









Filed under Criminology, History, Politics, Russia