Sorry Jim Faulconer

October 14, 2004

I almost didn’t post this merely out of respect for Jim Faulconer, and many of the other fine professors of philosophy that I have actually known (I’ve never actually met Jim Faulconer). But this was just too entertaining and somehow accurate that I couldn’t pass it up, especially considering Jim’s comment in the current discussion of Nietzsche at T&S.

I relish John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey series and am enjoying his Second Rumpole Omnibus at the moment. Rumpole is a crusty old English criminal defense barrister who works mostly down in London’s Old Bailey, defending society’s worst reprobates, solving mysteries, psychologically battling She Who Must Be Obeyed, imagining himself a good father to his son Nick, and deluding himself of his own prowess and intellectual ability. He does make it out of London, on occasion, to try a case elsewhere. And in the case of “the gentle art of blackmail,” Rumpole makes his way out to Oxford to defend a young man against charges of using a homosexual affair to blackmail Sir Michael Tuffnell, Oxford University Professor of Philosophy. Even though Sir Michael happens also to be Principal of St. Joseph’s College at Oxford (Rumple’s old college from his school days), Rumpole does not spare him his characteristic caustic mental evaluation upon meeting him. Rumpole describes him thus:

Sir Michael Tuffnell, Oxford Professor of Moral Philosophy, Principal of St Joseph’s College for the past five years, was a popular guru known to millions. He was a grey-haired and distinguished-looking old party, with a twinkling eye and a considerable sense of humour, always ready to be wheeled on to the telly or ‘Any Questions’ when anyone wanted a snap answer on such troublesome points as ‘What is the meaning of meaning?’ Or ‘Is God dead?’

Sir Michael was a person, certainly, of the utmost brilliance and respectability, whose grasp of the Nature of the Universe was such that God no doubt relied on him to tell him whether or not He existed, a question that Sir Michael answered with a respectful and tentative negative, meanwhile keeping his options open.

John Mortimer, “Rumple and the Gentle Art of Blackmail,” in The Second Rumpole Omnibus 48 (Penguin ed. 1988).

Brilliant, really, I must confess. This description of an Oxford professor of philosophy–or a professor of philosophy generally, or an Oxford professor generally, for that matter (believe me, I met a few like this while a student at Oxford)–seems just too fitting, and thus very funny. I guess the reason that it is funny is that it encapsulates some of the frustration of non-philosophers with philosophers generally. . . .