On Blindness: Letters between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan

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9780198235439: On Blindness: Letters between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan
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For three centuries, philosophers have held that knowledge derives from experience. If so, it may be possible that blind people, lacking an important component of experience--visual perception--know the world in ways that differ from the rest of us. Curious about this possibility, the noted philosopher, author, and BBC host Bryan Magee began to correspond with Martin Milligan, Dean of the Philosophy Department at the University of Leeds, and himself blind nearly since birth. On Blindness presents their fascinating letters to each other, letters which, as Magee notes, soon "hared off" in unforeseen directions, to delve not only into philosophical questions of perception, but also into the day-to-day differences between blind and sighted people and how these differences define their respective worlds.
Through these letters, the reader eavesdrops on two brilliant thinkers as they wrestle with important philosophical issues and discuss everything from how to convey the stunning visual beauty of a flamingo-covered African lake, to tasting the "brownness" of coffee, to defining sight as "feeling from a distance," to Milligan's description of his own dreams and their significance. Much of this dialogue is quite thought-provoking, such as Milligan's assertion that people blind from birth do not "live in a world of darkness," that they don't even have a sense of what darkness is, nor would many of them want their sight restored. And at times the exchanges become rather heated, as when Milligan makes the philosophical argument that "knowing" and "knowing that" are essentially the same, that all knowledge is propositional knowledge--an assertion that Magee finds anathema. Likewise, when Magee claims that differences between the sighted and the blind "can only be described as vast," Milligan (who had fought prejudice against the blind all his life) sends back a passionate rebuttal.
Here in the course of their wide ranging correspondence, Magee and Milligan probe the limits of what can be known, or expressed, or understood, shedding much light on the writings of such thinkers as Kant, Russell, Schopenhauer, and Wittgenstein, among others. And as they do so, they also bring their readers closer to understanding what divides the blind and the sighted--and what brings them both together in the struggle to understand the world.

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About the Author:


About the Authors:
Bryan Magee is a noted writer and broadcaster, Honorary Fellow of Keble College, Oxford, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the History of Ideas, King's College, London. His books include Men of Ideas and The Great Philosophers. The late Martin Milligan was Professor of Philosophy, University of Leeds.

Review:

`a timely, absorbing and poignant exploration of this issue, in the form of a correspondence between two notable philosophers'
Adam Zeman, Times

`With characteristic chutzpah, Magee worte to Milligan, interrogating him about his condition, and eliciting from him some of the most striking and lucid accounts of the sightless experience that you are likely to read ... The result is this book, in which the two philosophers defend positions
which are in each case the opposite of what you might expect ... But this lively exchange, between beligerent thinkers, offers an excellent introduction to issues which are so important that anybody who thinks ought to have a view about them - even if it is the view that he can reach no view.'
Roger Scruton, Sunday Telegraph

`Remarkable new book on the subject ... a superb document - a lively and acute philosophical dialogue pitched at a high level of intellectual seriousness, written in the readable style of a letter to a pal, and kindled by the full range human reflexes - zeal, curiosity, defensiveness, touchy
pride.'
The Independent

`Magee wrote to Milligan, interrogating him about his condition, and eliciting from him some of the most striking and lucid accounts of the sightless experience that you are likely to read.'
Sunday Telegraph

`A unique if occasionally contentious exchange between one blind and one seeing philosopher about the implications of sightlessness.'
Sunday Times

`A remarkable philosophical correspondence ... The latter's own blindness allowed them to argue, with at times revealing defensiveness, about the nature of knowledge.'
The Independent

`Unusual, moving ... book ... Magee, a beautifully lucid writer, does show great good will towards and respect for his correspondent ... These two honest and clever writers have managed to strike some fine sparks.'
Times Literary Supplement

`It is an enthralling book.'
The Spectator

`A stimulating discussion of what it is to be blind. Common misapprehensions are corrected, normal curiosities satisfied.'
The Economist

`Rather than extending our sensory horizons, we are reminded of the seamless, but ineluctable net of language, and learn more of its extraordinary nature. And that itself is fascinating.'
Times Higher Education Supplement

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Magee, Bryan, Milligan, Martin
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