Bryan Magee

Bryan Magee

Overview
Bryan Edgar Magee is a noted British broadcasting personality, politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

, poet, and author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

, best known as a popularizer of philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

.

Born of working class parents in Hoxton
Hoxton
Hoxton is an area in the London Borough of Hackney, immediately north of the financial district of the City of London. The area of Hoxton is bordered by Regent's Canal on the north side, Wharf Road and City Road on the west, Old Street on the south, and Kingsland Road on the east.Hoxton is also a...

, Magee was close to his father, but had a difficult relationship with his abusive and overbearing mother. An evacuee during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, he was educated at Christ's Hospital
Christ's Hospital
Christ's Hospital is an English coeducational independent day and boarding school with Royal Charter located in the Sussex countryside just south of Horsham in Horsham District, West Sussex, England...

 school on a London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

 scholarship
Scholarship
A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.-Types:...

. During this formative period, he developed a keen interest in socialist politics, while during the school holidays he enjoyed listening to political orators at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London as well as regular visits to the theatre & concerts.
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Quotations

I have very strongly this feeling... that our everyday life is at one and the same time banal, overfamiliar, platitudinous and yet mysterious and extraordinary.

Martin Heidegger|Heidegger and Modern Existentialism (1977) BBC Productions

It could be that the total scenario for human beings is an insoluble mystery until we die, followed by nothing at all.

Confessions of a Philosopher : A Journey Through Western Philosophy

Encyclopedia
Bryan Edgar Magee is a noted British broadcasting personality, politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

, poet, and author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

, best known as a popularizer of philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

.

Early life


Born of working class parents in Hoxton
Hoxton
Hoxton is an area in the London Borough of Hackney, immediately north of the financial district of the City of London. The area of Hoxton is bordered by Regent's Canal on the north side, Wharf Road and City Road on the west, Old Street on the south, and Kingsland Road on the east.Hoxton is also a...

, Magee was close to his father, but had a difficult relationship with his abusive and overbearing mother. An evacuee during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, he was educated at Christ's Hospital
Christ's Hospital
Christ's Hospital is an English coeducational independent day and boarding school with Royal Charter located in the Sussex countryside just south of Horsham in Horsham District, West Sussex, England...

 school on a London County Council
London County Council
London County Council was the principal local government body for the County of London, throughout its 1889–1965 existence, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council...

 scholarship
Scholarship
A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.-Types:...

. During this formative period, he developed a keen interest in socialist politics, while during the school holidays he enjoyed listening to political orators at Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, London as well as regular visits to the theatre & concerts. He did National Service
National service
National service is a common name for mandatory government service programmes . The term became common British usage during and for some years following the Second World War. Many young people spent one or more years in such programmes...

 in the Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 and served in the Intelligence Corps seeking possible spies
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

 among the refugees crossing the border between Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

 and Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

. After demob he obtained a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford
Keble College, Oxford
Keble College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its main buildings are on Parks Road, opposite the University Museum and the University Parks. The college is bordered to the north by Keble Road, to the south by Museum Road, and to the west by Blackhall...

 where he read History
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 as an undergraduate and then Philosophy, Politics and Economics in one year. Friends there included Robin Day
Robin Day
Sir Robin Day, OBE was a British political broadcaster and commentator. His obituary in the Guardian stated that "he was the most outstanding television journalist of his generation...

, William Rees-Mogg
William Rees-Mogg
William Rees-Mogg, Baron Rees-Mogg is an English journalist and life peer.-Education:Rees-Mogg was educated at Clifton College Preparatory School in Bristol and Charterhouse School in Godalming, followed by Balliol College, Oxford...

, Jeremy Thorpe
Jeremy Thorpe
John Jeremy Thorpe is a British former politician who was leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976 and was the Member of Parliament for North Devon from 1959 to 1979. His political career was damaged when an acquaintance, Norman Scott, claimed to have had a love affair with Thorpe at a time...

 and Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine
Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, CH, PC is a British businessman, Conservative politician and patron of the Tory Reform Group. He was a Member of Parliament from 1966 to 2001 and was a prominent figure in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major...

. While at Oxford, Magee was elected president of the Oxford Union
Oxford Union
The Oxford Union Society, commonly referred to simply as the Oxford Union, is a debating society in the city of Oxford, Britain, whose membership is drawn primarily but not exclusively from the University of Oxford...

. He spent a year studying philosophy at Yale University on a post-graduate fellowship.

Politician


After a period at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, he returned to Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 in 1958 with hopes of becoming a Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 (MP). In this he was unsuccessful, and instead took up a job presenting the ITV
ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

 current affairs television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 programme This Week. He made documentary programmes about subjects of social concern such as prostitution
Prostitution
Prostitution is the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. The person who receives payment for sexual services is called a prostitute and the person who receives such services is known by a multitude of terms, including a "john". Prostitution is one of...

, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion
Abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

 and homosexuality
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

 (illegal in Britain at the time).

In 1959, Magee met Karl Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

 and became close friends with the philosopher, even suggesting the eventual title of Popper's autobiography, Unended Quest. Magee also suggested improvements for the first volume of Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies
The Open Society and Its Enemies
The Open Society and Its Enemies is an influential two-volume work by Karl Popper written during World War II. Failing to find a publisher in the United States, it was first printed in London by Routledge in 1945...

.

He was eventually elected MP for Leyton
Leyton (UK Parliament constituency)
Leyton was a parliamentary constituency, centred on the town of Leyton in North-East London. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, elected by the first past the post system.-History:...

 at the February 1974 general election
United Kingdom general election, February 1974
The United Kingdom's general election of February 1974 was held on the 28th of that month. It was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the first election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party,...

, but found himself out of tune with the Labour Party's leftward tendencies under Michael Foot
Michael Foot
Michael Mackintosh Foot, FRSL, PC was a British Labour Party politician, journalist and author, who was a Member of Parliament from 1945 to 1955 and from 1960 until 1992...

 and announced on 22 January 1982 that he had resigned the Labour whip. Magee subsequently (in March 1982) joined the defection of moderate Labour MPs to the newly founded Social Democratic Party
Social Democratic Party (UK)
The Social Democratic Party was a political party in the United Kingdom that was created on 26 March 1981 and existed until 1988. It was founded by four senior Labour Party 'moderates', dubbed the 'Gang of Four': Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams...

. He lost his seat at the 1983 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1983
The 1983 United Kingdom general election was held on 9 June 1983. It gave the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher the most decisive election victory since that of Labour in 1945...

 and returned to writing and broadcasting (which, indeed, he had continued during his parliamentary career).

Broadcaster and writer


Magee's most important influence on society remains his efforts to make philosophy accessible to the layman. Transcripts of his television series "Men of Ideas" are available in published form in the book Talking Philosophy. This book provides a readable and wide-ranging introduction to modern Anglo-American philosophy.

Another series and book, The Great Philosophers, covers the history of Western philosophy, as does Magee's The Story of Thought (also published as The Story of Philosophy). Magee has also published Confessions of a Philosopher (1998), which essentially offers an introduction to philosophy in the form of an autobiography. This latter book was involved in a libel lawsuit as a result of Magee repeating the rumor that Ralph Schoenman
Ralph Schoenman
Ralph Schoenman is an American left-wing activist who was a personal secretary to Bertrand Russell and became general secretary of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation...

, a controversial associate of Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 during the philosopher's final decade, had been planted by the CIA in an effort to discredit Russell. Schoenman successfully sued Magee for libel in the UK, with the result that the first printing of the British edition of the book was pulped. A second defamation suit, filed in California against Random House, was settled in 2001. The allegations were expunged by settlement, and a new edition was issued and provided to more than 700 academic and public libraries.

In Confessions of a Philosopher, Magee charts his own philosophical development in an autobiographical context. He also emphasizes the importance of Schopenhauer's philosophy as a serious attempt to solve philosophical problems. In addition to this, he launches a critique of analytic philosophy
Analytic philosophy
Analytic philosophy is a generic term for a style of philosophy that came to dominate English-speaking countries in the 20th century...

, particularly in its linguistic form over three chapters, contesting its fundamental principles and lamenting its influence.

His book, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, (first published in 1983), remains one of the most substantial and wide-ranging treatments of Schopenhauer to be found, it is particularly appreciated for its several essay-appendices in which Magee assesses in depth his influence on Wittgenstein, Wagner and other creative writers. He also addresses Schopenhauer's thoughts on homosexuality
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

 and the influence of Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 on his philosophy. He regards the work as his "academic magnum opus".

Magee has a particular interest in the life, thought and music of Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 and has written two notable books on the composer and his world Aspects of Wagner (1968; rev. ed. 1988), and the Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy (2001). He is also an admirer of the philosophy of Karl Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

 on whom he has written an introduction (Modern Masters series, 1997).

Magee's novel Facing Death was originally written under the title 'Love Story'. It is frequently asserted that the famous 1970 film of the same name is based on Magee's book; but this is incorrect. The film is actually based on a book by Erich Segal
Erich Segal
Erich Wolf Segal was an American author, screenwriter, and educator. He was best-known for writing the novel Love Story , a best-seller, and writing the motion picture of the same name, which was a major hit....

.

His autobiography, Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood, won the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography
J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography
The J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography is awarded annually by the English Centre for International PEN to given to a literary autobiography of excellence, written by an author of British nationality and published during the preceding year. The winner receives £1,000 and a silver pen. The winner...

 in 2004.

External links