D. Z. Phillips: Contemplation, Understanding, and the Particularity of Meaning

John Edelman


In the last several years of his life, first in Philosophy’s Cool Place and then in Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation, D. Z. Phillips presented what he called a ‘contemplative’ conception of philosophy. Themes familiar to readers of his earlier work – e.g., his distinction be-tween a philosophical understanding of the ‘grammar’ of a concept and the ‘personal appropriation’ of a religious or moral belief or principle; his crit-icism of what might be called ‘classical’ natural theology coupled with his rejection of the label ‘Wittgensteinian fideist’; his insistence upon the ‘neutrality’ of philosophy in opposition to the ‘advocacy’ of particular moral or religious viewpoints – all of these still appear in these late writ-ings. But the talk of philosophy as ‘contemplative’ seems to amount to more than a re-packaging of earlier ideas. Stephen Mulhall, in a review of Philosophy’s Cool Place, speaks of a ‘partial re-conceptualization’ of Phillips’s ‘intellectual project’ and identifies the impetus for it – surely rightly – in Phillips’s editorial work on the papers of the late Rush Rhees. But perhaps this re-conceptualization is better described not as ‘partial’ but as ‘incomplete’ or ‘unfinished’. Just several months before his death in July of 2006, Phillips was still unsettled in his thinking about this ‘contemplative’ conception.


20th century philosophy; In Dialogue with the Greeks; Phillips Dewi Zephaniah; philosophy's Cool Place; Rhees Rush; Swansea school; Wittgenstein Ludwig; language; philosophical contemplation; philosophy; philosophy of language; reading of Wittgenstein; scepticis

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