Sir Anthony Kenny - an Oxford philosopher expelled for talking about Aristotle


Sir Anthony Kenny is one of Britain's most respected philosophers and author of works on such diverse subjects as Aristotle and the nature of freedom and power. A few days ago he was in Prague, to deliver a lecture about the nature of the European identity through the ages. But this certainly wasn't Sir Anthony's first visit to the city. He was among a number of Oxford lecturers who came to communist Czechoslovakia in the 70s and 80s, to take part in the now legendary underground "living-room seminars". David Vaughan caught up with him, and began by asking him about his experiences at the time.

"We in Oxford - the philosophers from the faculty in Oxford - had a letter from a man called Julius Tomin, who told us that he had an informal philosophy group that met in his apartment every week or so in Prague, and that it was attended by people who found it difficult to get to university, because their parents had been involved with Charter 77. And he said that anyone from Oxford would be most welcome to come. So many people from Oxford came, and some from other universities. My own visit was in itself in no way remarkable, except that it was one of two or three over a period of years, and was actually interrupted by the police, broken up and I was extradited from the country under an article of the criminal code forbidding hooliganism, which I had not realized included lecturing on Aristotle in private rooms. That made a certain stir in the English newspapers. But what really stands out in my mind is that these people were so devoted to philosophy that they would attend philosophy seminars on fairly abstruse bits of Aristotle, knowing that there was a risk they would be carried off to prison, at least for a short period, for doing so."

You've just delivered a lecture here at the Charles University in Prague looking at the history of the European idea. With your historical and philosophical perspective, are you generally speaking Euro-integrationist or Euro-sceptic?

"I'm certainly not a Euro-sceptic. I'm a Europhile, I suppose. It means I like Europe, but sometimes - to read the British popular newspapers - you would think that being a Europhile is the next worst thing to being a paedophile. As I said in my lecture, people in England seem divided into those who are passionately against the European Union and those who are moderately in favour of it. My view is that in the time before the referendum we are going to have on the European constitution, those of us who are in favour of Europe have a duty to be passionately in support of Europe and convince our fellow citizens of the importance of belonging to the European Union."

Do you think there are models that can inspire us in looking for a new European identity or in forging a new European identity?

"My lecture was mainly historical and I said that the there were four different stages or four different models of European unity: there was the ancient one of the Roman Empire, the Mediaeval one of Christendom, the balance of powers in the warring modern times, and that I hope that a new Europe would combine the best elements of all the previous ones, that we would preserve the separate vernacular cultures of modern Europe without the warfare that characterized modern Europe."


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